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Small boat racing.

The fundamentals of racing are most easily learned in small boats. Many small boats are designed specifically for youth, and most provide a lifetime of enjoyment for adults as well. Because of their size and simplicity, many small sailboats can be sailed singlehanded or with a crew member or two.

These small boat options provide great racing opportunities

Match racing, windsurfing, team racing.

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Small boat sailing can bring you relaxing days on the water, adventurous family fun or challenging competition

One design racing-, click here to visit the new one-design central website.

One-design is a form of racing where all boats are virtually identical or similar in design. Class-legal boats race each other without any handicap calculations, start at the same time, and the winner is the first to cross the finish line.

There are more than 150 actively raced one-design classes in the U.S. The classes range from eight-foot Optimist dinghies to the 12 Meter sailboats and beyond.

One-design classes are broken down into fleets that are located at yacht clubs and community sailing programs. Club or fleet racing takes place on a regular basis all over the country, and many fleets welcome newcomers. Contact your local yacht club or community program to get involved in one-design sailing and ask for the name of the fleet captain(s).

International Class World Championships

World Sailing’s regulations require classes planning to hold a world championship in the U.S. to gain the approval of US Sailing (see World Sailing Regulations 10 and 25). US Sailing is pleased to consider world championship approval requests at its monthly Directors meetings. Classes that wish to request US Sailing’s approval should submit a world championship approval request form .

The following information is required when submitting the request: event name and dates; host organization’s name and address; event venue, if different from host organization; class association contact name and email; event contact name and email. The request must be accompanied by a draft notice of race, and both the class association and the event host must be members of US Sailing. If you have any questions or need assistance, please contact the Race Administration office .

One Design Classes

Below is a comprehensive list of one-design classes. To update the information for your class and access the many resources available, go to My US Sailing . Your class does not have to be a member of US Sailing in order to be listed, however, only member classes have links to their web pages

One-Design Awards

Each year US Sailing presents up to five awards to recognize outstanding individuals, classes, clubs and fleets in one-design sailing. The awards — Service, Leadership, Club, Regatta, and Creativity — highlight role models of creative leadership in one-design sailing.

Did your club run an outstanding regatta this year? Is there an exceptional person at your club who was responsible for making your fleet grow? Anyone can nominate a club, fleet, regatta or one-design spark plug for a US Sailing One-Design Award. US Sailing wants to hear about it – one superbly written nomination per nominee is all that is needed.

To recognize distinguished service and leadership in the promotion of one-design sailing and class organization.
In recognition of individual initiative, enthusiasm, organizing ability and leadership in creating the outstanding fleet building program.
To recognize administrative excellence, fleet growth, creative programming, regatta support, member contribution — at regional, national and international levels — of the one-design yacht club of the year.
To recognize excellence in development, promotion, and management by organizers and sponsors of the year’s outstanding multi-class or single class, international, continental, national or regional regatta.
To recognize outstanding individual creativity and contribution to the year’s most innovative one design event of national or international significance.

One-Design Insurance Program by Gowrie Group

Whether you sail for fun, race occasionally, or are pursuing an Olympic campaign, Gowrie Group's specialized insurance program will meet your unique needs as a One-Design sailor. Learn more and get a quote at

Multihull sailboats come in a variety of types and sizes, from the popular Hobie Cat to large cruising catamarans. Catamarans have two hulls, while trimarans feature three. In general, multihulls are faster and lighter than monohulls (single hull sailboats). The 2013 America’s Cup was raced in high-tech catamarans. Active multihull classes include: Hobie Cat , A-Class and F16 .

Youth sailors are looking for speed and excitement, and that what they get sailing multihulls. Check out this youth multihull sailing video .

Match Racing News, Events & Rankings

Made popular by the America’s Cup, match racing pits one boat against another around a short two-lap windward/leeward course. This race format emphasizes the need for great boat speed, strong boat handling, teamwork and communication. Match racing will improve all aspects of your sailing, specifically your time-on-distance skills, starting line positioning, understanding of the rules, short course strategy and boat-on-boat tactics. Additionally, the tournament-style format makes it fun by maximizing the number of races per day.

2023 U.S. Team Racing Championship Event Information:

Hosted by: Mission Bay Yacht Club, San Diego- Dates: September  8-10, 2023 Application Period: May 24 - July 5, 2023

For More Event Information Click Here

Club Team Racing Gets Its Due- Article:  Sailing World by Gary Jobson May 16, 2023

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Team Racing Calendar

Use these great team racing resources to learn more.

US Team Racing Championship

ISAF Team Racing World Championship

ISAF Team Racing Callbook

Team Racing: Bridging the Age Gap and Building Participation at Your Club

What Makes a Successful Team Racing Event by Joel Hanneman

Team Racing Publications and Resources by Gavin O’Hare

Teaching Team Racing by Steve Hunt

Team Racing DVD

Introduction to Types of Team Racing and Regatta Formats

Windsurfing, or boardsailing, combines elements of sailing and surfing. This is a fun and exciting sport sure to test your athleticism, whether cruising or racing. If you are looking for a pure form of sailing and want to experience the unlimited possibilities of instant hands-on adventure, windsurfing may be the sport for you.

To learn more about racing windsurfers, contact US Windsurfing .

Learn more about our windsurfing educational opportunities 


Kiteboarding , or kitesailing , is a young and growing sport that combines elements of sailing, surfing and wakeboarding. Kiteboarders can reach high speeds on the water, and like windsurfing, kiteboarding is great for those who like to perform jumps, aerial maneuvers and tricks, freestyle moves, or just for cruising. The gear is relatively simple and compact. The kite easily folds to fit into your sailing gear bag and the board is also lightweight.

To learn more about kiteboarding, contact the American Kiteboarding Association or the International Kiteboarding Association

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Small Racing Sailboats

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Definitely an exciting part of the sport, the regattas are a social competitive and friendly events. Wether you are a dinghy racing expert or you are  you're quite new to the sport, we strongly recommend that you join an event. The proximity and advices of other sailors will definitely elevate your game and you'll learn a lot !

