Getting into racing

RYA Sailability Multiclass Regatta @ Rutland SC Aug 11

Often racing is a major reason people develop a lifelong passion for sailing and windsurfing. With many major races taking pace over the next couple of months here is the RYA’s guide to the world racing.

It is hard to imagine the first time you step on to any boat or board that you will get bitten by the racing bug. Indeed, just seeing others take their place on a start line for the first time can be, at best, a bit intimidating and at worst positively off-putting.

But whether a newcomer wanting to learn more and develop their skills or a cruiser who fancies a different type of challenge, thousands of people start racing every year. But how? It all depends on the type of racing you want to do.

Small is beautiful

People who learn to sail dinghies, multihulls and small keelboats commonly do so either informally or through RYA Learn to Sail courses at sailing clubs and watersports centres. Clubs are increasingly geared to trying to keep people involved long-term, which is brilliant for newcomers as it has never been easier to have your hand held through learning to race.

Some clubs, if RYA Training Centres, run formal RYA Start and Go Racing courses as part of a clear pathway from their RYA Level 1 and 2 (adults) and Stage 1-4 (youth) Learn to Sail courses. These teach the basics of getting off the start line and round a course, improving technique and knowledge for club level racing including rules. They ultimately develop skills in preparation for open meets and higher competition.

However, even clubs that do not run formal racing qualifications will actively encourage you to start racing. Most clubs have racing multiple times a week, with many continuing in the winter. All clubs have ‘fleets’, or classes of boat, raced at that club. Most have a handicap fleet for boats outside those classes too.

Clubs want you to race so the vast majority, if not all, will provide opportunities really early in your sailing to crew for experienced club members and experience is what racing is about. The theory? You learn more quickly by doing, and it is not just racing skills that will develop through racing but your all round sailing ability.

Once you start participating in club racing and find your favoured class(es) -experienced club sailors are a great source of advice on this – you might want to test yourself outside of your club.

All racing clubs host Open meetings for a particular class(es) throughout the season, while many class associations run Traveller series as well as National and other annual Championships. Stay as local or travel as much as you want, and if you start getting pretty good, or just want an excuse to combine racing with an overseas trip, you can enter your class Europeans and Worlds too.

For young sailors who show talent, potential and commitment in racing there is the opportunity to start following a pathway towards Olympic Classes sailing as part of the RYA’s World Class Performance Programme. This includes regional Zone squads, class National Junior squads (typically U16) and class National Youth squads (U19) before a sailor decides if they want to make the transition into an Olympic Class.

RYA Champion Clubs – currently over 170 in the UK – form the foundation of this pathway and are considered ‘centres of excellence’ in delivering good quality race training in a safe and fun environment. The junior class associations the RYA supports also run Open training and both are routes to be ‘spotted’ and invited to join a Zone squad.

It is similar for sailors with disabilities too. People who discover sailing through RYA Sailability groups and/or people with disabilities who sail at clubs, can all learn to race and race regularly with Sailability or at their club. Meanwhile active class associations, such as the, 2.4mR, Hansa and Challenger classes, stage regular Open and Traveller events nationwide, with most classes offering the same sorts of opportunities to compete nationally and internationally.

Board talk

People love windsurfing for its diversity, and racing is a popular discipline. Olympic boardsailing, Formula and Raceboard windsurfing, Slalom and SuperX all see racers compete on a course, with vibrant junior and youth classes underpinning each.

Specific windsurfing clubs aren’t as widespread as sailing clubs in the UK, but many sailing clubs, coastal and inland, have windsurfing fleets. Like with small boats and multihulls, there are RYA Learn to Race courses for windsurfing – Start, Intermediate and Advanced – available at RYA Training Centres.

Meanwhile, the classes and UK Windsurfing Association (UKWA) run well-attended regional and national training, Championships and series, for fleet and slalom racing, with opportunities to compete internationally too. Over 220 windsurfers raced at the 2014 RYA/UKWA National Windsurfing Championships.

The same chances to progress through the RYA’s Junior and Youth pathway to Olympic windsurfing. The junior class is currently the BIC Techno, and youngsters can learn to race through the RYA Team15 junior windsurfing programme before potentially progressing into Zone squads. Team15 is a great way to start windsurfing without having to buy kit at the outset.

Big time

If the power of the sea captivates you, getting into big boat racing – yachts, racing cruisers and other keelboats – whether inshore or offshore, can provide the answer.

Much of big boat sailing is about networking, enthusiasm and volunteering to crew.

Like with smaller boats, coastal clubs are a great way to find a boat to sail on, whether through chatting to people in the bar and/or utilising the club’s ‘crew finder’ noticeboards. Social media is also an increasingly common way to make your availability known, even at short notice.

Such networking can be a bit daunting for younger sailors so some clubs, for example Royal Temple YC in Kent and Sussex YC in West Sussex, have big boat academies to nurture the skills and provide the opportunities to get on to a crew.

Iconic events, such as the J.P. Morgan Round the Island Race and Cowes Week, enable people who may not typically race to get a taste for competitive action, while different class and local/regional racing associations run regular regattas. There are also a number of popular Series, typically in spring and winter, organised by one or a group of local clubs, which is where many yacht racers cut their teeth.

If you want to race at a particular event, or have some spare time you would like to fill with racing, online forums, social media and resources such as’s Crew Finder can pair you up with boats needing crew.

Progressing onto the elite, professional racing circuit comes largely through reputation and word of mouth. But initiatives such as the British Keelboat Academy, a partnership between UK Sailing Academy and the RYA are helping. The BKA is designed to support young people aged 18 – 24 in developing the skills needed to take their keelboat yacht racing to a professional level.

The world’s your oyster

Once you’ve developed racing skills in any area, life is a box of chocolates.

You can diversify your talents into other racing disciplines such as team racing, especially popular in universities and schools, and match racing, with the RYA’s annual National Series including RYA Youth, RYA Women’s and British Universities and Colleges Sport Match Racing Championship events. The lucrative World Match Racing Tour features some of the biggest global names in the sport.

So whether you stick to racing a Laser locally, aspire to compete in a cross-Atlantic challenge or dream of following a pathway to Olympic glory, everything is possible.

You’ve just got to take that first step. Visit to find out more.

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