Laser Instructions

HOW TO:                        Basic Laser Sailing                                    Back To Laser Page

Glossary at bottom       


Tiller Control

*Sail Adjustment

*Tacking/Coming About


Safety Position
Landing at the Pier

Close-Reach Landings
In Irons Landings

Righting a Laser
Right of Way

Opposite Tack
Same Tack
Rounding Marks
Over Early at the Start
Touching a Mark
What to do if a Foul Occurs
Sound Signal Starting System

Additional Sailing Tips

Excercises & Drills
Suggested Reading



The Laser

Even as simple a craft as the Laser has a formidable number of parts which you should become familiar with. Three parts you will need to be most familiar with when you begin sailing are the sheet, thehiking stick (also known as the tiller extension), and the telltale.

The hiking stick is the handle with which you steer the boat that swivels about the end of the tiller. The tiller is attached to and controls the rudder. The rudder utilizes the resistance of the water to provide the turning force for the boat. When sailing, you can hold the hiking stick anywhere along its length in order to make a comfortable connection between you and the tiller. 

The sheet is not the sail. It is the line (rope) with which you control the sail. Trimming (pulling) in on the sheet will bring the sail closer to the center of the boat. Easing (letting the sheet out) will allow the sail to swing in the direction that the wind blows it.

The telltale is a short length of string or yarn tied to the wire side-stay or shroud. The purpose of the telltale is to indicate the direction the wind is blowing so it is a good idea to refer to it often when sailing. As you sit in the boat, with the hiking stick in one hand and the sheet in the other, you will be sitting on the side of the boat (gunwale, pronounced "gunnel") hiking out to keep the boat level or on a very light wind day on the thwart (seat). The force of the wind against the sail tends to make the boat tip or heel. To counteract this heeling you must hook your feet under the hiking strap and extend your body out over the water.

Even in circumstances where you may be able to hold the tiller directly, you will find that it is easier to control the tiller by sliding your hand down and holding the hiking stick close to its joint with the tiller. It is advisable for you to become accustomed to using the hiking stick at all times, even when you are not hiking out. This will give you faster and more efficient control, plus eliminate the possibility of tangling the dangling hiking stick in the sheet.

In heavy winds the boom vang is very important because on reaches and runs it stops the boom from lifting. This lifting destroys the sail shape and reduces the sail area exposed to the wind. One author on dinghy racing claims a 20 percent loss in power without a boom vang.
What Makes it Go?

In brief, a sailboat gets its power from the forces of air moving over the curved shape of a sail. Downwind, it is easiest to think of a sailboat getting its power from the wind "pushing" on the boat and the sails. While not exactly correct, this model (fig. 2) predicts most of the forces on the boat.

Upwind, a sailboat is "pulled" along by the wind. A properly trimmed (adjusted) sail assumes a shape similar to the wing of an airplane and acts as an airfoil in a very similar way. The lift provided by the sail actually is derived from the change in direction of the air as it flows over the curve of the sail. Notice that all of the sails in this booklet are drawn as curves.

When wind hits the mast, some air flows to the windward side of the sail, and some to the leeward side. If the sail is properly trimmed, the air will be deflected and will travel in a different direction when it leaves the sail. The deflection of the air constitutes an acceleration and as the air is accelerated in one direction, the boat (and ourselves in it!) are accelerated in the opposite direction.

It turns out that the direction the wind pushes our sailboat is not along the centerline of the boat but at a slight angle (fig. 3 below). If we traveled in the direction of the arrow, we would not make much progress in the upwind direction. We need a way to prevent our boat from traveling sideways or "sideslipping." This anti-slip mechanism is the centerboard. The centerboard is simply a blade (or in some boats, a "foil") which extends beneath the boat to keep it from traveling sideways too much. Because water is so much denser than air, the centerboard can be relatively small (compared to the sail) and very efficient. If you leave the dock and seem to be going sideways more than forward, make sure that your centerboard is down all the way.

If we look at the water passing the centerboard instead of the centerboard passing through the water we can see how it works to prevent sideslip through the water.