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Performance and racing Easy sailing Kids, family

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RS Sailing, the world’s largest small-sailboat manufacturer


  • Racing Adult Double
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RS Tera – from young novice to international competition – makes sailing addictive

RS Tera – from young novice to international competition – makes sailing addictive

RS Neo – compact single-hander for step-up performance and affordable convenience

RS Neo – compact single-hander for step-up performance and affordable convenience

RS Feva – world leading double-hander with a vibrant class and huge circuit across the globe

RS Feva – world leading double-hander with a vibrant class and huge circuit across the globe

RS Aero – simple single-hander with four rig size options for youth and adult sailors.

RS Aero – simple single-hander with four rig size options for youth and adult sailors.

RS100 – exhilarating performance, hiking single-hander with gennaker

RS100 – exhilarating performance, hiking single-hander with gennaker

RS200 – hugely successful modern double-handed racing class – for moderate size teams

RS200 – hugely successful modern double-handed racing class – for moderate size teams

RS400 – The modern classic – one of the first RS boats and a thriving, double-handed class

RS400 – The modern classic – one of the first RS boats and a thriving, double-handed class

RS500 – international double-hander with gennaker, trapeze and competitive circuit lifestyle

RS500 – international double-hander with gennaker, trapeze and competitive circuit lifestyle

RS700 – high performance single-handed skiff with trapeze and gennaker

RS700 – high performance single-handed skiff with trapeze and gennaker

RS800 – double-handed, performance equalised and thrilling twin wire skiff for all

RS800 – double-handed, performance equalised and thrilling twin wire skiff for all

2000 – perfect as a trainer or introduction to racing. Double-handed for racing and up to four for training.

2000 – perfect as a trainer or introduction to racing. Double-handed for racing and up to four for training.

RS21 Club – progressive, simple and affordable solution for keelboat clubs

RS21 Club – progressive, simple and affordable solution for keelboat clubs

RS Elite – beautiful and refined racing keelboat for men and women across the age range

RS Elite – beautiful and refined racing keelboat for men and women across the age range

RS21 – Keelboat sailing the RS way

RS21 – Keelboat sailing the RS way

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  • Sailing Simplified: The Ultimate Guide to Small Sailboats

The appeal of sailing has never waned, but the recent surge in interest towards small sailboats has opened up a new avenue for enthusiasts and beginners alike. The charm of these compact vessels lies not just in their maneuverability and affordability, but in the very essence of sailing they encapsulate. Small sailboats offer a gateway to the vastness of the sea, with the promise of adventure, learning, and community. This article delves deep into the world of small sailboats, covering everything from choosing the right type to the joys of being part of a vibrant sailing community.

Understanding the Appeal of Small Sailboats

Small sailboats, with their ease of handling, offer an unparalleled opportunity for sailors to develop a deep, hands-on understanding of the fundamentals of sailing. The affordability of these boats also makes sailing an accessible hobby for a wider audience, breaking down the financial barriers that larger vessels uphold. Moreover, the versatility of small sailboats means there’s something for every sailor's taste. Whether it's the thrill of racing, the calm of a leisurely day out on the water, or the joy of exploring new coastlines, these boats have something to offer to everyone.

Types of Small Sailboats and Their Unique Features

The world of small sailboats is rich and varied, encompassing a range of designs each suited to different sailing needs. Dinghies, for instance, are the perfect starting point for those new to sailing. Their simplicity and small size make them ideal for learning basic sailing skills. For those looking for a bit more stability and space, catamarans, with their dual hulls, offer an excellent option. They provide a comfortable sailing experience without compromising the intimate connection with the sea that small sailboats offer. Daysailers, on the other hand, are designed for those looking for a balance between performance and convenience. Often equipped with a small cabin, they are perfect for short, enjoyable outings, offering a taste of adventure without the need for extensive preparation or commitment.

Selecting Your Perfect Small Sailboat

Choosing the right small sailboat involves considering several factors, including the purpose of the boat, your budget, and your skill level. It's important to reflect on what you want to achieve with your sailboat. Are you looking to race, or are you more interested in leisurely coastal explorations? Your budget also plays a crucial role, as it's not just the purchase price you need to consider but also the ongoing maintenance costs. Additionally, matching the boat to your skill level is vital. Opt for a vessel that challenges you enough to grow as a sailor but isn't too advanced to handle safely.

Read our top notch articles on topics such as sailing, sailing tips and destinations in our Magazine .

Check out our latest sailing content:

Fishing and sailing: where to sail for the best catches, skippered boats: how to pack for a yachting holiday, boat rental with skipper: everyone can go to sea, skippered boats: myths about sailing, sail from lefkada for 14 days. where to, what not to miss when visiting lefkada, skippered boats: step-by-step boat rental, where and why to sail from lefkas marina, don’t panic: handling maritime emergencies, skippered boats: how to choose a boat, the best sailing routes from biograd na moru, yachting away from ourselves: a voyage to inner peace, sail to the 7 most beautiful sights in greece, skippered boats: how to put together a crew, skippered boats: the most popular yachting destinations, what skipper's licence do i need, skippered boats: what you can experience when yachting, from lefkada or corfu to paxos and antipaxos, discover the paradise of paxos and antipaxoss, skippered boats: typical day on board, skippered boats: what it actually looks like on a boat, discover corfu: sailing adventure in the ionian, sextant and navigation: survival without gps, 5 best sailing routes in the bahamas, skippered boats: how much does a boat holiday cost, yachting guide to the bahamas, the ultimate yacht cleaning kit, introduction to chartering with a skipper, traditional sailor tattoos: meaning of the swallow, the most popular catamarans of 2023.

Small white boat sailing on the lake

Maintenance, Upkeep, and Sailing Techniques

Owning a small sailboat is a commitment to its care. Regular maintenance is essential to ensure the longevity and safety of your vessel. This includes seasonal preparations like winterization and routine checks for wear and tear. Moreover, mastering sailing techniques specific to small boats is crucial. These vessels require a nuanced understanding of wind and water dynamics due to their size. Learning basic maneuvers and safety measures not only enhances the joy of sailing but also ensures that your time on the water is safe and fulfilling.

The Community and Future of Small Sailboats

One of the most rewarding aspects of small sailboat sailing is the community. Joining clubs and associations or engaging with online communities can enrich your sailing experience. These platforms offer a wealth of knowledge, support, and camaraderie. They also provide opportunities to participate in races, social sails, and educational workshops, further deepening your connection to the sailing world. Looking ahead, the future of small sailboats is bright, with innovations aimed at making sailing more accessible, safer, and even more enjoyable for everyone.

