Yacht racing is a well established sport dating back to the 17th Century in which teams of sailors compete in a race between each other on yachts or sailboats. Competitors will have to navigate through a course in pursuit of a finish line. The goal is like any other race, the first to cross wins. In this guide, we look to pick apart the different types of racing and provide an overview of the ‘handicap’ system which allows different boats to race against each other fairly.

Both founders of CompareYachtInsurance.com have their roots in competitive yacht racing. Marcel Herrera’s sailing resume includes a campaign for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, prior to focusing on inshore and offshore yacht racing and running a variety of successful yacht racing campaigns which included a world championship title in the 8 meter class and numerous podium finishes on the RORC offshore racing circuit. Bryan Davies has been involved in professional yacht racing for more than 20 years, as a professional sailor as well as a campaign manager for a variety of inshore and offshore campaigns. Both Marcel and Bryan bring their yacht racing expertise to CompareYachtInsurance.com with a view of making yacht insurance accessible for budding and seasoned racing yacht owners.


What types of yacht races are there?

Yacht racing can take place in a variety of formats, including fleet racing and match racing. In fleet racing, multiple yachts race against each other on a course, with the first yacht to finish being declared the winner. In match racing, two yachts race against each other on a course, with the first yacht to finish being declared the winner. It’s important to differentiate between the two, as each has their own set of rules which dictate what you can and can’t do.


Locations and what kind of yachts can race

Races can take place on a variety of water bodies, such as lakes, rivers, and oceans. The size and type of yacht used in a race can vary, from small one-design racing dinghies to large, high-performance racing yachts. When different makes and models of yachts race against each other, there needs to be a consideration towards the fact that the yachts will be able to sail at different speeds and angles to each other. Ultimately, the aim is to test the ability of the sailors on board, and not purely which yacht is faster. this gives rise to something called a ‘handicap’. Just like in golf, it levels the playing field by correcting the final score (which is the elapsed time in sailing races), to account for how fast or slow a yacht is.

The intricacies of a handicap are plentiful, and usually involved the precise measurements of a yacht and it’s sails. The exact factors are kept highly confidential, to prevent yacht owners from gaming the system and working out how to optimise their yachts. In the UK, it is the International Rating Certificate that defines the complex formula in working out a handicap, and this is managed and administered by the Royal Ocean Racing Club.



Yacht racing is governed by a set of rules, including the International Racing Rules of Sailing (IRRS) and the Racing Rules of Sailing (RRS), which are set by the World Sailing, the governing body of the sport. During match racing, the rules are focused on gaining an advantage over the other yacht, which lends itself to a very aggressive form of racing. In fleet racing, the rules are there to allow a more peaceful racing style, whereby the focus is on making your yacht go as fast as possible, as an oppose to forcing your opponent into an error (which is what is most likely to happen in match racing).



Yacht racing is a competitive and challenging sport that requires skill, teamwork, and strategy. It can be enjoyed at a variety of levels, from amateur club racing to international competitions such as the America’s Cup, Vendée Globe, and the Volvo Ocean Race. It is often the pinnacle of the sport, such as the latter three international competitions, which drives development. The latest developments that have trickled down from professional yacht racing to non-professional yacht racing, include canting keels, hydrofoils and hydraulic systems.


An important consideration which is often overlooked is the impact on an insurance policy. Unlike car insurers who outright ban the racing of their insured assets, yacht insurers are far more flexible and allow additions to policy coverage to include a variety of races. It’s important to know what your policy allows prior to embarking on your first race of the season, as there is often different stipulations such as only being able to engage in local club racing, or only being allowed to race when there is a certain number of crew onboard. These stipulations make it difficult to find the right insurer that allows single handle offshore yacht racing for example, so it’s important to use a service such as ours to find the best coverage for your needs.


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