The most recent edition of the Racing Rules of Sailing bans the intentional disposal of waste into the water, which includes the use of elastic and wool bands for spinnaker hoists. While most superyacht regattas still allow the use of biodegradable wool, it is part of a long-term campaign to find an alternative solution for the industry.

The Racing Rules of Sailing (RRS) govern the sport of sail racing and are revised and published every four years by the International Sailing Federation. The current edition is the Racing Rules of Sailing 2013-2016 and includes Rule 55, concerned with trash disposal, and it’s basic principle is to encourage participants to minimise any adverse environmental impact of the sport of sailing.

Rule 55 states that a competitor “shall not intentionally put trash in the water” and applies at all times when the boats are in the water. Where this concerns the superyacht industry, and particularly the superyacht regatta scene, is that it is common practice to prepare a yacht’s spinnaker by tying it together with elastic or wool bands at intervals, to prevent the spinnaker from filling during the hoist. Once hoisted and sheeted, the bands break, the spinnaker will open, and ultimately the rubber bands will end up in the water. This action breaks the new rule 55.

And the reasons for the rule are justified, as this type of debris can often be mistaken for food and ingested by sea turtles and other forms of marine life, resulting in significant harm. Rule 55 was introduced to support a development of sailing in a direction towards a higher level of environmental responsibility and event organisers and officials should also comply with this principle. But what can be done to prevent superyachts from being protested under rule 55 each time they hoist spinnakers?

"This interim solution allows for biodegradable wool bands while superyachts pursue a safe, long-term alternative solution with their respective sailmakers.”

Boats can use different systems when hoisting a spinnaker other than elastic bands or wool, for example snuffers or socks. However, if the organising authority of an event considers it is advisable to allow the use of elastic or wool bands for reasons of safety or proper seamanship, they may change rule 55 by, for example, including in the notice of race and sailing instructions and exception clause to the rule.

In the case of many of this year’s superyacht regattas, including St Barth’s Bucket and the others operating under the International Superyacht Rule, the organising authority had done just this. For the St Barths Bucket, the Notice of Race included a clause which instructed that RRS 55 will be changed as follows by adding the following sentence to the rule: “However, the use of biodegradable wool bands in the course of setting a sail is permitted.”

In an unofficial clarification of the clause, Peter Craig, race chairman, explained; “Given the safety considerations with large superyacht spinnakers, coupled with the potential, adverse and unintentional result of not using bands, for example blown spinnaker material polluting the waters, this interim solution allows for biodegradable wool bands while superyachts pursue a safe, long-term alternative solution with their respective sailmakers.”