There is much more to sailing than simply launching a boat and letting the wind guide you. Athletes who compete in sailing are guided by a comprehensive set of rules that govern every aspect of competition to ensure safety and fair play on the water.
For the 2012 London Olympics, the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) and the International Olympic Committee have created a 31 page set of rules governing all sailing competitions.
These 10 rules are the most important to remember while watching sailing this summer:
1. The Start
Jumping the gun is not a good idea. The race committee boat sounds a gun or horn at six minutes, five minutes, and one minute to signal to the boats to prepare for the race. After those initial signals, the starting gun or horn sounds. If a boat jumps the gun, it must circle around the starting buoy and return completely behind the starting line before starting the race.
Boats earn points equivalent to the position in which they finish in each opening series race. The first-place boat receives a point, the second-place boat is awarded two points. and so on. The 10 boats with the lowest accumulated score at the end of the series advance to the medal race.
There are 10 event classes -- five men's events, four women's events, and one open event. In all events except the men's skiff, the points from worst race are discarded from the final tally and the rest are added together. Entrants in the men's skiff event can discard their two worst individual race scores.
Points in the medal race are doubled. Total points after the medal race determines winners. The winner is the athlete/crew with the lowest point total.
All athletes competing in Olympic sailing events are required to wear personal floatation devices at all times while they are on their boats.
4. Time Limits
All races are subject to time limits except the women's match races. Ninety minutes is the standard time limit for completion in most events. The only exceptions are the men's keelboat, which has a 100-minute time limit, and the men's skiff, which has a 50-minute time limit.
Boats competing in events are expected to use various flags to signal for anything from needing repairs to lodging a protest. They are restricted from sending or receiving all other types of audio or visual communications except in the case of emergencies.
All boats are required to remain in designated competition areas. No part of a boat is permitted to cross the boundaries in those areas. If a boat wanders outside of a designated completion area, it is subject to security quarantine and may be searched by security crews before being permitted to reenter the competition area.
Strict right-of-way rules govern the movement of boats in a race and are based on the direction of the boats moving in relation to the wind.
Basic right-of-way rules dictate that a boat on port tack is expected to keep a clear pathway in the water for a boat on starboard tack. When wind comes from the left side of the boat, it is on port tack. When wind comes from the right side, it is on starboard tack.
If the boats have the same tack overlapped, the boat that is most downwind has the right-of-way. When it is not overlapped, the overtaking boat must stay clear of the other boat.
Breaches of the right-of-way rule require boats to take a 720 penalty (or sail two complete circles) or face disqualification.
Damage to boats in sailing competitions is not uncommon. It can occur when a boat makes contact with a buoy, an obstruction or another boat. When a boat is damaged, penalty points are assessed on a sliding scale based on the degree of damage. Minor damage is assessed no points. Serious damage requiring at least three hours of repair is assessed a point. Serious damage requiring 1 to 3 hours of repair can result in deductions of 0.5 points in a round robin race and 0.8 points in a knockout race.
Any rule violation can carry a 360 penalty. This means a boat must turn one complete circle before continuing the race. More serious rules violations can dictate a 720 penalty, which requires turning two full circles.
Athletes can make a formal protest against another boat or the race committee itself by displaying a red protest flag and submitting all relevant protest forms within 90 minutes of the last boat finishing the race. Five independent jurors from the ISAF will make a decision on the protest and other competitors may appear as witnesses for either side.
John Coon has written articles on competitive sailing and recreational sailing as a freelance reporter for several print and online publications. He also enjoys sailing on the Great Salt Lake in his home state of Utah.
- Sports & Recreation