New to Iceboating

Welcome. We mean that.

DN iceboaters world welcome you to our sport. This thrill ride is shared by sailors around the world, and we hope you, too, will join in.

The DN is a hot rod on ice -- fast, responsive and easy to transport. But by far its best feature is that any boat – hull, plank, mast, runners, and sail – can be set up to fit just about any sailor. Granted, the very top racers have tweaked their equipment to unbelievable detail. But they all started with basic equipment and a burning ambition to fly across the ice.

This is your starting point with the basic information necessary to get on the ice in a safe, affordable and competitive program. It’s not an owner’s manual or a tuning guide. You’ll soon see why. Think of this as an invitation with instructions.

Read the sections provided and then click on the link for DN Mentors, a new program that creates a one-on-one relationship between an experienced DN sailor and you. If you have a question, even a “dumb” one, your mentor will help with answers and advice. Just send us your email address, and someone will get in touch with you right away.

The DN Ice Boat

The hull is essentially a long wooden box and supports the sailor, holds the steering and mainsheet hardware, and carries the load from the mast back to the plank and forward to the steering runner.

The runner plank is a three-layer lamination of wood. The runners and sidestays attach to the ends of the plank with the hull attaching in the middle. The width of the plank keeps the boat from instantly tipping over, but also serves as a shock absorber. When a puff hits the rig, the mast pushes down on the hull, which in turn pushes down on the plank. The plank flexes and the extra energy is absorbed. As the puff passes, the plank springs back.

The mast is a major contributor to the high performance characteristics of today’s DN. Made of fiberglass or a combination of fiberglass and carbon fiber, it has amazing flexibility which changes the shape of the sail as it bends.

The carbon fiber mast is the state of the art, but a fiberglass mast is a good choice for entry level sailors because of the price point and durability. One can always upgrade at a carbon mast at a later point.

The day of the aluminum mast has past. Aluminum does not bend like composite masts, and therefore its performance is noticeably off the pace. But aluminum has its place – cruising. It’s cheap and tough.

Runners have evolved in the last two decades. They’re made in a wide variety of materials, lengths and sizes, and the choices can be daunting. But here’s the good news: ninety percent of the boats race with one style of runners -- a 3/16” thick, 36” long, stainless steel insert runner. The steering runner is often shorter at 30”. Stainless steel is nice because it stays sharper for a longer time. If you were to own one set of runners, this is it.

If the cost of these runners is of concern, and it can be, there is another option called a plate runner. Its shorter length creates less drag while turning, and its smaller body creates less drag when sailing in snow. Because this runner was “the runner of choice” not too long ago, they are fairly available in a ¼” thickness. In many conditions, they can be just as fast as the 36” insert.

Periodically runners need to be sharpened. And sharpening can be complicated. The basic profile is a 90°V with a slight rocker from front-to-back. (link). Some guys sharpen their own runners, but it’s so much easier to find someone with the right equipment and pay them to do it.

Chocks are attached to the end of the plank and hold the runners with a single bolt.

The sail is a fairly easy decision to make for a newbie. A softwater sailor is most likely familiar with choosing between a light-air sail and a heavy-air sail. Not so in iceboating. Sail choice is determined by the surface of the ice, not the wind velocity. When the ice is smooth, clear of snow and very hard, the friction on the runners is minimal. In this condition, a speed sail is used. The camber is incredibly flat to minimize drag at high speeds. But sometimes the ice is described as “sticky.” This happens in warm temperatures or when snow has fallen days in advance and has frozen onto the ice like Styrofoam. In this condition, a power sail is used because of its fuller shape. More shape = more power.

Surprisingly, the difference in the draft of these two sails is minuscule. While having two sails is nice, a new comer will do fine with just one or the other since the rig can be adjusted to compensate. (We’ll show you how later.)

Battens are made of wood or fiberglass. Most sailors have just one set and don’t worry about it.

The boom is made of extruded aluminum or wood. Aluminum has the advantage of durability. Both work just fine for an entry level program, although nearly all competitors are using aluminum.

The tiller is usually made of wood and comes in two general styles. A fixed tiller has a set length and attaches directly to the steering shaft. An adjustable tiller slides in and out around a 1” square aluminum tube. Both are acceptable.

