Simplified, Condensed, & Unofficial


(intended as an aid, not as a substitute for official RRS of Sailing and US Sailing Prescriptions)


For more on the RRS, please tap here for US Sailing website. 

The basics to know:


1. PORT-STARBOARD: When yachts are on opposite tacks (booms are on different sides, starboard is the right of way boat and port tack (yacht with boom on the starboard side) keeps clear.  See rule 10.

When you are the starboard boat, you still need to keep an eye out for port tack boats.  This is called keeping an adequate watch.  If you are the port tack boat, make sure the starboard boat knows you see them and perhaps signal your intentions if it’s going to be a close crossing. 


2. WINDWARD-LEEWARD: When yachts are on the same tack (booms on the same sides}, the leeward boat has the right of way, and the windward yacht keeps clear; when a boat is overtaking, other rules apply.  See rule 11.

There’s also a bit about proper course which is covered later in this list, keep in mind that it is VERY hard for a slower boat to overtake a faster boat by trying to sail above them, but it’s also hard to sail below them and pass as well.  Tough luck. 


3. ALTERING COURSE or CHANGING TACK: When you are tacking or gybing, keep clear of other yachts. After you tack or gybe and you suddenly get right-of-way, give the other yacht room and time to keep clear.  See rules 13, 15, 16, 14.

You can’t just drive your boat around willy-nilly anywhere you want to go, at least not where there are other boats sailing in close quarters.  Any time you alter course for any reason, you have to give the other guy room to avoid a collision with you.  While you are tacking or gybing you don’t have any rights, so keep sight of that as well. 


4. LUFFING BEFORE STARTING: Before you start you may luff a yacht to windward, but you must give the other boat room to keep clear; there is no proper course before the start, but as soon as the race has started, you may not force the yacht above you to sail above close hauled.  See rules 11, 17, 13.

Luffing before the start is mostly used in dinghy starts, since it’s really hard to get slower, heavier boats up to speed.  If you can avoid luffing or getting luffed by finding a spot with clean air on the start line, it’s going to go so much better for you at the start. 


5. BARGING: Barging is frowned upon at the start, please attend a starting clinic to understand the rules when making final approach to the line to start.  See rules 11, 17.

We all know that guy who just sticks his bow in there at the committee boat, whether or not he’s got the right to do that.  Most people don’t really understand final approach, so it’s best to close the door on the bargers well before they can get to the end of the line and create a problem.  If you are the barger, then you are the problem. 


6. OVER EARLY: If you are over the line early at the start, keep clear of all yachts that started properly as you return to restart.   If there is an I flag up, you may not be over the line with one minute to go unless you round the end of the line to start.  If there is a Z or black flag up, then you will be penalized or DSQ for being over the line with less than one minute to start and you can’t exonerate yourself. See rules 10, 16, 22, 24, 30.

Let’s face it – everyone is over early once in a while, that s**t just happens.  When it’s your turn, be a lady or a gentleman about it, and make sure that you are steering clear of boats that are racing while you are trying to get back to the line to clear yourself and properly start.   You also have NO rights while you are going back to restart, unless it’s in relationship to other boats that also have not started. 


7. MARK ROOM:  When a boat clear ahead of you enters the zone (3 boat lengths), you must give them room to round the mark in a seaman-like way.  If the boats are overlapped when the first boat reaches the zone, then the inside boat is entitled to mark room, and the outside boat must not interfere with their rounding.  See rules 11, 18 (all of them).

This is another tough one, since it can sometimes be difficult to tell whether or not there was an overlap at the zone.  It’s also a good idea to discuss it – while not required – with a competitor before someone sticks their nose in at the rounding and someone ends up with a hole in their boat.  Talk soon, talk often, but don’t be afraid to exert your rights (although not to the point of a deliberate collision) if you believe you are correct. 


8. PROPER COURSE: When another boat tries to pass you to windward, you may luff them if you wish, although you must give them room to keep clear when you alter course to do so.  The leeward boat determines the proper course, so if you attempt to sail above another boat to pass, you may find yourself being luffed by that boat.  This is not fast for you or them.  See rule 17.

We don’t need to remind you that boats with assymmetrical spinnakers sail a much higher proper course than symmetrical spinnaker boats do; it’s a really bad idea to round a mark and come out to weather of an assym boat if you have a sym boat, since your proper course isn’t the one that determines the actual proper course.  If you think you’re being fouled, shout protest and go on about your business, take it up after the racing is finished. 


9. TOUCHING A MARK: If you touch a mark, are required to do a 360 turn to exonerate yourself.  You need to do this as quickly as possible but you may not foul or interfere with other boats while you are in the process of doing your turn.  If you hit a mark that also has an offset mark, you may do your turn between the mark and the offset mark if you can safely and clearly do so without fouling another boat.  See rules 31, 44.

Just like being over early, this one happens to us all every now and then.  You’re required to do a 360 turn in order to go back to racing, and you have to make sure that you are not in the way of another competitor and that you do not foul another competitor or you’ll have to do additional penalty turns for that foul.  Look both ways before you start your turn. 


10. TAKING A PENALTY: If you break a rule while racing, you may do a penalty turn, or two penalty turns, depending on the rule you have broken and whether or not there is damage or injury that resulted from your broken rule.  The Sailing Instructions (SIs) for KSC detail which penalties require what number of turns, if they are changed from the current RRS penalties.  See rule 44 or the Standing SIs of KSC.

Yep, sometimes we all break a rule or two.  And as long as no one is hurt or there is no damage to another boat, you can do some turns – either 360 or 720 degrees – on the water to exonerate yourself.  Unless it’s a starting penalty with a Z flag, black flag, or some other type of penalty that can’t be fixed (maybe you want to check that part about collisions being slow above?), then it’s usually best to just do your turns and go on with your day.  No one likes sitting around waiting for a protest hearing.


11. AVOID COLLISIONS: Even when you have right-of-way it is your duty to do your utmost to avoid collisions. See rule 14.

A collision at sea can ruin your entire day.


12. PRACTICE GOOD SPORTSMANSHIP.  It’s required in the rules that we all behave nicely towards our fellow competitors.  Failure to do so can result in suspension by the club or by the national authority.   See rule 2, 7.

Don’t be a jerk on the race course, and try to behave like you weren’t raised in a barn.  If you can’t manage that, you’ll be going to time out. 


Please read the Sailing Instructions before racing.


You can tap here to find them. 

The starting sequence, sound and visual signals and other instructions are contained in the Sailing Instructions.