[splitpost intro="true"]Just like there are rules on the road, there are rules on the water. And there's one simple reason these are in place: safety. Your safety.

Once you've learnt to windsurf it's vital that you learn the rules of the road in order to avoid collisions, and the injury and expenses that go with them!

Simon Bornhoft joins Boards to explain the rules of the road...

There are 3 simple guidelines to sail by:

Starboard Board Has Right Of Way

Overtaking Board Keeps Clear

Gybing Board Keeps Clear

Plus - beach etiquette, insurance and more.

Scroll through below to find out more about each rule.

[part title="PORT V STARBOARD"]

Port v Starboard

Port vs Starboard

Rule: The sailor on ‘Starboard Tack’ has right of way over sailor on ‘Port Tack’.

Who makes the first move? The person on Starboard should hold their line, Port Tack sailor keeps clear@

Remember: RIGHT HAND is closet to the mast you’re on Starboard! Left hand closest to the mast GIVE WAY!


Avoidance: It’s a little known fact, that even though you might be on Starboard Tack, in marine law, you still have a ‘duty’ to avoid a collision. You can’t just sail into someone and claim you were on Starboard, we all MUST avoid contact if we can!

Common Sense: If you’re heading for an unavoidable collision, always try to head upwind! This reduces speed and especially if both boards steer upwind in a head to head, it means the boards make contact and the sailors fall back into windward! If you both bear away, boards and bodies collide and that’s not great!

[part title="OVER TAKING BOARD"]

OverTaking Board

Over taking

Rule: With two boards sailing on the same tack - the over taking board must keep clear!

Who makes the first move? Slower board holds their line, over taking board keeps clear!

Issues: If you’re faster than most people, good for you!

Avoidance: When being over taken, hold your course and don’t suddenly steer up or downwind.

Under and over taking

Common Sense: There’s a wind shadow slightly upwind of the board in front and turbulence off the wake, so make sure you give plenty of room. So never try to over take directly from behind, this is slow and dangerous should they suddenly fall in. When over taking, always try to pass well upwind 2-3 mast lengths to get clear wind, flatter water and take a safer line.


Under taking

The same goes for undertaking – you must keep clear. The wind shadow and wake downwind off the rear of a board has a maissive effect on the wind. But even if you have the speed to pass downwind, it’s very dangerous. Just like undertaking on a motorway, you’re coming through on the blind side and especially when getting towards the beach or natural turning point out to sea, the upwind board will have difficulty spotting you coming through before they turn (see Gybing Rules below). So when over taking, give other sailors plenty of room 3-4 mast lengths at least and ‘should’ you pass downwind, keep an eye out for those upwind of you seeking to gybe. A lot of accidents happen due to this oversight.


Zipping through downwind as someone else is waterstarting or just getting settled in the harness is crazy, yet you see it all the time! If the waterstarter suddenly loses the rig and it flips downwind on to you, it’s your fault not there’s. Just like ramming into the back of someone driving allow for others to make mistakes. Equally passing close upwind when someone’s waterstarting or standing in the water it’s really bad etiquette and dangerous (but very tempting if you’re the sort who enjoyed spraying others with the garden hose when you were a kid)!

[part title="GYBING"]


Gyber keep clear!

Rules: If two boards are on the same sailing line the gybing board has to keep clear. If you treat it the same as the Over Taking Board rule, it sorts out many issues. So it’s down to you to make sure no one is coming through underneath before you gybe! Just like driving, you wouldn’t suddenly cross three lanes to turn off left? Whilst others shouldn’t really blast through underneath, technically you’re overtaking board when gybing, so keep clear.

Who makes the first move? The gybing board must check for clear water!


Avoidance: Look before, through and out of your gybe it’s safer, faster and makes a massive difference to your success rate.



It’s really important to have at least 3rd part insurance so that you’re covered if you collided or injured someone else. Some windsurfing kit insurance policies cover third part too, but if you join the RYA you’re automatically covered, so has to be worth it!


Before you even get on the water, it’s possible to upset the locals or hurt someone.

1. Never leave a rig unattached on the shore.

2. Carry board and rig together or take your board down first and then attach the sail.

3. Leave your rig downwind of the board and always attach rig to mast base.

Top Tip: Right hand closest to the mast = You’re on ‘Starboard Tack’ and have ‘Right Of Way’.

So there you go, just a few simple rules to live by and you should avoid any incidents both local or international.

The only exception to all of this is the coaches rule, which allows you to sail within inches of your clients and give them on the fly coaching – effective but totally illegal!

All images and text © Simon Bornhoft Windwise.

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