Ireland's sailing, boating & maritime magazine

In association with ISA Logo Irish Sailing

International Optimist Dinghy Association in Ireland

16th July 2009

The International Optimist Dinghy Association in Ireland – or  IODAI represents the Optimist class in Ireland and internationally. IODAI is affiliated to the Irish Sailing Association (ISA) and The International Optimist Dinghy Association (IODA). Click here for all the latest Optimist news.

To sail in IODAI events you need to become a member. You can join at Registration at any event but it’s often best to come prepared with a completed application form which you can download here.

The Optimist is, quite simply, the dinghy in which the young people of the world learn to sail.

Some definitions: "A flat-bottomed, hard-chine, pram-bow dinghy with a una sprit- sail" (The Observer's Book of Small Craft); "A bathtub that breeds the best sailors" (Observant sailor at the Club bar)

Specifications and benefits of the Optimist dinghy

2.31m (7'6.1/2") long, 1.13m (3'8") wide. Weight 35kg (77lbs).

Easily transported on top of any car, (where it will drip water over your shiny paint- work!)

Safe and simple enough for an 8-year old; exciting and technical enough for a 15-year old

Sailed in over 110 countries by over 150,000 young people, it is the only dinghy approved by the International Sailing Federation exclusively for sailors under 16 years of age.

Over half of the dinghy skippers at the last Olympic Games were former Optimist sailors.

The boat was designed by Clarke Mills in Florida in 1947. Optimists first came to Europe in 1954 when a fleet started in Denmark.

Most parents find that sailing gives young people a great sense of personal achievement. In addition the skills required to improve sailing performance both on and off the water; it helps young people develop a more organised approach to other non-sailing related activities.

How many Optimists are there in Ireland? More than 1,300 Optimists have been registered in Ireland (2008). At Optimist events in Ireland this year the fleet size varied between 120 at Regional events and 200 at our National Championships. International events can be much larger and at an Easter Regatta on Lake Garda in 2008 there was just short of 1000 boats.

How can i join a sailing club that sails Optimists? Contact the Irish Sailing Association where you can find out which sailing clubs are local to you. The junior or dinghy sailing coordinator in each club should be able to tell you if they have an active Optimist class in that club. Your interest could be the spark that ignites an Optimist interest there and IODAI will endeavour to support clubs who wish to start an Optimist fleet. Alternatively, if you contact the IODAI secretary directly, [email protected] you will be put in touch with an IODAI regional representative who will guide you towards a suitably active Optimist club. IODAI contact every sailing club from time to time to determine their level of interest in the Optimist class and to maintain an open invitation for any sailing club to seek assistance in the forming of an Optimist class at that club.

Which are the more prominent clubs racing Optimists in Ireland?

HYC Howth Co. Dublin

KYC Kinsale Co. Cork 

LDYC Dromineer, Co. Tipperary 

LRYC Athlone, Co. Westmeath 

MYC Malahide Co. Dublin  

NYC Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin 

RCYC Crosshaven, Co. Cork 

RNIYC Cultra, Hollywood, Co Down

RStGYC Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin  

SDC Sutton, Co. Dublin 

SSC Skerries, Co. Dublin

TBSC Fenit, Co. Kerry

WBTSC Wexford Co. Wexford

WHSC Dunmore East, Co. Waterford

Are Optimists suitable for girls? The Optimist provides superb one design racing where boys and girls can compete on equal terms. Yearly rankings often produce a 50:50 split between boys and girls.  In 2005, 2006 and 2007 the Irish National Championship was won by Diana Kissane, from Howth Yacht Club who set a record by winning the title in three successive years. 

Why is Optimist Sailing so popular in Ireland? The first Optimists arrived in Ireland in 1966. The class in Ireland developed relatively slowly until 1978 when a batch of 35 GRP boats was imported and Ireland first sent a team to the World Championships. In 1981 Howth Yacht Club hosted the Worlds and boats sold off in Ireland after the event gave the class a big lift.

The popularity of the Optimist in Ireland is explained by a number of factors including the simplicity of design, it is:
– Safe and simple enough for an 8-year old, Exciting and technical enough for a 15-year old
The Optimist is recommended by the Irish Sailing Association for junior training
There is a reasonable supply of new and second-hand boats


An energetic and proactive class association of volunteer parents (IODAI)


Unquantifiable support from the parents of all Optimist sailors

What age should a child start sailing Optimists? Some clubs do not provide beginner training under 9 or 10 years of age. However this is changing and you should check with your local club. See if any other experienced parent can suggest how a younger sailor might start. There are plenty who start earlier and eleven or twelve is not too late – even to get to the top in the fleet. Some considerations before beginning:

– Is your child a competent swimmer? (Competent means comfortable in the water when out of depth and capable of swimming say 25 meters in the sea water while dressed in normal clothing).

