Dinghy racing courses

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All dinghy races have the same elements and rules, designed to ensure that everyone enjoys safe sailing while battling for position around the course. Marker buoys ("marks") indicate where to turn, with start and finish lines marked by a committee boat.


Most races have a start line laid at 90 degrees to the wind direction on the day. A committee boat at the starboard end of the start line manages the countdown to the start. The object is for boats to cross the line as soon as possible after the starting signal. The first leg is normally a beat to the windward mark. On a windward-leeward course (below) the boats have a short beam reach to a spreader mark, then sail downwind to the leeward mark close to the start line. Classes with symmetrical spinnakers will sail directly downwind; classes with asymmetric spinnakers and catamarans will sail downwind on a series of broad reaches. The race may continue with more circuits of the course, usually finishing close to the windward mark at the top of the course.


A wonderful seascape near Cape Town, South Africa, provides a superb backdrop to a race between Dabchick dinghies.


Rules in dinghy (and yacht) racing are used to prevent collisions and provide fair racing. They are often based on the standard rights of way For example, if boats are on opposite tacks, starboard has right of way, but if boats are on the same tack and overlapped (the bow of one boat is ahead of a straight line drawn across the other boat's stern), the windward boat must keep clear. If boats are on the same tack and not overlapped, the boat clear astern must keep clear. The penalty for breaking a racing rule is a 360- or 720-degree turn (decided by the organizers before the race), which must be completed as quickly as possible. If a crew breaks a rule but does not do a penalty turn, another crew may lodge a protest, which is decided upon by the organizers at the end of the race.

\spreader mark

Windward mark

\Committee boat

Committee boat

Start /

\ Windward mark

Committee boat o-l start and finish line start and finish line

Start /


The basic format is several laps of a direct upwind and downwind course. A spreader mark prevents chaos at the windward mark by "spreading the fleet" with a short beam reach at the top of the course.


The classic Olympic course combines upwind and downwind legs (known as "sausages") with two broad reaches forming a 60-degree triangle. These elements can be run in various combinations.



A sound and preparatory flag signals are used in the countdown to the start. If a boat starts too early, there is an extra sound signal and the individual recall flag is hoisted. If many boats start early, the general recall flag is hoisted, with one-minute and disqualification flags hoisted for additional penalties. If conditions are not suitable for racing, the postponement flag is shown.

Individual recall

General recall

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