Beginner Parents FAQs

The following FAQ’s are for NEW parents to the Optimists Class.  They assume that you have minimal sailing knowledge and have not attended an Optimist event before.

If you are already on the circuit, already have a boat but are still a “new” parent i.e. within your first year, your questions may be better answered here.

If you are an established Oppie Circuit parent you should be able to find the answers to any questions you have within the website or by asking a committee member

What is IODAI and do I need to join?

IODAI stands for International Optimist Dinghy Association in Ireland. This organisation represents the Optimist class in Ireland and internationally. IODAI is affiliated to the Irish Sailing Association (ISA) and The International Optimist Dinghy Association (IODA).

To sail in IODAI events you need to become a member. Membership & event entry are now all done online.  To join simply click on the membership link at the top of the website.

What is an Optimist dinghy?

The Optimist is, quite simply, the dinghy in which the young people of the world learn to sail.

Some definitions:

“A flat-bottomed, hard-chine, pram-bow dinghy with a una sprit- sail”
(The Observer’s Book of Small Craft)

“A bathtub that breeds the best sailors” (Observant Sailor at the Club Bar)

Specifications of the Optimist dinghy:

  • 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 paint- work!).
  • Safe and simple enough for an 8-year old
  • Exciting and technical enough for a 15-year old

Sailed in over 110 countries by over 150,000 young people, it is the ONLY dinghy approved by the International Sailing Federation exclusively for sailors under 16 years of age.

  • Over half of the dinghy skippers at the last Olympic Games were former Optimist sailors.
  • The boat was designed by Clarke Mills in Florida in 1947.
  • Optimists first came to Europe in 1954 when a fleet started in Denmark.

Most parents find that sailing gives young people a great sense of personal achievement. In addition the skills required to improve sailing performance both on and off the water; it helps young people develop a more organised approach to other non-sailing related activities.

How many Optimists are there in Ireland?

More than 1,600 Optimists have been registered in Ireland (2019)

At Optimist events in Ireland this year the fleet size varied between 150 at Regional events and nearly 200 at our National Championships.  International events can be much larger and at an Easter Regatta on Lake Garda in 2015 there was just short of 1000 boats.

How can i join a sailing club that sails optimists?

Contact the Irish Sailing Association you can find out which sailing clubs are local to you. The junior or dinghy sailing coordinator in each club should be able to tell you if they have an active Optimist class in that club. Your interest could be the spark that ignites an Optimist interest there and IODAI will endeavour to support clubs who wish to start an Optimist fleet.

Alternatively, if you contact the IODAI secretary directly, [email protected] you will be put in touch with an IODAI regional representative who will guide you towards a suitably active Optimist club.

IODAI contact every sailing club from time to time to determine their level of interest in the Optimist class and to maintain an open invitation for any sailing club to seek assistance in the forming of an Optimist class at that club.

Which are the more prominent clubs racing optimists in Ireland?

HYC Howth Co. Dublin

KYC Kinsale Co. Cork

LDYC Dromineer, Co. Tipperary

LRYC Athlone, Co. Westmeath

MYC Malahide Co. Dublin

NYC Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin

RCYC Crosshaven, Co. Cork

RIYC Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin

RNIYC Cultra, Hollywood, Co Down

RSGYC Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin

SDC Sutton, Co. Dublin

SSC Skerries, Co. Dublin

TBSC Fenit, Co. Kerry

WBTSC Wexford Co. Wexford

WHSC Dunmore East, Co. Waterford

Are Optimists suitable for girls?

The Optimist provides superb one design racing where boys and girls can compete on equal terms. Yearly rankings often produce a 50:50 split between boys and girls.  In 2005, 2006 and 2007 the Irish National Championship was won by Diana Kissane, from Howth Yacht Club who set a record by winning the title in three successive years.

Why is Optimist Sailing so popular in Ireland?

