How Does Scoring Work In Sailing?

How Does Scoring Work In Sailing

The sport of sailing involves teams of boats attempting to finish a race the fastest. Boats begin a race at the same spot and use the water, waves, and wind to carry their boat to victory. Generally speaking, the best scores are awarded to those who finish the race first. However, there are more specific rules regulating scoring that we explain below.

Sailing Scoring Basics

Sailing is always scored by boat. The individual crew members do not receive scores, nor do they bump up their boat’s chances by doing something exceptionally well. Scoring entirely depends on a boat’s finishing time and performance.

The boat that receives the lowest score wins a sailing race. First place receives one point, second place receives two points, and so on until the last boat. This golf-like scoring system (where the lowest score wins) is the overarching rule governing a boat’s sailing score. However, there are more nuanced rules that govern certain aspects of scoring.

Sailing Rule Infractions

Any boat that breaks a rule receives a score of last place plus one. Therefore, if there were ten boats in a race, a boat that broke a rule would receive a score of 11, or last place plus one. There are multiple ways that a boat can break a sailing rule.

Non Participation

A boat that does not participate in an event commits an infraction. For example, there were 12 boats slotted for a race, and only ten showed up. In that case, the ten that showed would receive scores ranging from one to ten. The two that did not show would receive scores of 13 (since there should have been 12 boats, their last place plus one score would be based on all 12).


A boat can be disqualified from a race. This can occur if a boat cuts another off when the other boat has the right of way or if a boat slams into another and alters its finishing time. A boat can avoid being disqualified and receiving a last place plus one score if it does two 360-degree penalty turns.

Change of Score

Although rare, judges can change a boat’s score at their discretion. For example, if a boat would have received a better score had another boat not broken the rules and cut it off, the victim boat may receive a better score from the judges. Usually, the judges only decide to change the rules if a boat’s finishing time is hindered due to no fault of its own.

Scoring Sheets

Most judges use a scoring sheet to keep track of a boat’s performance. These sheets list all of the possible penalties that a boat could make. Here is an example of what one of those scoring sheets may look like.

DNCDid not show up for the race
OCSCrossed the starting line early
DNSDid not start the race in time
RETStarted the race but did not finish the race
DNFDid not finish the race in time
DSQDisqualified and did not do the penalty turns
BFDStarted early while the black flag was up
UFDStarted early when U-flag was up

Olympic Sailing Scoring

While scoring is the same for Olympic sailing, Olympic sailing usually consists of multiple heats (or races), and each boat is occupied by one person. All qualifying heats are totaled to determine the score of a particular boat.

Competition Types

Olympic sailing requires that a sailor demonstrates consistency. In the laser and laser radial competition, the judges take the net total of a boat’s best nine finishes. In the 49er competition, the judges take the net total of a boat’s best 11 finishes.

Medal Race

The ten boats with the lowest net qualifying scores can participate in the medal race. Points earned on the medal race are doubled and added to the boat’s qualifying net score. When scoring sailing, a boat’s worst score on a race is usually dropped from its overall score. Judges tend to drop one score out of five to 11 races and two out of 12 or more. However, in the Olympics, the medal race cannot be dropped from a boat’s net total, even if it happens to be its worst race.

The boat with the lowest net score after the qualifying and medal races receives a gold medal. The next two best scores receive silver and bronze.


How do you score points in sailing?

Boats receive points in a sailing race according to when they finished the race compared to others. A boat that makes it across the finish line first receives one point, the second to finish receives two points, and so forth. Therefore, lower scores are better in sailing. A boat that does not show up to a race or breaks any rules will receive a score of last place plus one.