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Guide to the Different Types of Sailboats

Sailing is a wonderful hobby that is appropriate for a wide range of ages and ability levels. Sailing is the art of controlling and maneuvering a boat with the power of sails. Sailors need to learn about the power of wind and water, as well as understand the basic function and operation of a sailboat. A sailboat is a small to mid-sized boat that is powered by the use of sails, some more modern designs are also powered with a small motor, but this is not characteristic of most sailboats. The dual forces of hydrodynamic and aerodynamics combine to provide a sailboat with the ability to move through water. A sailboat may have one or more sails attached to the mast and/or a boom. Sails may also be attached to winches, mechanical devices used for winding, or to cleats that are used for tying. Learning how to maneuver the sails and steer the sailboat takes time and attention; for the safety of those onboard and fellow sailors, it is important that each sailor understand the proper way to maneuver and operate a sailboat.

There are many different types of sailboats. Sailboats can be categorized into a few different types, depending upon the number and location of sails, as well as the number of masts. Here is a brief introduction to the different types:


A catboat is a single-sail boat with one mast set up near the front of the boat. The origin of the catboat can be traced back to New York in the 1840s. Its easy operation and large capacity helped the sailboat gain popularity among sailing enthusiasts. The catboat has a broad beam, a centerboard and a single mast and sail. However, any sailboat with a single sail carried forward is referred to as a catboat. Popular catboats include the Beetle Cat, Barnegat Bay and Sanderling.


A cutter is a sailboat with one mast and more than one headsail. According to Frank Sargeant in The Complete Idiot's Guide to Boating and Sailing, a cutter has a mast stepped amidships with two sails that are set up forward of the mast. Usually, the staysail is directly in front of the mast. The cutter is ideal for small crews or groups of people and most cutters can be easily managed without the need for complicated tackles or winches.


A dhoni, or doni, is a handcrafted, sailboat with either a motor or lateen sails. Popular in the Maldives, this boat is used for transportation and even, for staying aboard comfortably. Traditionally, this boat was built of coconut palm wood and used by Maldivian fishermen. Today, the dhoni is typically built using fiberglass, are generally motorized with a steering wheel and are furnished as well. According to the FAO, the motorized fishing vessels or masdhoni are fitted with satellite navigation systems, hydraulic line haulers, sonars, fish finders and have room for accommodation as well.


A smaller version of the sailboat, the dinghy has three or less sails - the mainsail, jib and spinnaker. These small boats are easy to handle and fun to sail, making them popular with youngsters. Dinghies are further divided into different types such as catamarans, skiffs, classic dinghies, cruising dinghies, high performance dinghies, racing dinghies and sports dinghies.

Fractional Rig Sloop

A fractional rig sloop is a sailboat in which the headstay is attached to the mast at some point lower than the masthead. This enhances performance in certain conditions but may make the fractional rig sloop a little difficult to handle, since the bend of the mast has an impact on the mainsail and bending the mast perfectly requires a fair amount of skill. However, the fractional rig requires fewer sail changes and lesser experienced sailors may benefit from setting up a masthead rig or one in which the headsail reaches all the way to the top of the mast.


A ketch is a sailboat that has two masts and two sails. The second mast is called a mizzen and the sail is called the mizzen sail. The second mast is shorter than the main mast and is located forward of the rudder. Smaller and narrower in size than other sailboats, ketches were traditionally used for trading purposes and for bombing in the 17th century.


A schooner is a large sailboat and generally, has two or more masts with the aftermost mast being taller than or equal to the height of the forward mast. The schooner rig is made up of the bowsprit, fore and main mast and their sails. Freight schooners may have three or more masts. Schooners were introduced by the Dutch and later adopted in North America to carry cargo and for fishing. One of the most popular schooners is the Clotilde, the last ship to bring African slaves to the U.S and the USS Hannah, the first armed American naval vessel.


A sloop is the most common type of sailboat. It has a single mast and a fore-and-aft rig. The position of the mast is determines whether a sailboat will be termed a sloop or not. The forestay on the sloop runs to the outboard end of the bowsprit, rendering the bowsprit fixed and non-retractable. The Bermuda sloop is the name given the contemporary yacht due to the Bermuda rig, which is ideal for upwind sailing.


Similar to a ketch, the yawl is a sailboat with two masts and the mizzenmast is shorter than the main mast. However, the mizzenmast on a yawl is not forward of the rudder as in the ketch, but aft of the main mast. Moreover, it is used for creating balance rather than for propelling the vessel. Originally, the yawl was developed for the purpose of commercial fishing however, in the 1950s and 60s; yawls were developed for racing, a tradition that continues in many places even today.

Misc. Sailing Sites