General Info

This Section covers general information and background information. The tabs below provide topic specific pages.

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[tabcontainer] [tabtext]Towing Pt-1 [/tabtext] [tabtext]Towing Pt-2 [/tabtext] [tabtext]Boat Tech Spec [/tabtext] [tabtext] Buying Boats [/tabtext] [/tabcontainer]




In the space available it is unfortunately not possible to give more than a brief summary of the major road traffic laws affecting trailers. The Law is complex and it cannot be emphasized too strongly how important it is to check with the actual regulations. While the details contained hereafter are currently valid, the law is changing constantly. Every effort has been made to explain the current Law in everyday language however the Association cannot be held responsible for the interpretation given. Copies of all regulations can be purchased from any HM Stationary Office.


  • Driving Licence – You must be in possession of a Full Car Driving Licence.
  • Road Tax – A private motor vehicle towing a trailer (even if it is carrying goods) does not have to be registered for trailer towing and does not have to pay additional Excise Duty.
  • Insurance – Most vehicle insurance policies will cover 3rd Party liabilities when towing provided the trailer is attached to the insured towing vehicle. Your vehicle policy will only cover the trailer, not the boat and you should arrange separate cover for your boat against damage. Also additional insurance should be arranged to cover theft and/or contents. If you intend to travel abroad you may need to obtain a Green Card. Always check with your Insurers if you are in doubt and advise them of your intentions to tow.
  • Passengers – Absolutely forbidden in all trailers. Separate legislation applies to the carriage of animals.
  • M.O.T. Certificate – A separate certificate is not required for either a new or an old trailer if they are less than 3500 Kg gross weight fitted with overrun brakes. However good practice dictates that regular servicing and maintenance is carried out and the trailer and lighting is in a roadworthy condition. An unroadworthy trailer may invalidate your Insurance.
  • E.E.C. LAW – In general trailers which compile with UK legislation can be temporarily imported for business or pleasure use into any other EEC country without having to obtain ‘type approval’ in that country. The regulations given below are those for the temporary use of an imported trailer in an EEC country.
    • Emergency Warning Triangle:- Compulsory in all EEC countries except UK and Ireland.
    • Combination Maximum Length:- 18mtrs except Italy 12mtrs, and Sweden 24mtrs.
    • Towing Speeds:- Speeds vary from country to country and in some are different in wet weather. Check the Law in the country you are visiting!
  • First Country Identification:- GB plate to be fixed to the rear of the trailer. If you have any doubts consult the AA or RAC or the relevant tourist authority before leaving the UK.

Towing Limits

  • Unbraked Trailers – The maximum gross weight of an unbraked trailer is 750Kg or half the kerb-weight of the towing vehicle whichever is the less. All trailers manufactured after 1st Jan 1997 must be fitted with a secondary coupling (this is a connecting device installed such that in the event of separation of the main coupling between the trailer and the towing vehicle, the trailer remains attached to the towing vehicle, preventing the nose of the drawbar touching the ground and providing some residual steering action on the trailer). The fitting of a secondary coupling does not apply to older trailers pre 1997.
  • Towing Speeds – On Motorways 60 MPH. On Dual Carriageways 60 MPH. Other roads 50 MPH provided no lower limit is in force and the grossweight of the vehicle & trailer is less than 7.5 tonnes.
  • Suspensions – All road going trailers must have a suspension system fitted between the wheels and the chassis frame.
  • Tyres – The Law on tyres used on trailers is effectively the same as the law which governs tyres on vehicles.
    All trailers must be fitted with pneumatic tyres capable of supporting the specified axle weight when driven at the maximum speed allowed for trailers i.e. 60 MPH (1001(m/Hr). Tyres must be capable of carrying the gross load of the trailer and boat. Remould tyres are permissible provided they comply with the current British Standard. The following conditions are not allowed:

    • A tyre which does not have a tread depth of I .6mm continuously round the circumference of the tyre for at least the centre three quarters of the breadth of the tyre.
    • Any tyre which is incorrectly inflated to carry the specified load. Tyre pressures should be as recommended by the manufacturers.
    • Any tyre which has a lump, bulge or tear in the side wall.
    • Any tyre which has any section of the ply or reinforcing cord exposed.
    • Mixing of Radial or Cross Ply on one axle.
  • Mudguards – All trailers must be fitted with mudguards to catch grit and dirt and reduce spray thrown up by the wheels themselves unless adequate protection is given by the body of the trailer.
  • Marking Plates – All trailers should be marked in a conspicuous position on the near side of the drawbar with the maximum gross weight the trailer is’designed for.
  • Number Plate – All trailers must be fitted with an approved style number plate bearing the same number as the towing vehicle.
  • Length – The maximum length of a trailer (excluding the drawbar) permitted is 7mtrs, this excludes some commercial vehicles and agricultural vehicles.
  • Width – The maximum width of a trailer (including mudguards) permitted is 2.3mtrs, this excludes some commercial vehicles and agricultural vehicles.
  • Height – There does not appear to be a specific regulation on height, however common sense should prevail.
  • Overhangs – An overhang on the rear of not more than 2mtrs is permissible. Overhangs above 2mtrs must be fitted with an end marker board (illuminated at night)
  • Overhang – An overhang on the sides of not more than 305mm is permissible, Wide loads i.e. above 2.9mtrs should be notified to the police.
  • Trailer lights & Reflectors – Red lights must only be visible from the rear of the trailer. All lights should be ‘E’ marked.
  • Two red ‘triangular reflectors’ of the approved type must be fitted at the rear of all trailers.
  • Two red ‘marker lights’ of the approved type must be fitted at the rear of all trailers, and be connected to operate with the towing vehicle lights.
  • Two red ‘brake lights’ must be fitted at the rear of all trailers, and be connected operate in unison with the towing vehicle.
  • Two amber ‘direction indicators’ must be fitted and connected to operate in exact unison with the towing vehicle indicator lights. An audible or warning device must be fitted and be seen or heard from the drivers position. This device is a reminder when you are towing to take extra care when cornering.
  • The ‘number plate’ must be illuminated either from the white windows in the end of the rear lamps or by a separate number plate lamp.
  • One red ‘rear fog lamp’ is required if the width of the trailer is more than 1300mm.
  • ‘Reversing Lights’ are not compulsory but when fitted, must be white lights of not more than 24 watts and so fitted that dazzle is not possible from eye level at a reasonable distance.

Location of Lights

  • Rear stop lights:- max 400mm from side min 400mm between 1500mm/2100mm from ground min 350mm from ground
  • Direction Indicators:- max 400mm from side min 400mm/500mm between max 1500mm/2300mm from ground min 350mm from ground
  • Rear Fog Lights:- on centreline or offside of trailer and min 100mm from brake light max 1000mm/2100mm from ground min 250mm from ground.
  • Rear Reflecting Triangle:- max 400mm from side min 400mm between (if less than 1300mm trailer width), otherwise 600mm between. max 1200mm from ground min 350mm from ground.

Continued in Part Two


Towing Part Two

The Tow Bar

It is essential your vehicle is fitted with the correct tow bar as recommended by the vehicle manufacturer. The standard tow ball in the UK is 50mm diameter which replaced the old 2” ball, however the 2” tow ball is still in common use in the USA. It is dangerous to combine an American coupling with an EEC coupling.

Always tow within the capacity of the towing vehicle, towing above the manufacturer’s recommended towing weight is not advisable and in some cases may invalidate your vehicles warrantee, or your insurance in the event of an accident. It is recommended your tow bar and lighting attachment is fitted by a reputable specialist in this field.
Load Distribution

Always make sure the trailer is loaded such that:

  1. Loads are placed centrally over the axle.
  2. You have sufficient nose load (for light boat trailers this should be between 15Kg to 18Kg), too light a nose load will cause snaking, too heavy a nose load could damage the towing vehicle or the trailer drawbar.
  3. Check that the front snubber on the trailer is not too far back or indeed too far forward, otherwise you will have an unbalanced load.
  4. Check with your vehicle manufacturer for the correct recommendation.

Load Restraint

  1. It is recommended that your boat is secured to the trailer by using ratchet type load restraining straps, so that adequate tension can be applied to the load i.e. your boat.
  2. Selection of the best straps depends upon the load you are carrying, it may seem obvious but ensure the size and quality of the straps are suitable for the load, better to go one size up for added security. Do not use straps which are damaged or frayed because this will reduce their restraining capacity. Take care when fitting the straps that you do not run over a sharp corner otherwise it could bite into the webbing and cause fraying or fracture during the journey. Avoid tying knots in the webbing.
  3. Make sure you secure your boat in at least two locations back and front.Remember it is always the responsibility of the driver to make sure the load is secure.


