Optimist (dinghy)

The Optimist, also known as the ‘opti’, 'oppie', or 'bathtub' is a small, single-handed sailing dinghy intended for use by children up to the age of 15. Contemporary boats are usually made of fibreglass, although wooden boats are still built.

Class symbol
Draft5 in (130 mm)
2 ft 9 in (0.84 m)
Hull weight77 lb (35 kg)
LOA7 ft 9 in (2.36 m)
LWL7 ft 2 in (2.18 m)
Beam3 ft 8 in (1.12 m)
Hull appendages
Keel/board type((daggerboard or centreboard))
Rig typeSprit-Rigged
Mast length7 ft 5 in (2.26 m)
Mainsail area35 sq ft (3.3 m2)
Jib/genoa areaNone
Spinnaker areaNone
RYA PN1646

It is one of the most popular sailing dinghies in the world, with over 150,000 boats officially registered with the class and many more built but never registered.

The Optimist is recognized as an International Class by the International Sailing Federation.


The Optimist was designed in 1947 by American Clark Mills at the request of the Clearwater Florida Optimist service club following a proposal by Major Clifford McKay to offer low-cost sailing for young people.[1] The Optimist Club ran a soap box derby, but wanted more than a single-day event. Thus they were looking for a low-cost equivalent for sailing.[2] He designed a simple pram that could be built from two 4' x 8' sheets of plywood,[3] and donated the plan to the Optimists. The design was slightly modified and introduced to Europe by Axel Damgaard, and spread outwards across Europe from Scandinavia.[4] The design was standardized in 1960 and became a strict One-Design in 1995.[5]

A full history of the Optimist is published as: Wilkes, Robert (2013). The Optimist Dinghy 1947-2007. ISBN 978-1484911969.

The Optimist is sailed in over 120 countries[6] and it is one of only two yachts approved by the International Sailing Federation exclusively for sailors under 16.[7] Optimists are one of the smallest sailing dinghys. Sailors can continue to race them up to the age limit of 15 years old. Optimists are single handed boats. Many sailing schools and yacht clubs own a number of them and they are the first boat most beginners will sail.



The single sail of the Optimist is sprit-rigged. Two battens stiffen the leech. It is secured evenly with ties along the luff to the mast and along the foot to the boom, pulled down tightly by a vang/kicker. The light, slim third spar, the sprit, extends through a loop at the peak of the sail; the bottom rests in the eye of a short cable or string which hangs along the front edge of the mast. Raising and lowering the sprit and adjusting the boom vang allow for adaptation of sail trim to a range of wind conditions. Similarly, the Optimist has a small string outhaul on the end of the boom. It is usually correct to tighten the boomvang, outhaul, and sprit in heavy winds and loosen them in light winds. As well as this, huge adjustments can be made to sail shape, due to all of the ties running along the mast and boom.

The spars may be made from aluminium or wood, but are invariably aluminium in modern boats.

A monograph-style "IO" insignia (after IODA - the International Optimist Dinghy Association) on the sail is a registered trade-mark and may only be used under licence from the International Optimist Association. Optimists also have a national sail number using the Olympic abbreviation of their country and a sequential numbers. e.g. RSA for South Africa.


The Optimist has a pram hull, originally formed primarily from five pieces of plywood. It was the biggest hull Clark Mills could make from two 4 ft by 8 ft sheets. Just in front of a bulkhead, which partitions the boat nearly in half, is the daggerboard case. Right behind it on the centerline of the hull floor are attached a pulley and ratchet block. These anchor the sheet and its pulley on the boom directly above. At the bow resides a thwart to support the mast which passes through a hole in its centre to the mast step mounted on the centre line of the boat. The painter, a rope used for securing a boat like a mooring line, is usually tied around the mast step.

