November 22, 2019 8 min read

The complete guide and top tips to get you started on the Laser pathway.

By Sam Whaley, UK Laser National Champion and Sailing Chandlery sponsored sailor.

The Laser is one of the most popular racing dinghies ever built and one of the most active classes here in the UK. Lasers are found in every corner of the country and you can easily buy one and be out racing the very next day.

The Laser is a pretty powerful step up from junior and smaller classes, so it can be quite a daunting move and I remember feeling pretty unsure about what I was doing when I first moved in. This aim of this guide is to give you some top tips to getting into the class and how you can make the most of every opportunity the class has to offer.

Here are what we will be covering:

  • Boat – what to look out for when buying a Laser, suitable rig choice and must have upgrades
  • Events – all about Laser events and how they work in the UK
  • Training – information about the many training options in the Laser

The Boat

Although Lasers are super simple, when buying a Laser there are a few things to watch out for. Firstly, you need to come up with a budget of how much you want to spend and have a look at some boats on the market. For reference here are the years each sail number were produced:

 Sail Number & Year
 Sail Number & Year

30,000 1977 

40,000 1977 – 1978 

50,000 1978 – 1979 

60,000 1979 

70,000 1979 – 1980 

80,000 1980 – 1981 

90,000 1981 – 1982 

100,000 1982 – 1983 

110,000 1983 – 1985 

120,000 1985 – 1987 

130,000 1987 – 1990

140,000 1990 – 1993 

150,000 1993 – 1996

160,000 1996 – 2000

170,000 2000 – 2004

180,000 2004 – 2007

190,000 2007 – 2010

200,000 2011 – 2015

210,000 2015 – 2016

211,000 2016 – 2017

214,000 2017 – 2018

216,000 2019 - now

The widespread nature of the class means there is quite a lot of choice on the market, with a large range of ages and prices to suit every budget. In the grand scheme of things, Lasers are built like tanks so an older package shouldn’t be at any disadvantage to a new boat. My first Laser was number 169208 (built in the year 2000) and was perhaps my favourite of all time!

When you are buying a used Laser look out for these specific things to ensure your boat is in top shape and ready to start racing:

  1. An XD pack is recommended for racing and makes life a lot easier! This comprises of a Harken 16:1 kicker, 6 or 8:1 downhaul and a 6:1 outhaul.
  2. Again, a carbon tiller and extension makes life a lot easier - although not essential. More on this below.
  3. Ideally the boat will be in perfect condition although this is obviously unrealistic! Chips around the gunwale are common and unless they look deep, they are generally fine and don’t leak.
  4. If the boat is from before 2011 it probably will have foam foils, whereas 2011 onward boats have GRP fibreglass foils. The GRP foils are a nicer finish out the box but are obviously prone to damage and cracking should they be dropped so best to check them over well. Foam foils are more durable but can lose their finish pretty quick.
  5. Ropes are super easy to replace so don’t get too caught up over their condition. The team at Sailing Chandlery can help you with recommendations.
  6. Spars all need to be straight ideally apart from the 4.7 lower mast section, which is pre-bent at factory by design.
  7. In 2017 a Laser composite top mast was released and is now fully class legal. This is great because they last forever and don’t bend permanently but otherwise there is minimal benefit to having one. If the boat you are looking at has one then great, otherwise I wouldn’t worry about it for now. For reference a new composite top mast is currently £525.60.

If you're looking for a new Laser dinghy then Sailing Chandlery are able to help you and will be able to provide a quotation for your perfect boat package.

Carbon Tillers

Given there are relatively few aspects of a Laser you can change a lot of sailors obsess with finding the perfect carbon tiller. There are a few different makes on the market at the moment, all with their own benefits and drawbacks. 

Laser Performance Carbon Tiller Extension

What makes a good tiller? Well a perfect tiller needs to be:

  • Strong and stiff so there is no unwanted flex or movement when steering
  • As low as possible at the back where the traveller runs over the tiller, but high enough to never have to worry about the front of the tiller hitting the cleat at the back of the cockpit
  • Super lightweight (no point carrying around extra, unnecessary weight)
  • Large, friction free wear pad

Everyone has their own preferences in the Laser fleet but a solid tiller all round has got to be the new LaserPerformance XD carbon tiller. I very much like it.

Tiller Extension

The tiller extension is not as critical as the tiller, but still important are the weight and length. Personally, I use a 130cm extension which I find suits me quite well, although you can use longer/shorter lengths if you find that is better. The one critical upgrade I would always have on my tiller though is a bobble on the end.

Tiller extension with bobble

You can buy tillers already with this bobble pre-installed, or you can make your own by wrapping rope around the end of the tiller and then covering with insulation tape.

Have you seen the SpeedSix Laser Tiller Extension?