In conclusion, small sailboats offer a unique blend of adventure, simplicity, and community. Whether you’re drawn to the thrill of racing, the peace of exploration, or the challenge of mastering a new skill, the world of small sailboats is inviting and expansive. With the right knowledge and preparation, anyone can embark on this rewarding journey, navigating the joys of compact sailing.

So what are you waiting for? Take a look at our range of charter boats and head to some of our favourite  sailing destinations.

I am ready to help you with booking a boat for your dream vacation. Contact me.

Denisa Nguyenová

Denisa Nguyenová

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PHRF Racing: Choosing a Boat

  • By Bruce Bingman
  • Updated: September 18, 2013

Many factors go into buying a sailboat, including price, availability, style, and how much the boat will be used off the racecourse. At the risk of adding another facet to an already complicated decision, we tasked PHRF guru Bruce Bingman with identifying a few boats that are likely to sail above their rating in certain conditions. As is the case with any single-number rating system, every boat will have a sweet spot, a combination of wind strength, sea state, and course configuration under which it will be tough to beat.

For this exercise we asked Bingman to focus on boats that would be predominantly raced in club-level weeknight or weekend races. We wanted boats that are lively, fun to sail, and available. In addition, we restricted him to boats with an average PHRF rating of 30 or greater. Below that number you tend to find dry-sailed race boats requiring professionally managed programs, which are beyond the scope of this exercise, and usually too fast to really race in most local series.

It goes without saying that for any even halfway serious racing, preparation is as important as the boat selected or the handicap rating with which it comes. We’ve all heard it 1,000 times before: There is no substitute for good sails, reliable gear, and a smooth bottom. You may think your two- or three-year-old sails look fine, but you will pick up 6 seconds per mile and more with a new inventory. The most carefully selected boat or the most favorable rating won’t help you overcome a mid-race breakdown such as a broken halyard or jammed winch. A dirty bottom can cost you 30-plus seconds per mile. Even a thin layer of slime will cost you 3 seconds per mile. So pick your weapon, gear up, burnish your bottom, and head for the start.

  • Typical conditions: Waves and chop, strong but fading sea breeze
  • **Typical racecourses: Multiple lap windward-leewards **

My summer weeknight beercan series is conducted outside the harbor, on an exposed ocean racecourse, so it’s usually choppy. Winds are typically strong sea breezes (15-plus knots) at the start of the race, but lighten as the race progresses. The race committee typically runs one long, three-leg, windward-leeward race.

Here’s where you want the dependable offshore workhorse, and there are many options. A moderate displacement boat, a powerful rig, and a sea-kindly hull will produce a boat that drives upwind, through chop, and carries a spinnaker large enough to preserve a lead.

PHRF 30 to 70: The Beneteau 40.7 is a great offshore racer that provides superior upwind ability in choppy, breezy conditions. Great for a distance races, too.

PHRF 71 to 114: The Beneteau 42s has power and waterline rolled together in a single package. The sails are big, so it requires recruiting some young bucks to help get around the course.

PHRF 115 and up: The Cal 40 is a classic design with the ability to go up and down the course in any condition.

  • ** Typical conditions: Flat water, shifty winds can be strong or light**
  • Typical racecourses: Mix of random leg and windward-leeward

My local weeknight beercan series is conducted on a sheltered, narrow lake, with very shifty winds, but no current. Winds tend to be at either end of the spectrum: It’s either drifter light or wipeout windy. Because of the prevailing direction and narrowness of the lake, there’s usually a lot of maneuvers on the random-leg courses.

In this scenario we’re looking for light boats that are on the smaller end of the size range for each of the rating bands, but still retain the ability to perform in breezier conditions.

PHRF 30 to 70: Although the Henderson 30 can be a handful in bigger breeze, it’s an excellent light-air performer and reaches like a bandit.

PHRF 71 to 114: The Antrim 27 is a very fast and fun light-air performer that’s great in a breeze, so long as there’s not a lot of chop.

PHRF 115 and up: The B-25 , Leif Bailey’s original sporty speedster, is almost unbeatable under these conditions. An excellent, all-around performer that’s easy to drive around the course, and can still be found at reasonable prices.

  • ** Typical conditions: Flat water, moderate winds**
  • Typical racecourses: Random legs, all points of sail

My weeknight series is conducted in protected bay waters, with an average current of .5 to 1 knot, and generally flat water (with some chop at the upper wind range). Winds in the summer average 10 to 15 knots, and the organizing committee will typically run courses using government marks, requiring a mix of sailing angles.

In this scenario we want a boat with good all-around performance, especially for headsail reaches, a point of sail where many modern boats with non-overlapping headsails struggle. The 10- to 15-knot wind range is plenty to power most boats, so a very light boat, carrying a penalty for high sail-area-to-displacement ratio, will be at a disadvantage. This is particularly true in a “waterline” race, where a higher hull speed trumps maneuverability. On the other hand, a moderately light displacement boat with not too much wetted surface will ensure you’re not left out in the cold should the wind go light.

PHRF 30 to 70: The J/120 has consistently demonstrated excellent all-around performance to its typical rating.

PHRF 71 to 114: Either the Frers 41 or the J/29 masthead outboard. Both of these boats have overlapping headsails and enough power to get around the course and through the reaches. Which one is best would be dictated by local class splits. It’s generally desirable to be toward the faster end of the class.

PHRF 115 and up: The S2 9.1 was a MORC slayer in its heyday. It’s a very fast, but comfortable, 30-footer with a powerful overlapping headsail and long waterline.

  • Typical conditions: Steep chop, moderate winds
  • ** Typical racecourses: Windward-leeward**

The races in my weeknight series are held on open, exposed, and typically choppy water, especially in moderate winds. The summer average is 10 knots, and the race committee usually runs windward-leeward courses.

Windward-leeward races are typically won upwind and lost downwind. In this scenario we’re looking for boats that will have good light-air performance to weather while retaining the advantage downwind. We also want to look for boats with relatively fine bow sections to get through the chop.

PHRF 30 to 70: The Farr 30 is still one of the best small windward-leeward boats ever designed (owner bias aside). It’s light and easily driven, but has a fine bow that can cut through the chop when needed. Thanks to the masthead spinnaker, it excels downwind in all breezes.