Besides learning the terms for the parts of the boat, you should also learn the general sailing terms represented. The right side of the boat is called the starboard side the left side is the port side. If the boat is sailing so that the wind first crosses the starboard side, the boat is sailing on a starboard tack. Similarly, if the wind first crosses the port side, the boat is sailing on a port tack. Except for when the boat is sailing by the lee the sail is always on the opposite side of the windsource, so that a boat on starboard tack has its sail on the port side of the boat. A few other terms you will hear mentioned are pinchingfootingfeathering, and broachingPinching is trying to sail higher into the wind than close hauled; sailing lower is called footing. In heavy air when close hauled, excessive heeling should be avoided by heading up gently in the puffs; as the puff passes, the boat can smoothly fall off to its proper course. When done as a smooth, continuous operation, this is known as featheringBroaching is allowing the boat to head up immediately after the jibe, usually involves excessive heeling and may result in a capsize.

Wind Clock

An easy way to remember where your sail should be set is by remembering the wind clock pictured in

 figure 5. Imagine the face of a clock on the surface of the water with the wind always blowing from 12 O'clock to 6 O'clock.

It is obvious that a boat can sail if the wind is coming from directly behind it, since then the wind pushes the boat along. In our diagram, the boat would then be sailing towards 6 O'clock. But it is also possible for the boat to sail in other directions against the force which drives it, but only at angles to it. A Tech dinghy can point no higher than about 40 degrees into the wind. For example, when your boat is facing directly at 12 O'clock (directly into the wind), you won't be able to sail at all, here you are in irons.

When you are in irons you are in an unsailable sector between 11 O'clock and 1 O'clock which is called the eye of the wind. To get out of irons keep your sail luffing, hold your tiller in the center of the boat and allow the wind to blow you backwards or until you can catch some wind and get forward motion. Another way to get out of irons is to backwind your sail by holding the boom out perpendicular to the wind and holding the tiller straight in the center of the boat allowing the wind to push you backwards.

Once you have reverse motion, push the tiller in the direction that you want the bow to turn and you will turn that way. Once angled away from "12 O'clock" you can trim your sail in. At best, you can sail either towards 1 O'clock or 11 O'clock. If you try to sail higher than 1 or 11 O'clock the pressure causes the sail to luff.

When you are sailing towards either 1 or 11 O'clock you are said to be sailing close hauled, because the sail is hauled in "close to the boat." As you fall off to 2 or 10 O'clock, you must also let the sail out slightly by easing the sheet where you will be on a close reach.

Falling off more and again easing the sheet brings you to 3 or 9 O'clock where you are on beam reach or sailing perpendicular to the wind. When sailing below a beam reach you are on a broad reach. When sailing directly down wind (6 O'clock) your boat isrunning and your sail should be all the way out. Remember that every time you fall off, you must also ease your sheet.

You should study the wind clock paying particular attention to the position of the sails. The ideas discussed in the section on sailing a straight course apply to all the boats shown in fig. 5 except the two that are sailing close-hauled.

Rigging the Laser

The first thing to do is to choose a good boat. Some of the Lasers have missing equipment or need to be repaired so be sure the Laser has a working hiking stick and a correctly tied boom vang with KEY. Check the boat over for anything that might cause a problem; missing cleats, gaping holes, missing mast, etc. Don't use any boats that have a Broken Boat sign on them which should be attached to the mast just below eye level. Once you've picked out a DSC Laser, you can get it ready by following three sets of three steps.

On Land

1. Put both plugs in the back of the boat; one on the inside, one on the outside.
2. Pick out the right Mast with Sail slipped the correct way into the pocket.
3. Slide in the Battons. and get a partner to help lift it to the Mast Step.. and Please lower it SLOWLY into the hole. 
On the Sloop Rig boats with a loose Mainsail and Jib, you unclip the halyard from the boom and reclip it to the head of the sail. ( The head of the sail is the only corner of the sail with a thick plastic plate attached to it. Raise the sail up about a foot while feeding the cord into the groove in the mast. Then clip the outhaul to the clew (the trailing corner of the sail). Leave the downhaul untied from tack (or attach the downhaul loosely by only using the very end of the downhaul). You will want to leave the sail LOOSE. Attach it to the boom only when you are on the beach and facing into the wind.

Putting the boat in the water

Get a partner for this and feel free to ask someone nearby

1. Get a Small Boat Dolly found along the fence area and pull the Laser onto it from it's rack.
2. Push it down the ramp and into the water, stern first after you put in the plug. Be sure you don't push the cart off the end of the ramp to float away.
3. You can tie the Laser to a beach log with a bowline knot. Rule number one for knot tying: test the knot before you trust it! Give it a tug. You can let it rest on the sand but do not drag or sit on the beached boat. The RACING BOATS never get beached..

