Self Bailers

An Elvstrom Mini Self Bailer with box An Elvstrom Mini Self Bailer with box

With the Mirror's deep cockpit, decks below gunwale level and (normally) ineffective transom scuppers, any water splashing up and into the boat generally ends up in the bottom of the cockpit, so self bailers (venturi in AUS), which bail water out of the boat as it sails along, are a common optional extra amoung racers and appeared in spares and optional extras leaflets from 1980 at least.

Sea Sure Supersuck

The Sea-Sure Supersuck is a clever design using Bernoulli's principle with a wing section in the bottom of the bailer to generate the low pressure. Guy Wilkins had a Supersuck in 67008 - Salami Tactics (see page 34 of Guy's book Mirror Racing). I used Supersuck bailers for many years and they do start bailing at a lower speed than an Elvstrom/Andersen  bailer. However there are some disadvantages with this design.

  1. Prone to damage when launching and recovering the dinghy.
  2. No non return flap, so if you leave the bailer down, and sail slowly, your boat fills up with water, not ideal.
  3. Prone to leak when up.

In the end, despite many attempts, I was unable to cure the leaking problem and I have now switched to Elvstrom/Andersen bailers


Designed by Danish Olympic sailor Paul Elvstrøm, this features a wedge shaped venturi that closes automatically if the boat grounds or hits an obstruction, and a flap that acts as a non return valve to minimise water coming in if the boat is stationary or moving too slowly for the device to work. These bailers are now marketed under the Andersen brand. They don't start bailing at lower speeds like the Supersuck, but they overcome nearly all the other problems. Note that they are still prone to damage if you launch your boat with the bailer down (they will catch on the trolley and end up getting bent and then they don't seal properly and leak). However, it's fairly easy to avoid this pitfall, and even if the bailer gets bent, it's normally a few minutes work with a pair of pliers to bend it back into shape so it seals properly.

They come with a plastic mesh over the bailer opening. This is a good idea, it stops the end of halyards or control lines going down the bailer, from where the non-return flap makes getting the line back out pretty hard.

Andersens are the standard self-bailers on a Winder.

Holt Allen

Holt Allen/Allen Brothers make a plastic self-bailer, a bit like an Andersen, but without the non-return flap. They don't look anything like as robust as an Andersen. I've never tried one, and have no plans to do so.

Internal/external fitting

Both the Supersuck and the Elvstrom/Andersen are availble in two versions, external fitting and internal fitting.

The external fitting version has a stainless steel flange that fits on the outside of the hull. Normally a shallow (1-2mm) recess is cut around the bailer hole, into the outer layer of ply/GRP so the flange lies flush with the hull. Some people think this weakens the hull (which on a wood boat is only 5mm ply). It also makes it harder to remove the complete bailer for maintenance since any fairing and filling around the flange has to be removed. On the Andersen, the 'chute' part of the bailer can be removed for maintenance with the flange part still fitted to the hull, which is a help. I find the external Andersens wear in time, so they won't stay down by themselves (you have to keep your foot on them).

cockpit floor of a wooden Mirror dinghy viewed from aft with a self-bailer on the starboard side

The internal fitting version has a flange that fits inside of the hull. There is no recess, so less weakening. It also means it's easier to remove the complete bailer - you just remove the nuts and washers and take the whole unit out. I use internal fitting bailers and on my boats the bolts remain permanently glued in place. The disadvantage of this version is that the flange inside the hull stops the last bit of water from reaching the bailer.


Needless to say, the self bailer needs to be fitted on a flat, or near flat surface, where the water gathers, so on a Mirror, this is around the aft end of the daggerboard case.

I recommend painting/varnishing the hole and recess carefully and using a clear silicon (i.e. bathroom) sealer around the bailer, as well as any rubber seals provided, when you fit it, to stop leaks.

Drainage when stored ashore

When you boat put you boat in the dinghy park after sailing, I recommend you chock the boat level and leave the self-bailer down, so most of the water, that gets past your boat cover, drains out. Don't forget to pull the bailer up before launching.


