Amateur Sailboat Racing.

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Amateur Sailboat Racing.





Your first competitive sailboat race could well be as a helmsman in your own boat club, and where you will get all the advice and knowledge you need about any preliminary formalities from your fellow club sailors. Never be shy in asking them for assistance, they will be happy to help. However, if you are competing in a club other than your own in an “open” event, a visitors event, it is good manners to get there at least an hour before the start. There could be an entrance fee at an “open”, payable prior to or on the day.

 On arrival you will receive the local sailing instructions, however if you request them some days in advance you will be more popular with the usually overworked race offcials. In particular, these instructions will give the various alternative courses and probably fags listed to indicate which course you will sail, these you will have to memorize.

There are color cards covered in plastic of all the flags you will need to know available for purchase, and it’s worthwhile having one stowed permanently in your boat.

It is prudent to ask someone to point out the starting line, and the racing marks are around which you will have to sail. If the sailing instructions are bulky and you have time, write down your course on a small slip of paper and get your crew to do likewise. Many helmsmen write them on the back of their wrists, and is something that works.

Having hoisted the square racing flag to show that you are racing, you sail around near the starting line but keeping clear of classes that may be starting before you. From the sailing instructions, you will know which class flag is to be hoisted to give you ten minutes warning of the start of your race. The class flag will be hoisted on a flagstaff at the same time as a gun is fired, or other sound signal made. Whatever the noise made it is called “the ten minute gun”. Exactly five minutes after the class flag has been broken out the “Blue Peter” will be hoisted, and “the five minute gun” fired.

The Blue Peter is a blue flag with a white square in it and known as the preparatory signal. This means there is exactly five minutes to the start. It must be remembered though that some clubs use deferent timing systems, such as, five minute - three minute - the off.

Substitute, therefore, the longer time for the “ten minute gun” and the shorter time for the “five minute gun” throughout this paragraph.

When the gun goes for the start, both flags come down. If anyone is over the line then a second gun will be fired. The race offcials will try to notify the offender, or offenders, but the onus is on the boat not the club officials. If the offenders, or offenders, do not return, they will be disqualified. If two guns are fired after the starting gun, all boats return and go through the complete starting procedure again.

The important point to remember is that the hauling down of the flags indicates the start. The guns, bells, whistles or whatever is just to help. As Sound takes time to travel you will therefore see the flags lowered before you hear the sound signal. Therefore, the flags dictate the actual time of the start.

The start is critical in racing, and often at this point a race will be either won or lost. This is because the wind behind the leading boats progressively becomes more and more disturbed making it more difficult to sail deficiently. If you watch some starts you will see how comparatively quickly, when there is a beating start, as there usually is, the leading boats draw further and further ahead while the rest of the racing fleet becomes strung out astern.

One of the secrets of racing, once you have learned to sail a boat competently, is to avoid this “dirty” wind. If a boat near you is slowing you down you should tack for clear wind. Most newcomers to racing sail on regardless and wonder why they drop back so quickly. The chances are that once you start to drop back you will fall into someone else’s “wind shadow”, which in turn makes you drop further back. It is a vicious straight line, backwards.

If, during the race you see your class flag and the shorten course flag hoisted, flag “S” , like the Blue Peter but the other way round, a white flag with a blue square inside, this means you don’t have to complete the whole course but will end the next time past the finishing line. The sailing instructions will have specified this for you.

If, before the start of a race a long red and white triangular shaped burgee known as “the answering pendant”, is flown above your class flag it means there is a 15-minute postponement. Flag “N” above your class flag means the race has been cancelled.

However, before any of this you should have obtained a copy of the racing rules. The racing rules apply only when boats are actually involved in racing, and based on, and in no case run contrary to, the international regulations for the prevention of collisions at sea. They amplify the latter in considerable detail to provide for the close quartets situations that occur when boats are racing against each other round a series of marks.





The racing rules are compiled in six parts.


Part I, is concerned with definitions, tacking, gybing, bearing away, and other such things.

Part 2, is concerned with management of racing.

Part 3, deals with general requirements including measurement certificates, ownership, and sail numbers and so on.

Part 4, deals with sailing rules when yachts meet.

Part 5, deals with other sailing rules that include fog signals, man overboard, anchoring etc.