In the Water

In this order!

1. Put in the rudder. When getting into the boat, enter on the bow straddling the mast first or enter on the side of the boat if you're larger. Be sure the rudder is put in underneath the traveler. This may be frustrating and take some time.
2. On the BOMS ( Sloop Rig,) Raise the sail.If you haven't attached the downhaul yet, do so now, then tighten it.
3. 3 Lower the centerboard. Get around the mast and into the boat first and then lower the centerboard. You're ready to go!

Why in this order? Most importantly, you want to put the centerboard down last. The purpose of the centerboard is to keep the boat from sideslipping and help it to move forward. You don't want to move forward while at the pier or beach.

The best and easiest way to cast off is to have someone on the pier / beach untie you and give you a push. If you are more advanced, daring, or desperate, you can get back on the bow, straddle the mast, untie yourself, give yourself a push, and then hustle back into the boat and regain control as merciless wave & wind hurls your boat towards the jagged shoreline! The best advice is if you have a question about anything, ask an instructor.

In heavy weather when there are waves it becomes more difficult to control the boat at the pier/ ramp/ beach. If the boat is not handled carefully in walking it down and around to the proper side of the pier/ ramp for rigging, it will be damaged. Choose the down-wind side of the ramp as a novice. Be very careful that the boat does not pound against the pier / ramp, and if necessary, ask someone to help you! Also, in heavy winds, allow as much length as possible when tying your painter to the beach log. This will make the boat more stable while rigging it. Putting the rudder in is challenging especially if there are waves.


Three important knots that you should be familiar with are the Clove-hitch on a cleat or cleat knot, the Clove-hitch on a post, and most importantly the Bowline. An overhand knot cannot be untied easily once it has been pulled tight. Tying improper knots can cause many potential problems. Please prevent these from occuring by tying "real" knots illustrated below in fig 6. If you're a visual learner, ask someone to show you easy ways to tie these. Then, practice often and teach others.


Now that you have the safety of your crew in your hands, how can you make sure you have a fun sail and make it back safely? Here are a few items that are useful in making your sail safe for yourself, your passengers and the craft you use.

Wear a lifejacket

This is one of the two rules that are most useful for reducing drowning if you are in danger on the water. People with little body fat (including children) often get cold quickly and simply sink when they hit the water. Wear your lifejacket!

Stay with your craft

Unless someone is right there to help you off of your craft and into their rescue boat, stay with your boat at all times! Motorboats and lifesaving craft can see and avoid a larger object (such as a boat) much better than a smaller object (such as your little floating head). Also, the craft floats and is like wearing many lifejackets in that it will keep you above water.

Dress appropriately

In the summer a pair of shorts, t-shirt, non-marking shoes with grip (such as light-weight tennis shoes), sunglasses, sun protection, a water bottle and a hat are items that you may need.

If it is cooler, such as in rainy or windy weather and spring or fall, a windbreaker and dressing in layers is adviseable. Even on the hottest days, when there is a strong breeze one may become "chilled" out on the water.

If you have any medications you might need to take while on the water (such as asthma meds) get a waterproof container to bring them along in.

Additional safety tips

Here are a few more helpful hints on safety:

* Know your equipment and how to use it safely and effectively.
* Practice, practice, practice!
* Check the weather forecast before you go out.
* Educate your crew on that they need to do and when. (Going over when to duck their heads is particularly useful.)


When people drown they often do so because they sink in the water. To reduce this from happening wear a snug, quality lifejacket and stay with your craft always! Just Do It.

Now have a look at the terms we use.


