Sailing is the propulsion of a vehicle and the control of its movement with large (usually fabric) foils called sails. By changing the rigging, rudder, and sometimes the keel or centre board, a sailor manages the force of the wind on the sails in order to move the vessel relative to its surrounding medium (typically water, but also land and ice) and change its direction and speed. Mastery of the skill requires experience in varying wind and sea conditions, as well as knowledge concerning sail-boats themselves and a keen understanding of one’s surroundings.
While there are still some places in the world where sail-powered passenger, fishing and trading vessels are used, these craft have become rarer as internal combustion engines have become economically viable in even the poorest and most remote areas. In most countries sailing is enjoyed as a recreational activity or as a sport. Recreational sailing or yachting can be divided into racing and cruising. Cruising can include extended offshore and ocean-crossing trips, coastal sailing within sight of land, and day sailing.
Every vessel in coastal and offshore waters is subject to the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (the COLREGS). On inland waterways and lakes other similar regulations, such as CEVNI in Europe, may apply. In some sailing events, such as the Olympic Games, which are held on closed courses where no other boating is allowed, specific racing rules such as the Racing Rules of Sailing (RRS) may apply. Often, in club racing, specific club racing rules, perhaps based on RRS, may be superimposed onto the more general regulations such as COLREGS or CEVNI.
In general, regardless of the activity, every sailor must
ñMaintain a proper lookout at all times
ñAdjust speed to suit the conditions
ñKnow whether to ‘stand on’ or ‘give way’ in any close-quarters situation.
Licensing regulations vary widely across the world. While boating on international waters does not require any license, a license may be required to operate a vessel on coastal waters or inland waters. Some jurisdictions require a license when a certain size is exceeded (e.g, a length of 20 meters), others only require licenses to pilot passenger ships, ferries or tugboats.
For example, the European Union issues the International Certificate of Competence, which is required to operate pleasure craft in most inland waterways within the union. The United States in contrast has no licensing, but instead has voluntary certification organisations such as the American Sailing Association. These US certificates are often required to charter a boat, but are not required by any federal or state law.
Types of Sailing Competitions
Class – Where all the boats are substantially similar, and the first boat to finish wins. (e.g. 470, 49er, Contender, Farr 40, Laser,Lido 14, RS Feva, Soling, Star, Thistle, etc.)
Handicap – Where boats of different types sail against each other and are scored based on their handicaps which are calculated either before the start or after the finish. ( e.g. Fastnet Race, Commodore’s Cup, Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race,Bermuda Race, etc.) The two most common handicap systems are the IRC and the Portsmouth Yardstick, while the Performance Handicap Racing Fleet (PHRF) is very common in the U.S.A.
Class racing can be further subdivided. Each class has its own set of class rules, and some classes are more restrictive than others. In a strict one-design class the boats are essentially identical. Examples include the 29er, J/24, Laser, and RS Feva.
At the other end of the extreme are the development classes based on a box-rule. The box-rule might specify only a few parameters such as maximum length, minimum weight, and maximum sail area, thus allowing creative engineering to develop the fastest boat within the constraints. Examples include the Moth (dinghy), the A Class Catamaran, and the boats used in the America’s Cup, Volvo Ocean Race, and Barcelona World Race.
Many classes lie somewhere in between strict one-design and box rule. These classes allows some variation, but the boats are still substantially similar. For instance, both wood and fibreglass hulls are allowed in the Albacore, Wayfarer, and Fireball classes, but the hull shape, weight, and sail area are tightly constrained.
Sailboat racing ranges from single person dinghy racing to large boats with 10 or 20 crew and from small boats costing a few thousand dollars to multi-million dollar America’s Cup or Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race campaigns. The costs of participating in the high end large boat competitions make this type of sailing one of the most expensive sports in the world. However, there are inexpensive ways to get involved in sailboat racing, such as at community sailing clubs, classes offered by local recreation organisations and in some inexpensive dinghy and small catamaran classes.
Additionally high schools and colleges may offer sailboat racing programs through the Inter-scholastic Sailing Association (in the USA) and the Intercollegiate Sailing Association (in the USA and some parts of Canada). Under these conditions, sailboat racing can be comparable to or less expensive than sports such as golf and skiing. Sailboat racing is one of the few sports in which people of all ages and genders can regularly compete with and against each other.
Most sailboat and yacht racing is done in coastal or inland waters. However, in terms of endurance and risk to life, ocean races such as the Volvo Ocean Race, the solo VELUX 5 Oceans Race, and the non-stop solo Vendée Globe, rate as some of the most extreme and dangerous sporting events. Not only do participants compete for days with little rest, but an unexpected storm, a single equipment failure, or collision with an ice floe could result in the sailboat being disabled or sunk hundreds or thousands of miles from search and rescue.