Stricter boundary penalties are now in place to prevent teams from gaining tactical advantages by going out of bounds.
The increased penalty system was introduced for Season 4’s opener in Chicago, resulting in a reduced number of boundary infractions - just two across the weekend of racing.
The changes mean that boundary penalties are now dished out on a ‘sliding scale’, according to chief umpire Craig Mitchell, rather than a blanket 20m loss.
This means that teams which ‘brush out of bounds’, but a portion of their boat remains inside the boundary, will receive one penalty. Boats which go entirely out of bounds will receive two penalties, and teams which go out by an entire boat length will receive three penalties. The umpire team will then make a judgement as to whether a team has ‘gained an advantage’ by going out of bounds, by either racing in clean air or gaining a better angle to the layline. If so, that team will receive four penalties.
“The more out of bounds you go, the bigger the penalty you get,” Mitchell explained. “It means the penalties are really going to start ramping up - we only had two boundary penalties in Chicago, which means everyone is getting the message.”
Previously, the boundary penalty system meant that a boat which went out of bounds, regardless of the distance, would receive one penalty - requiring it to drop 20m behind a relative boat.
But Mitchell said this was ‘a difficult and inconsistent penalty to judge’ and meant ‘selecting a different boat on the course to judge it against’. The new rules, he added, will give ‘more stability to get the penalty right’.
Teams requested the change to the boundary penalty rule after ‘complaining other teams were intentionally going out of bounds to gain an advantage’, arguing the existing penalty wasn’t severe enough.
A key example was the moment Phil Robertson’s Canada went out of bounds in the Final of Season 3’s Christchurch event, with many claiming the team gained a winning advantage.
According to the new system, Mitchell said Canada would have received a 60m penalty instead of the 20m penalty received at the time. But this, he said, would probably not have changed the ultimate outcome of the race.
“By the time Canada and New Zealand came back together, Canada was still 90m ahead, but it would have been closer with the increased penalty,” he said.