PHRF 71 to 114: The J/35 has excellent all-around traits. This workhorse provides great performance in the medium breeze, and the overlapping headsail really helps drive through the chop.

PHRF 115 and up: The C&C 35 MK I is often overlooked. With its low wetted surface, overlapping headsail, and narrow beam, it’s an excellent performer, particularly in the chop. The Mark III model, which has a deeper keel and more modern rudder design, is a strong windward performer, but pays in the rating game and is typically a good deal more costly.

  • More: Handicap Racing , Sailboat Racing , Sailboats
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11 Best Small Sailboat Brands: How to Choose Your Next Daysailer or Pocket Cruiser

12th oct 2023 by samantha wilson.

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Sailing is a relaxing, invigorating pastime that allows you to harness wind and waves in a unique and historic way without requiring a 50-foot yacht to enjoy what’s special about the experience. In fact, small sailboats allow a delightful back-to-basics experience that often gets lost on larger, systems-heavy sailboats.

On a small sailboat you can connect with the sea, feeling the boat move beneath you. The boat is typically easy to rig, simple to sail, and can even be sailed solo. Small sailboats give you the freedom to trailer your or car-top your boat and go anywhere, and they’re perfect for learning the nuances of sailing. There are many excellent brands and models of small sailboat, each with their own appeal, and here we narrow down some of our favorite in the daysailer and pocket cruiser categories under 30 feet. 

Difference Between a Daysailer and a Pocket Cruiser

While there are many different types of sailboat on the market and there is no single definition of either a daysailer or a pocket cruiser, they are used in a particular way, as the names imply. The term daysailer covers a huge array of sailboats, smaller and sometimes larger, and is generally defined as any day boat used for local sailing, with a simple rig, and easy to get underway. A pocket cruiser typically offers a cabin and head, and adequate accommodations for an overnight stay and sometimes longer cruises. Having said that, there is a large overlap between the two in many instances, so the lines may become blurred. 

What Size is a Small Sailboat?

Small is a relative term of course, but in general—and for the purposes of this article—a small sailboat is one that could be sailed by a small crew, often with one or two people aboard. It will have a simple rig and be trailerable, and it might be either a daysailer or pocket-cruiser style vessel as above. Within those categories, there are many models and styles, but when it comes to length we consider a sailboat as small when it’s under 30 feet in overall length. 

The Best Sailboats Under 30 Feet

Pocket cruiser: Beneteau First 27.  The Beneteau First 27 is a modern example of a pocket cruiser, earning Cruising World ’s Boat of the Year award in the Pocket Cruiser category in 2022. With space for up to six people accommodated in a separated bow-cabin and open saloon, it offers families the chance to go farther, explore more, and cruise in comfort. There is a galley with freshwater and a head, adding to the interior home comforts. The sailboat itself is modern, fast, and stable, designed by Sam Manuard, and has been designed to be incredibly safe and almost unsinkable thanks to its three watertight chambers. The handling is also refreshingly intuitive, with a well-designed cockpit, simple deck controls, and double winches allowing it to be sailed solo, by two people, or a small crew. 

Beneteau First 27

Photo credit: Beneteau

Daysailer: Alerion 28.  You’ll certainly turn heads cruising along in an Alerion 28, a daysailer whose forerunner by the same name was designed by Nathanael Herreshoff in 1912 and then updated with a modern underbody for fiberglass production by Carl Schumacher in the late 1980s. This pretty daysailer manages to combine a traditional silhouette and classic feel, with very modern engineering creating an excellent package. Over 470 of these sailboats were built and sold in the past 30 years, making it one of the most popular modern daysailers on the water. With a small cabin and saloon, complete with miniature galley area, it offers respite from the sun or wind and the option for a night aboard. The cockpit offers a beautiful sailing experience, with plenty of space for the whole family. 


Photo credit: Alerion Yachts

The Best Sailboats Under 25 Feet

Pocket cruiser: Cornish Crabber 24.  British manufacturer Cornish Crabber has been producing beautiful, traditional style small sailboats for decades, ensuring they honor their heritage both in the construction style and appearance of their boats. The Cornish Crabber 24 is the most iconic of their range and dates back to the 1980s. It offers a simple yet surprisingly spacious interior layout with cabin, galley, and head, and a good sized cockpit, as well as seating for up to six people. It’s the perfect family sailboat, with clever use of storage as well as just under 5000 pounds of displacement providing stability and easy tacking. Aesthetically the 24 is simply beautiful, with a traditional silhouette (combined with modern engineering), finished in hardwood trims. 

Cornish Crabber 24

Photo credit: Cornish Crabber

Daysailer: Catalina 22 Capri.  Catalina sailboats need little introduction, and are one of the world’s best-known, most-respected brands building small sailboats. The Catalina 22 Capri (also available in a sport model) is a great example of what Catalina does so well. While we’ve classified it as a daysailer, it could easily cross into the pocket cruiser category, as it offers excellent sailing performance in almost all conditions as well as having a small cabin, galley, and head. Loved for its safety, stability, ease of handling and simple maintenance, it makes for a good first family boat for getting out onto the bay or lake. 

Catalina 22 Capri

Photo credit: Catalina

The Best Sailboats Under 20 Feet

Pocket cruiser: CapeCutter 19.  This is another model that combines the beauty of the traditional silhouettes with modern-day advancements. The design originates from the classic gaff cutter work boats, but today offers excellent performance—in fact it’s one of the fastest small gaffers in the world. The interior is cleverly spacious, with four berths, two of which convert into a saloon, as well as a simple galley area. With quick rigging, it can be sailed solo, but is also able to accommodate small groups, making it a capable and hugely versatile pocket cruiser. 

CapeCutter 19

Photo credit: Cape Cutter 19

Daysailer: Swallow Yachts’ BayRaider 20.  Classic looks with modern performance are combined in Swallow Yachts’ beautiful BayRaider 20. This is one of the most capable and safest daysailers we’ve seen, but also incredibly versatile thanks to the choices of ballast. Keep the ballast tank empty and it’s light and fast. Fill the tank up and you’ve got a stable and safe boat perfect for beginners and families. While it’s got an eye-catching traditional style, the engineering is modern, with a strong carbon mast and construction. While this is a true daysailer, you can use the optional spray hood and camping accessories to create an overnight adventure. 

