How to do a Legal (and Fast!) 720
by David Dellenbaugh

If you want to exonerate yourself by taking a 720 degree Turns Penalty, you must do it as soon as possible. You cannot delay, even if it’s windy and you have a spinnaker up.

Because a 720 degree turn is now the default penalty in the rulebook, it’s critical to know how to perform this maneuver both legally and quickly. Many sailors, even those with a lot of racing experience, do not know the requirements of rule 44 (Taking a penalty). And even sailors who execute a proper 720 often end up losing a lot more than necessary due to poor boathandling. Here are some tips on when and how you can (and can’t) do a 720.

Steps in taking a legal 720
When you break a racing rule you can usually exonerate yourself by making two circles in accordance with rule 44. Here are six steps you should follow to make sure that your 720 penalty is legal:

1) Get well clear of other boats as soon after the incident as possible.
2) Promptly take your penalty.
3) Make two complete 360 degree turns in the same direction, including two tacks and two jibes.
4) Keep clear of other boats while you are making your penalty turns.
5) If you are near the finish line, make sure you get completely on the course side of the line, before you finish the race. (If it’s before the start, you can - and must - do your 720 turns right away).
6) If it is required by the sailing instructions, report your 720 to the race committee boat at the finish or to the protest committee at the end of the day.

Don’t delay your penalty
The 720 rule is a great alternative to retiring from the race, but it also requires that you make a quicker decision about what to do. With the 720, you can’t take a lot of time to think about whether your were right or wrong. You have a short window of opportunity right after the incident, and then the 720 option is no longer available.

US Appeal 60 provides a good summary of how quickly you must do a 720. It says, “Rule 44.1 permits a boat to take a penalty ‘at the time of the incident.’ Rule 44.2 requires the boat to sail well clear of other boats as soon as possible after the incident and ‘promptly’ complete two 360 degree turns. Together these rules require a boat that decides to take a penalty to do so as soon as possible after the incident. The rule does not provide for time for a boat to deliberate whether she has broken a rule. If she delays in doing her 720 penalty, she is still liable to be disqualified.”

Tack or Jibe first?
The question of which way to make your turns has been debated ever since the 720 rule was first included in the rulebook. Of course, you might base this decision on which is the better way to keep clear of other boats. But it that’s not an issue, is it faster to tack or jibe first?
I think it’s probably better to start with a jibe. The slowest part of doing a circle is bearing off after a tack. If you tack first, you will twice have to bear off dead downwind after tacking, which is slow. But it you jibe first, you’ll be able to come out of your second tack and build speed on your original course. One exception to this is when you begin your penalty on a run, in which case it may not matter whether you tack or jibe first.

You can’t break this rule
According to US Sailing Appeal 46, a boat’s “failure to do a proper and timely 720 turn broke no rule; it meant only that she failed to take a penalty.” In other words, you can’t break rule 44. If your 720 turn is done improperly or too late, it is just as if you didn’t make any penalty turns at all.

Likewise, you cannot protest another boat under rule 44 for failing to do a proper 720. If a boat fouled you and does an incorrect or delayed 720, you should protest then for the right-or-way rule they broke in the original incident.

Once you take a 720 you can no longer be protested for that incident (unless you caused serious damage or gained a significant advantage). So doing a 720 can be an insurance policy and is not necessarily an admission of guilt. For example, you you’re involved in an incident and you think you’re right but you’re not sure how you’d fare in a protest hearing, doing circles can be a strategic decision to avoid the risk of being disqualified. You just have to decide how much risk you’re willing to take.

Even if you do circles, you can still protest another boat for the same incident. Note that 720s are not reserved only for give-way boats. If a right-of-way boat breaks a rule of Part 2 (e.g. by changing course too quickly for rule 16), she can (and should) do a 720.

When you can’t take a 720
There are certain times when you cannot take a 720 penalty to exonerate yourself after breaking a rule. In the following situations, you must retire or take another penalty:
• You broke a rule when you weren’t racing (e.g. you interfered with a boat that was racing).
• The rule you broke was not in Part 2 or the rulebook. For example, it was a class rule, a sailing instruction or a racing rule such as 42 (propulsion).
• You caused “serious damage” during the incident.
• You gained a “significant advantage” in the race or series by braking a rule.
• The sailing instructions put a different penalty into effect (e.g. the Scoring Penalty).
44 Penalties for Breaking Rules of Part 2

44.1 Taking a Penalty
A boat that may have broken a rule of Part 2 while racing may take a penalty at the time of the incident. Her penalty shall be a 720 degree Turns Penalty unless the sailing instructions specify the use of the Scoring Penalty or some other penalty. However, if she caused serious damage or gained a significant advantage in the race or series by her breach she shall retire.

44.2 720 Turns Penalty
After getting well clear of other boats as soon after the incident as possible, a boat takes a 720 Turns Penalty by promptly making two complete 360 degree turns (720) in the same direction, including two tacks and two jibes. When a boat takes the penalty at or near the finishing line, she shall sail completely to the course side of the line before finishing.

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