The Different Types of Sailing Explained

Sailing, an Olympic sport since 1900, has various competitive types that have been listed by the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) along with its non-competitive form, cruising.

Fleet Racing

Fleet racing is the most common form of competitive sailing that involves racing boats going around a course.

Fleet racing can be either ‘one-design’ or ‘handicap’. One-design boat racing, as at the Olympic Sailing Competition means that boats racing against each other are all the same – the same design, the same sail area etc. Handicap racing means different types of racing boat can compete against each other. Each boat has a handicap or rating so that their finish times can be adjusted or their start time determined so that the slowest boats go first.

Fleet racing can be any length of time with several taking place in a day or as a round the world race such as the Volvo Ocean Race.

Fleet Racing boat

Match Racing

A match race consists of two identical racing boats competing against each other. This is a one-on-one duel of strategy and tactics and the objective is simple – to be the first to cross the finish line.

A match racing course is always a windward/leeward course and each race takes approximately 20 minutes to complete.

Team Racing

Team racing typically consists of two sailing teams each of three racing boats competing against eachTeam racing boat other. It is a fast-paced racing style which depends on excellent boat handling skills and rapid tactical decision making.

The sailing teams will race to try and achieve a winning combination of places – the lowest score wins. The scoring system is 1 for first place, 2 for second and so on. If one boat in the team wins the race they are not guaranteed glory as their combined score must be ten or less to win. Example: 2, 3, 5 = 10 points vs. 1, 4, 6 = 11 points.

Offshore and Oceanic Sailing

Oceanic racing is defined as any offshore race over 800 miles. There are many types of Oceanic and Offshore racing events which are organized for one design classes as well as handicap or rating systems.

The differences between the types of oceanic and offshore racing, ranging from trans-oceanic boat racing to short-course day races sailed in protected waters, are reflected in the six categories of the ISAF Offshore Special Regulations which provide for the differences in the minimum standards of safety and accommodation.

Diasabled Sailing

The International Association for Disabled Sailing (IFDS) is an affiliate member of ISAF and responsible for disabled sailing worldwide.

Almost any racing boat can be sailed by people with disabilities although it is clear that some are more suitable than others.

In 1996 sailing was included on the programme of the Paralympic Games as a demonstration event and it has been full medal sport since then. It is one of the only sports in the Paralympic Games in which athletes of any disability compete together.

Disabled sailing racing boatCruising 

Finally, cruising is arguably the most commonly enjoyed sailing discipline.

Cruising can be a coastal day sail or a longer distance international journey crossing oceans and national borders.

ISAF works with organizations such as the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to represent the interests of sailors worldwide.

The Piracy updates and links in the Safety section are essential reading for sailors considering cruising in certain waters.


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