Sailing Glossary

Any location either side of the boat, located on a line at right angles to one running from the bow to the stern. 
In front of. 
The portion of a vessel midway between bow and stern; also midway between port and starboard sides.
A sheltered place or area where boat can anchor.
Apparent wind
Wind felt on a moving vessel.
Behind or backwards.
Backing wind shift
A counter-clockwise wind shift.
To hold the mainsail or jib off to the side to cause the wind to blow onto the backside of the sail.
To remove water from a boat by hand.
Long, thin, narrow strips of wood that are placed in pockets sewn perpendicular to the leech of a sail and are used to hold the leech out.
The greatest breadth of the boat.
Beam reach
Sailing perpendicular to the wind.
Bearing away
Altering course away from the wind; falling off; heading down.
Bearing off/away
Altering course away from the wind on any course from head to wind until the boat begins to jibe. 
To sail towards the direction from which the wind blows by making a series of tacks while sailing close-hauled.
Sailing upwind; close-hauled.
Before the wind
Sailing with the wind from astern, in the same direction toward which the wind is blowing.
Any part of a rope with the exception of the end; usually refers to a loop in a rope.
A pulley through which a line passes.
Blowing stink
A term made famous by Hoofer instructors. High winds! It is advised that at the first sign of the Big Stink one should Rig and Go!
Bolt rope
Rope sewn into the luff and foot of sail for attaching to the mast and boom.
Boom vang
A wire or rope running from the boom to or near the bottom of the mast which holds the boom down.
Pole or spar attached to the mast to which the foot (lower edge) of the sail is fastened.
Bow plate
A plate that fits on the bow of the boat to which the lower end of the forestay is attached.
Forward part of the hull.
A sudden swooping around broadside to the wind and waves while running.
Broad reach
Saililng with the wind coming from any direction from abeam to on the quarter.
By the lee
Sailing before the wind with the wind coming from the same side that the boom is on.
To tip the boat over so that the mast is parallel with the water.
Cast off
To let go.
Center of effort
Center point of sail area where all the force of the wind can be said to be centered.
Center of lateral resistance
Center point of all underwater area of the hull where the hull's lateral resistance can be said to be centered.
Centerboard line
A rope or wire attached to the top of the centerboard with which it is raised or lowered.
Centerboard truck
Watertight housing for the centerboard.
A fiberglass or metal blade projecting through the bottom of the hull in center which prevents the boat from sliding sideways. It pivots up and back into the centerboard trunk.
Chain plate
A plate that fits on the side of the boat to which the lower end of a shroud is attached.
Clear ahead
A boat not overlapped w/ a following boat. (see overlapped)
Clear astern
A boat not overlapped w/ a leader boat.
A formed fitting in wood or metal to which lines are made fast.
The lower after corner of a sail.
Close hauled
Sailing close to the wind. (sails all the way in)
Close reach
Sailing with sheets eased and the wind forward of the beam (sails out 1/4).
Coming about
Changing tacks by heading up, bow into the wind and past head to wind on the other tack (tacking).
Line passed through a grommet in the luff of the sail used to flatten the sail by tightening the luff.
Dagger board
A centerboard that slides up and down in a vertical slot.
The horizontal top on the hull.
A small handy rowing boat, sometimes rigged with a sail.
The weight of the water displaced by the vessel.
Line attached to the bottom of the boom used to flatten the sail by pulling the boom down, and thus tightening the luff of the sail.
In the direction the wind is going. A boat sailing downwind is running with the wind.
The depth of water to a vessel's keel.
Ease sheet
To let the sheet out.
Eye of the wind
An unsailable sector between close hauled headings.
Measurement of six feet.
The bottom edge of a sail from Tack to Clew.
Sailing lower than close hauled.
Fore and aft
In the direction of the keel.
A wire running from the upper part of the mast to the bow of the boat.
Hinged fitting on the mast which connects the boom to the mast.
A ring sewn into the sail through which a line can be passed.
The rings which, with pintels, make up the hinge assembly for the rudder.
The upper edge of a boat's side.
A line used to raise the sail.
To pull.
Head to wind
Havoing the bow pointing directly into the wind.
Uppermost corner of a sail, or the toilet.
Heading up
Turning closer to the wind, up wind.
Moving ahead.
Heave in
To haul in.
To tip to one side, due to wind pressure on the sail or crew on the side.
The tiller.
The one who steers the boat.
Hiking stick
See Tiller extension.
Hiking straps
Straps to hook toes under in cockpit.
The actual body or shell of the boat.
In irons
When a tack is not completed and the boat stalls out with the bow pointed directly into the wind.
In phase
Sailing optimal angles to the next mark; tacking on knocks and sailing on lifts.
