Equipment for Opti Sailing

Last Updated April 3, 2016

Here’s a basic introduction to equipment for non-sailing parents. At the bottom are links and contact information for suppliers.

Reminder – Label every single thing with your name, sail number and phone number when possible. Things go astray, kids ‘borrow’ things, and stuff goes missing with frightening frequency. Label it or loose it.

(Thanks to the San Fransisco Yacht Club’s Junior program, from where I borrowed parts of this guide).

Safety Equipment

Life Jackets – The kids like slimmer PFD’s (Personal Flotation Device = PFD = Life Jacket), but they must be US Coast Guard approved Type III. Some from Gill or Zhik look cool but are not Coast Guard Type III. Look for a small pocket for chap stick and the like. CYC requires use of USCG Type IIIs at all times. The more comfortable it is, and the ‘cooler’ the color, the more your sailor will want to wear it, so involve them in the decision.

Whistle – required for all USODA events.You need a piece of small line to tie it to your PFD.


Our program requires boat ownership for our racing teams. CYC boats may be available for charter for the first season your child is trying the race team. There are usually a few good used boats available from kids that have aged out of Optis. There are also some great deals after big USODA events or other major regattas like the Orange Bowl when boats come off charter or kids age out of the program. The biggest brands are: McLaughlin, Winner, and others. The same sails, spars and blades work in any hull. There are standard USODA requirements for hull weight, blade, spar and sail size so it’s best to get your equipment from someone who has sailed competitively or from a reputable dealer.

Ask your coach or other parents about boat buying options.


Spars – The basic Opti package often comes with silver spars. Fairly quickly your sailor should move to the competitive Black & Gold spars.

Practice Spars & Blades – some sailors will have a separate set of ‘practice’ spars and blades. We encourage our sailors to train with the equipment they will race with, so they don’t need to adjust come regatta day.

Spar bag- You will need a travel bag to protect your spars and you sail. To give this bag rigid protection you should take this bag to the hardware store or landscape drainage supplies equipment store and buy a 10’ long piece of 4” diameter PVC THIN WALL (NOT SCHEDULE 40!) piping without the perforation holes that will fit into the sleeve. You can ask the hardware store to cut the piping to 7’7″ (91 inches) (Check McLaughlin’s FAQ for this dimension) for you. Ideally try to ease the sharp edge of the ends with a file so that the sharp edge will not quickly cut through the cloth of your spar bag. Your sailor will roll the sail on the boom and place this in the PVC sleeve for protection.


Tiller & Centerboard – must conform to USODA size restrictions that were put in place in recent years. Some of the older centerboards are extra long and can’t be used for USODA events. Best brands are N1 or TEB. However the generic ones are fine. Consider how much nice blades cost and how well a younger green fleeter will treat them before shelling out the big bucks. Consider used or standard for new / younger sailors.

Blade bags – Different brands are Colie, Magic Marine (slightly cheaper), Sail Intensity and Optiparts.

Boat Covers

Bottom Cover – the bottom cover offers basic protection. It should have padding and be easy to remove.The Colie Sail cover is very durable and easy to remove. You must have your sailors name clearly visible on the transom of your boat and cover so that we can identify you on the sail racks and the trailer. You can have your name screened onto some covers like the Colie cover. (McLaughlin will gladly paint your name on the transom readable when hull is flipped bottom facing up on an Optiparts cover)

Top Cover- This is really nice to have as it protects your boat when it’s on the trailer. You don’t have to secure your mainsheet or bailers if you have a top cover.


Racing sail – Some kids have a racing sail as well as a practice sail. At the more competitive level you may have a light wind sail and a heavy wind sail. Improving performance usually depends more on improving sailing ability then on perfect equipment. Some families let their sailor earn a new sail by meeting certain performance and commitment criteria. There’s a lot of technical information on the sail choices, with the biggest factors being sailor’s weight and ability. Coach Augustin or some of the Opti parents would be glad to give advice.

Sail numbers- Sail numbers are assigned by the USODA office and are permanently assigned to a particular hull. You cannot pick your own sail numbers! E-mail: or Phone: (609) 510-0798. There is a very particular way that sail numbers need to be laid out. You can consult the USODA website for this information. If you buy a new sail, have the sail maker put the numbers on for you (generally free with the purchase of a new sail.) Sail number color: red is great for the beginners, as parents can pick out their sailor when viewing from offshore. For more advanced racers, red is usually avoided because your sailor is easier to identify if over the starting line early! Choose blue.


Each Opti sailor needs to own a trailer. Again, label every single part. Wheels in particular tend to go astray. These often come with the boat if you buy it used; you can also buy from online sources or some local sailmakers.

