The following is a brief review of orienteering rules. For a full set of rules, go to USOF Rules. For an essay on cheating see Cheating.
The two most popular forms of orienteering are Score-O and point-to-point. Point-to-point orienteering is also called route or cross-country orienteering. One can generally enter either form as a competitor or as a non-competitor, called a map hiker. With both, you will be given a map showing the control point locations, a control description sheet that describes the features that you are looking for, and a control card which is to be punched at each control to prove that you were there. Competitors will be assigned a start time. Be at the start area 10 minutes prior to your start. The start area may be a long way from the registration area, so be sure to ask.
With Score-O, the competitor has a fixed time limit, often 60 or 90 minutes, to visit as many controls as possible in any order. Controls may have different point values, and the number of points earned determines the winner. A penalty, usually one point, is applied for each minute or fraction thereof a competitor is late. A Rogaine is just a long Score-0 of 6, 12 or even 24 hours.
Point-to-point is the more common form of orienteering, and unless otherwise specified on the entry form, the one you can assume that you are entering. All controls points must be visited in the order listed within the time limit, usually 3 hours. The winner is determined by who has the fastest time. In a two-day meet, times for both days are added to determine the winner.
The following equipment is recommended: running shoes or hiking boots, long pants, protective eyewear, a watch as there is always a time limit, a whistle to call for help if you are injured, and a compass. A "protractor"-style compass with a clear plastic base is preferred. HOC has a limited number of compasses for rent.
The rules are designed to result in fairness to competitors and the safety of the participants.
A missing or a wrong punch results in disqualification (DQ). There is no stigma associated with a DQ due to mistakes. Even the best orienteers DQ from time-to-time.
There may be a "manned" control on your course, in which case the person manning the control will punch your control card. For point-to-point orienteering, where all controls must be punched in order, a competitor caught with a control punched out of order, will be DQ'd.
Orienteering is an individual sport. Giving or receiving help except in a non-competitive class is prohibited. Likewise, running with or following other competitors is prohibited. If competing, do not ask for assistance unless you are in fear for your safety and willing to be DQ'd. A competitor caught violating these rules will be DQ'd. Map hikers may receive help from anyone, preferably another map hiker. Map hikers, please do not ask for assistance from a competitor unless in fear for your safety or over the time limit. Competitors or map hikers must assist anyone in trouble. If you are the injured party and not in serious trouble, it is polite to allow the competitor to report your situation at the end of their run.
A safety bearing is a compass bearing to follow if one is totally lost and no longer wishes to continue. If this is not posted, you should ask a meet official what the safety bearing is.
A whistle is a valuable safety tool to be used when injured. The international distress signal is 6 long blasts followed by a long silence. The rescue reply is 3 short blasts. Do not use your whistle in any fashion unless you are in distress.
Orienteering is not like some other sports, in that, it is against to the rules to taunt participants. Anyone caught taunting will be DQ'd, even if the taunter has finished his or her run.
Not observing the following rules can result in disqualification as well as a ban from future meets (these also apply to map hikers):