Toward the shore.
International Sailing Federation.
To go from one tack to the other when running with the wind coming over the stern.
Turning the stern through the eye of the wind.
A wind shift that forces a boat to sail below its mean wind course.
After edge of a sail.
Leeward side
The side of the boat away from the wind.
The direction away from the wind (opposite of windward).
A wind shift that allows a boat to sail above its mean wind course.
A rope.
Luff up
To steer the boat more into the wind, thereby causing the sails to flap or luff.
Altering course towards the wind; heading up. Luffing or bearing away is presumably the boat's proper course.
When the forward part of the sail is fluttering.
The forward edge of a sail.
The sail set on the mainmast.
The line that controls the angle of the mainsail in its relation to the wind.
Any floating object w/in the water specified as so.
Mast slot/groove
The opening up the back (aft) edge of the mast in which the mainsail luff rope slides when it is (sail slot) hoisted. Some masts have an external sail track.
Mast step
The fitting in the bottom of the boat in which the bottom or heel of the mast sits. (The step is on the deck in the boat designs.)
Mast tangs
Fittings on the mast to which the forestay and shrouds attach.
The vertical pole or spar that supports the boom and sails.
The top of the mast.
On a tack
A boat is always on one tack or the other; that is the sail is always on one side or the other.
A line used to haul out the clew or after corner of a sail on the boom.
The condition where a line drawn across the transom of the leading overlapped by a middle boat.
Passing another vessel.
A rope secured in the bow of a small boat, used for tying up or towing.
Sailing too close to the wind so that the sails start to luff.
Pins which, with gudgeons, make up the hinge assembly for the rudder.
When a sailboat rises up on its own bow wave and reaches speeds far in excess of those normally associated with its waterline length.
Port tack
The tack a boat is sailing on when the wind is coming over the port side.
The left-hand side of the boat as you face the bow.
Privileged vessel
One that has the right of way.
A sudden burst of wind stronger than what is blowing at the time.
Metal guardrail at the bow.
The angle of a vessel's masts from the vertical.
Sailing across the wind or any course between close-hauled and running (close, beam, broad).
Ready about
An expression used to indicate that the boat is about to tack.
A general term applying to all lines, stays and shrouds necessary for spars and sails.
A movable flat blade hinged vertically at the transom of a boat as a means of steering. It is controlled by a tiller or wheel.
Running rigging
The part of a ship's rigging which is movable and reeves through blocks, such as halyards, sheets, etc.
Sailing with the wind coming from behind the boat with the sail out at right angles to the wind.
Using only the wind and water to increase, maintain or decrease speed.
Sailing by the lee
Sailing on a run with the wind coming over the stern from the same side as the boom (danger of jibing).
To make fast; to make safe.
A U-shaped piece of iron or steel with eyes in the ends, closed by a shackle in.
A line that controls the angle of the sail in its relation to the wind.
Shove off
To leave; to push a boat away from a pier or vessel's side. 
Wire side stays running from the upper part of the mast to both the starboard and port sides of the boat. The forestay and shrouds form a triangle which supports the mast inn an upright position.
Side slipping
When the boat is moving sideways (to leeward).
Shroud or wire on the side of the tech attached from the mast to the gunwale.
Not fastened; loose. Also, to ease off.
The gab between the jib and the main sail through which the wind is funneled.
Poles used to push the shrouds outboard.
A sudden and violent gust of wind often accompanied by rain.
The turbulent effect of air on the lee side of a sail when trimmed in too far.
Standing part
The fixed part of a rope--the long end, when tying knots.
Standing rigging
The part of a ship's rigging which is permanently secured and immovable; e.g. stays, shrouds, etc.
Starboard tack
The tack a boat is sailing on when the wind is coming over the starboard side.
The right side, facing the bow from aft.
Staying clear
Avoiding collision by altering course when not the right-of-way boat.
Rigging that supports the mast, Shrouds.
The after (back) part of a boat.
To put in place.
To sink by filling with water.
Lower forward corner of a sail.
Coming about; turning the bow through the eye of the wind.
With no slack; strict as to discipline.
Ribbon or yarn strips attached to rigging or sails to indicate wind action or direction.
Support for centerboard trunk and hull across the beam at mid length.
Tiller extension
Hinged extension of the tiller which allows the skipper to control the tiller while hiking or sitting forward.
A bar used to control the rudder.
Above the deck.
The portion of the stern to which the rudder is attached.
Line which runs across the stern to anchor the mainsheet block.

© Ken Christie 2022 - E Mail us for more info.