The 1980 Olympic yachting competition was severely hurt by the US-led boycott of the Moskva (Moscow) Olympics, as most of the top yachting nations were from Western Europe, Oceania, or North America. The program in 1980 was similar to that in 1976, with six events. Five were the same, but the Tempest class, held only in 1972 and 1976, was eliminated and replaced by the Star class, a two-person keelboat class that had been on the Olympic Program from 1932-72, and would remain on it from 1980-2008. All classes were raced over what was now a standard seven-race competition. Because Moskva is very inland, the 1980 Olympic yachting events were held off the coast of Tallinn, in what is now Estonia. All events were in a mixed class, but this was the last time all yachting events were contested as mixed, as separate events for men would be introduced at Los Angeles in 1984, and women would begin to have their own events in 1988 at Seoul.
The scoring system was the Olympic standard that had been introduced in 1968, and which was used through the 1992 Olympics. It was a modified point-for-place scoring system in each race, with the best six of seven race scores to count towards the final total. To break ties, the total of all seven race scores were used. If a boat did not finish, was disqualified, or did not start a race, it was awarded points equal to the number of boats entered in the event, or the highest score possible.
The six classes were won by five nations, with Brazil winning two gold medals. Twelve (12) nations won medals, equaling the most ever in Olympic yachting to that date, as 12 had also won medals in 1968. The Soviet Union won the most medals, with three, with Austria, Brazil, Denmark, and Finland also winning two medals each.