Tips For Buying a Laser Sailing Dinghy
Buying a Laser
The points below are listed to assist someone who has little to no knowledge of Lasers, to help them in assessing the condition of the boat they are inspecting. Purchasing a Laser can be a large commitment, so understanding what to look for is invaluable so that you get the best value for money.
When you know how much money you are able to spend, there are a number of things that you have to consider when looking at various boats so that you don’t exceed your budget. If you simply buy a boat, even if it is advertised as ready to sail, you may have to fork out more for extras that you may not have been initially aware of. These may include –
- Clothing – including wetsuit and/or rash vest, life-jacket, hat, sun-glasses, boots, gloves, etc
- Trailer – these can be hard and expensive to source. Ideally, if you need to transport you Laser, you want to purchase one that comes with a trailer. Trailers can also be bought new (expensive) or 2nd hand (rare)
- Launching Dolly – makes it much easier to launch. This allows you to launch your Laser single-handedly
- Boat Cover – to protect your boat from dust, dirt, rain, etc
- Membership Fees – to sail and race out of a club, you will most probably need to become a member of that club. Contact your local club for details
Where to Look
The most common places to look for Lasers include –
- Trading Post / newspaper classifieds
- Various Laser forums
- Laser dealers / shops
- Notice boards at sailing clubs
Inspecting a Laser – What to Check
- Boat Number. 190,000+ Lasers have been built world-wide to date. Lasers that have been built by a licensed Laser boat builder will have a unique International Laser Class Sailboat Sail number associated to the boat. For Lasers up to sail number 148199, the sail number is a number moulded into the deck and should be located either on the transom (rear of the boat) or on the deck under the bow eye. Lasers with a sail number greater than 148200 should have a foil type sticker located at the back of the cockpit. Check the boat number to gauge how old the boat is.
- Hull and Deck. Generally speaking, even for the best cared for boats, they will over time collect scratches of varying degrees. However most will be only cosmetic, affecting only the gel coat. As long as the underlying fibreglass layer located one or two millimetres below the gel coat is not exposed or damaged, hull integrity should not be compromised. Deck stiffness can be likened to the odometer in a car. The more give there is in the deck, the more use it has had. Check both sides of the cockpit (where you sit – the majority of your weight will be located here when sailing) as well as the cockpit floor. A boat with little use will have very little give in the deck when you press down firmly (only a millimetre or so). However a boat that has had a lot of use will flex quite considerably (a centimetre or more). By testing the deck stiffness you can gauge the integrity of the hull. Boats lose stiffness with age, use and leaks. One reason for soft spots in the deck to develop with use is when the fibreglass, foam and outer gel coat layers come apart, or delaminate. A boat that has had a lot of use (especially aggressive or heavy weather sailing) may over time develop small cracks, which allow water to seep into the hull. These small cracks result in more flex or soft spots in the deck and hull, and water penetration add to the overall weight. Depending on your needs and requirements of the hull, boats of differing condition will suit different people. For example, if you intend to only sail every so often simply for recreation, an older, softer (and cheaper) boat may suit your needs. However if you intend to race and be competitive, a newer, stiffer, lighter boat may be more suitable. Stiffer boats are generally more expensive and hold their value more than boats that are softer. One way to check to see whether water is entering the hull is to take out the drain plug in the transom (rear) and lift the bow of the boat. If water pours out this may indicate hull integrity issues. However if no water comes out, there may be still be leaks (it may have just been drained well and dried out by the owner).
- Sail. The sail should be checked for signs of wear and tear. A new sail will have a crisp, stiff feel to the material, and have few creases. As the sail ages and stretches through general use the material loses its stiffness and shape. A sail that has lost its shape it harder to tune, which can make it a handful in heavier breezes, as it can’t be flattened and downpowered as much as desired. If you are planning to race, then you will need an approved sail. This can be determined by checking that the sail has a red button near the foot of the sail (bottom corner of the sail, nearest to the mast). There are 3 different sail sizes, and depending on your experience, weight, strength, etc, you have to decide which rig you are after. They are the Laser 4.7, Radial and full rig. Make sure the sail comes with its 3 battens, which slide into pockets in the leech of the sail. These help give the sail shape and to stop it flapping.