The first Optimists arrived in Ireland in 1966. The class in Ireland developed relatively slowly until 1978 when a batch of 35 GRP boats was imported and Ireland first sent a team to the World Championships. In 1981 Howth Yacht Club hosted the Worlds and boats sold off in Ireland after the event gave the class a big lift.

The popularity of the Optimist in Ireland is explained by a number of factors including:

  • Simplicity of design, it is:
  • Safe and simple enough for an 8-year old
  • Exciting and technical enough for a 15-year old
  • The Optimist is recommended by the Irish Sailing Association for junior training
  • There is a reasonable supply of new and second-hand boats
  • An energetic and proactive class association of volunteer parents (IODAI)
  • Unquantifiable support from the parents of all Optimist sailors

What age should a child start sailing Optimists?

Some clubs do not provide beginner training under 9 or 10 years of age. However this is changing and you should check with your local club. See if any other experienced parent can suggest how a younger sailor might start.

There are plenty who start earlier and eleven or twelve is not too late – even to get to the top in the fleet.

Some considerations before beginning:

  • Is your child a competent swimmer? (Competent means comfortable in the water when out of depth and capable of swimming say 25 meters in the sea water while dressed in normal clothing).
  • Comfortable about the prospect of trying sailing? (The prospect of being alone in charge of a boat is often daunting to a young child and this introduction to the water is the most important step).
  • Are there any older brothers, sisters or friends involved in sailing? This is often a great help.
  • Is the child and are the parents prepared to make the commitment?  There is a lot of time involved in junior sailing.  Parents, remember, they can’t drive themselves to training or events and they need lots of help ashore especially in the early days.

My child has done some sailing courses at our local club, can they start sailing Optimists at events?

Of course.  The Optimist dinghy is a simple and safe; designed specifically for young sailors.  So, no matter what other boat they have used on their courses, they should be able to handle an Optimist.

When do they start racing?

As a Junior Class we have knowledge of helping sailors make the transition from “messing about in boats” to actual racing.  This is where our innovative Regatta Fleet comes in.

What is the Regatta Fleet?

Regatta Fleet Racing is for beginners and unranked sailors – usually from age 8 upwards. The focus of the Regatta Fleet is on having fun.  There is a Regatta Fleet element at most major Optimist events except “The Trials”.  (For information on “The Trials” see the New Parents and Sailors section of our FAQ’s).

The Regatta Fleet will could be your sailors first experience of racing.  They can enter the Regatta Fleet once they have learnt to sail to windward and can negotiate a simple triangular course.

A typical Regatta Fleet day is usually shorter that the main fleet. With some coaching in the morning, a break ashore for lunch and then some simple races in the afternoons, the aim is to make the introduction as easy as possible.  It’s not taken too seriously and coaches are allowed to give advice during racing.  If a sailor is towards the front, advice may not be necessary and the coaches will tend to concentrate on those near the back.  And yes, there are prizes, and it often proves to be the most charming part of the prize giving ceremony where we see very young children collect their first sailing trophy.

Regatta Fleet Racing at events gives the younger sailor the experience of doing circuit events without the pressures of racing way out to sea over long courses. There are often around 50 boats racing and it’s their first introduction to the wonderful circle of friends that sailing produces for all of us.

Do we need to buy a boat?

Since the Optimist is a single handed boat, it is best that your child owns a boat.  There is however an ample supply of second hand boats around. Check your local club notice board or if your club doesn’t have an Optimist fleet, check with other clubs.  The most prolific market is on this website where there is a continuous flow of boats for sale.  Click here:

Buying a boat?  What advice?

Optimists are made in GRP.  Speak to other parents in your local club to find out what is a suitable boat to buy. Regatta fleet sailors can generally purchase a boat from €500 – €1000 and as the child progresses they usually buy a newer boat to move to the junior fleet and then perhaps a brand new boat when the sailor becomes very competitive.

New Boats: These will be GRP and built to a standard so that there is little (if any difference) between different brands. Some brands have a higher resale value due to a perceived better build quality.  We will not attempt to score one brand against another.