Given that the cockpit floor is subject to water lying on it when the boat is not  being used, I like to take the bailer out each year and check the varnish and/or paint around the hole is intact and water is not getting into the hull structure. I also clean the bailer, removing any sand etc. and apply silicon grease to the rubber gasket and moving parts.

Gasket replacement kits are available for both types.



Gunwale Padding (e.g. Pro Grip)

A wooden Mirror dinghy rigged on a driveway with red neoprene padding on the gunwales

Some Mirror sailors like to have non-slip foam padding (e.g. Pro Grip) on the gunwales were the helm and crew sit. Widely available (in the UK at least), in different colours. Just Google 'Pro Grip sailing' to find a source.

Drainage hole fittings, caps and bungs

A female model sitting in the stern of a Mirror dinghy with the camera on the bow of the boat

Originally seven Holt-Allen HA123 drainage hole fittings were supplied with the kit. 5 for the drainage holes into the tanks, two for the drainage holes in the stowage bulkhead. The Bell Woodworking instructions state

These nylon fittings are screwed into the drainage holes in the tanks. To ensure a watertight fit, they should be glued and screwed into position, with 1/2" X 6 (guage) screws.

A drainage hole fitting with semi-transparent cap

By 1969 these fittings were supplied with semi-transparent plastic plugs/caps. These are much better than corks or rubber bungs as they are hard to dislodge by accident with your foot. Sadly these are no longer available, but there are alternative, slightly inferior, plugs available.

I, like a lot of racers, don't close the drainage holes in the stowage bulkhead. Generally water finds it's way into the cuddies via the halyards, so it's best to just let it drain out into the cockpit naturally. I've removed the fittings to save a small amount of weight and minimise pooling inside the cuddies.

Quite a bit of modification of the drainage hole fitting is needed to ensure all the water in a tank drains out though the drainage hole. If this is not done, a small amount of water may remain in the tank and this can lead to water ingress into the plywood and, in  the long term, rot.

A Holt-Allen 123 drainage bung fitting with the shaft cut to shorten it to 5mm

The shaft on the standard Holt-Allen 123 is about 15mm long, much thicker than the (typically 5mm thick) bulkheads and side tank side panels. So I cut my fittings down so they are flush with the plywood surface inside of the buoyancy tank. I also don't bother to screw these on, so I cut the flange to remove the holes for the screws. I make sure the hole is as low as possible, and that the fittings are a snug fit through the plywood, then carefully varnish the bung holes, and then glue the fitting in place with epoxy.

Inside of a Mirror dinghy side buoyancy tank

I also put some low density filler (epoxy resin + West 410 microlight filler) inside the tank under the fitting to ensure any water cannot pool and will flow out of the hole.

Part of the cockpit of a Mirror dinghy showing side tank drain hole

Or, you can avoid all the complication, and just have a drainage hole and no fitting, as in the photo above.

A rubber calf teat

On this boat, when sailing, the hole was closed with a rubber calf teat.



Toe straps

A Mirror dinghy being sailed to windward on a very windy day with the helm and crew hiked out and toe straps visible

Toestraps allow the helm and crew to hike or sit out, to counteract the heeling which would otherwise result from the couple formed by the forces acting on the sail (to leeward) and the forces acting on the daggerboard and rudder (to windward). They were not supplied with the original boat (remember, early Mirror were built down to a price), so were an optional extra.

 Plan view of a Mirror cockpit showing toe straps

The basics have not really changed much. There are, generally, toe straps on each side of the boat, one end fastened somewhere near the back of the cockpit, the middle to the thwart (normally underneath) and the other end to a point, on the stowage bulkhead.

The cockpit of a Mirror dinghy  equipped with toe straps

Finding strong points at the back and front of the cockpit is a bit of an issue. If you don't mind having them start on the centreline, then, if you place your fitting (eye, cleat,...) on the centre join, right next to the rear bulkhead, you should end up with your screws going through the floor and into the skeg. If you want them further outboard, you may be unlucky.

