Iceboating For Kids

Contact Ron Rosten in Madison, WI, the North American Ice Optimist Program Director. He’d be glad to, give you building plans and construction tips, point you to sources for materials/parts, discuss the clubs approach to teaching juniors, etc. Click here to email to Ron Rosten.

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The Ice Optimist was created specifically as a youth trainer. It was designed to be easy to build using commonly available materials and to keep costs to a minimum. It uses a standard Optimist dinghy sail plan (hence the name), so youth sailors can use much of the same equipment in summer and winter, if they sail/race in both seasons.

An Ice Optimist is a smaller, less powerful boat than a DN. It is about two feet shorter in length, has a narrower plank, has less sail area, is easier to build, is far less costly, and is generally sailed in a bit more comfortable upright position. A DN is no longer an “entry level” ice boat that is well-suited for kids. Although technology advancements have made modern DN’s easier to sail than their predecessors, they are also faster and far more expensive–two factors that really make them less appropriate as a youth trainer. An Ice Optimist provides performance and stability that are a better match for the experience level and self confidence of most “green fleeters

Ice Optimists can be sailed on smaller sheets of ice than other ice boats. Small lakes and even larger ponds can be quite suitable. They should always be sailed under tight supervision by adults.

Ice boating is safe for kids as long as proper safety precautions are followed. Under no circumstances should kids be ice boating alone or without close adult supervision. Kids should never be sailing on thin ice or near open water. Proper safety gear is mandatory: a helmet, goggles, ice creepers, ice picks, a life jacket, a whistle, warm clothing. The North American Ice Opti Racing Association requires that all Junior sailors wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket at ALL times while on the ice whether racing or not. The Iceboat Safety page has tips for gear and keeping safe on the ice.

An Ice Optimist can be built for about $1,000; the majority of the cost being accounted for by the sail plan ($500 used) and the runners ($300 used). By contrast, a modern DN can easily exceed $7,000. Building an Ice Optimist requires no special tools. Many are built with straight sideboards eliminating the need for bending/re-gluing or complex angle cuts. Used Ice Optimists may be found on the DN Forum and the classified ads of various DN clubs. Commercial iceboat builders such as Composite Concepts and Williams Infusion offer complete packages or components.