Is it an Optimist?

Real Optimists carry a little blue numbered label called a "BUILDING FEE PLAQUE" like the one to the right (it adds just US$45 to the price).

Subject to measurement (carried out at time of manufacture in the case of GRP boats) this label means that this boat is built according to the rules of the Optimist class and the International Sailing Federation. It can take part in Optimist races anywhere, from the next bay to the other side of the world . . . . and always will be able to.

The success of the Optimist has led several big companies to produce cheap copies knowing that they don't conform to Class Rules. These are frequently passed off as Optimists, usually amid the bright lights of boat shows by unscrupulous dealers.


You may also find that they are Opas difficult to re-sell as that "Rolex" you bought on holiday for $10 from a street-vendor. Genuine Optimists start around US$1,500 new, much less second-hand. It's worth paying the difference.

Contact your nearest builder or National Optimist Association for further details.


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Getting a sail number

Note: the following does not apply to the U.S.A. which have a much more sensible system.

When you get your new sail it probably will not have the necessary sail numbers on it. These are issued by the national sailing association or, in some cases, by the National Optimist Association.

Find out from your national Optimist association and send whoever issues them the Registration Book you will have received with the new boat and the appropriate fee. Regrettably some associations charge a very high fee for this: if you feel you are being charged too much, let IODA know!

For details of where to put the numbers on your sail see sailnumbers.pdf

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Safety warning

Hooks like the one shown in the image to the left can open and catch in your clothes. This can be DANGEROUS, especially in a capsize.


See all Class Rules but especially:


Clearance between the span and the boom

The method of attachment of the mainsheet or mainsheet block(s) to the boom is optional (provided they cannot slip along the boom, and the maximum clearance between the span and the boom shall be not more than 100 mm, at any position along the boom). The position of the blocks or the length of boom strops shall not be adjusted while racing.

CR 4

Personal buoyancy, bailer (tied in), paddle (tied in) etc.

4.2 (a) The helmsman shall wear a personal flotation device to the minimum standard ISO 12402-5 (Level 50) or equivalent. All fastening devices supplied by the manufacturer shall be used in the manner intended. A whistle shall be carried securely attached to the personal flotation device.

4.3 The following equipment shall be on board while racing:

(a) One or more bailers which shall be securely attached to the hull by a lanyard(s) or elastic cord(s). One bailer shall have a minimum capacity of one litre.

(b) A painter of a single piece of buoyant rope, not less than 5 mm diameter and not less than 8 m long securely fastened to the mast thwart or mast step. (see also

c) A paddle with a blade surface of not less than 0.025m2 securely attached to the hull by a lanyard or elastic cord.


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Building a wooden Optimist

Plans for wooden Optimists are available by sending the Order Form to the secretariat

The price is US$51.50 including mail, payable by Visa or MasterCard, and includes:

*Available online but they take some time to download and are no use without the Plans.

When the Optimist is complete it must be measured by a National Sailing Authority approved measurer, who will then issue the ISAF plaque (see above) and Registration Book.


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These items need an ADOBE ACROBAT READER which can be downloaded free of charge from the Adobe Website. Mac/Safari users may need to set Acrobat as their default reader in order to view these documents correctly.

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The one with the best skipper!

All new Optimists have the same speed potential.

Every parent wants the best for his children and almost every boatbuilder wants to beleive that his boats are faster. But the Optimist Class is dedicated to making sure that all Optimists are the same speed and that its championships are a test of the driver not the vehicle.

Some years ago a tremendous effort went into restoring the Optimist to being a true one-design, as described here. This work continues: IODA has a team of eight volunteer ISAF qualified International Measurers who work at every major IODA event checking not only for Class Rule infringements and safety factors but also monitoring the output of each builder.

Following this work:

  • all hulls are built to within +/- 2mm
  • all hulls have identical layup
  • prototypes from each mould are measured by one of three International Measurers
  • each boat is measured by a national measurer
  • each boat carries a certificate of conformity signed by the builder

Equally every year championship results are analysed for any sign that some makes of boats are faster than others. All the evidence are that there is no such sign.

Look at these statistics:

This was achieved despite the efforts of builders to ensure that the best sailors use their make of boat. And why, when charter boats are allocated, the sailor does not get the "choice" of which make he/she sails.

So you may buy a boat:

  • because it is cheaper
  • because you believe it will last longer (only time will tell)
  • because it is built in your country
  • because it is prettier

But you should not buy it because it is claimed to be faster.


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The following article by Robert Wilkes appeared in the November 1998 issue of the ISAF newsletter.

A 5–year exercise by the International Optimist Association (IODA) has resulted in a price reduction averaging around 25% and a return to strict one–design principles.

The project started in 1992 when IODA president Helen Mary Wilkes was called before the I.Y.R.U. Executive. The Optimist, she was told, had become too expensive. What could the Class do to reduce prices?

The problem was both technical and commercial. The technical problem was a common one, one-design no longer meant one-design. Boats from certain builders were, or were perceived to be, faster than others. As a result they were exported worldwide, incurring transport costs and dealer mark-ups. A boat that cost $1,000 at the factory could sell for $3,000 from an exclusive agent on the other side of the World.

For commercial advice IODA consulted the professor of International Marketing at Dublin University. He felt that the price problem was very like in the pharmaceutical industry, like aspirin. Almost anyone could make the generic product: but customers paid highly for a "named brand" and could be sold a "NEW! IMPROVED!" product without any evidence that it was actually better. The result was a long distribution chain. The answer was to ensure that all builders made the same boat to a strict but freely available published specification.

First the specification had to be tightened. Fred Kats, a member of both the IODA Technical Committee and the IYRU CBC, led a team which devised a specification that could be built to tight tolerances by any competent builder and would be exactly the same speed as the best existing boats so the latter would not become obsolete. It was also essential to establish a system for measuring prototypes from each set of moulds including laminate samples, and to make regular checks thereafter.

Many, including highly-placed figures in the sailing world, believed that it could not be done. Everyone knew that the only way to get one-design boats was to have a single manufacturer or consortium. However in 1994 the IODA AGM decided to go ahead and secured IYRU approval. The 1995 Worlds saw the first production models. "Old-style" boats still won but there were "new-style" boats in top places.

The problems were not over. The first boats, maybe because of rarity value, were even more expensive than the old ones. Most builders adopted a "wait and see" policy and six months before the 1 March 1996 deadline for the changeover, only two had approved prototypes. The breakthrough came in November 1995 when the largest Optimist builder in the World secured approval. Suddenly there was a scramble to follow and nine builders got approval within the following seven months.

The strain on the prototype measurement system was intense. One of the Class International Measurers(IM's) David Harte, himself a qualified boatbuilder, effectively gave up other work and spent 86 nights abroad measuring prototypes and advising builders. Other IM's assisted, particularly with re-measurement. The cost was high, but fortunately IODA had secured major sponsorship from Nesquik.

By mid-1997 the International Measurers KNEW that all builders, by now 27 of them, were building identical boats. But would results prove this? The answer was a resounding yes! At the Europeans ten builders had boats in top ten places, boys and girls, and the Worlds was similar. The case was proved.

The effect on the market and prices has been immediate. If any builder's boat could win, why pay a premium? If a boat built in one's own country could compete with the best, why import? If this year's boat is identical to last year's and is durable, why buy new every season?

So, with now 30 builders in 23 countries on five continents, at least 40% of sailors are already buying boats built in their own country. And in most of the world prices in real terms are 25% lower than in 1992, a global saving of around US$1.25 million.

And the young sailors have a true one-design to sail.

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