Part 6, is devoted to protests, disqualifications and appeals.

Although all the rules have to be read, and indeed is vital if you intend taking up racing seriously, it is Part 4 of the sailing rules, when yachts meet, that you need to concentrate on. For this purpose, even a sailing dinghy will count as a yacht. Part 4 consists of only seven pages but every word on them is critical.




Section A of PART 4 consists of five rules which always apply, and are as follows:-

#31. Disqualification

1 A yacht may be disqualified for infringing a rule of Part IV only when the infringement occurs while she is racing, whether or not a collision results.

2 A yacht may be disqualified before or after she is racing for seriously hindering a yacht that is racing, or for infringing the sailing instructions.


#32. Avoiding collisions.

A right-of-way yacht which makes no attempt to avoid a collision resulting in serious damage may be disqualified as well as the other yacht.

#33. Retiring from a race.

A yacht, which realizes she has infringed a racing rule or a. sailing instruction, should retire promptly; but, if she persists in racing, other yachts shall continue to accord her such rights as she may have under the rules of Part IV.

#34. Misleading or baulking.

Part 1. When one yacht is required to keep clear of another, the right-of-way yacht shall not, except to the extent permitted by rule 38.1, Luf?ng after Starting, so alter course as to:-

(a) Prevent the other yacht from keeping clear; or

(b) Mislead 0r baulk her while she is keeping clear.

Part 2. A yacht is not misleading or baulking another if she alters course by luffing 0r bearing away to conform to a change in the strength or direction of the wind.

#35. Hailing

A right-of-way yacht except when luf?ng under rule 38. I, luffing and starting, should hail before or when making an alteration of course which may not be foreseen by the other yacht or when claiming room at a mark or obstruction.




Section B. Opposite tack rule.

#36. Fundamental rule

A port-tack yacht shall keep clear of a starboard-tack yacht.

Section C. Same tack rules but is longer and therefore more complex.

#37. Fundamental rules

Part 1.  A windward yacht shall keep clear of a leeward yacht.

Part 2.  A yacht clear astern shall keep clear of a yacht clear ahead.

Part 3.  A yacht that establishes an overlap to leeward from clear astern shall allow the windward yacht ample room and opportunity to keep clear, and during the existence of that overlap the leeward yacht shall not sail above her proper course.

#38. Right-of-way yacht luffing after starting

Part 1.  Luffing rights and limitations. After she has started and cleared the starting line, a yacht clear ahead or a leeward yacht may luff as she pleases, except that a leeward yacht shall not sail above her proper course while an overlap exists if, at any time during its existence, the helmsman of the windward yacht, when sighting abeam from his normal station and sailing no higher than the leeward yacht]has been abreast or forward of the mainmast of the leeward yacht.

Part 2. Overlap limitations. For the purpose of this rule, an overlap does not exist unless the yachts are clearly within two overall lengths of the longer yacht, and an overlap which exists between two yachts when the leading yacht starts, or when one or both of them completes a tack or gybe, shall be regarded as a new overlap beginning at that time.

Part 3. Hailing to stop or prevent a luff. When there is doubt, the leeward yacht may assume that she has the right to luff unless the helmsman of the windward yacht has hailed “mast abeam”, or words to that effect. The leeward yacht shall be governed by such a hail, and if she deems it improper her only remedy is to protest.

Part 4. Curtailing a luff.  The windward yacht shall not cause a luff to be curtailed because of her proximity to the leeward yacht unless an obstruction, a third yacht, or other object, restricts her ability to respond.

Part 5. Luffing two or more yachts. A yacht shall not luff unless she has the right to luff all yachts which would be affected by her luff, in which case they shall all respond even if an intervening yacht or yachts would not otherwise have the right to luff.

#39.  Sailing below a proper course after starting.

A yacht, which is on a free leg of the course after having started and cleared the starting line shall not sail below her proper course when she is clearly within three of her overall lengths of either a leeward yacht or a yacht clear astern which is steering a course to pass to leeward.

