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Sailing Rules

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While the rules of sailing are not as numerous as those of other sports, there are still fundamental laws in the sport that need to be followed during a race or regatta. 

Life-saving equipment

According to the International Sailing Federation (ISAF), all boats are required to carry life-saving equipment. Personal floatation devices must also be worn at all times by those on board.

Right of Way

When two boats meet and are on opposite tacks, the boat on the port tack is required to keep clear of the boat on the starboard tack. This means that if both boats are facing each other and in opposite directions, the boat on the left has to avoid the boat on the right.

However, if the two boats are on the same tack and one boat is overlapping the other, the boat that is leeward (the side away from the wind) has to keep clear of the windward boat.

Avoid Contact

Boats are not allowed to make physical contact with other boats, unless they have the right of way. This rule, though, has a few exceptions: the boat with the right of way can only make contact if the other boat shows signs of not abiding by the right of way rule, and in doing so, it must not cause damage or injury.


Boats are required to leave a certain predetermined object on the water, and this object is known as the mark. A boat is considered by the rules to be in the zone of a mark when it is within three boat lengths away from it. Boats are required to leave room for other boats to pass by a mark, also known as mark-room. The boat on the inside is given mark-room if two boats are overlapping.


Boats used in a race must be propelled solely by wind and water. Other forms of propulsion are only allowed when a vessel or person is in danger, or when permitted under special rules.


If a participant breaks the right of way rule or the contact rule, he or she is required to take a two-turn penalty. This means that the boat has to turn twice in the direction that the misendeavor has been conducted.

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