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Match Racing

What is match racing?

A match race consists of two identical boats racing against each other. This is a one-on-one duel of strategy and tactics and the objective is simple - to be the first to cross the finish line.

A match racing course is always a windward / leeward course and each race takes approximately 20 minutes to complete.

A match race begins four minutes before the starting time when each boat must enter the starting area from opposite ends of the start line. As soon as they enter the starting area they will engage in a pre-start battle as each one tries to gain an avantage over the other. They will both be trying to cause the other boat to infringe a rule and so receive a penalty or to simply get the most advantageous position on the starting line for themselves so they are in control of the race.

Match racing is officiated by umpires on the water who follow the boats and make instant on-course decisions about whether a penalty is given. The umpire boat will use yellow and blue flags to indicate which boat has been given a penalty or a green flag if no penalty is given.

When a boat is penalized it must complete a full circle penalty turn. This can be done at any time during the race before the finish line. If one boat has a penalty and the other also gets one before the first has taken theirs then they are cancelled out. If a boat receives three penalties then it is disqualified.

Match Racing Events

The format of match racing events varies depending on the number of competitors and the choice of the organizers.

A common format for a match racing event is to sail a round robin where each team sails against everyone else followed by knock out stages which ultimately end in the final to decide first and second and a petit-final to decide third and fourth. There will often be a fifth to eighth place sail off to decide those positions.

With each match lasting approximately 20 minutes there are a lot of matches to make up an event. The race committee will organize the matches into flights. A flight is where one pair of boats start racing and ?? minutes later another pair will start their match on the same course area. There will often be four matches in one flight.

Most match racing events use equipment that is supplied by the event organizers and they will ensure they are as equal as possible. In order to ensure fair play, a random draw is conducted to decide which team sails in which boat each day and during a round robin stage the crews will swap boats between their pairings after each odd numbered match.


The most renowned match racing event is the America's Cup in which one yacht challenges the defender of the Cup but this event does not require the yachts to be identical.

The first match race to be sailed in one design boats was the Bermuda Gold Cup in 1937 and this event was won by Briggs Cunningham (USA) who also went on to win the first America's Cup sailed in 12-meter boats.

In 1989 the IYRU introduced a ranking system for match racing skippers and in 1988 the ISAF Match Racing World Championship was born; it has taken place every year since then. Since 2006 the winner of the World Match Racing Tour is also named the ISAF World Champion.

A Women's World Championship has been organized since 1999 and in 2007 women's match racing was selected for the women's keelboat event at the 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition. Women's match racing was therefore also included on the programme for the ISAF Sailing World Cup from 2008 to 2012.

Find out more

Find out more about the ISAF Match Racing World Championships and ISAF Women's Match Racing World Championships here -

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