The Optimist dinghy is one of the most popular in the world, and it has produced numerous Olympic medallists.

About the Optimist

Optimist symbolThe Optimist is one of the most popular dinghies in the world with in excess of 200,00 dinghies registered and many, many more not registered. Designed in 1947 by Clark Mills (who also designed the Windmill and the Com-Pac 16), it is a small, single handed dinghy sailed by children up to the age of 15. Now a strict one-design boat, most of the raced boats are now fibreglass (partly due to the difficulty in getting a wooden boat to fully comply with measurement), and it is a hugely competitive fleet at the top level, with many Olympic medallists having raced the boat (at London 2012 79% of the sailing competitors had raced Optimists, and 20 of the 24 medallists had raced them).

It is also a great beginner boat for young children, as its design is stable, easily right-able after a capsize, and it is relatively simple to rig. Its design also helps teach about many of the technical complexities, as it has a gaff-style rig, with adjustable mast rake. As the sail shape is hugely adjustable, a wide weight range can competitively sail Optimists.

Videos for Optimist Sailing

On board with a World Champion - great footage of tacking technique and downwind surfing technique:

Some race tips from an Olympic gold medallist. Sarah Ayton gives some great advice here:

More Olympic tips from Sarah Ayton and Saskia Clark:

There is also a YouTube playlist of top tips from Olympic Gold medallist Shirley Robertson here

Hannah Mills (former Girl's World Champion, UK National Champion, and now Olympic Silver medallist) gives three top tips for Optimist sailors:

Upwind tips from North Sails:

A good explanation of where to sit, and why:

Optimists are great in waves:

Books for Optimist Sailing

Specific for Optimists

General Books Useful for Optimist Sailors

The Bestsellers

These three books will help any sailor improve in any class of boat.

Sailing Fitness

You need to be physically fit to do well - even just a little bit of all-round fitness can improve your results a lot. These books are all helpful in designing a program that works for you. My favourite is Sailing Fitness & Training by Michael Blackburn.


Getting your head right can be as important as getting your technique right. These books will all help with this area, and the Eric Twiname book, Sail, Race and Win is possibly my all-time favourite book on how to improve your sailing

Books for Self-Coaching by Olympic Coach Jon Emmett

Jon Emmett coached Lijia Xu to an Olympic Gold Medal,and is a multiple World Champion himself. These well written books share the secrets of how to coach yourself and improve your sailing.

Sailing Technique and Performance Books by Frank Bethwaite

Frank Bethwaite is a bit of a legend - relentless in his pursuit to understand high performance race craft. His two bigger books (High Performance Sailing and Higher Performance Sailing) can be quite dense to read while Fast Handling Techniques is lighter and easier to read. All are hugely important.

...and finally, Three Absolute Classics

These three books are nailed-on classics - books that have helped generations of sailors and are still relevant today. Start to Win is a good, relatively basic book that will help get you to the front of the fleet; Winning in One Designs is widely regarded as essential reading for one-design sailors; and Advanced Racing Tactics is more in-depth, is a tougher read, but will help with a lot of in-race strategy.

Links for Optimist Sailors

Class Information

The International Optimist Dinghy Association

A list of member countries, with links to their websites

Boat Set-up, Boat Handling and Other Tips

General Optimist Tuning Guide

Keeping Control of Your Optimist in Strong Winds

Blogs and Blog Posts

Haydn Sewell - Optimist Sailing - GBR6288

Wooden Optimist - A Blog

Some relevant Blog Posts from this site:

The Vital Statistics

Suggested sailor weight range: 30kg-65kg (ideal weight range is 40kg-55kg) (There's a piece about the ideal helm size here)

  • Hull Material Fibreglass / Wood
  • Year Designed: 1947
  • Hull Length 2.36 metres
  • Beam 1.12 metres
  • Mainsail Area 3.32 square metres
  • Hull Weight 35 kg

Who's Who in Optimists

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