Dinghy racing is an extremely competitive sport which comes under the auspices of the International Sailing Federation. Organisations such as the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) Organisations such as the organise and regulate the sport at a national level.
While many dinghies are single handed (one person only) such as the Laser, many are double handed such as the 470, 5O5, Heron, Tasar or NS14 and some have more than two sailors. Some classes allow children to sail double handed whilst other double handed boats are ideal for an adult and child like the Heron, while some such as the Tasar have weight restrictions which ensure they are sailed competitively by two adults or near adults.
Sailing dinghies can be one-design, with virtually no difference between boats and strict rules controlling construction, or development classes like the International Moth which has gone from a wide-hulled scow, to a thin-hulled skiff and now to a hydrofoil-based design. Many people prefer one-design as it mean the competition is more about sailing ability than about who can afford the newest innovation, although the weight of the boat, and sail age and quality, also come into it even in one-design.
Sailing is an Olympic sport in both Men's and Women's divisions and for both yachts and dinghies / skiffs. Olympic dinghy classes include the Laser, Finn, 49er, 470
Most races and regattas are organised based on a class of dinghy, and within the class there may be several divisions such as Masters (older sailors), Ladies and Juniors.
Most clubs also hold handicap races. Races involving mixed fleets (different classes of boat, different ages, weights and abilities of sailors) can be organised on a handicap basis. The most commonly used handicapping system is the Portsmouth yardstick. It is administered in the UK by the Royal Yachting Association, based on annual input from a large number of affiliated sailing clubs.
Each class of boat is assigned a PY number, with fast boats having low numbers and slow ones high numbers - so, for example, a 49er might have a PY of 747 while a Mirror has a PY of 1386. (These are the actual PY numbers for 2003, but note that adjustments are made each year.) In a race involving a mixed fleet, finishing times can be adjusted using the formula c = (r*1000)/PY, where c = corrected time and r = recorded time.
Many clubs often hold pursuit races where slower boats (according to their handicap) are started first around a set course. Boats of all speeds race the same course.