There are six pulleys on the boat. A common set up is a xx” (such as a Harken XX) on top of the tiller shaft and a XX” at the front of the boom. The remaining four are attached at the rear of the boom and the back deck. Good pulleys are worth the money as it makes trimming easier.

The mainsheet is XX’ long. Select any cordage designed for smallboat mainsheets, such as XXXXXX. The thicker the better but it MUST run freely through all the blocks.

Not to confuse the point, but one can make a braided sheet with a thick, textured end for your hands and a 3/16th cord to run through the pulleys. Here’s a link __________.

A bobstay attaches underneath the boat from the front tang to just in front of the runner plank. This is needed to counter the downward forces from the mast. (On older boats, the bobstay runs all the way to the rear.)

As for clothing, here’s a list – helmet, facemask or balaclava, goggles, mittens (not gloves), windproof jacket and pants, and boots. NO SCARF as it jams in the pulleys.

A ski jacket works just fine. The helmet is needed because even on the best of days, the boom will bang your head a few times. Motorcycle or snowmobile helmets are not so good. Too heavy. Downhill ski helmets work great. Goggles work better than glasses especially at high speeds. Leather mittens like choppers are far warmer than gloves. Rub the leather in SnoSeal to keep the wind from blowing through.

For your feet, wear normal winter boots with some sort of traction attachment like STABILicers or Yaktrax. Racers prefer track spikes with the heal spikes removed. They buy them up to 2 sizes larger than normal to allow room for extra socks.

Last thought about clothing – sometimes during a day of iceboating you stand around a lot and get cold. And sometimes you physically work so hard you get hot. The solution? A great zipper.

Setup and Adjustments

THIS NEEDS CLOSE ATTENTION. Do we mention the forestay only option? I think it adds unnecessary confusion._

To repeat an earlier thought, a great attribute of the DN is that essentially any boat can be set up to match any condition. Unfortunately, all these variables can make finding the initial setup confusing. Follow these steps to get yourself started, and through time you’ll begin to make adjustments based on how your boat is performing.

Some older boats may not have some of the adjustments mentioned below. Your set up is perfect if the boat hikes in a big puff, but keeps the weather runner on the ice most of the time. Hikes should be controlled by sheeting harder and steering (new reactions for a soft water sailor), most of the time. Easing the sheet six inches at your hands is a big ease. Your sail gets fuller but opens at the top.

Boat to Plank. A set of stud plates on the plank are inserted and bolted into one of four sets of holes on the hull. For starters, use the third set from the front. In sticky conditions with lots of wind, you may move to the second or first set of holes. The further your plank is forward, more effectively your weight keeps the boat from hiking. Light air and snow, when you want one runner up, use the back hole.

Mast step. The step location can be moved fore and aft. Set the step at about one inch forward of the maximum aft location. Once everything else is set, if the front of the boat seems to want to push to leeward, move the step back. If the back of the boat tends to want to spin out, then push the step forward.

If your boat doesn’t have an adjustable mast step, don’t worry about it. An average sailor rarely moves the mast step. The stays and halyard are more important by far. The boat changes in response to very small changes!

Halyard. The sail can be raised to a variety of heights. Multiple latches or stops on the halyard allow such flexibility. The higher the sail, the more the mast bends, but the less effective the boom is at taking rotation out of the mast. Too much or too little can be slow. So the bend can be fine tuned in part by simply adjusting the halyard a half inch at a time. Find a middle ground. On any given day, you may adjust this one or two notches, or none at all.

Forestay. The forestay adjustment changes the rake of the mast. It (along with halyard position) also affects the distance between the back of the boom and the deck. For starters, raise the sail and then adjust the forestay so the boom hangs approximately 14” above the deck, and the blocks are about 12 inches apart.

Side stays. With the sail up, and the forestay adjusted, now tighten the side stays so there are even and tight (Plank deflected slightly). In light winds, the side stays should be looser to enable the mast to bend. In higher moderate winds, the side stays are tighter. You can now see how the boat sails relative to a fast competitor.

Mast rotation. The more the mast rotates, the more it bends. Rotation is controlled by positioning of the rear pulleys. Set the pulleys on the boom about 5” forward of the pulleys on the rear deck. This is a safe starting point. When the sheet is pulled very hard, the boom and deck blocks should come together (except in very light air with the boom set higher than normal) and the boom jaw should be just clear of the mast at the front of the boom. The block relative positions should be adjusted if you change mast rake (forestay) or sail height (halyard). The mast needs to bend to flatten the sail and let you go faster while pointing better upwind.

