Get Involved: SAILING

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Get involved with... Sailing

Sailing is a sport in which the mental strength and physical ability of the sailor are pitted against the forces of nature.

Ten events will be contested at this London 2012, six for men and four for women in vessels from dinghies and keelboats to windsurfing boards. There are three disciplines - match racing, fleet racing and windsurfing.

With 24 gold medals since the 1900 Games, Great Britain is the most successful sailing nation in the world and Team GB are strong favourites to top the medal table for the fourth Games in a row.

Hopes are firmly pinned on one of Britain's greatest ever Olympians, Ben Ainslie, who is chasing his fourth consecutive gold medal.

The fact that the sailing events will take place off the coast of Weymouth and Portland in Dorset, a venue well known to the host nation's sailors, should only boost their chances.

Why is it good for you?

The power required to manoeuvre the boat around the course ensures sailing builds strength and endurance in the arms, shoulders and chest muscles.

While sailing does improve power, it also aids the ability to think strategically and tactically due to the challenge of having to constantly react to changing conditions.

This means it is a sport in which people of all ages can compete against each other on equal terms. In the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Sir William Northam won gold in the 5.5m class when aged 59.

Spending time on the sea has been found to help people relax as the salt in the sea air helps balance the levels of serotonin, a chemical produced by the body that is associated with mood and stress.

Get involved

Sailing is one of the best ways to get away from it all, leaving the daily grind of a hectic work life behind while enjoying the excitement of being on the water.

Approximately 2.9 million adults in the United Kingdom are believed to participate in sailing activities. Disciplines using sail power include yachting, dinghy and windsurfing, while those using mechanical power include personal watercraft, motor cruising and inland waterways.

There are more than 1500 sailing clubs in the UK, with each running Royal Yachting Association courses for people of all ages and abilities.

For beginners, the RYA's 'Start Yachting' and 'Competent Crew' courses provide the perfect introduction to the sport, ensuring you learn the correct techniques in terms of sail handling, rope rigging, meteorology and helmsmanship.

Each RYA Training Centre can provide all the safety kit you require and will have wet weather clothing available, meaning only the minimum of kit is needed to get started.

Use the RYA's club finder to locate the club nearest to you. For more information, visit the Royal Yacht Association Northern Ireland,Royal Yacht Association Scotland and Welsh Yachting Association websites.

More on the Royal Yachting Association website

Want to get involved with sport in your local community? Why not Join In ?

'Join In Local Sport' aims to get as many people as possible to turn up and take part in activities at their local sports facilities on 18/19 August, 2012 - the first weekend between the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The aim of the initiative is for every sports club and community group in the UK to put on a special event in a bid to encourage more people to get involved as members, supporters or volunteers.

More than 4,000 local sports clubs will be opening their doors to host events and show people just how they can get involved.

As well as tips on playing sport there will be information on coaching, supporting and how to help out.

Find an event near you.

The competition format at London 2012

  • From Sunday 29 July to Saturday 11 August, 380 athletes (237 men, 143 women) will compete in Weymouth and Portland.
  • There are 10 sailing events, each consisting of a series of races in which points are won for finishing positions.
  • The final race is the medal race, for which points are doubled.
  • The boat with the fewest total points is the winner.

More on the London 2012 website

The rules at London 2012

Crew sizes vary from one to three, with Laser, Laser Radial, Finn and RS-X classes featuring one sailor; the 49er, 470, and Star featuring two and the women's match racing three. The boats compete in 10 fleet races (15 for the 49er), with each regatta lasting a series of days.

Points in each race are given according to position. The winner of each race gets one point, the second-placed finisher gets two etc and then, after being allowed to discard their worst result, the top 10 boats advance to the medal race where points are doubled.

Following the medal race, the individual or crew with the lowest points total is the winner.

In match racing, the first boat across the line wins the match. Teams compete against each other in a series of round-robin matches, with the top teams progressing to the final knockout stages.

Sailors in each category race equally-matched boats around a course of buoys, with the first to cross the finishing line winning that race. Different classes have different course layouts.

Infringements include observing the correct right of way and obstruction rules while on the water, false starting, or touching a mark. Penalties include having to take an extra one or two turns (turning your boat 360 or 720 degrees through the wind), or receiving a scoring penalty.

Competitors can protest to officials if they believe a rule infringement has been made.

More on the Team GB website

Ones to watch?

Great Britain team manager Stephen Park has set a target of four medals - but admits a podium finish is possible in all 10 events.

Ben Ainslie won his sixth Finn world title in May and is aiming to win a fourth Olympic gold. Other defending champions are Paul Goodison in the Laser class, and Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson in the Star.

Goodison will have his work cut out trying to deny Australia's five-time world champion Tom Slingsby a gold medal.

Dutchwoman Lobke Berkhout is the most successful sailor in the history of the 470 class and the five-time world champion will be looking to improve on her silver in Beijing, alongside helm Lisa Westerhof.


The sport of sailing gained considerable popularity in Holland about 400 years ago and, shortly after the restoration of the monarchy in the United Kingdom in 1660, King Charles II introduced sailing as a sport.

International yacht racing began in 1851 with the America's Cup and sailing was part of the first Olympics in 1896, but heavy winds saw the programme cancelled.

The breeze had died off by the time the Olympic flame arrived in Paris four years later and the sport has been contested at every Games since.

Women have always been allowed to compete in Olympic sailing with men, but in 1988 separate sailing events were introduced exclusively for women.

The classes of boats have changed over time as yacht design and technology has evolved. Match Racing for women - a head-to-head contest between teams on two identical boats - will make its debut in 2012.

More on the IOC website