Buying a boat?

Is it an Optimist?

Real Optimists carry a little blue numbered label called a "Building Fee Plaque".


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. (Wooden boats will not have this plaque).

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 as difficult to re-sell as that "Rolex" you bought on holiday for $10 from a street-vendor. Genuine Optimists start around US$2,000 new, much less second-hand. It's worth paying the difference.

Where to look?

• Start off by looking at your local club. Look on the notice board, speak to the secretary
• Phone or visit other clubs in your region. Look on the notice board or ask the secretary to give you any leads
• Gumtree or Facebook pages
• Put the word out there, ask fellow sailors. Often the best lead is by word of mouth
• Right here - take a look on the For Sale section of this site
• Good luck


Some tips if you're looking to buy . . .

Fiberglass or Wooden Hull?

A fiberglass (GRP) is recommended if you think your sailor will carry on and eventually want to race. A wooden Optimist is a budget option, but if you want a competitive boat and easier resale, GRP is the way to go. Common (GRP) brands in South Africa are:
• Winner
• Far East
• Zou

A serviceable competitive GRP boat can be bought for around R8000. A very good competitive open fleet GRP boat can be bought for around R10000 - R20000. A new boat will cost R40000+

Hulls (GRP)
Check the weight? Minimum weight is 32kg, but under 35kg is good.
Check for general dents, scratches, chips and cracks and past repairs.
Check the deck cap join and hull sides around the centre bulkhead.
Check the floor (e.g. around fittings). The floor has foam in it and water can ingress through cracks or poor repairs, causing the boat to gain weight.
Check for corrosion of fittings and around mast step.
Check for cracks / damage around the mast step and the seat where the mast goes through the deck (check underside).
Where has it been stored?
How much has it been raced?

The rig
There is some big differences in the type of rig packages available on second hand boats. The rig on the “learn to sail” boats is vastly different to that on a top of the line race boat and there are many variants in between. Sails and spars can be matched the to the child’s weight and experience. There is no point buying a rig matched to a 50 kg child when your child is 30 kg. It could overpower your sailor and kill their enjoyment of the sport. If buying a Optimist for a beginner, make sure the sail is cut for a beginner. If the boat comes with a set up for an experienced sailor put it in storage and perhaps buy a spar and sail that matches the weight of the sailor.

Do not be fooled – ‘training sail’ usually means worn/used! The sail(s) you buy with the boat may not necessarily suit your sailor. The boat you buy may well have a good race sail, but be prepared to put it in storage as you may need to get a sail that actually suits your sailor. A beginner sailor that weighs 30 kilos needs a flatter sail than an experienced sailor that weighs 45kg. It is unlikely that you will be lucky enough to get a boat with a nice flat sail that is in good nick for your beginner, so be prepared to perhaps need to buy a sail.

New sails: Each sailmaker has a range of sails to suit sailors with different experience and/or weight. Typically we would recommend that you buy a ‘race‘ sail but with the right shape that suits the weight and experience of you sailor. A new sail will cost between R3500 to R5500+. Do not be tempted to buy a cheaper ‘club’ or ‘training’ sail – shape is more important.

Mast, Boom and Sprit
The boom is more important when considering the set up relative to the weight of the sailor.
• Mast – A good quality race mast would be ideal (a ‘soft’ or ‘club’ level mast will be quickly outgrown)
• Boom – If you have a light sailor, a smaller diameter boom would be an asset (32 or 40mm).
• Sprit – A standard 27mm race sprit is fine.

Rig condition
Check for corrosion around fittings and condition of control lines.

Check that the foils have been measured and meet class rules.
Check general condition - the foils have a foam core covered polyester or epoxy weave and resin – check for water damage and general condition of the mould join, leading and trailing edges. Be aware that you can fix minor damage, but a split centreboard or rudder will need replacing which is expensive!
Check for corrosion around the rudder gudgeons, pintles, stock, tiller and tiller extension.

Fittings and equipment
Mainsheet system: "There are two schools of thought, thick and thin sheets! In light weather or if the sailor is strong, a lightweight mainsheet of about 7mm is pretty good. In stronger winds lightweights or younger sailors might find a 9mm plus mainsheet is easier to control. It is a good idea to be able to take one purchase out of the mainsheet when the wind goes light. this reduces the mainsheet from 3:1 to 2:1, a lightweight snap shackle is ideal for this. Tapered mainsheets are also available and are good alternative. To reduce the length of the mainsheet, windage and weight, use a cord strop of 100mm to 150mm long between the top of the mainsheet block and the snap shackle." - excerpt from Optimist Handbook by Alan Williams.
Ratchet block - replacement ± R800.
Adjustable mast step - Essential to tune the boat for lighter or heavier sailors.
Airbags (buoyancy bags) condition - Replacement R500 each.
Covers - Top and bottom hull covers. Spar & foil covers. Sail tubes.
Trolley (dolly) - Corrosion, padding, tyres, wheel clips & axle condition.
Stuff - Windex (burgee), bailers, paddle, hiking straps, mast lock (replacement R500)

© Murrays Bay Sailing Club, New Zealand


Background photograph by Matias Capizzano