If you sheet really hard, some rotation is pulled out of the mast. This should happen after a tack but only after you are at full speed, and wind pressure is keeping the mast bent. Mast rotation increases power but also drag. Power helps accelerate (and move in sticky conditions). Drag limits top speed and down wind sailing angles.

The minimum adjustments for comfortable sailing in a variety of conditions is: pins in the forestay adjuster, pins in the side stay adjusters.

The minimum adjustability for a newly minted competitive racing is: Pins in the forestay adjuster, pins in the side stay adjusters, three or four inches of adjustment in the halyard, and three or four inches of adjustment in either the boom blocks or the deck blocks or both.

The ultimate adjustability: A threaded adjuster plus pins in the forestay, a threaded adjuster in the side stays, plus the halyard and boom adjustments as above.

The "True World Competitor" knows how long his side stays always are, and adjusts everything with three pin locations and a threaded adjuster on his forestay, plus the halyard and boom adjustments as above. Once in a while, the mast step will be moved.

Buying an Ice Boat

Buying a used boat is the easiest and quickest way to get on the ice. They can be found at local swap meets, a few marine retailers or on-line. (link to supplier/on-line listings) There are enough boats available on line that pricing is kept in check.

For cruising, you’ll enjoy just about anything as long as it’s not a pile of troubles. Similar to any used craft, look for rotted or cracked wood, rusted hardware, fraying sidestays, mildewed sails and bent runners. Most any problems can be repaired or replaced. Just know what you’re buying.

If you want to jump into racing right away, your best bet is to purchase a boat that has recently been campaigned. You get the assurance of knowing the pieces are all there and in working order. Ask the seller if there is anything on the boat that needs attention. As with any boat, there are items that gradually wear out, and most likely the seller will tell you.

If a new boat is in your budget, you have two choices – have it made for you or make it yourself. There aren’t many shops around that make DNs, but those that are in the business do a great job.

For those with an inkling to build a hull and plank themselves, basic plans can be found at for free or full-sized templates with instructions can be purchased at (link) Some sailors pool their energies and talents together to produce a group of boats as a team. They usually get together one night a week until completed.


Don’t underestimate the value of boat builders, sailmakers, retailers and service centers that support our sport. They make a huge contribution to our sport through new products, service that keeps us on the ice and information that makes us better competitors. (link to supplier list)

Sailing an Iceboat

It's fast.

Racing an Iceboat

At each regatta, racers are divided into two or three fleets based upon each sailor’s ability. It makes for better competition all around. One fleet races at a time while the other fleet(s) stands by. . . . and rests.

The course is three times around a windward-leeward course. The start is upwind; the finish is downwind. The marks are approximately one mile apart.

A starting line is set up downwind of the leeward mark. The fleet is spread out across this line with the right half set to begin on a port tack and the left half set to begin on starboard. The race official stands in front of the fleet while each sailor stands next to their boat with one hand holding the tiller and the other holding the windward sidestay. At the drop of the flag, each sailor pushes their boat as fast as they can, jumps in, and the race is on!

The finish line is between the leeward mark and a flag held by a judge standing to the right (looking downwind). This judge is in a precarious position. To put it as nice as we can – DON’T HIT HIM! OR HER!

The rules
Iceboat rules are DIFFERENT than conventional sailboats. Here are the rules (link) and here is a diagram (link). The key points are:

1) You are always responsible to avoid collision, even if you are in the right of way. This rule is simple and straight forward for good reason.

2) A starboard boat traveling upwind has rights over a port boat traveling upwind; a starboard boat traveling downwind has rights over a port boat traveling downwind. However,

3) All boats traveling upwind have rights over any boat traveling downwind. Example: A port boat traveling upwind has the right of way over a starboard boat traveling downwind.

4) While sailing upwind, a boat to leeward has rights over a windward boat. However, while sailing downwind, a boat to windward has rights over a leeward boat.

5) Any boat passing another from astern must do so without interfering with the course of the boat that is being passed. This is in place because the boat being passed cannot see a boat directly astern.

6) If you violate any rule, you retire from the race.

Mentor Program

You'll need a mentor.