How to Start Racing a Sailboat

Sailing is social activity and a bit of a macho-thing to. Thus, it is little surprising that racing is very popular all over the World. Many sailors consider it to be the best way to learn new techniques and estimate your skills by comparing it to those of your competitors. Getting started on racing is easy – in this article I try to tell you how.

Almost all people who have ever sailed, have raced a boat. Most sailing schools do races at the end or during their courses, and it is easy to spark a passion in young sailors for speed and competition. Sailing clubs normally have annual races or more frequent competitions for particular classes.

When you want to pick up racing, you should first think about the kind of racing you are interested in. Sailboat races are divided either into different classes specific for a particular type of boat, or in mixed fleets for the less determined sailors. There are races for different classes of dinghies, catamarans and to a lesser degree even bigger yachts. The latter ones target rather professional sailors and are not so suitable for hobbyists, since they require a big financial and personal commitment.

Races are generally organized through local sailing clubs. Classes of boats are raced within class associations on a national level. Such associations also exist for international or Olympic classes. They control the standards and measures of boats in races and aim to guarantee fair conditions for all participating sailors. Depending on the size of a local sailing club, it might have its own fleets for specific classes, which increases the fun.

Race your Boat via Clubs or Associations

The decision of what type of boat you would want to sail will also reflect your personal style of sailing. If you are after speed, you should aim for catamarans or racing dinghies of Olympic classes. The Olympic 49er or the Laser 5000 are very popular for competitive sailing.

If you are more interested in tactical sailing in which you will have to prove your skills in a variety of techniques, smaller and lighter dinghies such as those of the Laser class will meet your preferences. Another advantage of tactical sailing is, that classes for smaller boats are more common and races more often organized.

If you are not sure what you would prefer, there is no need for speedy decisions. Try to enroll at a sailing club and look for boats that need sailors for their crew. Explore different boats and styles before you decide on a boat for yourself. It is likely that you will find “social” criteria more important than technical ones. As I said at the beginning of the article, racing is all about community and you might maximize your fun by just going for a boat that is commonly sailed in your area.

Keep an eye on national or regional meetings of class associations and talk to as many people from your own sailing club as possible. If you club has a handicap fleet for “other” boats, you can take advantage of that and sail a variety of boats to find out which suits you best.

Further Reading

A Short History of Sailing

Boatowner Associations Online

Wikipedia on Regattas

Wikipedia on Dinghy Racing

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