Courtesy, Sportsmanship and Manners in Sailing

What do you call 2 Sail Boats on the water? A Race!
Racing sailboats are almost as old as Sailing. Racing is believed to have started with the Dutch in the 17th century. King Charles II of England was also known to race, in boats named after queens, princesses and other royalty. Races were started at the mooring buoys. Cannons and flags indicate the start, sails were hoisted as fast as possible and the race was on. Racing yachts were big, expensive and manned by a professional crew. Contact between these wooden boats was considered blasphemous as repairs were expensive and very labour intensive. Boats that hit racing marks, either fixed or floating, were disqualified and retired from the race immediately. Fair racing and sportsmanship were in the interest of all participants.

Today, fair sailing remains central to our sport, with both the boats and the rules evolving. It is important to learn the racing rules and play by them. The rules are updated every four years…right after the Olympics! Basic principles and fundamental rules say play fair, avoid collisions, help those in danger, do not pollute plus a few others. The link to the current version is ( There’s an app for it too.

Sailing does not always have referees on the water, we police ourselves. Hitting a mark or fouling a boat during a race imposes an immediate penalty – either 360o or 720 o penalty turns. When you foul a boat or one fouls you, say ‘protest’. If the incident is not fairly resolved on the water with penalty turns, you need to write the story (“incident”) on a protest form, present it to the rules experts (“Protest Committee”) within the time limit, and await their decision. This process can be emotional and stressful if you are not that comfortable with the rules. Instead, if you are wrong, it is much easier and faster to do the penalty turns. This ensures fair racing and maintains your reputation for being a play-by-the-rules fair sailor.

While you are racing you can also show sportsmanship and courtesy. Consider thanking the hard-working race committee at the end of the racing day. Whether you cross the finish line in first place or in the bottom half, say thank you and wave a hand to the race officials. After a hard-fought race with your competitors say “good race” to the sailor’s just in front and just behind. If you find it easy it is also a nice touch to sail by the boat that won the race and say nice race. Celebrate their good result; they may do the same when you win.

A good reputation takes time to build, but it can be easily damaged with just one bad incident. Remember, when racing you are representing yourself, your club, your class, your province and eventually, your country.
Go fast and be fair. Good luck!
Mark Lammens
Coach / Executive Director, SK Sailing CA

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