Racing Rules of Sailing
Racing Rules of Sailing

The Racing Rules of Sailing (RRS) govern the sport of sailing on the water.

Produced by World Sailing, the Racing Rules of Sailing are revised and published every four years. The current edition is The Racing Rules of Sailing 2017 – 2020.

Changes may be made to the Racing Rules of Sailing during the four-year period – if this happens, these will be published as Changes and Corrections to the Racing Rules of Sailing.

Individual Member National Authorities (MNA’s) may implement their own prescriptions to these rules that apply to racing in their jurisdiction.

Australian Sailing publishes the ‘Blue Book’ which covers the Racing Rules of Sailing (RRS) including Australian Sailing prescriptions. Racing Rules of Sailing including Yachting New Zealand prescriptions can be purchased from their online shop.

It’s a good idea to download or purchase a complete copy of the RRS to so you can review these in detail and have a copy on-hand for reference. To get you started, we’ve included a summary of a few of the important and common rules below:

When the Racing Rules of Sailing Apply

Generally, the Racing Rules of Sailing apply to boats that are “sailing in or near the racing area and intend to race, are racing, or have been racing” (page 14, 2017 – 2020 Racing Rules of Sailing).

If boats that are racing meet a vessel that’s not, the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea or local right-of-way rules apply instead.

Right of Way

The right of way rules are generally as follows:

  • When passing on opposite tacks, a port-tack boat shall keep clear of a starboard-tack boat.
  • When on the same tack and overlapped, the windward boat shall keep clear of the leeward boat.
  • When on the same tack and not overlapped, the clear astern boat shall keep clear of the clear ahead boat.
  • When tacking, the after a boat passes head to wind, she shall keep clear of other boats until she is on a close-hauled course.

Some exceptions apply which can be found in the RRS handbook.

Preventing Contact

The World Sailing Racing Rules of Sailing states that a boat shall “avoid contact with another boat if reasonably possible.” This applies to the keep clear boat and right-of-way boat, however the right-of-way boat can be exonerated under this rule if contact is made but no damage or injury occurs.

Mark Room

If there is an overlap when two boats enter the Zone, the outside boat must give the inside boat mark-room. If one boat is clear-ahead of another when entering the Zone, the clear-astern boat must then give the clear-ahead boat mark-room.

The Zone is defined as “the area around a mark within a distance of three hull lengths of the boat nearer to it. A boat is in the zone when any part of her hull is in the zone.” (page 10, 2017 – 2020 Racing Rules of Sailing).

Mark room does not apply to starting marks when starting.

Room at an Obstruction

A boat may hail another boat that’s on the same tack to request room to tack if she needs to make a significant course change to safely avoid an obstruction and is sailing a close-hauled course. Once a boat has hailed another, they need to give the other boat time to respond; this boat may also pass the hail on to a bot beside her, if necessary.

Rule 69 – Misconduct

Rule 69 states that a “boat owner or support person shall not commit an act of misconduct.”

Misconduct is a breach of good manners or sportsmanship, or unethical behaviour, or conduct that may bring the sport into disrepute.

Breaking rule 69 is usually deemed very serious and a competitor can have action taken against them by the protest committee. Penalties may include the issuance of a warning, disqualification from a race or series, removal from the race venue or suspension from racing for a period of time.

More Information on the Racing Rules of Sailing

The above is meant as a very quick summary of some of the rules you’ll need to know while racing. To find all of the current rules and full interpretation of the above, check out these online resources: