In Paralympic sailing, athletes compete in one of three non-gender specific events: single-person keelboat (2.4mR), two-person keelboat (SKUD 18), and three-person keelboat (Sonar).
The event consists of 11 separate races. Final placings are determined by the accumulation of lowest points scored in each race. The winning team is the one that scores the lowest total points. In Paralympic sailing, sailors race under the fleet racing format, meaning all boats in each class start at the same time.
To start the race, all boats pass a virtual starting line made between two marks: the upwind mark and the downwind mark. These marks are placed approximately one nautical mile (1852m) apart. Boats first proceed on an upwind leg to round the upwind mark. In this leg boats are fighting their way into the wind requiring skilled tactics, boat-speed, and boat handling. After rounding the upwind mark, boats proceed to the down-wind mark and round it as well. All competing boats repeat these runs nine times, which generally requires an hour to complete. The finish of the race, like the start, consists of passing through a virtual line between two marks.
There are two races per day for five days, then one final race on the sixth day.
The equipment used for Paralympic sailing features slight modifications in order to suit the athletes’ abilities. Yachts used in Paralympic competition have keels which provide greater stability. These keelboats are equipped with open cockpits which allow more room for the sailors.
According to the International Foundation for Disabled Sailing (IFDS), a SKUD-18 team must include one female and one person deemed a Functional Classification System (FCS) "1," or severely disabled, such as a quadriplegic. Sailors are seated on the centerline for Paralympic events, but the boat can be sailed with or without either of the seats and configured to suit different sailors’ needs.
Because of its design and control, the 2.4mR was selected for single-person races. The boat's ease of use allows for a level playing field, making tactical knowledge the dominant factor in competition. The 2.4 is also popular with able-bodied sailors, who compete against sailors with a disability at most international events.
The Sonar uses a versatile crew-friendly design that is accommodating to athletes with physical disabilities. It is used by sailors of all experience and ability levels, from novices to international competitors.
The sport is governed by the International Association for Disabled Sailing (IFDS). IFDS closely co-operates with the International Sailing Federation (World Governing Body for Sailing). The National Sport Federation is the Canadian Yachting Association.