The key to trailer security is making yours the most difficult to steal. A dedicated thief will go to great lengths. Whether you store your trailer at home or in the dinghy-park make sure it is totally immobilised. It is recommended that you fit a coupling lock and a wheel clamp, it is also advisable to lock it to the towing vehicle or secure post at all times. Motorway service areas are prime targets and if your trailer & boat are not locked onto the towing vehicle it is simply a question of unhitching and towing away using a different vehicle, it only takes a minute or two.
In Transit

Before you move off carry out an inspection of the trailer and boat in a disciplined way e.g.

  1. Check Coupling is secure
  2. If a Secondary Coupling is fitted make sure it is locked in position.
  3. Check that the Lighting Plug and Socket are secure and any trailing cables are clear of the ground, ensuring sufficient length for cornering etc. Check that all restraining straps holding the boat to the trailer are tight and ratchet locked on. Check that all rear lights and direction indicators are properly working.
  4. Check the tyres and ensure these are correctly inflated.
  5. Make sure all wheel nuts are tight.
  6. Check the wheel bearings for wear, if the trailer has been immersed in salt water you should if possible wash off with clean water. Add more grease to the bearings.
  7. Carry out a visible inspection of all securing bolts to make sure they have not become loose.
  8. Make sure the rollers on the trailer are free to rotate and lubricate as necessary with WD40 or similar, this will ensure your boat and/or trolley runs smoothly.

It is wise to carry with you the following:-

  • Spare Tyre.
  • Foot pump.
  • Jack & wheel-brace suitable for the trailer.
  • Spare light bulbs.
  • Adequate tools in the event of repairs.
  • If you are travelling abroad: Red warning triangles & First Aid Kit.


Design Details:

The Lightning 368 is a strict one design single handed dinghy. The hull is 12 foot long and manufactured out of glass fibre with a polyester resin, such is the nature of the material that it can be easily coloured during manufacture, resulting in a rainbow fleet. The spars consist of a mast, which is un stayed and very flexible and a rigid boom, the combination makes the boat easy to sail for helms of a wide range of sizes. The sail area is 7.06 m² and has three battens in the top third of the sail and a loose foot making it easy to set in a variety of wind conditions. The ropes and controls are simple, a centre sheeted main and control lines which are cleated to the hull on both sides of the boat. The foils are simple but effective, a proper centre plate gives control in shallow water and in capsize and the rudder is also capable off being raised while attached to the hull giving the opportunity to clear weed away, so often a problem on small inland lakes.

The Hull:

The hulls are hand built from high quality glass reinforced plastic. There are many weird and wonderful colours in the fleet as the hulls have all been built to order. The rainbow effect in a large fleet is quite unusual.

The hull is shaped so that there is a fairly flat run aft, with a gently rounded bilge making the boat pleasant and predictable to sail.

The hull also has a double bottom and is self draining, which is useful both after capsizing and in rough sailing conditions. The drain hole is at the back of the cockpit.

The Spars:

The original spars were made by Needlespar and were those currently used by the Europe class. This gave the Lightning a very flexible unstayed mast and a stiff boom. The mast is simply dropped into a socket in the hull which means that there is no tuning required for the mast position or the rig. A benefit of the strict one design. This very flexible mast when combined with a stiff boom makes the sail easy to control and therefore the boat can be sailed well by helms of a wide range of weights.

Many boats have a two piece mast which is much easier to transport by those sailors without a trailer. This mast differs only in the details of the join between top and bottom section and performs identically with a one piece mast.

Recently the original spars have become unavailable and an alternative was found from Superspars. This alternative mast is produced with a carbon fibre top and an alloy bottom section. The class association purchased a mast for trial, and after a number of different helms had tested it over a year, its performance was almost identical to the original Needlespar mast and so the Class rules were amended to allow the use of this new mast.

If any sailors have an accident a ‘Hybrid’ mast using the original bottom and carbon top (or vice versa) can be constructed. Please contact the class association for details.

The Sail:

As the Lightning is a strict one design boat, all sails are made by Bruce Banks to a high standard in conventional sailcloth. They are loose footed and have three battens, the top batten being full width and the lower two part width of the sail. The battens themselves are similar to aqua battens – they are blue and tapered.

