The sport and practice of single-handed sailing or solo sailing is sailing with only one crewmember (i.e., only one person on board the vessel). The term usually refers to ocean and long-distance sailing and is used in competitive sailing and among Cruisers.
Single-handed sailing has become a major competitive sport, and there are a number of prominent single-handed offshore races. The Single-Handed Trans-Atlantic Race (OSTAR) and the Route du Rhum are trans-Atlantic single-handed races. The single handed transpac (SHTP) starts off Tiburon in the San Francisco Bay, and ends in Hanalei Bay, Kauai. Round-the-world yacht racing began with the single-handed Sunday Times Golden Globe Race. Two modern round-the-world races descended from this event are the VELUX 5 Oceans Race (Around Alone), which is run in several stages with stops in between, and the Vendee Globe, a non-stop race around the world and perhaps the ultimate event in single-handed sailing. Many single-handed races make use of Open 50 and Open 60 boats.
Complete competence with sailing and seamanship are required for single-handing, as is a high degree of self-sufficiency. Physical fitness is of particular importance for single-handing, as all of the tasks which would ordinarily be handled by two or more persons must be accomplished by the single sailor. This includes often arduous sail adjustments and sail changes in all weathers, including heavy weather (very windy or stormy weather).
One of the greatest challenges facing a lone sailor is managing the need to sleep, since a good watch must be kept at all times while at sea. Many single-handers use the technique of napping for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, using a timer to wake them up for periodic look-arounds; with the relatively slow speed of a sailboat, this allows most hazards to be seen in time. Again the challenge is greater for racers, given their higher speeds and more intense activity, and some racers have carried out considerable research into getting the maximum benefit from short cat-naps. Especially for racing, often routes are chosen that stay away from land, shallow areas and busy shipping routes. In the Southern Ocean sailors often do not see another boat for weeks. Recreational sailors usually choose a more tropical route (through the Panama Canal) closer to land and have to keep a better lookout for shipping. They often stop in ports en route for rest and sightseeing. In recent years the Automatic Identification System has become available to non-commercial shipping, providing advance warning of collision risks.
William Albert Andrews, of Beverley, Massachusetts, made several significant single-handed voyages, and instigated the first single-handed trans-Atlantic race. Andrews first crossed the Atlantic with his brother in a 19-foot (6 m) dory in 1878. He made an aborted attempt at a single-handed crossing in 1888, and then in 1891 he issued a challenge to any single-hander to race him across the ocean for a prize of $5,000. Josiah W. Lawlor, the son of a famous boat-builder, took up the challenge, and the two men built 15-foot (5 m) boats for the race. They set off from Crescent Beach near Boston on June 21, 1891. Andrews, capsized several times and was finally picked up by a steamer; but Lawlor arrived at Coverack, Cornwall, on August 5, 1891.
In 1982, the first single-handed round-the-world race since the Golden Globe, the BOC Challenge, was inaugurated. This event is raced in stages, with between two and four intermediate stops, going eastabout by way of the great capes, and is run every four years. The first edition was won by French yachtsman Philippe Jeantot, who won all four legs of the race with an overall elapsed time of just over 159 days. With changes in sponsorship the race later became known as the Around Alone, and is now the VELUX 5 Oceans Race.
It is also a reasonable interpretation of the COLREGs to place the boat "not under command" and to make no way, displaying proper lighting for such, to inform other vessels that a single-handed boat is not able to perform avoidance maneuvers because the crew is asleep. No legal cases have arisen to date to adjudicate whether or not such an approach is legal, because single-handed sailing is rare and examples of collisions caused by single-handed sailing are difficult to find.