Match race sailing is easy to follow. A match race consists of two identical boats racing against each other. With effective boat handling and prudent use of wind and currents, a trailing boat can escape the grasp of the leader and pass. The leader uses blocking techniques to hold the other boat back. This one-on-one duel is a game of strategy and tactics. There is only one winner.

THE COURSE: The boats sail upwind to mark # l (the ‘windward mark’) where they round and set their spinnakers for mark # 2, which is placed in close proximity to the starting line. The yachts will sail back upwind to mark #1, round, and begin the run to the finish line (start line) downwind. Legs # 3 and # 4 are a repeat of the first two legs. The four-leg course will take approximately 20 minutes to sail.

THE START: The race begins with a warning shot fired by the Race Committee Boat (flying a blue RC flag) ten minutes prior to the official start of the race. Another shot is fired at five minutes prior. The two boats (each flying either a blue or yellow flag) enter the start area from opposite ends of the starting line four minutes prior to the actual start. During the next four minutes, the boats will engage in a furious pre-start battle, in which each will try to gain an advantage over the other. The goal is to make the other boat cross the starting line early, which is a penalty, or to start legally ahead of the other boat.

LEG ONE: The yacht which crosses the starting line first has a decided advantage because it can hinder the other boat by ‘covering’ it (blocking its wind). The trailing yacht will counter by tacking (altering course from one tack to the other) to gain clear wind. This usually results in a ‘tacking duel’ between the contestants. If the boats were even at the start, each uses speed and wind shifts to try to pull ahead.

After sailing to the first mark upwind, the boats will round the mark to starboard (clockwise), then set colorful spinnakers and race downwind, in what is called ‘the run’ to the second or ‘leeward’ mark.

LEG TWO: In this leg, the trailing boat has the advantage because it is in a position to ‘cover’ the leader and slow it down by blocking the wind from the leader’s sails. The leader must then work to keep its air clear while positioning itself between the trailing boat and the next mark.

UMPIRING: Each race is officiated by two umpires in a small power boat who follow each pair of boats and make on-course penalty decisions. When a foul is allegedly committed, the umpire boat will fly one of the following flags: blue the blue boat is penalized, yellow the yellow boat is penalized, or greenthere is no penalty. When a boat is penalized, it must complete a full circle or penalty turn. The penalized boat may complete its penalty turn at any time during the race prior to the finish line. If penalties are offsetting, penalty turns need not be completed. Cumulative penalties are indicated by blue and yellow balls displayed on the umpires’ boat. If one boat receives three penalties, it is disqualified and the race is over.

RULES: There are two basic right-of-way rules. The boat with the wind coming across its right, or starboard, side has the right of way and the other boat must stay clear. Within two boat lengths of a mark, the inside boat has the right to pass inside and ahead. The races are typically very close. Often, the winner is determined within several boat lengths of the finish line.


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 Match Racing World Champion.

A Women’s World Championship has been organised 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 World Sailing World Cup from 2008 to 2012 . Women’s match racing was removed from the Olympics after 2012.

The World Match Racing Tour introduced multihulls to the Tour for the first time in 2016 with teams competing exclusively in identical M32 carbon fibre multihulls.  A USD1million bonus was awarded to the 2016 Match Racing World Champion, Phil Robertson from New Zealand at the World Final in Marstrand, Sweden.

After 2020, the Tour returned to monohull boats which are provided by each event on the Tour avoiding the need to ship boats around the world.

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