The sail is hoisted by a halyard, most use a rope but some have a wire halyard with a pin rack. The tack of the sail is hooked onto the downhaul and is also tie to the mast using a small strop. Failure to tie the sail to the mast can lead to the sail unzipping itself from the track! Finally the clew is hooked on to the outhaul, which is on a slider in a track in the boom. As a result the sail is quick and easy to rig and can also be dropped in an emergency or for lee shore landings. A useful hint is to have a loop of shock cord tied around the mast for the halyard to tuck into, this keeps it out if the way but easy to release.

New sails are only available through the class association. The price is very reasonable and includes insignia, numbers, battens and a sail bag. Normally he sails are supplied folded but it is possible to obtain one rolled in a tube if specified when ordering.

A smaller sail is also permitted. The size is left at the discretion of the helm, but usually 30cm is taken out of the foot of an old sail. Care needs to be taken that the cut-down sail does not suffer from ‘droopy boom’ disease!

The Ropes and Controls:

All the measurement details are in the Rules except the rope lengths, these are as follows:-

  • Kicker (red) 3.4m of 4mm rope
  • Clew outhaul (yellow) 3.3m of 4mm rope
  • Cunningham (blue) 3.7m of 4mm rope
  • Mainsheet (3:1 ratio) 6m of 8 or 9mm rope
  • Outhaul in boom 3.6m of 4mm pre-stretched rope
  • Kicker multi-block purchase 3.6m of 4mm pre-stretched rope
  • Halyard (minimum) 10.2m of 4mm pre-stretched rope (or combination wire/rope halyard)
  • Rudder uphaul 1.5m of 4mm rope
  • Rudder downhaul 1.5m of 4mm rope

The class rules allow great freedom in how the sheet and control lines are arranged. However nearly all boats are center sheeted and have three control lines ( kicker, downhaul and outhaul ) led out to the deck on both sides. This can be seen in the photo along with the main sheet, traveler and halyard (tucked behind some shock cord tied round the mast).

As supplied from the factory the boats usually have a 3-1 center mainsheet with either a ratchet block or a jammer as specified by the owner. However it is common for helms to convert to a 4-1 center mainsheet as it makes the sail easier to control in heavier winds. The down side of this arrangement is that there is a large amount of rope left in the bottom of the boat, some people then tie the free end of the mainsheet to the toestrap, so that any knots are just loops and are therefore easier to untie.

It is important to have a good length of mainsheet as in light winds it is advantageous to run by the lee, letting the boom out so that it is slightly in front of the mast and healing the boat to windward. However when there is more wind many helms tie a knot in the mainsheet to prevent the boom going out to far and risking a death roll.

The standard kicking strap on the lightning is 7-1 leading out to both decks giving a total purchase of 14-1. Most helms find this adequate and we have yet to see a boat with more purchases.

The downhaul and outhaul are also led out to both decks. The downhaul goes over the top of the boom and hooks into the eyelet on the tack of the sail, and the outhaul uses another hook to attach to the eyelet at the clew of the sail. This is what makes it so quick to rig.

In fact with a little practice the boat can be so quick to rig that the builder once arrived at an open meeting with only a few minutes before the ten minute gun. He took his boat from the roof of his car and was on the water in about five minutes. An on looker was heard to remark ‘Now I know why it’s called a Lightning!’

The Foils:

The lightning is blessed in having a proper centreboard, a feature greatly appreciated when sailing in restricted depths, or during a capsize.

The centreboard and rudder blade are all moulded by the manufacturers GRP. A variety of rudder stocks have been used, some made by GRP, some by RWO and a few others, the design is the same and the rudder is always in the correct place with the leading edge vertical.

The size and shape of the rudder make it harder to stall than some other single-handers, which contributes to the good handling characteristics.



Buying New & Second-hand Boats

John has provided some advice and tips on buying both new and second-hand boats. This is not a definitive guide, but provides some general hits and tips that might prove helpful. John Claridge

New Boats:

There is nothing difficult about the purchase of a new Lightning, we supply all boats rigged and ready to sail. Apart from the choice of colour, other decisions are about the equipment and fittings you prefer and we can tailor these to your requirements.

We offer a choice of sail, either the original Dacron design, or the new Mylar radial cut sail. The new Mylar sail is now more popular, but there is not much to choose between them. The Dacron sail is slightly softer and so might be a little easier to fill in light winds, the radial cut of the Mylar sail, holds its shape better in a blow and might be slightly better in open water situations. It also has a small advantage in being slightly transparent. Either sail works well and your decision on sail cloth should be based on the kind of sailing you do and your preferences in sail handling. We will continue to offer both as long as there remains a demand.