Buoyancy bags are installed inboard along each side in the front half of the boat and at the stern to add buoyancy in the event of capsizing. Two straps, known as "hiking straps", run lengthwise along the floor from bulkhead to stern. These and a tiller extension allow a sailor to hang off the side for weight distribution—commonly called "hiking out". This can be crucial to maintaining the boat in near horizontal disposition during heavy air, allowing greater speed through the water and more manoeuvrability.

The vast majority of hulls today are made of Fiberglass,[8] although it is still possible to make and buy wooden hulls.


The rudder and daggerboard can be made from plywood or a composite of foam, glass fibre, and epoxy.


While younger lighter sailors begin in Optimists, competitive sailors usually weigh between 35 and 55 kg (or between 80 lbs. and 125 lbs.).[9] Optimists can be sailed by children from age 8 to 15. This wide range of weights which is not typical of most dinghies is made possible by different cuts of sail. Due to its inherent stability, unstayed rig, robust construction and relatively small sail, the Optimist can be sailed in winds of up to 30 knots.

Optimists are manufactured to the same specification by over 20 builders on four continents. There is strong evidence[10] that hulls from different builders are the same speed. Sails and spars of differing qualities enable sailors to upgrade their equipment as they progress.

The Optimist is the slowest dinghy in the world according to the RYA Portsmouth Yardstick scheme, with a Portsmouth number of 1646.[11] Its equivalent rating in the US scheme is a D-PN of 123.6.[12]


The Optimist is the biggest youth racing class in the world.[13] As well as the annual world championship the class also has six continental championships, attended by a total of over 850 sailors a year.[14] Many of the top world Optimist sailors have become world-class Laser Radial or 4.7 sailors after they "age-out" but many also excel in double-handers such as the 420 and 29er. At the 2016 Olympics at least 85% of the boat skippers were former Optimist sailors.[15]

The first World Championship was held in Great Britain in 1962 and it has grown to over 60 countries participating[16]. The changing pattern of the strongest countries can be seen from the results of the Nations Cup[17]. For the first 20 years, the class was dominated by sailors from the Scandinavian countries, with 13 world champions. In the 1990s Argentina was by far the dominant country but, following standardisation of the boat and improved coaching standards internationally, many countries have excelled. Recently S.E. Asian countries and the United States have produced strong teams. The Optimist World Championships include Team Racing which is increasingly popular.

Continental Championships are held on each continent (the Oceanian held jointly with the Asian). Results can be found at [18].

Open Events: With competitive charter boats easily available and low-cost airfares, there are scores of open international regattas. The largest is the Lake Garda Easter Meeting[19] with over 1,000 Optimists participating.


In recent years, over 2,200[20][21] boats a year have been produced by around 30 builders worldwide.[22]


