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Optimised tillers for ILCA and Laser dinghies

Updated December 2022 to reflect latest BlackDog dimensions.  We have added tillers and extensions to our ever expanding range.  Tiller selection used to be fairly simple.  Read on to find out what it maybe isn’t as simple as it used to be!

Manufactured items have tolerances and the ILCA/Laser dinghy is no exception.  Be it mast rake, gudgeon height or other less obvious factors, there are always some variations between boats, and also between boats from different manufacturers.

When it comes to tillers these minor variations from boat to boat can be critical.  We want our tiller to be as low as possible so that the traveller block can run over the tiller as easily as possible, but not too low that it rubs on the rear deck or hits the traveller cleat.  “It is advisable to have a clearance margin of at least 8mm between the lower side of the tiller and the traveller cleat. This is because even a tight fitting tiller will bend slightly under the kind of loads experienced on a windy reach, the tiller should never  hit the cleat and the tolerance will ensure this won’t happen.” - Team GBR sailor and European champion Micky Beckett .

For feel we want a rock solid fit of the tiller in the stock. The tiller should be stiff so that it doesn’t bend and strong so that it doesn’t break.

“A low tiller will also increase your ‘feel’ or ‘feedback’ from the rudder, as the traveller won’t be adding unnecessary friction as the tiller slides underneath. With a low tiller the blocks will also stay in the corner by the traveller eye in light conditions, which is really critical for lane holding and having an effective high mode.”  - Micky Beckett

Olympic Coach/multiple world champion Jon Emmett points out “Also remember in terms of the blocks crossing the boat during light wind tacks this is usually down to good technique, although of course having a really good tiller helps a lot!!!” 

Without wanting to mention the unmentionable, sailors have always thought that PSA boats needed a tiller with a slightly different angle, as tillers for UK Laser Performance boats always seemed to sit a bit high on PSA boats.

With a number of new manufacturers now producing the ILCA dinghy some sailors have found that they seem to be similar to the PSA boats rather than the old Laser Performance boats.  As a result, tiller manufacturers are now making different versions of tillers to suit both ILCA and Laser dinghies, and Southeast Sailboats now stock Element 6’s ultra-low Black Dog tiller and Rooster ILCA tiller, as well as Holt and Rooster tillers for the Laser. 

We did a few measurements and here is why you should maybe consider getting the best tiller for whatever boat you sail. Simplistically, the bottom surface of tillers for the ILCA dinghy should be roughly parallel with the bottom surface of the entry into the stock.  Tillers for the Laser need to be angled upwards slightly. The variations between these tillers is quite substantial, not just at the traveller cleat (between 6-21mm), but also at the point where the traveller crosses the tiller (between 18-27mm).  Here are the detailed results of tillers measured with the lower face of the part of the tiller that sits in the stock pressed onto an absolutely flat surface (datum) to ensure consistency in measurements.


The new Holt tiller has been designed for the Laser aftermarket rather than the ILCA and sits quite high at the transom meaning that it is tolerant to gudgeon position.  The cutaway over the tiller means that it can sit fractionally lower than a Rooster tiller. 

Rooster’s famous carbon fibre tiller for the Laser is just that – perfect for the Laser.  Rooster have now released a version optimised for the ILCA boats.

The new Element 6 Black Dog tiller has the lowest ‘A’ dimension as it has been optimised to fit PSA and Element 6 boats.  The cutaway over the traveller cleat and ILCA optimised angle makes this tiller the lowest of all when measured at the wear plate (point B).  This tiller also works well with an Ovington boat.

Confused? Let’s put it another way.. If you put a Rooster ILCA tiller on an ILCA it would sit 6mm lower where the traveller crosses than a Rooster Laser tiller.  The Black Dog sits even lower, due to the fact that it’s about 3mm lower at the stern, and has the cutaway over the traveller cleat.   So, for an ILCA dinghy it’s really advantageous to use an ILCA optimised tiller.  However, put an ILCA optimised tiller on a Laser Performance boat and it will be too low – it will continually hit your traveller cleat. If you are travelling to an event where you are chartering and not sure what hull you are going to get it may be a good idea to take a couple of different tillers with you.

"The importance of getting the right tiller shouldn’t be overlooked in the search for boat-speed, it’s worth the time to get it right.”  - Micky Beckett

Get in touch with Southeast Sailboats and we can help you choose the best tiller for you.