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The Sailing World Championships is the principal qualification event for the Olympic Sailing Competition. Only the events and equipment included in the next Olympic Sailing Competition are included in the programme of the Championships.

The largest congregation of Olympic sailors converged on Cadiz in southwest Spain for the first World Championships from 11-24 September 2003.

From 28 June-13 July 2007, Cascais, Portugal hosted the second edition of the ISAF Sailing World Championships. Building on the success of Cadiz four years earlier, 1,350 sailors and 900 boats represented 76 nations.

Perth, Australia hosted the third Worlds in December 2011. 1,200 sailors from 79 nations took part, racing for world championship glory and Olympic qualification. As the principal qualification event for the London 2012 Olympic Games, 75% of all national places were decided.

Santander hosted the 2014 edition of the Sailing World Championships. More than 1,100 sailors in 700 boats raced over a two week period. The event saw 50% of Rio 2016 Olympic Games places snapped up.

The next Sailing World Championships will be held in Aarhus, Denmark in 2018. The Hempel Sailing World Sailing Championships will be held at the Aarhus International Sailing Centre at the edge of the Bay of Aarhus from 31 July to 12 August 2018.