World Championship

Gold Silver Bronze
1962 Great Britain  A. Quiding (SWE)
1963 Sweden  B. Baysen (SWE)
1964 Denmark  Poul Andersen (DEN)
1965 Finland  Ray Larsson (SWE)
1966 Miami  Doug Bull (USA)
1967 Austria  Peter Warrer (DEN)
1968 France  Peter Warrer (DEN)
1969 Great Britain  Doug Bull (USA)
1970 Spain  James Larimore (USA)
1971 Germany  Heikki Vahtera (FIN)
1972 Sweden  Thomas Estela (ESP)
1973 Rhodesia cancelled
1974 Switzerland  Martín Billoch (ARG)
1975 Aarhus  Hans Fester (DEN)  Söderström (SWE)  Martin Schröder (SWE)
1976 Ankara  Hans Wallén (SWE)  Asbjørn (DEN)  Lindsey (USA)
1977 Yarinca  Patrik Mark (SWE)  Damsgaard (DEN)  Evers (DEN)
1978 La Baule  Rickard Hammarvid (SWE)  von Koskull (FIN)  Patrik Mark (SWE)
1979 Pattaya  Johan Peterson (SWE)  Heiskanen (FIN)  Storgaard (DEN)
1980 Cascais  Johan Peterson (SWE)  Damsgaard (DEN)  Heiskanen (FIN)
1981 Howth  Guido Tavelli (ARG)  Johan Peterson (SWE)  Edson Araujo (BRA)
1982 Italy  Njaal Sletten (NOR)  Christian Rasmussen (DEN)  Søren Ebdrup (DEN)
1983 Brazil[23]  Jordi Calafat (ESP)  José Carlos Frau (ESP)  Jean-Pierre Becquet (FRA)
1984 Canada  Serge Kats (NED)  Jussi Wikström (FIN)  Xavier García (ESP)
1985 Finland  Serge Kats (NED)  Risto Tapper (FIN)  Martín Castrillo (ARG)
1986 Spain  Xavier García (ESP)  Luis Martínez Doreste (ESP)  Risto Tapper (FIN)
1987 Netherlands  Sabrina Landi (ITA)  Luis Martínez Doreste (ESP)  Anders Jonsson (SWE)
1988 France  Ugo Vanello (ITA)  Luis Martínez Doreste (ESP)  Gabriel Tarrasa (ESP)
1989 Japan  Peder Rønholt (DEN)  Rami Koskinen (FIN)  Herman Rosso (ARG)
1990 Portugal  Martín di Pinto (ARG)  Agustin Krevisky (ARG)  Martin Strandberg (SWE)
1991 Greece  Agustin Krevisky (ARG)  Asdrubal García (ARG)  Andre Sørensen (DEN)
1992 Argentina  Ramón Oliden (ARG)  Marc Patiño (ESP)  Mike Keser (GER)
1993 Spain  Mats Hellman (NED)  Estebán Rocha (ARG)  Claudia Tosi (ITA)
1994 Italy  Martín Jenkins (ARG)  Federico Pérez (ARG)  Julio Alsogaray (ARG)
1995 Finland  Martín Jenkins (ARG)  Frederico Rizzo (BRA)  Dario Kliba (CRO)
1996 South Africa  Lisa Westerhof (NED)  Aron Lolic (CRO)  Ivan Bertaglia (ITA)
1997 Carrickfergus  Luca Bursic (ITA)  Matias Buehler (ARG)  Nicholas Raygada (PER)
1998 Tróia  Mattia Pressich (ITA)  Fernando Gwozdz (ARG)  Šime Fantela (CRO)
1999 France  Mattia Pressich (ITA)  Tonči Stipanović (CRO)  Mario Coutinho (POR)
2000 La Coruña  Šime Fantela (CRO)  Lucas Calabrese (ARG)  Jaro Furlani (ITA)
2001 Qingdao  Lucas Calabrese (ARG)  Zhu Ye (CHN)  Abdul Rahim (MAS)
2002 Corpus Christi  Filip Matika (CRO)  Stjepan Cesic (CRO)  Eduardo Zalvide (ESP)
2003 Las Palmas  Filip Matika (CRO)  Jesse Kirkland (BER)  Sebastian Peri Brusa (ARG)
2004 Salinas  Wei Ni (CHN)  Paul Snow-Hansen (NZL)  Eugenio Díaz (ESP)
2005 St. Moritz  Tina Lutz (GER)  Matthew Schoener Scott (TRI)  Wu Jianan (CHN)
2006 Montevideo  Julian Autenrieth (GER)  Griselda Khng (SIN)  Édgar Diminich (ECU)
2007 Cagliari  Chris Steele (NZL)  Benjamín Grez (CHI)  Alex Maloney (NZL)
2008 Cesme  Raúl Ríos (PUR)  Ian Barrows (ISV)  Kristien Kirketerp (DEN)
2009 Niteroi[24]  Sinclair Jones (PER)  Mohamad Faizal Norizan (MAS)  Ignacio Rogala (ARG)
2010 Langkawi[25]  Noppakao Poonpat (THA)  Ahmad Syukri Bin Abdul Aziz (MAS)  Okada Keiju (JPN)
2011 Napier[26]  Kimberly Lim (SIN)  Bart Lambriex (NED)  Javier Arribas (PER)
2012 Boca Chica[27]  Elisa Yukie Yokoyama (SIN)  Samuel Neo (SIN)  Jessica Goh (SIN)
2013 Riva del Garda[28]  Loh Jia Yi (SIN)  Nils Sternbeck (GER)  Edward Tan (SIN)
2014 San Isidro[29]  Nicolas Rolaz  (SUI)  Voravong Rachrattanaruk (THA)  Dimitris Papadimitriou (GRE)
2015 Dziwnow[30]  Rok Verderber  (SLO)  Jodie Lai (SIN)  Mathias Berthet (NOR)
2016 Portugal  Max Wallenberg  (SUI)  Mathias Berthet (NOR)  Muhammed Fauzi Kaman Shah (MAS)
2017 Pattaya[31]  Marco Gradoni (ITA)  Muhammad Fauzi Bin Kaman Shah (MAS)  Mic Sig Kos Mohr (CRC)
2018 Limassol[32]  Marco Gradoni (ITA)  Stephan Baker (USA)  Panwa Boonnak (THA)
2019 Antigua[33]  Marco Gradoni (ITA)  Richard Schultheis (MLT)  Jaime Ayarza (ESP)


