Rules with Rocky: Starting Line Strategies

Hello, my name is Rocky the Rule-Following Fish! Although I live under the water, I love knowing everything about rules for boats on top of the water. My glasses help me see a lot from down here.

Every month I will share new information about how to act when boats meet. The rules on the water are a little different from the rules on land. Being a friendly boater and fair competitor while on the water is easy when you take a little time to read up on the rules.

Starting Line Strategies:

Starboard and Port Approach

This month we will learn about two starting line strategies: STARBOARD APPROACH and PORT APPROACH to the starting line.

First, let’s talk about the starting line! The starting line can be separated into the following areas: Left – Middle – Right. Sailors sometimes rename these same areas: Port – Center – Starboard. You need to be close to the starting line so that you can choose your best approach when the race begins!

Next, let’s talk about how to sail around the starting line area with lots of boats while you’re waiting to race. Follow this oval path just below the starting line so:

  • You won’t sail too far away
  • You can easily avoid other boats by turning away from the middle of the oval

Now it’s time to pick a starting strategy. I like to keep it simple with two options:

  1. Start near the right side of the line, or what I like to call STARBOARD APPROACH
  2. Start near the left side of the line, or what I like to call PORT APPROACH

The STARBOARD APPROACH means you will be sailing along the starting line on a starboard tack during the last minute of the countdown sequence. There are a lot of spaces to choose from with this approach. This strategy is popular because sailing on starboard tack gives you the RIGHT OF WAY against a boat on port tack.

The PORT APPROACH means you will be sailing below the starting line on port tack during the last minute of the countdown sequence. You will need to find a space to head up and tack into! This strategy can be hard because you must avoid boats on starboard tack because they have the RIGHT OF WAY – but it’s also beneficial because you might be one of the few boats choosing this approach.

Now that we know two starting strategies, let’s focus on finding a spot on a busy starting line. Try out these two tips during your STARBOARD APPROACH and PORT APPROACH to make it easier.

1. Keep your choices open by following in line so you can tack OR gybe. Don’t get blocked by other boats in between you and the starting line.


Red & Green have so many choices!


Not great …

Red & Green are blocked on both sides!


2. Stop in a “safe place” that is not too close to the line.

Now you have space to get moving forward without being over the line early!

With 0:30 sec left until the start:

Red is too close! But Green is just right.

Before you go, I want you to remember two important rules about STARTING STRATEGIES:
  • If you follow this path near the starting during the countdown sequence, you’re set up to have a good start!

  • Always avoid collisions even if you think you are the right of way boat!


Sign up for The Rather Be Sailing Report, a US Sailing youth newsletter, to stay up to date with the rules and other activities!