For over 55 years the mirror dinghy has made sailing accessible to the masses by hailing itself as the ‘affordable boat’. The boat was named after the Daily Mirror (hence the red sails), who commissioned the design, but no-one could’ve known that the mirror would become one of the World’s most popular sailing dinghies.

Since 1963, over 70,000 Mirror dinghies have been built around the world. However, what, apart from its accessibility, makes the humble mirror dinghy so popular? We’ve delved into its history, credentials and specifications to find out.

Mirror dinghy

Image credit: Working Sail

Early beginnings...

The Mirror dinghy started life in 1963 when the Daily Mirror enlisted dinghy designer Jack Holt and TV DIY expert Barry Bucknell to design a boat that would revolutionise sailing as we knew it. What they came up with was a boat, costing just £63.55, that someone with little DIY experience could build at home with plywood, copper wire stitching and glue, meaning the design was beautifully simple.

It was first marketed as the boat that can provide affordable sailing enjoyment for anyone, but it soon shifted to become known as an excellent boat for children or teenagers learning to sail for the first time thanks to its light and stable design.

If you were in any doubt about the Mirror dinghy’s credentials as a beginner’s dinghy, you only have to look at the sailing superstars who learnt to sail in one. Olympic medallist Stuart Bithell, Double Olympic silver medallist and round-the-world yachtsman Ian Walker and the first woman to sail solo, non-stop around the World in both directions Denise “Dee” Caffari, all honed their sailing skills in one. It’s easy to see why many refer to it as the boat that launched a thousand Olympic dreams!

mirror dinghy

Ian Walker (right) in 1985 with his Mirror dinghy. Image credit: The Mirror

Mirror dinghy racing

When the Mirror dinghy was first being designed, racing never entered anybody’s mind. After all, an affordable boat with a practical design surely couldn’t lend itself to racing as well? While the Mirror dinghy isn’t exactly known for its speed, it is very popular for one-design racing.

This is because of the sheer number that were made, so it’s easy to find other Mirror sailors to compete against – especially in countries such as the UK, Australia and Sweden where Mirror sailing is popular. On top of this, for a boat of the Mirror’s size, it’s relatively complex to sail which, combined with its stability, makes it the ideal dinghy for a sailor to learn racing skills in.  

If you’re still not convinced how these humble boats would fare in a race, why not see for yourself? Abersoch Mirror Week is the biggest event in the UK and welcomes of all ages and experience levels – the only requirement is a Mirror dinghy (obviously!).

Sailing dinghy

Abersoch Mirror Week is the biggest Mirror racing event in the UK. Image credit: Tony Bale.

Mirror dinghy cruising

Very few sailing dinghies can lend themselves to both racing and cruising. This is because the modern racing dinghy has a low front, capsizes easily and makes for a very wet ride. Whereas the Mirror has a comparatively comfortable cockpit, plenty of room for storage and, more often than not, the crew and gear remain dry.

Even in heavy winds, the chance of capsizing in a Mirror dinghy is very low, meaning even an adventurous cruiser would feel confident exploring in one. They’re also perfect for the nervous sailor – their ability to take oars and an engine means that if any trouble arises, the sailor can be self-sufficient without the need for a rescue boat.

Aside from anything else, not many boats can offer all of this and still be put on top of a car and transported to whichever sailing spot takes your fancy.

mirror dinghy

Image credit: Yachting World

It’s easy to see why Yachting World put the Mirror dinghy at number 7 in a list of the top 50 boats that have changed the sailing world.

If you’re a proud dinghy owner or if we’ve tempted you to try your hand at Mirror dinghy sailing, make sure to take out Specialist Dinghy Insurance so you can sail this iconic boat with pride and no unnecessary worries.