The Laser's long-term success as a racing sailboat is due mainly to its strict Class racing rules. The Laser Constitution and Rules ensure that you get fair competition, so that Laser racing is between helms and their sailing skills: Paul Goodison should be able to borrow your Laser and win the Worlds. (Except that he can't: Lasers are 'builder-supplied' for the 'senior' World Championships. This is how strictly the Laser class ensures fair competition at the top level.)
Not just at the Nationals..............
It can be harder to qualify for the Olympics than to win them. This is true in the top sailing nations, where competition is intense for the two Laser slots. The road towards Olympic selection is long and hard, and for the Laser it can start as young as 13 when a youngster gets her first 4.7.
Competition to get to the top of the Laser Ladder is tough, very tough, and sailors who have gained selection into an RYA Squad have a substantial advantage, both in training events and in access to top-flight sailing coaches, not to mention the psychological lift from being chosen. This is why we must ensure you get as fair competition at your first 4.7 or Radial Qualifier (which may get you noticed for selection into an RYA Squad) as it will be when you make the Olympic trials.
The UK Laser Association also tries to ensure that equality between competing boats is matched by equality of opportunity regardless of squads, sponsorship or coaches. The Laser Ladder is based only on your results at Laser 'Q' events, and if you're near enough to the top you will qualify for the ILCA European and World Championships: selection is based on your ladder position on a pre-published date. so we build fairness into the qualification and selection system by removing human choice.
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'No changes to the boat are allowed unless specifically permitted by the Class Rules.'
This principle underpins the Laser Class Rules. In most classes, the Rules work on the principle that unless something is forbidden, it's allowed. This can allow you considerable latitude to experiment with your rigging. Unless the Laser rules say you can alter something on a Laser, you can't.
Most 'measurement' in the Laser Class consists of scrutineering, a check that you have set the boat up to comply with the Class Rules. Most errors come from insufficient knowledge of the Laser rules, not from deliberate intention to gain an unfair advantage.
The Measurer's aim is to help you make sure your boat is rigged correctly, not to catch you out. In almost all cases you will be given ample opportunity to make the change before you go racing. With universally interchangeable Laser parts, last-minute changes are usually easy. (One exception would be if you have arrived at an event with 'replica' equipment, so make sure none of your spars.)
In some classes, Measurement is about measuring whether your sails and hull fit the class rules dimensions, and that the hull weighs no less than a cetain amount; how you rig the boat is up to you. In the Laser, because the way you rig your Laser is a crucial part of the Class Rules. You can be scrutinized at any time during a regatta. A Laser Measurement Certificate (that is, if Laser still issues them) is without any value for measurement purposes, which means that it has no value at all.
In the UK there will be a greater emphasis on providing measurement support at UKLA-run events, with experienced sailors available to advise you about the Laser Rules.
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It is a common misconception that the Laser rules don't apply for club racing. They do. Read the new-edition RRS Rules 78 and 87.
Any Laser sailor can bring a protest against another Laser sailor racing outside the Class Rules, even in club racing, under ISAF RRS Rule 78.
The new 2009-12 RRS Rule 87 allows Class rules to be altered only with the permission of the relevant Class Association: don't hold your breath on this one. You can use illegal equipment for practice or 'cruising': electronic compasses, replica sails or spars, even an outboard motor if you can fit one, but racing with any of the aforementioned is a big no-no.
As Rule 87 is in Part 7 of the RRS, and Rule 86 forbids SIs to change anything in Part 7, a club cannot choose to ignore the Class rules through its SIs.
What should I do if I see another club sailor using illegal kit?
Bringing a protest for a Class Rules infringement may make you unpopular with your fellow-sailors, even if you're right perhaps especially if you're right. Even I might hesitate at my home club. But walking away and letting someone else tackle it will compound the problem.
There's a better way. Have a chat with the sailor first, referring them to the Laser Rules if necessary, and only protest them if they refuse to comply, perhaps on a later occasion. If you're not sure about the rules, ask your fellow Laser sailors. If you're still not sure, email me and I'll tell you. And if I don't know, I'll ask the ILCA Chief Measurer. You deserve fair racing, and you should get it.