The basics of racing with Kona

This is only a rule summary, complete with over-generalization of common situations.  It is every sailor’s responsibility to learn and understand the current Racing Rules of Sailing. Better rules understanding makes for better quality and more fun racing for all – especially at crowded starting lines.

Racing Konas is pretty much like racing any small sailboat – around a series of buoys, with a starting line that is between a special buoy (the pin) and a boat. The finish is usually the same as the starting line, but in some larger fleets, may be a separate line.

The complete rules can be found by looking at the ISAF Racing Rules of Sailing and Appendix B, which modifies some of the general rules for windsurfers, together with the Kona class rules at ISAF’s website at has a copy of the rules available, including a windsurfers’ version of the rules with all of the changes from Appendix B built into it.

One need not be a complete expert in racing rules, though it helps to have studied them and the signal flags used occasionally to signal things like the shortening of a course, individual recalls, general recalls, or missing marks. There are a few good books explaining the racing rules, particularly Dave Perry’s Understanding the Racing Rules of Sailing.

Basic rules

Starboard over port

When two boards are approaching each other from opposite tacks (wind coming over different sides of each board), the one on starboard tack has right of way. Starboard tack is where the wind is coming across the starboard side of the board or boat. If your right hand is closest to the mast while holding the boom, you are on starboard tack.

Same tack

Leeward has rights over Windward. If you are trying to pass someone by sailing over the top of them, stealing their wind, watch out. The leeward boat has the right to change course and point up at you, provided that he does so slowly enough to give you time to change course.

Mark roundings

Any board that is “inside” – between you and the mark — has the right to round the mark in a seamanlike manner, and you have to give them room to do so.  The normal Appendix B rule allows the touching of buoys/racing marks that are not considered obstructions.


If you break a rule but it is a relatively minor infraction i.e. you didn’t take out several of your buddies and their boards are still floating – you can exonerate yourself by performing a 360 degree turn at the first reasonable opportunity following the infraction, without putting yourself in the way of others racing.

If you commit a severe infraction, or one that gives you a substantial advantage, such as skipping a buoy by accident and realize you did so after it is too late to fix it, you should withdraw from the race and notify the race committee.

If someone else fouls you, breaking the rule, and you want to make an issue of it, then you are required to inform the other sailor by saying loudly, “Protest,” and his or her sail number, then notify the race committee at the finish line, then file a protest using the approved form during the time prescribed by the sailing rules or as modified by the sailing instructions. You will need a rule book and need to be able to state specifically which rule or rules were violated, by number. It helps a great deal to have a witness to what happened.

In normal competitions, a gentle bump between two soft-topped boards like these before the start or even during the race may not rise to the level of being worth protesting about, but it really depends on the circumstances and whether the infraction put the other sailor or several sailors at a disadvantage.

However, it is expected of all racers that they understand the rules described above and that they not pump the sail during the race unless specifically allowed to do so.


The goal is to have full speed and good angle and cross the line just as the countdown gets to zero. Normally, if you are over the line early, you need only go back behind the line again and start over. However, if the “I” flag is displayed as part of the starting sequence, that means that if you cross the line early, within 1 minute of the start, you have to sail around either end of the starting line in order to restart.

The “I” flag is a yellow square with a black dot in the middle. If the Black flag is being displayed, this means that if you start prematurely, you are disqualified from racing in that race, even if that particular race is restarted.

A starting line usually is not set perfectly 90 degrees to the wind, directly downwind of the windward mark. So, there can be an advantage to starting closer to one side of the line or the other. To help figure out which side of the line is favored, one way to sort it out is to reach along the line from pin to boat, and then vice versa, and feel which way is fastest or most downwind. The favored end of the line is the one that you are sailing away from the fastest (most downwind). You will want to start on the side of the line that is the most windward.

For slalom-type reaching courses where the first leg is a reach, the starting line is set approximately 90 degrees to the wind. There is no substitute for practice in getting these starts right – the goal of course is to have clear air and top speed at the gun. It is probably a good idea to not start just to leeward of someone you know is faster. At the jibe marks, the inside board has right of way, but falling isn’t fast, either, so it doesn’t pay to try to jam the board inside of someone else where you may not fit.

Pumping and kinetics

Repeated fanning of the sail i.e. pumping, is not allowed under Kona class rules and under Rule 42 of the Racing Rules of Sailing. This means, no hula dancing, slight pumping, occasional pumping, or subtle pumping either. Not pumping takes some getting used to but creates an amazingly tactical race with close competition.

Have fun!

Contact Us

Got a question about Kona? Get in touch and we'll get back to you asap!

Not readable? Change text.