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Starting a race Infringments
Marks/Overtaking Team racing
Right of way Glossary


Objective: Yacht racing is the sport of competitive sailing. There several kinds of races and boats used for racing. Yachts can only be moved by the wind, with the crew adjusting the sails to take advantage of conditions. The course will be shown by marks (usually buoys), which must be passed in the correct order and on the correct side. Competitors aim to complete a set course in the shortest possible time.

Offshore yacht racing
Some longer offshore races cross open water. Offshore races can vary from afternoon events to round the world races lasting up to seven or eight months.


The start of a race

The starting line is marked by two marks (buoys) or posts, or flags. Yachts can manoeuvre in the starting area to be able to cross the start line at the starting signal. Yachts which cross the line before the starting signal must recross the line.
The starting signal is given by the raising of a flag, then another flag, before both flags are lowered, and the race begins. Yachts which are racing fly a rectangular flag from the mast.

A yacht can only be moved by wind and water, with the crew adjusting the sails to control speed and direction. Other actions, such as rowing (sculling), rolling the boat from side to side (rocking), and starting and stopping the yacht quickly are not allowed.

Marks and overtaking

Note: Yachts are usually referred to as 'she' and 'her'.

If a yacht passes a mark on the wrong side, she must continue around the mark on the wrong side, and then go round on the correct side. If a yacht touches a mark, the crew must either retire from the race, show that another yacht caused the incident (if this is the case), or sail clear of all other yachts, and complete two 360 degree turns.

If the overtaking yacht tries to pass to leeward (a leeward yacht is one that has another yacht between it and the wind), the yacht ahead must keep clear after the (two yacht length) is in place, and the overtaking yacht must give her room to do so.

If the overtaking yacht tries to pass to windward (against the wind), the overtaking yacht must keep clear. The yacht ahead may luff (turn towards the wind) to prevent the overtaking yacht from passing to windward.

Right of way

If two or more yachts are heading for a mark or other obstruction, and there is a gap at least two yacht lengths between the mark and the approaching yachts, the outside yacht (the one furthest from the correct side of the mark), must give way to the inside yacht.

If two yachts are in danger of colliding, the one that does not have right of way must keep clear, although both yachts must try to avoid a collision. If a yacht has the right of way, she must not alter her course if this would obstruct another yacht from keeping clear, or obstruct a yacht which is already keeping clear.

A yacht that breaks one of these rules must retire from the race, or a penalty specific to the competition may be imposed.

Further rules:

- when yachts are on opposite tacks (going in opposite directions), for example, if one yacht is going across the path of another, the port (left) tack yacht keeps clear.

- when yachts are on the same tack, the windward (against the wind) yacht keeps clear.

- when yachts are on the same tack and one is overtaking, the yacht clear astern keeps clear. This means a yacht is clear astern of another when she is behind an imaginary line at a right angle to the centre point of the other yacht.

Yellow yacht clear astern

In this diagram, the yellow yacht is clear astern of the red yacht.

- when a yacht is changing tack, that yacht keeps clear of others.

- when two yachts are changing tack, the yacht on the other's port side keeps clear.

- when a yacht has capsized (fallen over), or run aground, other yachts keep clear.


If a yacht is close-hauled (sailing close to the wind), that yachts crew may ask another yacht on the same tack for room to clear an obstruction.

If a yacht is on the wrong side of a starting line at the beginning of a race, that yacht must keep clear of other yachts which are sailing correctly.


In yacht racing, umpire and referees are not present during the race, but each yacht will register their own protests about their own and other yachts infringements, by flying a protest flag, and informing the offending yacht that a protest is to be made.

Penalties for these infringements can include:

- two full turns, clear of other yachts, as soon as possible after the infringement has happened.

- points may be taken off the final score.

Scoring for major competitions and the Olympics is as follows:

First place, 0 points. Second place, 3 points. Third place, 5.7 points. Fourth place, 8 points. Fifth place, 10 points. Sixth place, 11.7. Seventh place and below, place and 6 points.

For example, if a yacht finishes ninth, she receives 15 points - place (9) + 6 = 15

A yacht that does not finish or is disqualified receives one more point than the number of yachts in the race.

Team racing

Matches are held between two or more teams of two or more yachts per team. A match consists of two races between the teams. During races, yachts manoeuvre to assist their team mates and hinder their opponents.

Right of way does not apply between team mates, if there is no collision. If there is a collision, one yacht must acknowledge it by displaying a green flag.

In team racing, the first yacht to finish gets three quarters of a point, the second yacht gets 2 points, the third 3 points, the fourth 4 points, and so on. Penalty scores are added for acknowledged infringements (green flag), 2 and a half points, for an unacknowledged infringement, 6 points, for serious damage, 10 points.

The team with the lowest score are the winners. If there is a tie, the winner of the match between the tied teams, or the team with the lowest score on aggregate when the tied teams met, is declared the winner.


Bow - the front of the boat.

Jibe - (or gybe) turning the yacht so the stern turns through the wind, changing the side of the yacht on which the sails are carried (opposite of tacking).

Leeward - away from the wind. A leeward yacht has another yacht between it and the wind (opposite of windward).

Luff - changing course toward the wind.

Port - the left side of a yacht.

Port tack - sailing with the wind blowing onto the port side.

Starboard - the right side of a yacht.

Starboard tack - sailing with the wind blowing onto the starboard side.

Stern - the back of the boat.

Tacking - altering course with the wind ahead.

Windward - against the wind.

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