Can a Laser Sailboat Sink?

Can a Laser Sailboat Sink? | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

August 30, 2022

Laser sailboats are fast and fun and considered a bit more dangerous than most dinghies. But can laser sailboats sink?

Laser sailboats are known for their proclivity to capsize, and the designers were aware of this risk. Traditional dinghies are typically sinkable, but the Laser has a clever solution that reduces the risk.

Laser sailboats are designed to be unsinkable. They use positive flotation to stay afloat even when full of water. Laser sailboats come with several air-filled bags in void spaces. These bags must be periodically inspected and replaced.

Even though the Laser sailboat came from the factory unsinkable, there are still many instances of improperly-maintained or heavily-damaged Laser sailboats sinking. In this article, we’ll cover how to ensure your Laser sailboat stays afloat when swamped and how to prevent it from filling with water in the first place.

We sourced the information in this article from experienced Laser sailors and from information published by the various manufacturers of these vessels.


Table of contents

What is a Laser Sailboat?

The Laser is a single-handed dinghy designed for racing and recreational cruising. It’s used by both kids and adults, and it’s a popular competitive boat due to its high speed, precise handling, and the level of skill required to sail one.

How are Laser Sailboats Built?

All Laser sailboats are built to the same specifications; all parts are interchangeable between boats. The hull is made out of glass-reinforced plastic, or fiberglass, with inner structural bulkheads molded in and laminated into the outer hull. This design creates a strong segmented structure.

Can Laser Sailboats Sink?

This is an important question to ask about small boats, as a single wave can swamp right over the deck and fill the cockpit. On paper, the dimensions and handling of the Laser make it seem like a hazardous boat—but the designers were well aware of this and compensated with positive flotation.

So, can a Laser sailboat sink? In short, usually not—at least when well maintained.

The Laser dinghy has a reputation, which is not entirely unjustified, for being dangerous in rough conditions because of its relative lack of flotation. And while it is unstable, the Laser is, in fact, positively buoyant.

The Laser sailboat features several positive flotation bags in the hull, which are designed to keep the boat afloat even when the cockpit fills with water. Laser chose bags instead of foam or sealed compartments, but the reason for this is unknown.

Positive Flotation Bags

The Laser is quite literally “unsinkable” when these positive flotation bags are in place and in good condition. These bags are called “cubitainers” and colloquially known as “airbags” or “flotation bags.”

There are a few benefits to using flotation bags instead of bulkheads for flotation. For one, if a crack forms along the fiberglass walls of a bulkhead, the watertight integrity of the entire compartment could be compromised.

In other words, the sealed compartment can flood. Or, it could leak, and you'll have still water constantly sloshing around in the hull.

Flotation bags can be placed in multiple areas, which provides a level of redundancy and reduces the amount of material needed to build the boat. It also allows designers to leave the hull open, which allows water to drain out and dry.

Replacing Flotation Bags

Many used Laser sailboat buyers find the flotation bags in poor condition. Some never know to look for them, and sometimes they’re missing altogether. Always check the presence and condition of your flotation bags. Squeeze them to check for leaks, and replace them periodically regardless of condition.

Replacement bags can be purchased online. For the small price of replacement bags, it’s worth it—the alternative is a single wave swamping your boat and sinking it, which is easily avoidable.

Capsizing Vs Sinking

There’s a big difference between a boat that’s prone to capsizing and one that can sink easily. Some are both; the Laser is not. The Laser can capsize easily (roll over), but it won’t sink if it’s in proper condition.

Sinking requires the boat to become negatively buoyant or fill up with water and displace the air. With the presence of air bags, this is physically impossible—and thus, the Laser won’t sink.

Why Laser Sailboats Capsize Easily

The dinghy has a large sail-plan for its small size, along with shallow draft and lightweight. It’s also incredibly narrow. Any one of these factors increases the likelihood of capsizing, and the Laser has all three.

It’s important to note that these are not design flaws—quite the contrary. The Laser is designed for agility and responsiveness. The thin hull and flat profile make the boat nimble and help it exceed the normal limitations of deep-draft hull speed.

Dangers of Capsizing

Even though a properly-outfitted Laser won’t sink, it certainly can capsize, which poses a new set of hazards. The person sailing the Laser will be ejected from the cockpit or briefly dragged under if their feet are still secured under the line. It’s best to always wear a life jacket while sailing a Laser.

How to Avoid Capsizing a Laser

Sometimes, capsizing a Laser is inevitable. However, the vast majority of capsizing events can be prevented with the right amount of practice. The primary reasons why people capsize Laser sailboats are pulling the sheet in too tight, turning too sharply, hitting a wave at the wrong angle, or failing to lean out of the boat when it is heeling.

The Laser features a strap at the bottom of the cockpit for your feet. This allows you to lean off the side of the boat and counter-balance it under sail. Additionally, you can prevent capsizing on windy days by properly adjusting your sheet and not pulling it in too tightly.

Another good strategy is to always take waves bow-on. When you take waves head-on, you prevent them from rolling the boat over. Never allow a wave to crest over the side of the boat, and minimize the time you spend parallel to the swells. Also, avoid sailing a Laser on particularly choppy days. It’s hazardous and uncomfortable.

Can a Laser Sailboat Sink?
Daniel Wade

Daniel Wade

I've personally had thousands of questions about sailing and sailboats over the years. As I learn and experience sailing, and the community, I share the answers that work and make sense to me, here on Life of Sailing.

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