Inspecting a Laser – What to Check

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Buying a Laser dinghy is a big commitment, so knowing what to look out for and ask is important when inspecting a Laser.

As with anything that you buy, you want to make an informed decision so that you know exactly what you are getting, and also so that you don’t get ripped off. But it’s also good to know some of the basics so that you don’t just rely on the seller’s word.

Most sellers will be open and honest, but there will always be some that may try to hide certain things in the hope to make a little more cash.

So here are some of the basic things to look out for when buying your Laser dinghy.

Laser Boat Number

Boat Number on foil type sticker in cockpit
Boat Number on foil type sticker in cockpit

200,000+ Lasers have been built worldwide to date. Lasers that have been built by a licensed Laser boat builder will have a unique International Laser Class Sailboat Sail number associated with the boat. You can check the boat number to gauge how old the boat is.

For Lasers up to sail number 148,199, the hull identification number (or HIN) is a number molded 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 148,200 should have a foil type sticker located at the back of the cockpit.

On the older lasers, the HIN is a code that can be converted into the sail number.

Hull and Deck

Dents and scratches in a laser dinghy hull
Dents and scratches in a laser dinghy hull

Generally speaking, even for the best cared for Laser sailboats, 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 fiberglass layer located one or two millimeters below the gel coat isn’t exposed or damaged, hull integrity shouldn’t be compromised.

Deck Stiffness

Laser 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 millimeter or so). However, a boat that has had a lot of use will flex quite considerably (a centimeter 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 fiberglass, 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 adds to the overall weight.

Depending on your needs and requirements of the hull, boats of differing conditions 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.

Looking For Soft Spots and Cracks

Make sure that you go over the entire hull closely looking for soft spots and cracks. Pay particular attention to the:

  • bow
  • stern – see if the hull has been dragged on the ground when launching and retrieving the dinghy
  • sides of the deck, where you sit when sailing. Look for softening
  • inside the mast step. The mast simply sites inside a recess in the hull. If the mast has dirt or sand on the bottom, when it is placed into the hull, this can act like sandpaper, wearing away at the mast step. Older dinghies did not have a wear plate in the bottom of the step, which can cause the epoxy to wear faster and lead to water ingress
  • cracks around the mast step or fin case, which will indicate weakening and possible water entry point
  • inspection port – that can be an indication that a repair has been done to the mast step or other part of the hull at some stage in the past.

Checking For Water Entry

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 still be leaks (it may have just been drained well and dried out by the owner).

You can check for leaks in the mast step by filling it with water. If the level goes down, then it indicates a leak.

You can also use a pump (or a good set of lungs) to pressurize the dingy hull through the bung hole in the transom. Make sure that you block the bleed hole which is located under the hiking strap toward the front of the cockpit. Then go around the hull, deck and all fittings with soapy water and look for any bubbles that appear. Don’t forget to remove the bleed hole block when you are finished.

In many cases, you can repair cracks, holes, or other issues. But it depends on a lot of things, including how much money you want to spend or how skilled you are (if you are the DIY type). Sometimes the extent of the problem is just too great and you have to walk away. There are always other boats to check out. However, if you are keen to fix a problem yourself, there are plenty of resources out there to help with repairing a damaged Laser hull (eg. see this page).

Dinghy Covers

An extra that may be included is a laser dinghy cover. Covers are handy as they help to protect the hull from the elements and, depending on the cover, stone chips.

Sometimes a cover may simply be a large piece of plastic which is not fitted. However, the best dinghy covers are the fitted ones that you can leave on while transporting the boat. Ideally, they should be breathable and have UV protection.

Laser Sail

Laser Sail with Cunningham attached
Laser Sail with Cunningham attached

The laser 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. The 3 sail sizes are explained more in the introduction.

Laser Sail and Batten
Laser Sail and Batten

The Laser sail uses 3 battens, which slide into pockets in the leech of the sail. These help to give the sail shape and to stop it flapping. Make sure that the sail comes with all 3 Laser battens.

A good sail is important if you want to be competitive.

Click here for more information and prices on laser sails.

Click here for more information and prices on laser battens.

Laser sail rolled
Laser sail rolled
Laser sail in bag
Laser sail in bag

Foils (Centerboard / Daggerboard & Rudder)

Laser dinghy Foils and Tiller with Extension
Laser dinghy Foils and Tiller with Extension

The centerboard 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 Laser sailors store their foils in soft padded carry bags to prevent damage during storage and transportation.

The centerboard 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.

You should also check the tiller and extension condition. Check that they are straight and that the grip and the universal joint are in good condition.

Click here for more information and prices on a Laser centerboard.

Laser Foils in padded bag
Laser Foils in padded bag

Spars (Laser Mast & Boom)

Laser Spars - 2 piece Laser mast and boom
Laser Spars – 2 piece Laser mast and boom

The Laser mast is made up of 2 sections – the top and bottom sections. The mast and boom are made of aluminum 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 Laser 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 traveling. Timber cradles should be padded on the bottom, so as to not scratch the deck.