Is your child comfortable about the prospect of trying sailing? (The prospect of being alone in charge of a boat is often daunting to a young child and this introduction to the water is the most important step).

– Are there any older brothers, sisters or friends involved in sailing? This is often a great help.

– Is the child and are the parents prepared to make the commitment? There is a lot of time involved in junior sailing. Parents, remember, they can’t drive themselves to training or events and they need lots of help ashore especially in the early days.

My child has done some sailing courses at our local club, can they start sailing Optimists at events? Of course. The Optimist dinghy is a simple and safe; designed specifically for young sailors.  So, no matter what other boat they have used on their courses, they should be able to handle an Optimist.

When do they start racing? As a Junior Class we have knowledge of helping sailors make the transition from 'messing about in boats' to actual racing.  This is where our innovative Regatta Fleet comes in.

What is the Regatta Fleet? Regatta Fleet Racing is for beginners and unranked sailors – usually from age 8 upwards. The focus of the Regatta Fleet is on having fun. There is a Regatta Fleet element at most major Optimist events except 'The Trials' (for information on 'The Trials' see the New Parents and Sailors section of our FAQ’s on the website). 
The Regatta Fleet will could be your sailors first experience of racing. They can enter the Regatta Fleet once they have learnt to sail to windward and can negotiate a simple triangular course. A typical Regatta Fleet day is usually shorter that the main fleet. With some coaching in the morning, a break ashore for lunch and then some simple races in the afternoons, the aim is to make the introduction as easy as possible. It’s not taken too seriously and coaches are allowed to give advice during racing. If a sailor is towards the front, advice may not be necessary and the coaches will tend to concentrate on those near the back. And yes, there are prizes, and it often proves to be the most charming part of the prize giving ceremony where we see very young children collect their first sailing trophy. Regatta Fleet Racing at events gives the younger sailor the experience of doing circuit events without the pressures of racing way out to sea over long courses. There are often around 50 boats racing and it’s their first introduction to the wonderful circle of friends that sailing produces for all of us. While the Optimist calendar is a full one and parents/sailors may find the implication of a serious Optimist programme just a little bit daunting - the truth is that most young children (and parents!) find the experience lots of fun. The combination of the training, regional events, and regattas, gives young sailors lots of opportunity to make new friends from all over Ireland (and indeed abroad in the case of sailors attending international events). Lots of sailors make friendships on the Optimist circuit which endure well after the age limit has been passed.

And the parents?  You will meet literally dozens of new friends. All are not sailors. Some are; some aren’t. Like your children, you will form friendships that will endure long after your sailing hopefuls have progressed out of Oppies and are old enough to travel to sailing events without you. It’s not just all about the children!!  We need some fun as well.

(The above information courtesy of the International Optimist Dinghy Association of Ireland)

In March 2009, Afloat's Graham Smith wrote: "Officially, and not altogether surprisingly, the Optimist ranks as Ireland’s biggest one-design class with 275 boats registered with the IODAI. It remains the boat of choice for beginners in clubs across the country and it still encourages highly active racing fleets in 18 venues.

Numbers are up by over 12% on the previous year and with fleets at regional events averaging 100 and almost 160 at the Nationals in Tralee, there doesn’t seem to be any slowing up at all, although its popularity north of the border has apparently slipped in a number of locations.

In the Junior fleet, it was a memorable season from Seafra Guilfoyle of RCYC who won Easterns, Westerns and Northerns before taking the national title in a 90-strong junior fleet. Seafra was also the highest placed Irish helm in the British Nationals Junior fleet, finishing eighth overall out of 170 boats.

The senior division was more evenly balanced, with Colm O’Regan (KYC), Jamie Aplin (RStGYC) and Killian O’Keeffe (RCYC) winning the regionals (O’Keeffe winning two) before Cork’s Richard Harrington won the Irish Championships in Tralee ahead of 67 others to make the nationals a Cork double success. National Champion: Senior – Richard Harrington, Royal Cork YC; Junior – Seafra Guilfoyle, Royal Cork YC"

There is a space for Irish boating clubs and racing classes to use as their own bulletin board and forum for announcements and discussion. If you want to see a dedicated forum slot for your club or class, click here

Featured Sailing School

INSS sidebutton

Featured Clubs

Howth Yacht Club
National Yacht Club
Royal Cork Yacht Club
Royal Irish Yacht club

Featured Associations

ISA sidebutton
isora sidebutton

Featured Events

corkweek sidebutton
tokyo sidebutton
roundireland sidebutton

Featured Chandleries

chmarine sidebutton
viking sidebutton

Featured Sailmakers

northsails sidebutton
uksails sidebutton

Featured Blogs

W M Nixon - Sailing on Saturday
podcast sidebutton
BSB sidebutton
sellingboat sidebutton

Please show your support for Afloat by donating