Second-Hand Boats

Before boat-handling skills are acquired, the new sailor is likely to have a number of mishaps. For this reason, it is probably best to have an older boat that will not complain when it gets knocked about.

The best advice is to ask a parent who has a reasonably current technical knowledge of optimists to ‘survey’ the prospective second-hand boat for you.

What parts should an Optimist have?

Here is a list of the respective parts a second hand Optimist should have.  The manufacturer, condition and style of each can affect the price.  Similarly, if they are missing, they will have to be bought before you can start racing; again affecting the price:

Spars: (Mast, Boom & Sprit): Avoiding the use of manufacturers names, the dark coloured spars are the most desirable.  Silver or “school” spars are fine but no longer “measure” for International competition

Foils: (Rudder, tiller, tiller extension, centre- board or dagger-board).  Range from wood to epoxy coated which is more desirable and most modern boats come with epoxy coated.

Sail:  Boats will often come with several sails.  A new sail can cost up to €450 so the condition of the sails with the boat can affect the price.

Other Essentials: Mainsheet, Painter (bowline), Burgee, Sail ties, Bailers, Toe-straps, praddle (a single handed paddle))

Launching Trolley:  Broadly speaking there is only one type of trolley now:

  • Collapsible aluminium trolley; (expensive, strong, easily dismantled and transported, best choice).  Plastic waste-pipe and galvanised steel trolleys should be avoided

Top and Bottom Covers

They are made of either PVC (strong & durable, but hold in moisture), Cotton (breathable dust covers, easily damaged) or Padded Canvas (strongest, best protection, some are waterproof).

The bottom cover protects the hull from minor scrapes and UV damage when stored in sunlight.

The top-cover is more useful during events and training as it allows the equipment to be stored inside the boat when not in use. This is not ideal as a long-term practice when it is better to turn the boat over and store the spars and foils in a warm, dry place.

Foil Bag and Spar Bag

  • These are useful accessories for protecting the equipment as more harm can occur when transporting than when sailing.


  • It is necessary to insure your boat before you launch it for a club or IODAI event. You need third party cover as well as loss, theft, damage, etc.

How much will it cost?

New boats in full racing spec can cost €4500

Second hand boats can cost from €500 upwards.  At this price it may have some parts missing and the cost of new ones can often erode the bargain.

A boat priced between €1,000 and €2,000 should have all the parts, and be quite competitive with good equipment and sail.

Above €2,000 the features of more modern design ideas start to appear and the boat will generally look better thus creating a more enthusiastic sailor.

Bear in mind that your sailor will have the odd mishap when learning.  It’s probably best not to buy them a brand new boat.  A second hand boat will be fine and by the time they know how to look after it, they will have “earned” a newer model.

Where can I buy a boat?

New Boats

If you want a new boat then these can be bought from the builders, specialist importers or from sailing shops.

Second-hand Boats

These can be bought from various sources. Most sailors who spend a few years in Optimists will change boats a couple of times as they improve and can prove themselves better able to care for a newer boat.

When selling, you can generally expect to get back what you paid for a second-hand optimist less 20+% for wear and tear. This assumes that the boat is generally maintained complete and sound.

Here are some suggestions when looking for a second-hand boat:

  • Ask other parents at your club if they know of any boats for sale.
  • Check the buy and sell section of this website
  • Place a wanted ad on your local club notice-board or club web-site.
  • Ask your local junior or optimist coordinator about any boats that might be for sale.
  • Search the classifieds locally and nationally (e.g. ‘Buy & Sell’ magazine).

Do I need a road trailer?

Sometimes boats are sold with a road trailer, but not often.  Sailors often progress to other boats and adapt their road trailer to suit.

A normal box trailer can often be adapted, have a look at what other Optimist parents have.