Swallow Yachts BayRaider 20

Photo credit: Swallow Yachts

The Best Sailboats Under 15 Feet

Pocket Cruiser: NorseBoat 12.5.  Can we truly call the NorseBoat 12.5 a pocket cruiser? Yes we can! The sheer versatility of this excellent little sailboat has convinced us. These beautiful hand-crafted sailboats offer exceptional performance and are described by the manufacturer as ‘the Swiss Army Knives of sailboats’. The traditionally styled 12.5 can be sailed, rowed, and motored. It can be trailered, easily beached, and even used as a camp cruiser, allowing for overnight adventures. There is no end to the fun that can be had with this easy-to-sail and easy-to-handle boat, which makes it a dream to learn in. With positive flotation, lots of clever storage, and a full-size double berth for camp cruising, it really is the perfect mini pocket cruiser. 

NorseBoat 12.5

Photo credit: NorseBoats

Daysailer: Original Beetle Cat Boat 12: All across the bays of the US east coast cat boats have long been part of the ocean landscape. Able to access shallow rocky coves yet also withstand the strong coastal winds, these traditional New England fishing boats have an iconic shape and gaff-rigged mainsails. Beetle Cat have been producing elegant wooden cat boats for over 100 years – in fact they’ve made and sold over 4,000 boats to date. Their 12 foot Cat Boat 12 is one of their finest models, offering lovely daysailing opportunities. It has a wide beam and centerboard that lifts up, allowing it to access shallow waters, as well as a forward mast and single sail gaff rig in keeping with the traditional cat boats. To sail one of these is to be part of the heritage of New England and Cape Cod, and to honor the ancient art of hand-made boat building. 

Beetle Cat official website

Beetle Cat Boat 12

Photo credit: Beetle Cat

The Best Small Sailboats for Beginners

When it comes to learning to sail, it’s important to have a boat that is easy to handle. There’s no quicker way to put yourself or your family off sailing than to start off with a boat that is either too big or too complicated. When choosing your first boat we recommend the following characteristics:

  • Small: The benefits of starting off with a small boat are many, as we’ve seen above. They’re easier to control as well as to moor, and they react more quickly to steering and sails. They can be trailered and launched easily, and the loads generated are much lower than on bigger, heavier boats.
  • Easy to sail: You want a boat that is stable and forgiving of mistakes, doesn’t capsize easily, and isn’t too overpowered in a stronger breeze. Keep things simple and learn as you go.
  • Simple sail configuration: Choosing a boat that can be rigged by one person in a few minutes, and easily sailed solo, makes it easier to take along inexperienced crews. With regards to the rig, all you need are a halyard to hoist the mainsail and a sheet to control the mainsail.
  • Tiller steering: We recommend boats with tiller steering over wheel steering when starting out. The tiller allows you to get a real feel for the boat and how the rudder works as it moves through the water. 

For more information on choosing the best beginner sailboat check out our full guide. There are many popular brands of beginner boats including Sunfish, Laser, and Hunter Marlow. Some of our favorites include;

Hobie 16: The classic Hobie catamaran has been a well-loved beginner sailboat for years, and the Hobie 16 started life back in 1969. Since then they’ve made and sold over a staggering 100,000 of the 16s. It has twin fiberglass and foam hulls, a large trampoline, and a pull-up rudder so it can be sailed straight onto the beach. The basic package comes with an easy to handle main and jib with plenty of extras available too such as a spinnaker and trailer. The Hobie 16 promises a great learning experience and lots of fun in a very nifty and inexpensive package. 

Hobie 16

Photo credit: Hobie

Paine 14: You’ll immediately fall in love with sailing when you step into a beautiful Paine 14. Made from seamless epoxy cold-molded wood, the P-14 is simply beautiful and offers the classic sailing experience with the design and innovation of a more modern hull and rig. Two people will be able to enjoy getting out on the water together and learning the ropes. The Paine 14 has a lead ballast keel that accounts for nearly half her weight, giving her the feel of a much larger boat, but is still trailerable and easy to manage offering the best of both worlds.

Paine 14

Photo credit: Chuck Paine

High-Performance Small Sailboats

Small sailboats generally become high performers if they are light, have a lot of sail area, or they have more than one hull. More recently, some of have been designed with foiling surfaces, as well. For the purposes of this article, we’d like to close by pointing out one model that is super fast and has versatile pocket-cruising capabilities.

Corsair 880 trimaran : The Corsair 880 trimaran is the grandchild of the company’s F27, a model that launched the popularity of trailerable leisure trimarans about 40 years ago. The 880 has taken the model to new heights and exemplifies the incredible space benefits you can achieve in a 29-foot sailboat. We’re talking an aft cabin, room to sleep 5 people, an enclosed head, and standing headroom in the galley and main saloon. It brings many of the opportunities that a much larger yacht plus the ability to cruise in extremely shallow water. Whether you want to cruise to the Bahamas or enjoy a high-adrenaline race, the Corsair 880 offers incredible performance and unlimited adventures in a truly pocket size. 

Corsair 880

Photo credit: Corsair

Written By: Samantha Wilson

Samantha Wilson has spent her entire life on and around boats, from tiny sailing dinghies all the way up to superyachts. She writes for many boating and yachting publications, top charter agencies, and some of the largest travel businesses in the industry, combining her knowledge and passion of boating, travel and writing to create topical, useful and engaging content.


More from: Samantha Wilson

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11 Best Pocket Cruiser Sailboats to Fit a Budget

  • By Cruising World Staff
  • Updated: May 24, 2024

Looking for a trailerable pocket cruiser that offers that liveaboard feeling? This list features 11 small sailboats with cabins that have the amenities often found on larger vessels. They may not be ocean crossing vessels, but they’re certainly capable of handling big bays and open waters.

What is a pocket cruiser? It’s a small trailerable sailboat, typically under 30 feet in length, that’s ideal for cruising big lakes, bays, coastal ocean waters, and occasionally bluewater cruising. Pocket cruisers are usually more affordable, compact, and offer a level of comfort that’s comparable to bigger liveaboards.

Small cruising sailboats are appealing for many reasons, but if you’re like most of us, you want to maintain a certain level of comfort while on the water. We took a poll and these are what we found to be the best cruising sailboats under 30 feet.

