20 Reasons to Choose the Laser 4.7 (part 1)

A frequently asked question is: « Why the Laser 4.7? » While the 4.7 rig is very well known in Europe, it is less so in some places elsewhere, particularly in the United States and Canada. The reality is that there are many reasons to choose this rig, which entails a sail of 4.7 square meters (1 square meter less than the Radial sail) and a slightly shorter mast. This rig is especially suitable for youth sailing.

Let's take a look at the reasons - and there are many of them - why the Laser 4.7 is an excellent choice. Below are 10 first reasons. The second part of the article, presents 10 additional reasons to choose the Laser 4.7, and can be found at this link.

Note: this article is available in French.

Also, don't miss our upcoming webinar on Nov. 13 "The Laser 4.7 for Youth Sailing: All You Need to Know!"

1. A Considerable International Success

The Laser 4.7, launched only twenty years ago, has achieved a considerable international success. For example, the European Championships usually attract some 400 participants. This is a higher number than any other youth sailing classes, such as the Optimist or the 420. Recently, the 4.7 has even become more popular than the Radial among youth sailors in most countries. At the national level, a country like Italy has some 300 youth sailors participating in the Laser 4.7 race circuit.

2. A Boat Truly Suited to Youth Sailors

The Laser 4.7 is a boat really adapted to youth sailors. Some will start sailing in the 4.7 as early as 12 or 13 years old. Others will wait until they are 14 or 15 years old. The 4.7 is a U18 boat which means that the maximum age to compete is 17 years old. There are usually two rankings at the competitions: U18 rankings, and also U16 rankings, for young people aged 15 and under. At the European Championships in 2018, about 60% of the athletes were 16 or 17 years old (U18), and 40% were 15 years old or younger (U16). With the Laser 4.7, youth sailors will be with other sailors from the same age group, which is a key element to build cohesive groups of sailors at the various levels and to motivate youth sailors to remain involved into dinghy racing (it's around that age that, in many places, youth sailors tend to abandon the sport altogether).

3. A Very Good Level of Female Participation

The Laser 4.7 attracts a very good level of female participation at competitions. For big regattas, such as the Worlds and the Europeans, there are separate fleets for girls and boys. At the European Championships in 2019, held in Hyères, France, there were 136 girls and 273 boys from around 40 countries. Girls made up one third of the total number of participants. The female participation level is generally higher in the 4.7 than in the Radial, whether it is for junior (U19) or senior sailors. This is due to the fact that when they reach their adult size, most women will not have a suitable physique and a sufficient body weight to be competitive in the Radial.

4. A Rig Suitable to the Physique of Most Youth Sailors

To be competitive in Laser Radial, it is generally recognized that a minimum body weight of 68 kg (150 lbs) is required. Racing the Laser Radial with a body weight of less than 65 kg (145 lbs) is simply not recommended. For the Laser 4.7, it is rather a weight between 60 and 65 kg (130 to 145 lbs) that is sought. The boat can also be handled with a slightly lower weight. So youth sailors coming out of classes such as the Optimist or the Open Skiff (formerly Open Bic) will very quickly adapt and be able to race in Laser 4.7, even in the strong breeze. The Laser 4.7 is adapted to the physique of the majority of these youth sailors. Depending on their growth, they can sail in the 4.7 for one or a few years, before making the transition to the Radial or another dinghy.

5. A Solution for Not Staying Too Long in the Optimist

Where the Laser 4.7 or a similar boat (Zoom8, Splash, etc.) are not well established, young people often tend to continue sailing for too long in the Optimist. Above 50 kg (110 lbs), performance in the Optimist declines inexorably, except in the case of regattas in the big breeze. Nevertheless, when the only option available in a club is the Radial, there will be a tendency to leave the youth sailor in the Optimist, although his/her physique is no longer suitable for the boat. This is a situation that we see, for example, regularly in Canada. There are also young people who do not like the Optimist, or who do not have Optimist equipment of sufficient quality to be competitive, and who are therefore frustrated to race in this boat. Thanks to the Laser 4.7, it is much easier for coaches and parents to advise the Optimist sailor to transition to the Laser 4.7, at an opportune time, typically at an age between 12 and 14, depending on the physique and growth of the young sailor.

6. A Sailboat Suitable for Learn to Sail and to Race Programs

When a teenager wants to start sailing, it is usually too late to use the Optimist. In North America, clubs generally use Club 420 for these youngsters. Despite the limitations of this boat, it is not a bad solution. Double-handed sailing has indeed many positive sides. But it is also possible to offer sailing and regatta training programs in a single-handed boat such as the Laser 4.7. Sometimes clubs have old unused Lasers, or they can get used lasers at a very reasonable price. It is then possible to equip them with 4.7 rigs at a very low cost, which allows to integrate the Laser 4.7 in the sailing school programs. If the youth sailor perseveres and enjoys racing, then it will probably be time to secure privately owned equipment, to be competitive beyond the club-level.

7. A Safe Sailboat, Especially for Beginners and Intermediate Sailors

An often overlooked aspect in youth sailing is the issue of the risk of injury, especially concussion. Who has never dealt with his boom in the big breeze? It is now scientifically proven that even seemingly innocuous accidents can have serious long-term consequences. This has recently been recognized by the Ontario government, which now requires awareness of a document aimed at youth sailors participating in regattas. As for the Laser, where wearing an helmet remains unfortunately rare, the risks for the youth sailors are much higher in the Radial than in the 4.7. Indeed, in the Laser Radial, the sail is more powerful, and one also very quickly uses a huge amounts of boom vang to depower. As a result, the boom is very low. In case of an uncontrolled maneuver, the risk of concussion and other injuries becomes substantial. There are also injury risks to the back and knees, when extreme hiking is needed to hold the boat flat, which occurs in the Laser Radial when the weight of the athlete is insufficient.