Probably the next biggest decision in the purchase of a new boat is the mainsheet arrangement, using either a jammer or a ratchet block. Most people opt for the ratchet and we can fit the block of your choice, for a small additional cost. If you opt for a jammer, again you can choose the fitting you prefer.

It is possible to fit a Lightning with a transom mainsheet system, which although rare, is sometimes useful for river sailing where lots of tacking is required.

Our standard blocks for all applications on the Lightning are Allen, which represent good value and performance, however for the mainsheet ratchet, many people prefer Harken or Ronstan and these are also available as options at additional cost. All other blocks can specified if you wish, but in our opinion Allen are a good choice. Your rig set-up can also be adjusted to your specification including the type of ropes used. The Standard boat is fitted with 4mm polyester control lines, with a cascade kicker and double purchase downhaul. However, there are other ways to set these up and we can accommodate most requirements.

The Class allows the fitting of righting lines. These are not fitted to the standard boat, but can be fitted as an option. They are fitted under the gunwales, usually in a loop with bungee at the front and can be an aid in righting the boat quickly, particularly for lighter or less agile helms.

The standard mast is now supplied from Neddlespar and is a sealed design to help prevent inversion during a capsize. It has an aluminium lower section and a carbon fibre top section and is fitted with an aluminium round section boom.

All other parts are Class specific components, fitted as standard to new boats.

A trolley and road trailer combination is also available and can be supplied with new boats, either in a standard steel design, or with the trolley made in Stainless. Although slightly more expensive, the Stainless trolley represent good value in terms of ease of use and durability.

Second-hand Boats:

Mark Giles built a very strong and durable dinghy, many older boats continue to sail and compete very successfully. However, when buying a second-hand boat there are a number of things to look out for.

Apart from general condition and damage here are a few things to be aware of. This list does not purport to be a fully comprehensive list of potential defects, it is general guidance of things to look for, when inspecting an older boat.

Firstly like the Laser and many other designs with a mast socket, in winter the mast socket can crack due to water freezing in the socket if the mast is left stepped. Ice can also push off the end cap at the bottom of the mast. There is a modification for this, which involves drilling a small hole through the mast socket out through the bottom of the boat to let water drain away, but not every boat has this. Any cracking of the mast socket can be repaired, but care is needed to ensure the strength requirements are maintained.

On some of the older boats the rudder pintles can come loose. To fix these access needs to be gained inside the transom box. To do this a hatch needs to be cut in the transom to gain access to the fittings. This is not a big job, but explains why some boats have a hatch in the transom, which is generally a good sign that the pintles have been repaired properly, normally with thru bolts.

A small number of boats suffer water ingress into the hull, through the deck to hull centreboard joint. In the original design the joint was at the bottom, now in the new boats, this joint has been moved to the top to prevent this problem. This defect is quite difficult to fix in a permanent way and involves using a jointing compound to repair the deck to hull centreboard joint through the centreboard slot.

Some boats will suffer crazing of the deck areas. Even if quite extensive this is not a problem, unless the cracking has progressed to the actual fibreglass structure which is very unlikely. So although cosmetically a little unsightly, it does not effect the structure of the hull.

Deck and hulls will get discoloured and faded over time. They can be restored using an appropriate cutting compound and polish, although when doing this use a random orbital sander, not a rotary or band sander, unless you want stripes or circles all over the hull.

Fittings may require replacing, the original blocks fitted were not of a ball bearing type. The new Allen blocks are a good choice and represent good value. Ropes can be almost anything sensible for the application, new boats are fitted with 4mm polyester control lines.

The mast and boom was of a good design, although several different types have been used. Originally they were an all aluminium design, later models had a carbon fibre top section and this was also used as a repair for damaged masts. The rivets which hold the mast support and kicker fitting do work loose and sometimes need replacing. It is also possible to fit a small cleat to the front of the mast just above the deck height and fit a rope strop to secure the kicker and other controls lines.

Class specific and replacement parts are available from us, for all of the older boats including rudders, rudder stocks and centreboards etc.

If you need any further advice or have questions, please contact us by telephone or e-mail, or post a question on the Class Forum. We look forward to hearing from you.

John Claridge


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