– DON’T LET CARBON MONOXIDE SNEAK UP ON YOU – Install detectors on your boat to sniff out any buildup of carbon monoxide gas. Avoid running engines or generators while anchored or stopped for extended periods. Safety Tip Provided by the U.S. Coast Guard

Andrews 28

Open and airy below deck, the Andrews 28 doesn’t sacrifice comfort for speed. Designed by Alan Andrews, the Southern California naval architect renowned for his light, fast raceboats, this 28-footer will certainly appeal to the cruiser who also enjoys a little club racing. Sporting a total of 6 berths, a galley, head and nav area, you might forget you are on a boat small enough to be easily trailered. The retractable keel allows the Andrews 28 to be easily launched and hauled and ensures it’s as comfortable as a daysailer as it is a racer. Click here to read more about the Andrews28.

Beneteau First 20

First 20 at sunset

Small sailboat with a cabin? Check! Fun to sail? Modern design? Capable of flying a spinnaker? Check! Check! Check! The Finot-Conq-designed Beneteau First 20, which replaced the popular Beneteau first 211 nearly a decade ago now, is a sporty-but-stable pocket cruiser suitable for newcomers to the sport who are eager to learn their chops before moving up to a bigger boat or for old salts looking to downsize to a trailerable design. The boat features twin rudders, a lifting keel, and a surprisingly roomy interior with bunks for four. Click here to read more about the Beneteau First 20 .

Ranger 26

Conceived as a way to bridge the gap between a safe, comfortable, family cruiser and a competitive racer, Gary Mull’s Ranger 26 does exactly as it was designed to. Undeniably fast, (one won the 1970 IOR North American Half-Ton Cup) the boat sails as well as it looks. However speed isn’t the Ranger’s only strong-suit, with over 7 feet of cockpit there’s plenty of room for socializing after an evening of racing. The Ranger 26 sports a nice balance of freeboard and cabin height ensuring that a handsome profile wasn’t sacrificed for standing headroom. Click here to read more about the Ranger 26.

Nonsuch 30 left side

Catboats were once a common site in coastal waters, where they sailed the shallow bays as fishing or work boats. Their large single and often gaff-rigged sail provided plenty of power, and a centerboard made them well-suited for the thin waters they frequently encountered. In the late 1970s, Canadian builder Hinterhoeller introduced the Nonsuch 30, a fiberglass variation of the catboat design, with a modern Marconi sail flown on a stayless mast, and a keel instead of a centerboard. The boat’s wide beam made room below for a spacious interior, and the design caught on quickly with cruising sailors looking for a small bluewater sailboat. Click here to read more about the Nonsuch 30 .

– SHOW THEM HOW MUCH YOU CARE – Nothing says ‘I love you’ like making sure the kids’ life jackets are snugged up and properly buckled. Safety Tip Provided by the U.S. Coast Guard

Newport 27

Debuted in 1971 in California, the Newport 27 was an instant success on the local racing scene. For a modest 27-footer, the Newport 27 has an unusually spacious interrior with over 6 feet of standing headroom. With 4 berths, a table, nav station, head and galley the Newport 27 has all the amenities you might find in a much bigger boat, all in a compact package. While quick in light air, the drawback of the tiller steering becomes apparent with increasing breeze and weather helm often leading to shortening sail early. Click here to read more about the Newport 27.

Balboa 26

First splashed in 1969, the Balboa 26 continues to enjoy a strong following among budget-minded cruisers. Built sturdy and heavy, all of the boat’s stress points are reinforced. The spacious cockpit comfortably seats 4 and is self bailing, ensuring that sailors stay dry. While only 26 feet, the Balboa still has room for a double berth, galley with stove and freshwater pump, and an optional marine head or V-berth. The Balboa has the ability to sleep five, though the most comfortable number is two or three. Under sail, the Balboa is fast and maneuverable, but may prove a handful in heavy breeze as weather helm increases. Click here to read more about the Balboa 26.

Cape Dory 28

Cape Dory 28

While the sleek lines and the teak accents of the Cape Dory 28 may grab the eye, it is the performance of the boat that make it unique. The Cape Dory comes with all amenities that you might need available, including a V-berth, 2 settees, and a head. Safe, sound and comfortable as a cruiser it is still capable of speed. Quick in light wind and sturdy and capable in heavy air, it is off the wind where the Cape Dory 28 shines with a balanced helm and the ability to cut through chop and still tack perfectly. Click here to read more about the Cape Dory 28.

Islander Bahama 28

Islander Bahama 28

On top of being a real eye-catcher, the Islander Bahama 28, with its 5-foot-6-inch draft and 3,300 pounds of ballast, sails beautifully, tracks well, and responds quickly to the helm. Inspired by the International Offshore Rule, it is unusually wide, offering stability in breeze without sacrificing the sheer and lines that make it so attractive. Below deck, the Islander Bahama 28 comes standard with plenty of berths and storage space and a galley complete with stove, icebox and sink. Click here to read more about the Islander Bahama 28.

– CHECK THE WEATHER – The weather changes all the time. Always check the forecast and prepare for the worst case. Safety Tip Provided by the U.S. Coast Guard

S2 8.6

Much like its older sibling, the S2 8.6 still holds its contemporary style, despite its 1983 introduction. Like all other S2 Yachts, the 8.6 is recognized for the quality craftsmanship that allows the boat to hold up today.The S2 8.6 is a very comfortable and easily managed coastal cruiser and club racer. It’s relatively stiff, its helm feels balanced, and it tracks well. On most points of sail, it compares favorably with other boats of similar size and type. Click here to read more about the S2 8.6.

Contessa 26

Contessa 26

When the Contessa 26 was released in 1965, it immediately proved itself to be a strong, seaworthy vessel. The Contessa has continued to prove itself throughout its lifetime, being the boat of choice for two solo circumnavigations under the age of 21. While upwind performance leaves some wanting, the boat is sturdy and can carry full sail in up to 20 knots of breeze. Suited more for single-handing, the Contessa lacks standing headroom and the accommodations are sparse. Nonetheless, the Contessa 26 performs well as a daysailer with guests aboard. Click here to read more about the Contessa 26.

