• Understanding the sport of sailing and the wide variations in sailboat classes, events, equipment, crew positions, and physical demands is essential to caring for a sailing team.

  • The sport has evolved from early yacht racing in England in the 1600s, to Olympic-level racing and now, worldwide extreme sailing.

  • The recent advent of high-tech sailboats capable of increasing speeds is now causing the sports medicine world to improve their efforts toward safety and injury prevention.

  • The specific needs of a team competing in the Volvo Ocean Race, where sailors race offshore for weeks at a time but are able to communicate to a “home-base” hospital via satellite and require an on-board medic to be a member of the crew, will be different than the needs of an Olympic sailing team racing on small dinghies and keelboats in day races.

  • All events require high-performance considerations, as well as emergency management preparations, particularly with the increase in extreme sailing. However, individual events and crew demands will differ significantly.

General Principles


  • Sailing has been a vital mode of transportation and trade since the dawn of history, when boats were built by the Phoenicians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans.

  • Different types of sailboats have been developed through the centuries, ranging from the Polynesian outrigger proa and the Chinese lugsail or “junk rig” to the Arabic triangular sail dhow.

  • The first Dutch “yacht” arrived in England in 1660 as a gift to King Charles I.

  • In 1661, two more yachts were built: Catherine , a second yacht to King Charles, and Anne , for the King’s brother. A competition between the King and his brother ensued, and the vessels raced along the Thames in the first pleasure sailing race in history.

Competitive Sailing

  • The first yacht club was founded in Ireland around 1720, and it was initially named the Water Club of Cork. It was later refounded as the Cork Yacht Club in 1828.

  • The first club in England was founded in 1820 and was named the Royal Yacht Club. The first yacht club in the United States was founded in 1844: the New York Yacht Club.

  • The golden age of yacht clubs and sailboat racing regattas started with the launching of the Royal Yacht Squadron’s Cowes Week regatta, held annually since 1826 in Cowes, England.

  • Competitive sailboat racing continued to grow in popularity with the America’s Cup Race, which started in 1851 off the Isle of Wight, when the yacht “America” was victorious over the British competitors and claimed the “Hundred Guinea Cup,” which is now the oldest continuously contested trophy in the world and known as the “America’s Cup” ( Fig. 84.1 ).

    Figure 84.1

    America’s Cup hydrofoiling yacht.

  • As the sport of sailing grew, many other regattas and competitive events have developed, including offshore ocean racing, global solo-circumnavigation, and in-shore course racing.

  • Well-known events such as the Fastnet Race, Volvo Ocean Race, and Around Alone Race are aided by modern day satellite navigation and other technologic advances.

  • Sailing regattas have also been a part of the Olympic Games since 1900 and the Paralympic Games since 1992.

  • Although professional sailors now dominate the sport in America’s Cup, Grand Prix, and Volvo Ocean Race events, a vast number of amateur sailors continue to participate in and enjoy the sport through international and national class championships, college and high school events, regional race weeks, and local club regattas.

The Players

  • The “players” in the sport of sailing are the sailors racing their boats in events governed by the international rules of the sport.

  • Sailing is a sport played by all age groups, from junior sailors to masters and grand masters.

  • Crews are often coed and open, but there are sometimes men’s and women’s divisions depending on the event and the boat class.

  • Weight may be a limiting factor, but there are no “weight classes”; combined crew weight limitation suggested in order to equalize the boat’s performance.

The Playing Field

  • The sailboat racing “playing field” is a body of water—whether a river, a lake, or the open ocean.

  • A distance race is held in or a “course” is placed on a constantly changing environment.

  • The primary factors affecting the playing field include the wind, waves, current, temperature, and all types of weather systems.

  • The “race course” itself varies depending on the type of event. It may be around a fixed buoy course or on a course of longer distances, perhaps from one seaport to another, or even from one part of the globe to another.


  • The Racing Rules of Sailing (RRS) are governed by the International Sailing Federation, and there are slight variations to the basic RRS depending on the type of race or the event. For example, match racing rules are slightly different from fleet racing rules because of the difference in format.

  • Although a jury is often present to interpret the rules in case of protests, sailing is considered a Corinthian sport, in which participants are expected to abide by the rules and take their penalties when appropriate.

