Three Basic Rules
Rule 1. Port/Starboard – basically when you are tacking, often on the way to the first mark, if you are on Starboard you have right of way. I remember this one as “If you are sitting on the right of the boat, you’re alright”. This same rule applies for example two boats running down wind
Rule 2. Windward boat gives way. Basically if two boats are on the same tack, the boat closer the wind gives way. There are a few variations that the leading sailors get excited about (they will mutter complex things about overlaps and sailing your proper course), but just remember the basic bit. In the picture, the white boat is the windward boat and has to give way.
Rule 3 rounding a mark This one gets a bit more complex. When you are coming up to a mark when you get to 3 boat lengths from the mark, any boat who has got an overlap (i.e. the front of their boat is ahead of the rear of your boat) has to be given room to go round the mark. They will normally shout “water at the mark” or something like that. If they clearly have no water and are trying it on shout back “no water”. But in the early stages it’s probably wise to give them room. In this case, the blue boat needs to give the purple boat room to go about the mark including room to turn towards the next mark!)
What happens if you get it wrong? The main rule is avoid contact with another boat. If the other boat has to take avoiding action because you have broken a rule, you will need to do a 720 degree turn – i.e. go round twice. It’s easier to bear away and start with a gybe. You will know when you have to do this because the other boat will be bellowing at you to do your turns. If you accidentally touch a mark, then you do a 360 degree (once round) turn sometime after the mark but before the next mark.
Thanks to Thornbury SC for this article