Hunter 27

The Hunter 27 perfectly encompasses the pocket cruiser ideal. Even if you don’t want a big boat, you can still have big boat amenities. With the generously spacious layout, wheel steering and a walkthrough transom the Hunter feels much larger than 27 feet. Step below deck and any doubts you had that the Hunter was secretly a big boat will be gone. The amenities below are endless; a full galley including stove, microwave and cooler, head with full shower, several berths and not to mention a saloon with seating for 6. The Hunter 27 has reset the benchmark for 27-footers. Click here to read more about the Hunter 27.

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Small Sailboat Sizes: A Complete Guide

Small Sailboat Sizes: A Complete Guide | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

October 30, 2022

‍ Key Takeaways

  • Small sailboats are easy to sail, rig, and are affordable
  • They are usually under 20 feet to be considered small
  • Might not fit a particular sailing goal

‍ There are plenty of small sailboat sizes to accommodate any sailing experience. But what kinds of small sailboats are there?

Small sailboats are generally under 20 feet in length, come in a variety of designs, and have different hulls. These include monohulls, catamarans, and trimarans. As long as they have a mast, rudder, sail, and are under 20 feet, it is considered a small sailboat.

According to experienced sailors that use a smaller boat, it is best to have one that is easy to handle and accommodates their sailing goals. When searching for the best small sailboat, it will likely differ from one person to the next.

Table of contents

‍ 23 Small Sailboats to Compare

When looking at different types of small sailboats, it is important to see how they are designed. Depending on the sailing goals a person has will ultimately affect how they intend to sail.

If I have a Hobie catamaran, I am likely going to use it for recreational purposes like coastal cruising instead of racing. For shallow drafts, I would need something that can handle entering that territory and not risk damaging a keel on some monohulls.

Marblehead Daysailer

The Marblehead 22 daysailer is a traditional looking monohull perfect for everything related to small sailboats. Even though it is compact, there is enough room for guests on board.

It has almost a 12 foot cockpit to seat several people, along with a stowaway cuddy in the front to put some gear into. With its bulb keel, however, I would not take it into shallow waters.

A Laser is a great small sailboat that is commonly raced. In fact, they have been used in the Olympics every year since 1996.

Laser’s have a tendency to capsize if mishandled by inexperienced sailors in rough conditions, but are good to learn how to sail. I would recommend taking them out on lighter days and calmer conditions.

Catalina Sport

The Catalina 22 Sport has earned the reputation for the best small sailboat for years. It has simple amenities for different sailing goals, but also has a retractable keel to allow for shoal draft exploration.

For a boat this size, it can sleep four people and has a swim ladder in the back. Sailors that are used to simple designs will be happy that it has a roller furling jib, a fractional rig, and a mainsail. For a boat that is under 25 feet, it is arguably the epitome of small sailboats.

Cape Cod Daysailer

The Daysailer by Cape Cod was a first of its kind back in the 1950’s. It could travel however a sailor saw fit, with capabilities of racing, cruising, or simple pleasure.

Roughly a thousand were built by various shipyards, but Cape Cod still continues to produce them. For a 16 foot sailboat, it packs a punch with an affordable price and enough room for a few people.

The BayRaider from Swallow Yachts is another great example of a small sailboat that is easy to navigate and to put on a trailer for transport. What I love about it is that just about all of the 20 feet of the boat is an open cockpit.

If I were consistently using it in rougher waters, I would recommend adding a spray hood to help keep sections of the boat dry. In addition, I would look for the option to add stability with 300 pounds of water ballast.

For those that enjoy a solo ride, the Beetle Cat is one to consider. This boat has a draft of two feet and is roughly 12 feet long, which makes it perfect for coastal cruising or much tighter spaces.

With its single gaff-rigged sail, it offers tons of power even with lighter air. It is also nice to use when the conditions become rough and it is easy to reef down.

West Wight Potter

The West Wight Potter has a particular model, the P19, that is on many sailors’ lists of great small sailboats. A lot of sailors prefer this boat due to a variety of features for its size.

At just under 20 feet, it has four berths, galley, sink, stove, and even a cooler. This boat also has closed-cell foam on the fore and aft, making it virtually unsinkable.

The Norseboat 17.5 is the perfect sailboat in mind when it comes to rowing and sailing. Whether it has one or two people, there is plenty of room to sail comfortably.

While it is not the best boat to probably have in rough conditions, I would likely use this to find coastal areas with good camping spots. With its excellent load capacity, there are plenty of opportunities to bring all kinds of gear without fear of weighing the boat down.

Even though the Montgomery 17 is advertised as a trailerable pocket cruiser, it packs a punch for a smaller sloop rig. It even comes with a centerboard keel that can be retracted to make the boat draft just two feet. This is great for those that want to cruise along the coast or beach it and go exploring.

The cuddy cabin has plenty of headroom and two bunks for guests. There are other models that Montgomery offers such as the 15 and 23, but the 17 is arguably the most attractive for tighter spaces navigating and the best bang for buck scenario.

The CW Hood 32 is somewhat misleading for a small sailboat since it is roughly 32 feet in length. However, sailors will only use about half of the boat in the cockpit with seating and navigating.

This boat is specifically designed for day sailing in mind, with nothing on board to distract anyone from sailing. It is a perfect sailboat for a family without being too large to handle.

The 17 foot and half Sun Cat from Com-Pac Yachts is a great looking small sailboat. With its gaff-rigged mainsail, it powers easily with light conditions.

It can be for solo sailing or a small group that wants to share twin six foot berths. It has a handful of amenities to make this a great boat to have on the weekend or small trips.

There was a time that the Sunfish was the most popular small sailboat in existence. But price and competition flooded the market and other top names are pushing them away from the top.

However, this might be a good opportunity to find one at a discount. The Sunfish is excellent for those wanting to day sail or learn how to sail, meaning anyone can enjoy time on the water with this simple 14 foot setup.

The Catalina 16.5 is considered the middle child between its models of 12.5 and the 22. It can come in two different models, one with a centerboard or another with a shoal draft fixed keel.

At slightly over 17 feet, the centerboard model can draft as low as five inches on the water or a little over four feet with the board down. It also features plenty of room in the cockpit and a waterproof hatch for storage.

For those that want a taste of stability from a catamaran and a small sailboat that is easy to trailer, a Hobie 16 is the right boat. Since 1969, there have been plenty of models from that brand but over 100,000 have been made with the 16 alone.

All catamarans can be beached, but some might need some attention beforehand to ensure so. For example, this one will need rudders kicked up before beaching.

