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Old 09-29-2001
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Ralph Doolin is on a distinguished road
History of ISAF

Can you provide a brief overview on the history of the International Sailing Federation?

Ralph Doolin responds:
From its inception until recently, the international governing body for the sport of sailboat racing had been known as the International Yacht Racing Union. On August 5, 1996, the IYRU changed its name to the International Sailing Federation (ISAF).

The International Yacht Racing Union (IYRU) evolved from the need for racing sailors to have a uniform set of rules and measurement standards. Since then the IYRU/ISAF has developed a system of rules that are used worldwide in most sailing events.

Before 1870, individual yacht clubs developed their own set of racing rules of which each was the sole arbiter in interpreting and applying them. As the popularity of racing against other clubs grew, so did the confusion and frustration on the racecourse.

In Britain, there were several attempts to develop a uniform set of rules, but the first meeting to develop such rules was the "Yachting Congress" organized by the Royal Victoria Yacht Club on June 1, 1868. This congress was attended by 23 representatives from 14 clubs. Under the guidance of Captain Mackinnon, a sub-committee of the Congress compiled a pamphlet of the existing rules from all the yacht clubs.

The Congress met again on March 4, 1869, when a draft of the racing rules was examined and adopted. However, when published in the yachting press it met with severe criticism and was abandoned.

The need for a coherent set of rules continued to grow. A number of associations were formed and their rules subsequently rejected. In 1881, when HRH Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, was Commodore of the Royal Thames Yacht Club and the Royal Yacht Squadron, these two clubs joined the Yacht Racing Association along with the New Thames Yacht Club and developed a set of rules for British waters.

Again confusion arose over the different measurement standards that were being used in Europe, North America, and Britain. Consequently, yachts from different countries could not compete on equal terms. Major Brooke Heckstall-Smith, secretary of the Yacht Racing Association, wrote to the Yacht Club de France expressing the need to devise an international rule of measurement for racing yachts that was acceptable to all European countries. As a result, an International Conference on Yacht Measurement was held in London in January and June 1906 and the "Meter Rule" was developed and is still used today in the 12-Meter, 8-meter, Six-meter, and other meter boats. The attendees formed the International Yacht Racing Union and adopted a common code of yacht racing rules based on that of the YRA.

At that time the IYRU was composed of the yachting authorities of Austria-Hungary, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Holland and Belgium, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. In November 1929, representatives from the North American Yacht Racing Union actively took part in the deliberations to ensure that the North American Yacht Racing Rules and the International Yacht Racing Rules were almost identically worded and that neither parties would change their rules without first informing the other. In 1960 a totally universal code of racing rules was agreed upon and implemented.

From 1906 to 1946 a chairman was elected from time to time to orchestrate the annual meetings. In 1946, Sir Ralph Gore was elected the first President and since then the ISAF has seen four Presidents: Sir Peter Scott, Great Britain, 1955-69; Beppe Croce, Italy, 1969-86; Peter Tallberg, Finland, 1986-1994, and Paul Henderson 1994-present.

The International Sailing Federation (as it is now called) is officially recognised by the International Olympic Committee as the governing authority for sailboat racing worldwide. As such, the ISAF is responsible for promoting the sport internationally, managing sailing at the Olympic Games, developing the International Yacht Racing Rules and Regulations for all sailing competitions and the training of judges, umpires and other administrators, the development of the sport around the world, as well as representing sailors in all matters concerning the sport.

In order to promote the development of the sport the ISAF has established several events including, but not limited to, the ISAF World Youth Sailing Championship, the ISAF World Team Racing Championship, the ISAF World Match Racing Championship, the ISAF Women’s Match Racing World Championship, the ISAF Women’s Keelboat World Championship, the ISAF Combined Olympic Classes World Championship, as well as endorsing and grading the top international match-racing and Olympic Class regattas, the results of which go toward sailors’ international rankings.

The ISAF currently consists of 120 member nations which are responsible for the decision-making process that governs the saiboat racing world. There are currently 73 ISAF recognised classes, ranging from the smallest boats, the Optimist Dinghy, to the largest, the Maxi One-Design.

The ISAF, from its outset, has worked toward the primary goal of ensuring that as many people as possible go sailing.


The objects and aims for which the International Sailing Federation, as the controlling authority of the sport of sailing in all its forms throughout the world, has established are:

  1. to act as and carry out the functions and duties of such authority;
  2. to promote the sport of sailing in all its branches regardless of race, religion, gender, or political affiliation;
  3. to establish, supervise, interpret, and amend the rules regulating sailboat racing and to adjudicate disputes and take any appropriate disciplinary action (including the imposition of appropriate penalties);
  4. to act as the supervising organisation for the sport of sailing, to grant and withdraw international or recognised status to or from classes of boats, and to prescribe the relevant rules and measurement procedures;
  5. to act as the organising authority of the Olympic Sailing Regatta;
  6. to control, organise, conduct, license, or sanction other championships, sailing events, or activities;
  7. to examine, study, investigate, consider, and report on all matters affecting the sport of sailing and any persons interested therein or associated therewith and to collect, analyze, and distribute information, statistics, opinions, and reports thereon;
  8. to represent and protect the interests of any member of the Federation;
  9. to convene, arrange, organise, and hold regattas, races, and competitions of all sorts, to create and stimulate interest in and publicise the sport of sailing, to convene, arrange, organise, and hold exhibitions, shows, displays, meetings, seminars, conferences, and discussions, and to provide prizes, bursaries, grants, and awards for competitors and others;
  10. to provide administrative services of any sort whatsoever for any association, union, society, club, committee, body, or person interested in or associated with sailing in any of its forms.

    Here's hoping that this fully answers your question.

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