In my experience, attaching the toe straps to the footrest is not a good idea. It's only a matter of time before you will start to pull the footrest off the floor. If you are lucky, the builder may have thoughtfully provided some blocks inside the aft tank where the aft bulkhead meets the floor. If not, you may be out of luck.

Again, if you don't mind the crew's toestraps ending on the centreline, you should be able to pick up the vertical beams inside the stowage cuddies each side of the mast web. Or you can have them further outboard, but you will need to mount them  either low down, right by the floor, or high up, near deck level, and put backing plywood pads behind them to beef up the stowage bulkhead locally.

If the crew is smaller than then helm, some some divide the toestraps at the thwart, fixing the crew's toestraps further outboard. If you helm is really tall, a singe toestrap down the centreline aft of the thwart might be a better option.

Front section of a Mirror dinghy cockpit showing the crew's toe straps and elastic holding them outboard

It's a good idea to use some thin elastic to hold the toestraps up and outboard, so they don't just flop around when not in use, this makes it quicker and easier and to get your feet under them when you tack or gybe.

Cockpit of a Mirror dinghy fitted with padded toe straps with clam cleat fitted at the ends

Some people like to be able to adjust the tension, with a line attaching the toe straps to the stowage bulkhead or eye near the aft bulkhead, or a cleat instead of a knot, or even a cleat instead of an eye.


Daggerboard retaining elastic

A female model sitting in the stern of a Mirror dinghy with the camera on the bow of the boat

The daggerboard retaining elastic serves three purposes

  • Keep the daggerboard in a set position when the daggerboard is raised up, or partly raised.
  • Stop the daggerboard from lifting up when it is fully down.
  • Stop the daggerboard from falling out of the daggerboard case should the boat capsize and invert. This is a very important safety feature. If the board falls out of the daggerboard case, it may impossible to right the boat without outside assistance. If the daggerboard is lost, the boat cannot be sailed to windward or even on a beam reach.

The Bell Woodworking building instructions (which incorrectly refer to the daggerboard as a centreboard) cover fitting this on page 26 as follows:

The second piece of shock cord with looped ends is fixed, UNDER TENSION, across the forward edge of the thwart, in a central position. When the centreboard is in place and fully down, this elastic runs across the the top of the board. To lift the board, one pulls the centre of the cord towards the aft clear of the centreplate. You will discover that the centerplate will hold any position when the elastic is pressed against its aft edge.

This may be OK if you only cruise, but if you race, there are a few snags.

  • Racers tend to have sharp trailing edges on their daggerboards, so these are likely to cut into, and in time, cut through, the elastic.
  • Having the elastic under tension all the time just means it stretches, so then it's no longer under tension and it stops working correctly, so you have to replace it with a new bit.
  • If you have a heavy daggerboard (and there was a time when sheathing a board in glass was not permitted, so the stiffest daggerboards were made from dense hardwood), the elastic may not be strong enough to hold the board in any position.

You can get around the first problem by protecting the elastic, a length of plastic tubing over the elastic was commonly used for this.

A wooden boat with sails lowered and the camera pointing towards the bottom of the stowage bulkhead

The only solution to all three problems is to not have it fixed across the thwart, but running across the slot and down both sides of the daggerboard case and then the two ends tied together at the back edge of the daggerboard case, forming a loop. This way the elastic is not under tension all the time, only when you are sailing. It bears on the (rounded) front edge of the daggerboard, so does not get cut. It also makes the elastic a little longer, so giving more scope to have it tighter, while still being able to get the board in and out. When the board is down, the elastic goes over the board at the daggerboard case knees.

Three mailsail control lines running through triple blocks and up to cleats on the back edge of the thwart on a Mirror dinghy

You can make the daggerboard elastic (blue in the photo above) even longer by having turning blocks under the thwart, and running the elastic to the outside edge of the thwart.





Latest forum posts

  • No posts to display.

Forthcoming Events

29 Feb 2020
Alexandra Palace, London
RYA Dinghy Show
29 Feb 2020
Alexandra Palace, London
RYA Dinghy Show