Rigs

Laser Rigs

Quite an important one this and it very much depends on your experience and weight. The Laser 4.7 is a great starter rig and quite an easy one to set up. I sailed a 4.7 from 50kg right up to 65kg, which whilst is a tad on the heavy side, really allowed me to develop my windy weather skills and become totally confident in the boat.

The Laser Radial is another step up and a bit more difficult to manage compared to the 4.7 so I really would recommend only moving up when you are totally confident in your 4.7. I moved in at 65kg and raced in the Radial until I was 75kg.

The Laser standard is another physical step up but quite a nice balanced rig with the new MK2 sail, which was introduced in 2016. This is what I currently sail, and I would say can be raced competitively in a weight range of 75-88kg.

Events

The are hundreds of Laser events that take place every year ranging from open meetings all the way to the World championships. All the details about these events can be found on the UK Laser Association website at www.laser.org.uk

Here is a quick overview of every type of event in the UK and how you can go about competing at them:

Grand Prix’s

These are regional open events which count towards a series (usually with great prizes at the end!). Everyone is welcome and the racing is always fun and entertaining. Newly formed this year are the Super Grand Prix’s, which incorporate top quality coaching on one day and racing on the other.

Qualifiers

These are a collection of six events which as a series qualify you to compete at the World & European championships. Whilst the racing is very tough, with a collection of the UKs best at every event, there is a great vibe to every event. Now also incorporating the 4.7 fleet, we have everyone competing from 4.7 newbies all the way up to Olympians which makes it a great learning environment.

Nationals

One of the highlights of the year, the Laser Nationals is always lots of fun. 6 days of racing are mixed with great socials and awesome free prize draws. The last two years we have had a fancy gala dinner, music evenings and even a new boat giveaway!

Youth Events

As well as the normal circuit as described above, there are additional Youth events including the RYA Youth Nationals and the new Youth Series.

RYA Youth Nationals

Top quality under-21 youth racing for Laser Standards & Radials, run by the RYA under the massive Youth Nationals banner. Usually held over one week in April Easter holidays.

RYA Youth Nationals

Youth Series

The newly formed Youth Series is usually open to 4.7s, Radials and Standards. Whilst occasionally merging with the qualifiers, these are predominantly separate events in some interesting locations aimed to promote youth racing and development. More details on any of these events can be found on the UKLA website here: www.laser.org.uk

Training

As well as an extensive racing calendar in the UK Laser world, there is also a considerable amount of high-quality training that takes place throughout the year.

There are three main bodies which organise and run training; the UKLA (UK Laser Association), Andrew Simpson Sailing Foundation (ASSF) and the RYA.

UKLA Open Training

There is plenty of open training organised and run by the UKLA throughout the year, open to all ages and all rigs. These happen at various locations around the UK and are usually closer than you imagine! More details can be found on the event calendar page of the UKLA website.

UKLA Super Grand Prix’s

New in for 2019 are the Super Grand Prix’s. These are cool events with one day of top-quality coaching, followed a social in the evening and then awesome grand prix racing on the Sunday. As with the Grand Prix events these happen in various locations around the UK, with 6 of these events already scheduled in at the following locations in 2020:

  • Queen Mary SC
  • Hollowell SC
  • Newhaven & Seaford SC
  • Pagham YC
  • Castle Cove SC
  • Staunton Harold SC

More details can be found on the event calendar page of the UKLA website.

Laser Super Grand Prix sponsored by Sailing Chandlery

Andrew Simpson Sailing Foundation Training

The UKLA sometimes run open training in conjunction with the Andrew Simpson Sailing Foundation, which is based out of WPNSA. Currently, there is a big push for U21 Standard sailors, with many dates in currently on the website for 2020.

RYA Squad Training

There are quite a few RYA squads in the Laser program ranging from the junior 4.7 squad all the way to the Standard youth squad and then the British Sailing Team. The pathway is brilliantly set out to guide you throughout the transitions and I have done just that journey, qualifying for my first ever squad in 2012 when I gained selection into the Laser 4.7 national squad and then worked my way up through the Radial and Standard youth squads before being selected for the British Sailing Team in 2016.

To be considered for selection you just have to attend the Youth Series if you are in a 4.7 or attend a few of the Qualifiers & a couple of other events in the Radial and Standard. The full qualification is usually published on the RYA website but it’s a very simple, fun and friendly process.

That being said as I hopefully have highlighted in this article, there are plenty of other world class training opportunities you can do should you not be in the RYA squad system, and it certainly isn’t the end of the world if you don’t make it in immediately. I have been rejected for five different squads but each time I just came up with a plan on what else I could do to make sure I beat everyone next time around!

Laser Startline

Conclusion

Sam Whaley

Hopefully this is a good overview on Laser activity in the UK and will maybe give you more direction should you currently be sailing a Laser or aspire to in the future. At the end of the day what matters most is having fun, and for me racing in a great environment with your mates is the perfect way to do that.

Sam Whaley.

Sam Whaley Sailing


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