#40. Right-of-way yacht luffing before starting

Before a yacht has started and cleared the starting line any luff on her part, which affects another yacht shall be carried out slowly. A leeward yacht may so luff only when the helmsman of the windward yacht, sighting abeam from his normal station, is abaft the mainmast of the leeward yacht. However, after her starting signal the leeward yacht may luff slowly to assume her proper course even when, because of her position, she would not otherwise have the right to luff. Rules #38.3, Hailing to stop or prevent a luff; #38.4, Curtailing a luff; and #33.5, Luffing two or more yachts also apply.

Section D. Changing tack rule consists of only one rule, split into four parts.

#41. Tacking or gybing

Part 1.  A yacht that is either tacking or gybing shall keep clear of a yacht on a tack.

Part 2.  A yacht shall neither tack nor gybe into a position which will give her right of way unless she does so far enough from a yacht on a tack to enable this yacht to keep clear without having to begin to alter her course until after the tack or gybe has been completed;

Part 3.  A yacht which tacks or gybes has the onus of satisfying the race committee that she completed her tack or gybe in accordance with rule #41.2.

Part 4.  When two yachts are both tacking or both gybing at the same time, the one on the other’s port side shall keep clear.

Section E.  Rules of exception and special application are longer and therefore more complex.

When a rule of this section applies, to the extent to which it explicitly provides rights and obligations, it over-rides any conflicting rule of Part I V which precedes it, except the rules of Section A, rules which always apply.

#42.  Rounding or passing marks and obstructions.

When yachts either on the same tack or, after starting and clearing the starting line, on opposite tacks, are about to round or pass a. mark on the same required side or an obstruction on the same side:

When overlapped

Part 1 (a). An outside yacht shall give each yacht overlapping her on the inside room to round or pass it, except as provided in rules #42.1 (c), (d), and (6). Room includes room to tack or gybe when either is an integral part of the rounding or passing maneuver.

(b) When an inside yacht of two or more overlapped yachts on opposite tasks will have to gybe in rounding a mark, in order most directly to assume a proper course on the next leg, she shall gybe when she has obtained room.

(0) When two yachts on opposite tacks are either on a beat or when one of them will have to tack either to round the mark or to avoid the obstruction, as between each other rule #42.1(a) shall not apply and they are subject to rules #36, Opposite tack,

Fundamental rule, and #41, tacking or gybing.

(d) An outside leeward yacht with luffing rights may take an inside yacht to windward of a mark, provided that she hails to that effect and begins to luff before she is within two of her overall lengths of the mark and provided that she also passes to windward of it.

(2) When approaching the starting line to start, a leeward yacht shall be under no obligation to give any windward yacht room to pass to leeward of a starting mark surrounded by navigable water; but> after the starting signal, a leeward yacht shall not deprive a windward yacht of room at such mark either:

(i) By heading above the ?rst mark; or (ii) by luffing above close—hauled.

When clear astern and clear ahead.

Part 2 (a). A yacht clear astern shall keep clear in anticipation of and during the rounding or passing maneuver when the yacht clear ahead remains on the same tack or gybe.

(b) A yacht clear ahead which tacks to round a mark is subject to rule 4.1, Tacking or gybing, but a yacht clear astern shall not luff above close-hauled so as to prevent the yacht clear ahead from tacking.

Restrictions on establishing and breaking an overlap.

Part 3 (a). A yacht clear astern shall not establish an inside overlap and be entitled to room under rule 42. I (a) when the yacht clear ahead: (i) is within two of her own lengths of the mark or obstruction, except as provided in rule 4.2.303) or (ii) is unable to give the required room.

(b) A yacht clear astern may establish an overlap between the yacht clear ahead and a continuing obstruction such as a shoal or the shore, only when there is room for her to do so in safety.

(1:) A yacht clear ahead shall be under no obligation to give room before an overlap is established. The onus will lie upon the yacht which has been clear astern to satisfy the race committee that the overlap was established in proper time.

(d) When an overlap exists at the time the outside yacht comes within two of her lengths of the mark, she shall be bound by rule 42. 1 (at), even though the overlap may thereafter be broken.

#43.  Close-hauled, hailing for room to tack at obstructions

Part 1. Hailing. When safe pilotage requires one or two close—hauled yachts on the same tack to make a substantial alteration of course to clear an obstruction, and if she intends to tack, but cannot tack without colliding with the other yacht, she shall hail the other yacht for room to tack.

