About IODA

The International Optimist - An introduction

WARNING! - READING THIS PAGE COULD CHANGE THE REST OF YOUR LIFE - There are hundreds of thousands of people out there addicted to sailing . . . . because of the Optimist

Why sailing?

  • Sailing is fun: a great social life, now and for the rest of your days
  • Sailing is for all: tall? short? fat? thin? girl? boy? green with pink spots? - sailing is for you
  • Sailing builds self-reliance, physical strength, quick thinking and a love of the environment
  • Sailing doesn't cost a fortune - we'll talk about that later

Why the Optimist?

  • Optimists are designed for kids. They can handle them without danger, fear or back-strain
  • Single-handed is best. They didn't learn to ride a bike on a tandem
  • Over 200,000 kids in over 100 countries cannot be wrong. The Optimist is not only one of the biggest dinghy classes in the world, it is the fastest growing
  • The only dinghy recognised by the ISAF* exclusively for under 16s *the world organising body for sailing
  • Former Optimist sailors were over 50% of the dinghy skippers at the last Olympics
  • Builders on five continents.
  • Your local sailing club has them - and if it doesn't, it will! (see the list of national Optimist associations member of IODA and find out if there is one in your country)

What is an Optimist?

  • "a flat-bottomed, hard-chine, pram-bow dinghy with a una spritsail" (The Observer's Book of Small Craft)
  • "a bathtub that breeds the best sailors" (Observant Sailor at the Club Bar)
  • 2.31m (7'6.1/2") long, 1.13m (3'8") wide. Weight 35kg (77lbs).
  • Easily transported on top of any car, (where it will drip water over your shiny paintwork!).
  • Safe and simple enough for an 8-year old
  • Exciting and technical enough for a 15-year old
  • Available in GRP, wood or wood/epoxy.

What will it cost?

In North America add around 30% to the prices below.

Around US$700 a year.

It works like this (very like the secondhand automobile market):

  • US$ 600 - 900 buys a good first boat (pre-owned) - and you can expect to drop $200 when you sell
  • Trade up every year or so. Reckon on adding around $300 a year to your investment
  • When you sell your last Optimist you have the price of a good secondhand Laser or 420 - and the path to a lifetime of sailing
  • If you want to buy new, beginners' boats start around $1,600 + any sales taxes. But see the warning on the technical page
  • Add a good buoyancy aid/PFD (personal flotation device) and some clothes according to your local weather
  • Check out fees at your local sailing club

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Where and how to start

Local clubs usually have sailing classes for kids, which are surely given in Optimists (99% probability!). So, your first step should be to go to the coast, find a club and ask there.

If the clubs where you live don't offer these classes, ask your national Optimist association where Optimist is sailed in your area.

If there is no National Optimist Association in your country, contact US! The IODA offer help to new fleets, not only to buy the boats but also to train local instructors (see develop.php).

Unofficial* guide to the first steps in the Optimist

*These guidelines are not intended to override the methods of any club or instructor!

  • Kids MUST be able to swim. 25 yards and/or 5 yards without breathing seem standard.
  • Start with one then two in an Optimist in very protected water in light air WITHOUT RIGS or daggerboard, to get a sense of balance. If shallow you can even wade after them!
  • Take them out in a bigger boat if you have one first, in light air. Let each helm in turn to learn the vital lessons of tacking and gybing. (opposite to a bicycle!) and stopping head-to wind.
  • Repeat 2 with rigs. Supervise from whatever you have.
  • Theory: first thing teach the kids how to rig the boat (so you donít have to!) with necessary knots.


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Age and size

What age should they start?

Most countries start at eight years old. But there are plenty who start earlier and eleven or twelve is not too late - even to get to the top in the Optimist.

But surely they should not race at that age?

It depends what you mean by racing.

Kids probably start racing as soon as they can crawl! French coaches have the youngest pupils racing around by paddling even before they get a sail on the boat!

The secret is to let the young sailors race to the level he/she really wants to (not the level you think it should want to).

In many countries mini-regattas are organised at the same time as open (under 16) events. This is great, but they should be tailored to the needs of younger sailors - fewer, shorter races, if possible on more sheltered waters (inside the harbour? inside the bay?).