You don’t really need a trailer as Optimists can be “car-topped” i.e. simply tied unto a roof rack. Some advice on “car topping”:

  • Make sure it is well tied down
  • If in doubt put on that extra rope
  • Load the boat upside down
  • Remove the top cover (otherwise it flaps and makes a horrendous noise)
  • Make sure all accessories are removed
  • Stop frequently during journey to check ropes and straps
  • Make sure you have all parts e.g. spars, foils, bailers, ropes etc

My club doesn’t have an Optimist fleet, can we still get involved?

Yes, of course.  There are many Optimist sailors who belong to clubs with no real Optimist fleet.  It does involve a bit of travelling but there is always ample opportunity for training at Regional venues.  The travelling isn’t that bad and once you and your sailor meet new friends it will cease to be a problem

What events are there in Ireland?

There are a number of IODAI events throughout the season.  There are five main events for all sailors; four Regional events and the National Championships.  Generally the four regional events are Saturday and Sunday events at a venue in their respective province i.e. Ulster Munster, Leinster and Connacht.  The National Championships involves four days racing and can be held anywhere in Ireland and moves from club to club and from province to province each year.  All these events count towards the sailors “ranking”, but if you are ready to learn about that you should be moving to the second section of our FAQ’s, new parents and sailors.  There are also a number of supporting events throughout the year.  The full calendar of IODAI and IODAI supported events can be found on the News section of the IODAI website.

In addition to IODAI events local club events; regattas; training sessions serve to fill any gaps in the sailing year

How do I enter our first event?

Your 13 step guide to entering an event for the first time:

  1. Check out the IODAI website at for a suitable event
  2. Set up your family profile on the website
  3. Your sailor must become a member of IODAI
  4. Pay the online entry fee
  5. Get your boat ready for transportation to the event.  This is often the most difficult thing for new sailors but they can either “car-top” or travel with another sailor who has space on their trailer.
  6. You will find a thing call the “Notice of Race” for the event on the IODAI website and find out the times of “registration”.
  7. Arrive at the event venue in time for registration.  Usually the evening before but with a brief facility for those arriving on-the-day.
  8. Registration takes place at all sailing events and it is staffed by friendly club members.  Don’t be afraid to say this is your first event and ask questions.
  9. At registration your entry will be checked, you’ll confirm your fleet (regatta fleet usually) you may be asked about meals for you or your sailor; you may be given a “goodie” bag, you may be given a ribbon to identify you as a regatta fleet boat – this is to be attached to your sprit; you may be given tags to attach to your boat, trailer and trolley.
  10. Before or after registration, unload your boat, put it on its launching trolley and make sure everything is OK for racing.
  11. If you have arrived the day before you’ll leave your boat in the dinghy park overnight.  There will generally be a different location to leave your road trailer
  12. Arrive early the next morning and help your sailor to rig their boat.  In a few months time the sailor will be encouraged to do this for themselves.
  13. There will be a briefing for the main fleet followed by a briefing for the Regatta Fleet
  14. The Regatta Fleet boats will generally be in a separate part of the dinghy park but you’ll be able to identify them –

The Regatta Fleet coaches will take over around this time.  Don’t worry, they are very experienced – many of them were Optimist sailors themselves once.

Generally Regatta Fleet racing takes place near the shore and you will be able to see how your protégé is getting on.

One Final Question: is there any fun on the optimist circuit?

While the Optimist calendar is a full one and parents/sailors may find the implication of a serious Optimist programme just a little bit daunting – the truth is that most young children (and parents!) find the experience lots of fun.

The combination of the training, regional events, and regattas, gives young sailors lots of opportunity to make new friends from all over Ireland (and indeed abroad in the case of sailors attending international events). Lots of sailors make friendships on the Optimist circuit which endure well after the age limit has been passed.

And the parents?  You will meet literally dozens of new friends.  All are not sailors.  Some are; some aren’t.  Like your children, you will form friendships that will endure long after your sailing hopefuls have progressed out of Oppies and are old enough to travel to sailing events without you. It’s not just all about the children!!  We need some fun as well.


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