Part 2. Responding. The hailed yacht at the earliest possible moment after the hail shall either:-

(a) Tack, in which case, the hailing yacht shall begin to tack either:-

(i) Before the hailed yacht has completed her tack, or

(ii) If she cannot then tack without colliding with the hailed yacht, immediately she is able to tack, or;-

(b) Reply “You tack”, or words to that effect, if in her opinion she can keep clear without tacking or after postponing her tack. In this case:-

(i) The hailing yacht shall immediately tack and;-

(ii) The hailed yacht shall keep clear.

(iii) The onus shall lie on the hailed yacht that replied, “You tack” to satisfy the race committee that she kept clear.

#3.  Limitation on right to room

(a) When the obstruction is a mark, which the hailed yacht can fetch, the hailing yacht shall not be entitled to room to tack, and the hailed yacht shall immediately so inform the hailing yacht.

(b) If, thereafter, the hailing yacht again hails for room to tack, she shall, after receiving it: retire immediately.

(c) If, after having refused to respond to a hail under rule 433(3), the hailed yacht fails to fetch, she shall retire immediately.

#44. Yachts returning to start.

1 (a) A premature starter when returning to start, or a yacht working into position from the wrong side of the starting line or is extensions, when the starting signal is made, shall keep clear of all yachts which are starting, or have started, correctly, until she is wholly on the right side of the starting line or its extensions.

(b) Thereafter, she shall be accorded the rights under the rules of Part IV of a yacht which is starting correctly ; but if she thereby acquires right of way over another yacht which is starting correctly, she shall allow that yacht ample room and opportunity to keep clear.

2 A premature starter, while continuing to sail the course, and until it is obvious that she is returning to start, will be accorded the rights under the rules of Part IV of a yacht that has started.

#45.  Anchored, aground or capsized.

Part 1.  A yacht under way shall keep clear of another yacht racing which is anchored, aground or capsized. Of two anchored yachts, the one which anchored later shall keep clear, except that a yacht which is dragging shall keep clear of one which is not.

Part 2.  A yacht anchored or aground shall indicate the fact to any yacht which may be in danger of fouling her. Unless the size of the yachts or the weather conditions make some other signal necessary, a hail is sufficient indication

Part 3.  A yacht shall not be penalized for fouling a yacht in distress which she is attempting to assist nor a yacht which goes aground or capsizes immediately ahead or her.



If two boats touch during a race each must either protest or retire.



Before you think of entering your first race, you should have read the rules  many times over. However, in practice, a great number of racing sailors learn by trial and error but this is most unfair on those who know the rules and sail by them. If you have any respect for your fellow racing sailors you must learn the rules before starting to race.

Again, in practice, however good your theory, you may still apply some of the rules wrongly but at the very least you must have a good working knowledge of them even if you do panic at the critical moment. Sound knowledge of the rules makes for safety in racing. If accused of breaking some rule by another boat, but feel you have correctly understood and interpreted the rules, you may sail on with a clear conscience.

The other boat should hoist a protest flag and enter a protest against you at the end of the race. The club’s more senior and expert members usually hear a protest, and so you are guaranteed a fair hearing. There is no better way of learning how rules are applied than by attending protest meetings, which must be held in public.

If you know you have infringed the rules you must do two things. The first is to haul down your racing flag, the second is to retreat from the race. You must retire promptly keeping well clear and preferably to leeward of those still racing. It is helpful, and certainly courteous, to inform the race officer of your retirement as soon as you come ashore. If two boats touch during a race each must either protest or retire.

The very idea of sailboat racing is to win by fair and honorable sailing so if you mislead or baulk other boats you must retire.




For those wishing to take up boating and perhaps progress to racing, there are prestigious boating associations worth considering joining, they have a long history in helping  and advising amateur and professional boaters alike.

For the USA boater:- Boat owners association of the United States, aka-Boat US. ( this article authors association of membership).

United States sailing association, aka- US sailing.

For the Canadian boater:- Royal Canadian Yacht Club, aka-RCYC.

For the UK boater: - Royal Yachting Association, aka-RYA.



Submitted: January 09, 2019

© Copyright 2021 Sergeant Walker. All rights reserved.

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