How fast is a laser?

A few weeks ago my GPS told me I was surfing waves at 8.7 knots in my Laser in a pleasant day (less than 15 knots). I've sailed much faster than that while racing regattas with wind blowing at 25 knots (no GPS during regattas).

There was one day when i carried my phone out in like four ziploc bags and the speedometer app recorded a max of 11.2, the wind speed was something like 20+ kts


Active Member
I've sailed for years with a GPS. I'm about 165lbs. I sail with as big a sail as I can handle and still sail more than swim. That's generally a full rig til maybe 15kts of wind, radial up to 20kts, and a 4.7 above that. I sail purely recreational not racing, and I'm usually sailing a beam reach back + forth across the wind. I sail in lakes/reservoirs, where the wind fetch is usually 1-2 miles and never more than 3 miles. I'm usually going across the wave pattern, and seldom do much surfing down a wave. Waves are usually ~1 ft peak-to-valley at around 15 kts of wind, getting closer to 2 ft as the wind exceeds 20 kts. Once they start rolling/breaking, that begins to slow the boat down because it's exceeding the freeboard and spilling onto the deck and changing the boat's direction.

My experience -
Speaking in general terms, I've come to a "rule of thumb" that the sustained boat speed is usually about 1/2 of the wind speed, up to maybe 10-12 kts. She'll do 7-8 kts in 15kts of wind, 10 kts in 20 kts. It seems to come up onto a plane around 6-7 kts boatspeed. As she gets over 10 kts, it becomes increasingly difficult to steer to keep the sail full and pulling, and to avoid getting hit by a wave so hard that it knocks the boatspeed down significantly, or knocks her off heading enuf that I lose good sail trim. The rudder becomes increasingly sensitive to very small control inputs, any "lash" (free movement) between the tiller and the rudder becomes a real problem in trying to keep accurate control of heading (and therefor trim and constant power), and the boat direction becomes increasingly responsive to waves and harder to control + correct with the rudder. So as she exceeds 12-13 kts thru the water, it becomes harder and harder to sustain the speed for any length of time.

There's often been Hobie cat's out there when I'm out. They'll certainly outrun the Laser in a straight line. When you factor in the tacking time of the cat, on a lake maybe a mile wide and reaches are maybe 1/2 to 3/4 mile between tacks - then it's more or less a tossup. And if or when they lose it, dunk that lee prow and go over either sideways or frontwards -- well the Laser is back up+running long before they're back up.

On storage and launching- my Laser on a trailer fits up the side of my 2-car garage with 2 cars. I can be off the beach in maybe 10-12 minutes from arriving.

If you're sailing purely recreational vs racing, and if you're sensitive to the cash outlay, you'll get much better value for $ in a used Laser vs new. As long as a used boat is newer than 1995, hasn't had water frozen in it (in the hull, mast hole, cockpit), and hasn't been grossly abused, a used boat is functionally about the same as new, and a fraction the price. You might want to upgrade to the latest vang+outhaul but that's much cheaper than a new boat.

IMHO and for how I sail, an old Laser is more fun per hour and more fun per dollar, and fewer dollars per hour and per grin, than anything else I've come across. But everybody's different, there's tradeoffs, and YMMV. It's hard to imagine you won't be grinning on ANY of the boats you mentioned.
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Hey there from the great white north. Recently recorded an upwind and beam reach sail on small bay in ontario on my sony action cam. Wind speed was around the 15 to 18 knot range and I seemed to get around 5 knots of boat speed upwind and 8 to a high of 11 knots off the wind. The high end I tend to believe as the resonance (humming ) of the foils raises in pitch at the times of high speed along with the bow wave moving aft to about the dagger board area. Not the fastest Ive gone in a laser but still a blast!

Here is the link to the video:

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Active Member
Very nice video - I like the view with the camera out on the boom.

Those speeds are very consistent with what I've see in similar conditions ... I've sailed with a couple different GPS's on board for 10+ years and there's never been any real difference between what one shows vs another. In general on a beam reach, I see boat speed roughly half of the reported wind speed. Obviously varies by wave conditions + 100 other things. I sail with full rig, radial, and 4.7 as the wind gets stronger. I've never seen boat speed over 13 kts, and that only for a very short burst in 25+ kts of wind. But the GPS speed bounces around by a knot or so, and I find the boat gets real jumpy + marginally controllable with wind at 25+ and boat over 10 kts thru the water, so I'm paying a lot of attention to the wind, water, + boat to keep the round side down, and not studying the numbers on the lil GPS screen.

Looks like a real nice day out. I was out for 4+ hrs yesterday in 14-20kts -- sailed over 30 miles on a lil reservoir in tack's that are barely a mile long. But good fun.


Active Member
That was great! Bravo!!!

Nice to see someone else posting videos. Loved all of it.

- The massive vibration on the camera from the luffing main in the beginning.
- The sheeting sounds... letting the main out sounded a couple of times like cracking the sheets on the America's cup winches
- The real time stats. Very cool.
- Your blasting reach right towards the end.
- And the swan high tailing it out of there as you came steaming through.

More... I want to see more!! :)

- Andy