Three world rowing champions, West German sculler Peter-Michael Kolbe and British pair Steve Redgrave and Andy Holmes, all won their heats yesterday. Then they were penalized for breaking the rules at the 148th Henley Royal Regatta on the Thames River.

An American crew from Yale was also among the winners.

Holmes and Redgrave erred by rowing back down the river to loud applause after breaking the course record by 12 seconds in the Silver Goblets. Kolbe, who also won through to his semifinal, was seen practicing on the course within three minutes of the start of the afternoon session.

Each will now begin today's racing with one false start to their name, which means they can afford no mistakes, as only two starts are allowed.

Peter Coni, the event chairman, called their behavior part of "the McEnroe Syndrome."

"No matter how famous they are, it is still absolutely a matter of safety for people to obey the rules," Coni said. "We are not going to have a repeat of some of the antics we saw in the '60s.

Yale beat Britain's Thames Tradesmen by a length for its second victory in in the Ladies' Challenge Plate and now meets another British eight, Tideway Scullers, which is stroked by an American, Brian Colgan, and has on board an Olympic gold medalist, Mark Evans, from Canada.

Other Canadians to prosper were the former world champion quadruple scullers, rowing as the Ridley Boat Club.

The foursome beat Vesper Boat Club from Phiadelphia by 4 1/2 lengths in the Queen Mother Challenge Cup and will now meet the favored Soviet team for a place in the semifinal.