Yachting, like any other sport has rules which all participants must heed.

The four most common rules are diagrammed below and should be learned before you take your first sail. Just think of them as traffic regulations to prevent accidents. Remember, whenever you are in doubt of which rule applies, simply give way to the other boat. There are more rules than the four below, but these are the most common ones and should suffice for any experiences you are likely to have while learning.

Starboard Tack

Starboard tack (wind hitting the right side of the boat) has right of way over a boat on port tack (wind hitting the left side of the boat). In other words, when the wind is hitting the starboard side of your boat, the boat on port tack must stay clear of you.

The Four Cardinal Rules, Starboard Tack
fig. 1.


A boat coming up from the rear must stay clear of the boat ahead. You may pass on either side, but be sure to keep plenty of room between the boats.

The Four Cardinal Rules, Overtaking
fig. 2.

Head To Head

When two boats are approaching head on, each boat should stay to the right of the other. It’s just like driving a car.

The Four Cardinal Rules, Head to Head
fig. 3.

Tacking And Gybing (Jibing)

A tacking or gybing boat shall keep clear of boats which are not tacking or gybing.

These rules are very easy. Just remember:

  1. Starboard over port.
  2. Overtaking boats stay clear.
  3. Stay to the right of approaching boats.
  4. Keep clear of other boats when turning.

The Four Cardinal Rules, Tacking and Gybing (Jibing)
fig. 4.