  • Many sailboat races are similar to race car driving: the boat that completes the “course” quickest and crosses the finish line first, having followed the rules without infringement, wins.

  • Some larger boat races have a “handicapping” system, requiring a rating system such as the Performance Handicap Racing Fleet rating system to be in place. In these races, finish times are calculated based on the rating and distance of the race.

  • Basic rules of the “road” or “waterway” that apply to sailing vessels whether competing or not:

    • Right-of-way rules apply in situations when boats meet, such as starboard/port and windward/leeward convergences.

    • Knowledge of basic sailing techniques, including the points of sail, steering the boat through a tack or a jibe, and maneuvering the boat safely, is essential for anyone who is learning to race sailboats.

Sport Classes

Types of Races

  • The most common types of races are fleet races, match races, team races, and distance races.

    • Fleet races involve multiple boats starting together and racing around a course ( Fig. 84.2 ).

      Figure 84.2

      Rounding the mark.

    • Match races are done in “flights,” pitting two boats against each other in a round-robin format.

    • Team races involve teams of boats working together around the course to win a regatta.

    • Distance races are often from point to point and may even involve global circumnavigation.

  • Events vary in duration. Some are single-day events; others are weekend regattas, race weeks, or even part of a longer series that occurs over a few months.

    • America’s Cup races are match races that involve both a series of races and an elimination ladder.

    • The Volvo Ocean race is an around-the-world race with many individual legs and cumulative times.

    • Olympic and Paralympic races are a series of individual races with cumulative point totals.

  • Races may involve many different types and sizes of boats competing against one another, with each having a “rating” or handicap assigned to it to even out the competition. Other races are “one-design,” where all boats are identical.

Boat Classes and Crew

  • There are many different types of boat classes—from the America’s Cup class, which is currently a fixed wing hydrofoiling catamaran reaching speeds of 46 knots, to the Volvo 70s, which require 13 crew members working together as a high functioning team, to the Optimist dinghy class that junior sailors learn to race single-handed.

  • The number of crew or team members varies according to the type of boat and the specific requirements of each individual class.

  • The 2016 Olympic Games sailing program will have 10 different disciplines. The boat class may change from one Games quadrennial to the next. In 2016, the boat classes will be Laser (men’s one person dinghy), Laser Radial (women’s one person dinghy), Finn (heavyweight dinghy), 420 (men’s and women’s two person dinghy), windsurfing RS:X (men’s and women’s board), 49er and 49erFx (men’s and women’s high performance), and NACRA 17 (multihull mixed class).

  • Currently, the Paralympics has three boat disciplines—single-person (2.4 mR class), two-person, (SKUD 18 class), and three-person (Sonar class).

  • Although the Laser is a single-person Olympic class boat, it is sailed very competitively all over the world by all age groups—from juniors to great grandmasters.

  • Other boat classes that are very well known and participated in widely include J-24s, Etchells, Lightnings, Sunfish, 29er, Snipes, Melges 24s, Farr 40s, and TP-52s.

Equipment and Skills

  • The basic equipment for sailing includes a boat with a mast, sails, a keel or centerboard, a method to trim the sails to the wind, and a steering mechanism or helm.

  • While some boats may be very complicated with extremely advanced technology, satellite navigational systems, and carbon fiber rigging, other classes of sailboats control and limit the allowed equipment in some fashion, usually permitting only one common design.

  • Many major one-design regattas require sail measurements and boat weigh-ins, and some also require crew to weigh-in on a daily basis.

  • Variations in sailing equipment exist depending on the type of boat sailed—whether it is a two-person dinghy that requires hiking straps, a multihull with trapeze capabilities, or a 10-person keelboat with large “coffee grinder” winch handles for trimming sails. Knowledge of the specific classes is essential for the proper care of the sailors.

  • The skill sets required to competitively race sailboats at an advanced level are also variable but include helming (whether on a tiller or a wheel), trimming the sails (either on block systems or large winches), hoisting and dousing different types of sails, spinnaker pole/system management, rigging the boat and making fine-tune adjustments, hiking or trapeze work, maneuvering the boat with speed and agility, and navigation of the vessel.

Protective Gear

Jul 19, 2019 | Posted by in SPORT MEDICINE | Comments Off on Sailing
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