Fittings

Laser dinghy cockpit - Check all fittings
Laser dinghy cockpit – Check all 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 price of purchase.

Turbo Kit

Another factor to consider is whether the gear has been upgraded to the best and latest equipment. If you are looking at buying an older dinghy, it may have the original vang/kicker, cunningham and outhaul systems. The orignals work ok, but if you want to be competitive (especially in a breeze), then it is a good idea to upgrade this equipment… to include the Laser Turbo Pack. The upgrades primarily give you more purchase/leverage, so you can tune and depower the sails better.

Turbo kits vary in what they contain. Some contain cleats and ropes that others do not, and as such the prices vary. You can also buy individual parts as required. But if you do aim to be competitive, either look for a boat that already has the gear, or expect to outlay some extra to upgrade it yourself. If you are just starting out Laser sailing, you don’t need the turbo pack and can always upgrade later on once you have some experience under your belt.

Ropes

All ropes should be checked for fraying or deterioration. There are 6 ropes on a laser (mainsheet, outhaul, vang, cunningham (downhaul), traveler, clew tie-down). They are all 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 outhaul and cunningham, as well as blocks and cleat for the vang.

Make sure they are all there.

Laser Trailer & Dolly Options

Laser dinghy and dolly on trailer
Laser dinghy and dolly on trailer

Laser trailers come in a variety of styles. Generally, trailers that are designed specifically to carry Lasers either support the boat directly or support a Laser dolly or trolley which the dinghy sits on (a dolly/trolley is a lightweight trailer which the boat sits on that can be easily maneuvered down to the water, enabling 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. These supports are generally located up under the outside edge at the bow, and also on both sides at the widest part of the hull (see image below).

Laser dinghy trailer support locations
Laser Trailer support locations

On some newer Laser dollies, the hull is supported by a strap that runs from one side of the hull across to the other side (see photo below).

Dynamic Laser Dolly
Laser Dolly

You want the Laser sailboat 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.

Right-On Dolly Trailer for Sunfish and Laser Sailboats

Click here for more info on a Dolly/Trailer combo for Sunfish and Laser Sailboats.

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).

Click here for more information and prices on a Laser dolly.

Laser dinghy and dolly - off the trailer
Laser and dolly – off the trailer

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Inspecting the Laser with the owner

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 –

  1. everything is included
  2. everything fits and works properly
  3. the sail and the Laser mast/boom are a match (you don’t want to buy a radial sail and a full rig mast)
  4. 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 in providing you with all the information you need when inspecting a Laser.

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9 Comments

  1. Russell Payne on August 18, 2013 at 5:38 pm

    Does anyone have information of what a sail number might be where the hin under the bow fairlead is prefixed with three letters? i.e. JMF007 !!
    Thanks,

    • admin on August 18, 2013 at 5:51 pm

      Hi Russell
      Not sure about that one. Maybe someone else can help??

      • Vincent Anfi on December 3, 2013 at 1:41 pm

        it’s the number u find on the foil – if its new it will usually start with 18####

  2. Chris B on March 10, 2014 at 3:16 am

    Hi,
    How would I determine sail number if foil sticker has been removed / come off, and there’s just a foil ‘void’ sticker?

    • admin on March 22, 2014 at 6:26 pm

      Hi Chris
      If the foil sticker’s gone, and there is no number molded into the deck on the transom or under the bow eye, then you might be out of luck.
      Not sure if any of the other readers can help??
      cheers
      Brendan

  3. Sean Anton on February 2, 2016 at 9:38 am

    I took out a 32 foot Beneteau for my honeymoon and we had such a great time, sadly not quite the toy that I can afford to buy, Great article on Lasers. We have a large lake here in Whistler which is sailing friendly they even do an annual mini regatta. Thanks for hints on what to look for when buying second hand.

    • Admin on February 2, 2016 at 3:02 pm

      Hi Sean, thanks very much for your kind works about the site.
      Yes, Beneteau’s are nice yachts. I think they would be on the wish list for many people, but most of us will have to stick to the lasers in the mean time.

  4. ALAN KIDD on October 16, 2016 at 7:33 am

    When buying a laser it pays to spend more for a good boat as my first one cost only £350 but when I renewed parts the extra cost was £700, with the total of £1050 spent it was hard work to sail and healed alot and leaked. After this I purchased a brand new boat and this is a dream to sail and fast.

    • Admin on October 17, 2016 at 2:34 pm

      Hi Alan
      Yes, there are some cheap laser dinghies around, but you have to be careful… often if you pick up a (so called) bargain, you get what you pay for. If it’s too good to be true, it often is just that.
      That being said, sometimes you can get genuine bargains. Often you don’t know what the motivation of the seller is. That’s when it’s good to take someone with you who knows what they are talking about to inspect. They can often see things that someone with less experience may miss. Then at least you will be a bit better informed, and you can decide if you still want to buy the sailboat being fully aware of what is not 100% right with it.

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