Sailing encompasses a broad range of disciplines using different types of boats, which effectively creates technically hundreds of varying racing classes. Handicaps and boat ratings are frequently used to create a level competitive playing field. However, in general, major competitions use boats such as catamarans, dinghies, keelboats, ketches, multihulls, sloops, yachts and yawls, and competitions are divided into five major categories:
Cruising: This can be likened to a long-distance cross country race. Cruising usually involves at least single-day races (typically longer) stretching across multiple maritime borders. It has the largest number of participants among all racing classesdue to its shallow learning curve.
Fleet Racing: Similar to car rallies, with one difference – the boats used in the race do not have uniform sizes and weights. As such, organisers frequentlyimpose handicaps on bigger and more modern boats.
Match Racing: The equivalent of a drag race. Two similar boats duel it out in a 20-minute race. There is a lot of aggression involved before the race starts as competitors attempt to get each other penalised for rules infringements. This is part of the match racing tactics.
Oceanic and Offshore Sailing: Similar to cycling tours, where boats circumnavigate around the world in thousand-mile races (minimum 800 miles) such as the Volvo Ocean Race, Transat and the almost mythical America’s Cup.
Team Racing: Features two competing teams consisting of three boats each. Probably the most thrilling racing class as victory is determined by the aggregate placing of all boats in the respective teams.
The Olympics have witnessed 49 different sailing events in 30 of its 31 editions. The large number of events is attributable to the fluidity of professional competitive sailing classes. In the 2016 Rio Olympics, there were 13 goal medals on offer in eight racing classes – 470, 49er, 49erFX, Finn, Laser, Laser Radial, Nacra 17 and RS:X.