Is Sailing a Sport or Just a Hobby?

Sailing is both: there are those who sail on the weekend for leisure (hobby), and those who take their boats with them all over the world, engage in yacht racing, and roll with the punches that mother nature dishes out. Everything depends on your commitment and how seaworthy you deem yourself to be.

It all depends on your commitment. Sailing is one of the world’s oldest and most beloved sports, but it requires dedication, training, and hypervigilance of your surroundings.

If you’re going out for a few hours once every couple of months, you can consider it more of a hobby, but when you get into the sport side of it, there’s a long history and competitive landscape for you to explore.

Sailing is the one sport that requires consistent engagement, long hours out on sea, and a steadfast willpower to nail down every single competitive component that marks up to victory.

Sailing demands full-body engagement and undivided attention, but there are more reasons that it’s considered a sport.

Why Sailing is Considered a Sport

Sailing as Sports

There’s a stigma on sport sailing, where a lot of people try to claim that it is in fact not a sport.

Sailing has been an olympic sport since 1900, when it was first introduced into the Paris Games, and is still undergoing an evolving and developing rule set as time goes on.

Sailing becomes a hobby when it’s simply you going out on the boat for a little while, and it’s not a core part of your life, or you don’t engage in a full-body exercise during it.

Sailing is often more a sport than a hobby, but don’t just take our opinion on it: here’s a list of reasons why sailing is a sport, and the health benefits behind it.

Sports Require Physical Exertion

If you’re actually sailing, then you’re constantly pushing your body in different ways.

There is a point where managing a small boat becomes just “Being out at sea for the day,” and that’s when the boat is large enough or motor operated and doesn’t require the same level of physical exertion.

In bigger boats, small maneuvers (utilizing the onboard equipment) dictate turn radius, power and other outputs by the boat. If it’s a smaller boat, it requires you to keep it going.

There’s Racing Involved

Since when was racing not a sport?

Competitive sailing gets very complicated with rules and regulations, but it does involve racing and keeping ahead of your opponents.

When you’re commanding a small vessel and trying to navigate through rough waters, with the wind, and stay one step ahead of the competition, it’s an exhilarating and fully engaging activity.

Different Divisions

We mentioned that racing and sport sailing can get complex, and when you realize how many different types of sport sailing there are, you’ll see why.

You have sailing federations, fleet racing, match racing, speed sailing, team racing, offshore races, short course racing, and more than we could possibly mention here. It’s the same thing as the different categorization and leagues of contact sports.

When Did Sailing Become a Sport?

New York Yacht Clubs

Back in 1900, the Paris Games first introduced sailing officially into the Olympics.

Before then, there were races and tournaments held since 1851 between the New York Yacht Club, and anyone who was willing to challenge them.

Sailing was yachting first, and had relatively no regulations. There were tales of sabotage, espionage and horrible relations between different yachting teams as they vied for the coveted championship, an unofficial title until the Paris Games.

Sailing as Olympics

Olympics Sailings

The Olympics were first going to host a sailing event in 1896, but their efforts were canceled.

It’s unclear as to why the first event was canceled, but sailing made its comeback in 1900 at the Paris Games.

Again in 1908 (1904 did not have an event), and since then sailing has always been included in the Olympics.

Back in the day, the concepts around rules and regulations were very fluid: nobody really knew what was going on or how to proceed with viewing sailing as a whole, but its popularity quickly grew and attracted more attention, which of course brought with it more rules and those trying to regulate the game.

The first game hosted over one-hundred and fifty competitors from a total of six different countries, and is one of the few olympic sports in history to originally include a women in the inaugural running.

Olympic sailing includes a classification system to properly determine competition rules and information, which is subject to change every single year.

This is quite literally a fluid sport, with larger vessels than kayaks or paddle boards, and there’s always something to be argued about on an Olympic level.

There is an entire sailing family across the world, consisting of 139 countries, called the Member National Authorities, or MNA.

If something is of concern to the world of sailing, even on an Olympic level, this is the association that would have something to say about it or dictates action in response to a problem.

Famous Sailing Races

There’s a lot to learn, and some of the best teaching points ever discussed originated from the most famous sailing races from across the world, most of which are still going on to this very day. Some of those races are:

Route du Rhum

Route De Roum Race

Once every four years, a fantastic race begins in Saint-Malo in France, and finishes in Pointe-a-Pitre, in Guadeloupe.

This race imbues historical significance into the route, following the same pathway that rum sailors rode on, stretching over 3,500 miles.

The record holder still took over one week to cover the entire race course, but can you imagine competitively sailing for that long in one stretch? You’d have to switch off with some trusted friends and sailors to achieve your goal, and you’d have nothing but the open seas for over a week.


Transpac Race

A transpacific yacht race that’s hosted in the United States, this race takes an average of five to seven days to complete depending on the conditions.

Racers cast off from San Pedro in California, and end up in the exotic destination of Honolulu, Hawaii.

If you’re planning on replicating this path, be careful: there’s something called the North Pacific High, an area with extremely high pressure that makes this difficult to complete without a competent crew.

The Transatlantic Race

The Transatlantic

From Ireland to New York in the United States this race takes a week to complete, and comes with three classifications to choose from.

Following suit with historical significance (as most of these races offer), this stems from the first transatlantic ocean race that spawned in 1866 in New York. In the upcoming 2019 race at the time of writing this post, they are set to cast off from Newport in Rhode Island.

Volvo Ocean Race

Volvo Ocean

Once every three years, you travel all around the world.

There’s tens of thousands of miles to cover, and in this race, there is as many as ten stopovers in port cities along the way to act as checkpoints of a sort.

Racers will experience chilling winds in 20 F conditions, roaring waters as they circumnavigate the globe, as well as an enormous sense of accomplishment when all is said and done. To us, this race is less about winning and more about completing.

If you’ve covered the entire world in one stretch (with a few breaks of course), you’re a sailing legend. The only difficult challenge ahead of you is finding some way to top yourself.

The Barcelona Regatta

Sailing Regatta Barcelona Race

In Italy, an annual race kicks off from the Gulf of Trieste, and has been going strong for fifty years now.

Over a quarter of a million people tune-in in one way or another to witness this enormous race, as over two-thousand boats cast off and make their way across a short 15-mile course.

It’s an event that’s about the atmosphere and celebrating the accomplishment of all these sailors, which has no plans of stopping anytime soon. It’s somewhat of a cultural phenomenon should you decide to visit it, both as a racer and a spectator.

Louis Vuitton Cup

Louis Vuitton Race

We’re not going to spoil the name of the sponsor, but the Louis Vuitton Cup is actually only a two-yacht race that is used as a preliminary to determine who enters America’s Cup.

While both of these races are famous, they don’t implore the same level of nautical appreciation as the others we’ve mentioned: they’re about corporate sponsorship and entrepreneurs getting together, but it’s right fun to watch.

RoleX China Sea Race

China Sea Race

From Hong Kong to Subic Bay in the Philippines, this two to three-day race is quite possibly one of the most scenic spots you’ll ever visit.

It took a decade for this to be inducted into the Royal Ocean Racing Club and recognized as a true sailing race, and thank God it did.

Are you planning on entering a prestigious world racing event? You can get started on any level, and start living the dream. The next time someone tries to tell you that sailing isn’t a sport, direct them to this page, or have them look up any of the other hundreds of famous sailing races hosted across the world.

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