What is the maximum age to sail an Optimist?

Sailors are permitted to enter the Optimist Worlds and Continentals and other big regattas until the are 16, i.e. until and including the year in which they have their 15th birthday.

But some sailors do get too big before then.

This is the breakdown of ages at the Optimist Worlds:

  • 14.5 - 15.5: 38%
  • 13.5 - 14.5: 41%
  • 12.5 - 13.5: 16%
  • Under 12.5: 5%

When am I too big for the Optimist?

A lot depends on local conditions, particularly during the summer holidays. If you sail in a place that never gets more than 8 knots in summer, you are going to have problems winning over 55 kg.

There is an interesting article and analysis of the 2002 Worlds at idealsize.pdf. Also, see the following comments after the Worlds 2007 in Italy and Worlds 2011 in New Zealand.

As an active sportsperson you are likely to be a bit lighter than the average "coach potato" but don't be tempted to diet without talking to a doctor. The unwise loss of weight may lead to loss of stamina.

If you feel you are getting nowhere and there is a good alternative boat locally, try it. Plenty of older Optimist sailors "cross-train" - sail a more powerful boat as well as an Optimist.

Up to a certain age you will probably have more fun at Optimist regattas. But when you start to find most of the competitors "silly" - move on! But don't drink too much at the first regatta you attend with a bar!!


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The Optimist Class in the World

How many Optimists are there in the world?

Frankly we don't know!

For registered Optimists the answer is just over 200,000. In 1974 we started to issue numbered plaques for each Optimist built, and we have just reached number 132,000.

But very many "Optimists" were built without plaques. Almost no plaques were bought by the former "East Block" even for exported boats, and builders in many other countries "cheated". And there are still a lot of boats out there which look like Optimists but aren't!

Is this the biggest Class in the world?

Probably not.

There are over 170,000 Lasers worldwide. But outside the United States we believe there are more Optimists than Lasers.

Which countries have the most Optimists?

Probably the United States which currently buys over 1,000 boats a year. France, Spain, Sweden, Finland and Germany also have very large fleets.

Which are the strongest Optimist countries?

These days this varies from year to year. See the history of our world championship and in general the results from recent Worlds.

Why are they so good?

One or preferably two really good sailors seem to raise the whole level of the top of the national fleet.


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Who gets selected?

For the IODA World and Continental Championships teams must be selected by the national Optimist association on the basis on sailing competitions in the Optimist.

But IODA encourages countries to select different sailors for different events. At the Worlds and Europeans the same sailors may not enter both in the same year (except for the previous year's European champions).

What is the age limit?

Sailors are permitted to enter IODA events until and including the year in which they have their 15th birthday.

What are the nationality rules?

"Sailors shall be either nationals or bona fide residents of the country they represent, unless otherwise agreed by the IODA Executive. A sailor who has represented one country at an IODA World or Continental Championship shall not represent another member country except in cases of alteration of residence, which cases shall be approved by the IODA Executive. Attention is drawn to ISAF Regulations relative to the ISAF World Youth Championship."

What this means is that a sailor living abroad or with more than one passport may choose which country he represents, but once he has chosen to sail for one member country at a major event he cannot then change his mind and sail for another one, unless he really has migrated.

This reflects the fact that young people cannot choose where they live and sail, and should be allowed to represent their country of residence (provided that country allows).

The reference to ISAF Regulations is that, if a sailor has represented a country in Optimists, he may have difficulties in representing another country at the ISAF World Youth Championship.

NOTE: These are the IODA Rules. In some countries stricter nationality laws or rules apply.

What should I do if I feel that the selection trials have been unfair?

  • 1 - Appeal to the protest committee/jury at the races in question. If the unfairness is a result of what you think was an incorrect decision by them, you can appeal to your national sailing asscociation. See RRS 70 and Appendix F.
  • 2 - If the "unfairness" is not a racing rules matter, request confirmation of the decision by the Executive of your national Optimist association. If still not happy, consider requesting an extraordinary General Assembly.
  • 3 - If you are still unhappy, consult IODA. We do not normally interfere in local matters but we may be able to advise what to do. For example in some countries we might advise appeal to the national Sailing Association: in others we would strongly advise against this!


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