- A good sail is important if you want to be competitive. Foils (Centreboard & Rudder). The centreboard and rudder should be checked for straightness, and should not contain dents or gouges in the edges or surfaces. Foils that are warped or have damaged leading or trailing edges can slow the boat down. However small gouges or chips can be sanded out with fine sandpaper, while larger imperfections may need more complex gelcoat repairs. Many sailors store their foils in soft padded carry bags to prevent damage during storage and transportation. The centreboard and rudder should not be left in a hot car, as they may warp with heat. Foils that are warped may be able to be straightened with heat.
- Spars (Mast and Boom). The mast is made up of 2 sections – the top and bottom sections. The mast and boom are made from aluminium, and can be relatively easily bent. Bending of both the mast and boom is normal in everyday sailing, however they should not be permanently bent. Both mast sections and the boom should be checked for straightness. This can be done by looking along the line of the spar, or by rolling it on a flat surface. Spars should also be checked for corrosion damage, especially where fittings are attached. Inspect all the rivets on the mast sections and boom for corrosion. Transporting you spars can be accomplished in a few different ways. Some simply tie down the spars to roof racks, and where possible carry the shorter sections inside their car. Other methods include using a couple of custom made foam or timber blocks or cradles, which have 3 recesses in each, that the spars neatly slot into. These cradles then sit on the deck, and are tied down whilst travelling. Timber cradles should be padded on the bottom, so as to not scratch the deck.
- Fittings. All fittings should be carefully checked to see that they are fully operational. Fittings include cleats, pulleys, eyelets, toe-rail, bailer, rudder attachment, etc. Anything that is faulty or is showing signs of wear and tear may need to be replaced, and should be factored into the purchase price.
- Ropes. All ropes should be checked for fraying or deterioration. There are 6 ropes on a laser (mainsheet, outhall, vang, cunningham (downhall), traveller, clew tie-down). They are cut to a specific length so that unnecessary rope is not in your way and getting unnecessarily tangled and knotted. Some of the ropes come with fittings permanently connected to the ropes. These include eyelets for the outhall and cunningham, blocks and cleat for the vang.
- Make sure they are all there. Trailer. Trailers come in a variety of styles. Generally trailers that are designed specifically to carry Lasers either support the boat directly, or support a dolly which the Laser sits on (a dolly is a light weight trolley which the boat sits on that can be easily manoeuvred and enables the boat to be launched by a single person). Either way, it is critical that the location of the supports on which the Laser sits are in the correct location. Generally these supports are located up under the outside edge at the bow, and also on both sides at the widest part of the hull. You want the trailer and dolly to be relatively rust free. Slight surface rust may not be an issue, but you may want to avoid trailers & dollies that contain more severe rust that may weaken the structure as a whole. You may also want a trailer that is registered for the road. Check the tires, electrics, and general structural integrity of the trailer. Other methods for transporting Lasers include on box trailers and on roof racks. These methods are generally less convenient, as they require at least 2 people to launch the boat, and, since they are not specifically designed for Lasers, do not travel as well on the road (they can bounce around and move on their supports).
When everything is laid out in front of you (eg. in the seller’s dark and cramped garage), especially when you are not familiar with Lasers, it may be hard to tell if all the equipment is there. Therefore you may want to rig the boat on its trailer when you are inspecting it, to make sure that –
- everything is included
- everything fits and works
- the sail and the mast/boom are a match (you don’t want a radial sail and a full rig mast)
- you know how to put it all together
This may not be required if you are a little more familiar, but initially you may find it beneficial, and a helpful seller with nothing to hide should be obliging.