8. No Worries to Find a Teammate

Learning to sail in doubles, and more generally as a team, is super important and should be encouraged. Double-handed sailing in boats such as 420 or 29er, however, brings many challenges. First, you have to find a teammate, which is not always easy, especially in small clubs. Then athletes need to be available at the same time, to train and to race. For high level competitors, in practice, it means spending months and months together. With school constraints, it is difficult, and it usually becomes more difficult with time. In addition, it requires a lot of coordination for families, not only for logistics but also to share the costs of equipment, maintenance, transport, etc. The budgets in question are often substantial. There is also the issue of the two teammates to continue to get along. What is often noted in double-handed sailing is that the composition of the crews changes from one season to another, or sometimes even within the same season, which is not good for performance. There are also situations where a teammate is left alone, and is no longer able to navigate until finding a new partner. Yes, double-handed sailing needs to be encouraged, but if things can not be done smoothly, then it is advisable to favor a single-handed dinghy. This allows the youth athletes to focus fully on improving their skills, and sailing within a team can come later in their athletic development.

9. A Boat for Which Quality Coaching is Usually Available

One of the big challenges in competitive sailing is to benefit from high quality coaching. This is a big challenge, for example, in the Optimist, where there are very few top level international coaches. In North America, there are only a very few clubs that offer such high level coaching in the Opti. Analyzing regatta results shows that it is the sailors from clubs with such coaches that typically achieve the best results. This situation is also found for other very specialized boats such as the 29er, the Narca 15, and to a lesser extent the 420. For the Laser, however, there are many more coaches that are available, simply because most coaches have typically been sailing in the Laser for several years. Even though truly world-class Laser coaches remain rare, for most racing programs, there will be much less difficulty in finding coaches for the Laser 4.7 than for other types of dinghies. Of course, not all the Laser coaches, in places such as North America, are familiar with the specifics of the Laser 4.7, as they will have mostly navigated in the Laser Standard or the Radial. But the techniques in the Laser 4.7 are very similar to those used for these two rigs. Thanks to this availability of coaches, the clubs can serenely encourage the Laser 4.7 and develop a fleet, for example of a dozen or more boats. And through clinics and other training activities, it is possible to train the coaches to the specificities of the Laser 4.7, when they are not yet known.

10. An Excellent Transition Boat, to the Laser Radial or Other Types of Boats

The extraordinary success of the Laser 4.7 in recent years is in part due to the fact that it is an excellent transitional boat. As already indicated, it is a U18 boat on which it is not possible to participate in international regattas once you are over 17 years old. Typically, we will leave the Laser 4.7 once we are too old, or too heavy for the rig. We can then go to single-handed or double-handed dinghies. For single-handed dinghy sailing, it is towards the Laser Radial that the transition will mostly take place, once the athlete has reached a weight of about 65 to 68 kg (145 to 150 lbs). It is also possible to make the transition to other single-handed dinghies such as the Europe or the RS Aero 7. For double-handed dinghies, it will be possible to make the transition to various types of dinghies, including the 420, the 470 , the Nacra 15, the 29er or even the 49erFX or the 49er. It is even quite possible to move towards race-oriented keelboats, such as the Melges 20 or the J-70. While the youngster is typically still in the growth phase when starting in the Laser 4.7, his/her adult physique will be reached, or almost reached, when leaving the 4.7. It will then be possible to make an enlightened choice, in collaboration with the coach and the parents, regarding which type of boat to continue with. The Laser 4.7 plays a strategic role in the development of the athlete, allowing to evolve for one or a few years, with other youth sailors from the same age group, in a boat that fits the sailor’s physique, and then to move on, in due course, towards another appropriate boat for the athlete's sailing career.

Click here to read part 2 of this article.

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Thank you for reading the article. If you enjoyed it, please share it by email or social media, with your acquaintances who might be interested. Please also join one or more of the discussion groups listed below. 
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Additional Photos, Courtesy of EurIlca:

https://eurilca.smugmug.com/2018-Laser-European-Championships/2018-Laser-47-Youth-Europeans/

Video about Dimitris Papadimitriou

Dimitris Papadimitriou is a young world-class Laser sailor expected to represent Greece at the 2020 Olympics. He was previously a world class Optimist sailor, then a top competitor in both the Laser 4.7 and the Radial. Among his titles: 3rd at the 2014 Optimist Worlds; Laser 4.7 Youth World Champion in 2016, and Laser Radial Youth World Champion in 2017! This video summarizes his sailing career, prior to moving to the Laser Radial. Watch Dimitris, the other sailors, the amazing racing, but also the spirit and the ambiance of those youth events. If you are a youth sailor, isn't it where you would like to be? If you are a parent, isn't it where you would like to have your child to be? If you are a coach, isn't it one of the very best places to be for a youth sailor to develop in order to become a world class athlete? Enjoy the video!


Additional Information:

Jumpstarting the Laser 4.7 in North America

Fixing the Youth Sailing Pathway with the Laser 4.7 and the RS Feva

Sailing after the Optimist - a Webinar

Discussion Groups :

Laser Discussion 4.7: https://www.facebook.com/groups/laser47/

Youth Voile Discussion: https://www.facebook.com/groups/optimistopenbicsailing/

Laser Quebec: https://www.facebook.com/groups/laserquebec/

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