Tie down straps: Each sailor needs to own at least two. We recommend these:

Other Gear

Main Sheet – Tapered mainsheets are easier to pull in. There are blocks that go with the main sheet; smaller sailors can get 4:1 block systems rather than the normal 3:1. It allows them to use less force to pull in the sail.

Bailers – You will need 2 large bailers with stretchy tie lines. These wear out or get lost so it’s a good idea to have back up.

Wind indicator – These insert into the top of the mast. They’re often lost so you should label them and have back up. A #9 knitting needle also works well and is much cheaper.

Mast ties – the thinner black ties hold the knot better. Buy a spool of the 1.5 MM spectra type line from an Opti dealer and save money. Get a spool of the larger size diameter for corner ties.

Tell tales- You should ask your coach where to put them on the sail.

Mast Clamp – This is VERY important to have. It locks your mast in place so that if you flip over you don’t lose your mast or damage the mast collar. The best $40 you will ever spend (damage caused by mast slipping out of its cup is $500 plus and the boat will have lost a ton in value due to this type of damage.)

Bow line – This is a mandatory safety requirement so that your sailor can be safely towed. It MUST BE FREE OF KNOTS to avoid problems with towing hook-ups in heavy wind! It should be line that floats and is designed to tow Opti’s. Again Opti dealers have them.

Hiking strap systems – The latest have “grippy” rubber on the underside. Zhik is the innovator brand. However, Sail Intensity has a great copy of the Zhik type and much more affordable. Grippy topped boots really allow a sailor to “lock in” and become one with the hull when hiking.


The lake is cold even when it may be hot on the dock. Your child will NOT be learning much if they’re too cold. Having the proper gear can prevent hypothermia. Stay away from cotton.

Spray gear – The spray jacket and farmer john spray pants need to be wind and water- proof. Gill and Gull are good brands that are available in Youth sizes. They should be roomy enough to be worn over a wet suit. Bigger is not a problem and will allow for some room to grow.

Wet suits – There are different thicknesses to chose from. This is a good layer for fall and spring sailing. Most kids protect their wet suits by wearing board shorts over top.

Hiking pants or hiking pads – these provide rigged support so the boat doesn’t hurt the back of the thighs. Some kids prefer to wear hiking pants rather then wet suits. I have not found Youth sizes in hiking pants, but Gill has adult XS. Zhik brand makes the pads that attach to your legs with a neoprene sleeve which the sailor steps into each.

Dry Suits – These are very expensive, but they make a huge difference to kids who get cold easily. They are fully sealed to keep the water out. You wear fleece layers underneath to keep warm. Only drawback is you can’t pee in them (or they’re no longer a dry suit) Look for ones with pee holes in front and a rear drop style panel for girls. Dry suits are required by CYC’s program for spring sailing. Line Honors (link below) offers a 25% discount on Gill Drysuits to CYC junior sailors.

Sailing boots – these are a combination of neoprene and rubber soles to keep the feet warm. If it’s really cold you can add Smart Wool socks. They all stink! They should always be rinsed off and dried if possible. We keep ours in the garage with dryer sheets in them to mask the smell. There is an enzyme based cleaner which eliminates the odor build up typically found at surf shops and some sailing equipment stores.

Rash Guards & thermal layers – These come in different thicknesses for different weather. SFYC offers a team rash guard by Gill that only the race team kids can buy. Zhik also has some warm fleece lined rash guards and bottom layers for colder weather. Again, ask the older sailors what performs for them, and why they like the features of the brands they use.

Hats and gloves – There are many options from Gill, Zhik and all the major brands. The important thing is to wear them – to protect your skin from rope burn and sun burn! Phone numbers in Sharpie on everything will save you $.

Sunglasses – The reflection from the sails and the water is very damaging to the eyes so glasses that protect from UV rays is important. There are floating sunglasses available from Gill and Peepers (available at REI).

Tool kits

As sailors take more responsibility for rigging and adjusting their boats a tool kit is helpful. See our separate post on the contents of an Opti tool kit.

Sailing Gear Suppliers

Surprisingly, much can be found on It’s worth checking there.


Line Honors, owned by a CYC member and sponsor and parents of their own Opti sailors: LineHonors is offering 25% off of Gill products to CYC sailing school sailors and parents through 4/30/16. At checkout, simply input the coupon “CYCSC16” and the 25% off discount will be applied. They are very helpful with sizing questions if you call them.


Sturgis Boatworks: Hyannis Mass –

Colie Sail

Intensity Sails

McLaughlin Optimists


Defender Marine

West Marine


Doyle Sails Chicago – John Baxter
312-421-9990 –

UK- Halsey Chicago -Mike Considine
312-326-1053 –

Quantum Sail Makers – Andy Camarda
312-225-0801 –

North Sails – Perry Lewis
773-489-1308 –

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