  1. Bird, Vanessa (2013). "Optimist", Classic Classes, A&C Black. ISBN 9781408158906. p.53
  2. Longstreet, Robert L. (1963). "Operation Optimist - A Community Project", Boating, July-December 1983. p.47.
  3. Cole, Tim. (1983). "One Design Racing", Yachting, April Edition. p.62.
  4. McMillan, Roger (2010). "Optimistic Outlook - MySailing.com.au". www.mysailing.com.au. Retrieved 17 July 2017.
  5. "History behind the one-design". International Optimist Dinghy Association.
  6. "Optimist World in 2014" (PDF). International Optimist Dinghy Association. 5 February 2015. Retrieved 5 February 2015.
  7. "ISAF: Optimist". International Sailing Federation. Retrieved 6 December 2009.
  8. Pickthall, Barr (2009). Dinghy sailing : start to finish. John Wiley & Sons. p. 25. ISBN 9780470721858.
  9. http://www.wilkessail.net/idealsize.pdf
  10. http://www.wilkessail.net/ParityBlurbC.pdf
  11. "Portsmouth Number List 2012". Royal Yachting Association. Retrieved 31 July 2012.
  12. "Centerboard Classes". US Sailing. Archived from the original on 16 August 2012. Retrieved 31 July 2012.
  13. "Classes & Equipment Index". sailing.org. Retrieved 8 July 2016.
  14. http://www.wilkessail.net/REVIEWOF2008.doc
  15. "Ex-Optimists at 206 Olympics". Retrieved 12 January 2017.
  16. http://www.wilkessail.net/ParticipationGraph.html
  17. http://www.wilkessail.net/IODANationsCup.html
  18. http://www.wilkessail.net/IODAContinentalsArchive.html
  19. https://www.gardatrentino.it/en/Garda-Meeting-Optimist-Class-sailing-regatta-Riva-del-Garda/
  20. "Class Annual Report: International Optimist Dinghy Association 2017" (PDF). www.sailing.org.
  21. "Optimist". optiworld.org. Retrieved 8 July 2016.
  22. "Optimist". Optimist.
  23. "Optimist". Optimist.
  24. "Optimist". Optimist.
  25. "Optimist". Optimist.
  26. "Optimist". Optimist.
  27. "Optimist". Optimist.
  28. "Optimist". Optimist.
  29. "Optimist". Optimist.
  30. http://2017worlds.optiworld.org/uploaded_files/Document_6563_20170720093234_en.pdf
  31. http://2018worlds.optiworld.org/uploaded_files/Document_12634_20180905170101_en.pdf
  32. http://2019worlds.optiworld.org/en/default/races/race-resultsall
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