Decoding the Racing Rules of Sailing

In this post we will explain the most basic and essential Racing Rules of Sailing (2021 - 2024) from the World Sailing.

Decoding the Racing Rules of Sailing


We know that the first races are a bit tough; there are many new things to learn: flags, the racing-course, tactics, and of course, rules. Rules may be a little tricky and difficult, so this is why we are going to make a series of posts about the Racing Rules of Sailing.

In this blog post, we will explain the most basic and essential Racing Rules of Sailing, presenting them in a professional yet accessible manner.

We'll start by giving some definitions:

Boat: A sailboat and the crew on board.
Competitor: A person who races or intends to race in the event.
Port-tack: A boat is on port-tack, when its sail is on the left side of the boat.
Starboard-tack:
A boat is on starboard-tack when its sail is on the right side of the boat.
Clear Astern & Clear Ahead:
A boat is clear astern of another when her hull and equipment in normal position are behind a line abeam from the aftermost point of the other boat's hull and equipment in normal position. The other boat is clear ahead.
Overlap: Two boats are overlapped when neither is clear astern.
Leeward: When two boats on the same tack overlap, the one on the leeward side of the other is the leeward boat.
Windward:
When two boats on the same tack overlap, the one on the windward side of the other is the windward boat.
Zone:
is the area around a mark within a distance of three hull lengths of the boat nearer to it. A boat is in the zone when any part of her hull is in the zone.

Definitions

ISAF Racing Rules of Sailing - Part 2: "When boats meet"

A boat has right of way over another boat when the other boat is required to keep clear of her.

Rule 10: On opposite tacks

When boats are on opposite tacks, a port-tack boat shall keep clear of a starboard-tack boat.

Rule 10: On opposite tacks

Rule 11: On the same tack, overlapped

When boats are on the same tack and overlapped, a windward boat shall keep clear of a leeward boat.

Rule 11: On the same tack, not overlapped

Rule 12: On the same tack, not overlapped

When boats are on the same tack and not overlapped, a boat clear astern shall keep clear of a boat clear ahead.

Rule 12: On the same tack, not overlapped

Rule 13: While tacking

After a boat passes head to wind, she shall keep clear of other boats until she is on a close-hauled course. During that time, rules 10, 11 and 12 don't apply. If two boats are subject to this rule at the same time, the one on the other's port side or the one astern shall keep clear.

Bonus track: Rule 14 - Avoiding contact

This rule is from Section B of the Racing Rules of Sailing, but it is so important that we have to mention it. The rule says:

A boat shall avoid contact with another boat if reasonably possible. However, a right-of-way boat, or one sailing within the room or mark-room to which she entitled, need not act to avoid contact until it is clear that the other boat is not keeping clear or giving room.

This means that you can't crush another boat just because the rules are in your favor.


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This is the first of many posts explaining the Racing Rules of Sailing. We have the complete PDF for you to download and learn them all.