The Hunter 15 is the pinnacle of simplicity and functionality. This boat, whether an experienced sailor or newbie is navigating, is one of the best boats without having to think too much about while underway.

With its kick up rudder, any sailor can relax as they enter shoal drafts. This 15 footer is great for day sailing since there are not any special features on board.

Super Snark

The Super Snark has been around since 1970 and has proven to be successful at just 11 feet in length. It is easy to transport, either on a trailer or on top of a vehicle.

The boat weighs just 50 pounds and has a payload capacity of about 310 pounds. For those that want a small unsinkable boat built for two people, it is hard to pass up a Super Snark.

Flying Scot

The Flying Scot is another great small sailboat that is just under 20 feet in length. Not much has changed since it was produced in 1957 with its sloop rig and spinnaker.

Even though it is a good racer for just one or two people, it can comfortably be used as a family boat for up to eight people. It also has a centerboard keel that can be retracted to make it have an eight inch draft.

RS Sailing typically builds racing dinghies, but the Venture model is a 16 footer that is great for those newer to sailing. This boat is commonly used in training classes across the U.S.

The cockpit can comfortably hold a handful of people or a group of smaller kids. It also features an outboard motor mount and a swim ladder in case anyone wants to take a swim.

The RS Sailing brand needs one more mention due to the amount of small sailboats they put out. The RS Aero, for example, is an award winning racing dinghy just shy of 14 feet that has been used in competitions all over the world.

It is not a boat that can be easily learned for a newbie to reach top speeds, but experienced racers love the performance it offers. It only seats one, but it is perfect for those that have sailing experience, whether they are young or old.

Topaz makes a variety of smaller sailboats, but the one that is most popular is the Taz. At just under 10 feet in length, it is one of the smaller sailboats out there that can accommodate an adult and maybe a small child.

This could also be used for larger boats that need a dinghy to make it to shore. For the price point, it will be difficult to ignore for a compelling dinghy.

The WRTango by WindRider is a perfect trimaran at 10 feet that is easy to sail and to transport. It is the smallest edition of trimarans offered by this brand, just behind the WR 16 and 17.

Since it has forward facing seating, steering with a foot pedal, and a lower center of gravity, sailors will feel like they are sitting in a kayak. It has a six inch draft, a single sail, and heavy duty outriggers that are designed to take a beating.

Minicat has a special line of inflatable catamarans available in various sizes. These come equipped with a multi-piece mast and even a trampoline, along with the inflatable hulls of course.

It is arguably the easiest small sailboat to travel with, as it can be put away in one or two bags for transport. As for sailing, it rivals the speeds and handle of other popular small catamarans.

Vancouver 28

The Vancouver 28 is outside the range of what would be considered a dinghy, but it still offers a lot of value for being a smaller bluewater sailboat. At 28 feet, there is a little something for everyone.

This boat is considered a pocket cruiser that can essentially go anywhere. For those that are trying to downsize from other larger sailboats, they should strongly consider a change with the Vancouver 28.

Pros and Cons to Small Sailboats

Small sailboats have become more popular over the last few decades. Smaller bluewater sailboats have a lot to like, but also present some disadvantages that might not fit into a sailor’s category to sail.

It is important to figure out what sailing goals a sailor wants to take part in. Whether it is cruising, weekend sailing, or day sailing, small sailboats are potentially a good fit.

There are a handful of pros to look at for small sailboats. The key is to find one that fits specific to a sailing goal, such as racing or cruising.

It is easy to see why small sailboats are common, especially since they cost much less than larger ones. They are even less expensive models if a sailor can find a used one.

Depending on how long a boat is will determine how much it costs to build. It is easier and costs less to make repairs on smaller boats since the damaged areas are smaller as well. So finding a small, yet functional sailboat will be the most cost effective.

Simpler Systems

Small sailboats are easier to maintain and have a lot less issues than larger boats. This is simply because they have a lot less to offer, such as a watermaker or an electric anchor windlass.

Some are just bare bones when it comes to sailing, while others have galleys or berths. Depending on the model and brand will determine how easy it is to maintain.

Easy to Sail

Inexperienced sailors often gravitate to smaller sailors simply because they are easier to sail. Imagine the difference between raising a sail between an 18 footer and a 48 footer, or even the difference between one or a few sails.

These boats are also meant for solo sailing or for smaller groups, making it easier to handle functions on board. These are also used in training schools that teach how to sail. There is also less stress on the boat in general, making it easier to maintain.

Easy to Rig

Whether a sailor wants to put a small sailboat on a trailer or the top of their car, no one can deny how convenient it is to move around. No special tricks are needed for these types of boats, as they are simple to put up once they are done being used.

When looking at the inflatable catamaran for example, it is one of the easiest to set up and put away. Larger boats require to be parked at a dock or will be more difficult to pull out of the water.

Easy to Find Parts

Every sailboat will need something replaced or fixed at some point. For small sailboats, it will be easier to find parts or replacement items because these boats are often made in bulk.

Smaller boats can be found everywhere and a lot were made back in the early 1950’s and 60’s. Some will have compatible parts to newer ones and the other way around.

As good as small sailboats might be to some, sailors might choose to look elsewhere if their sailing goals do not fit what a small sailboat offers. If sailors are simply wanting to get out on the water and not have a lot of amenities, this could work for them. So depending on what a sailor is expecting to get out of a boat makes the biggest difference.

Much Slower

If sailors were to travel the same distance at the same time in different sized boats, more often than not the large boat will win. While some small sailboats are only meant for racing, a lot of them are not meant to travel very fast.

The hull speed is in conjunction with the square root of the length of the water, meaning you need more hull to go faster. This could become an issue when trying to evade a storm and get to safety quickly.

Larger boats tend to average between seven to 10 knots while small sailboats average less. Depending on how much the difference is in length and sail area will determine the speed.

Not as Much Space

Small sailboats under 20 feet are difficult to live aboard or travel long distances with a lack of gear or food. There are some that can cater to one or two people for full time sailing, but these have limited space as well.

Unless sailors are able to effectively downsize from larger boats to smaller boats, there will likely be some issues with the amount of gear or other items they are taking on board. In addition, it makes it difficult to travel with a crew or even a pet.

Not as Comfortable

There will be some debate between how comfortable small sailboats are, but the argument can be made that they are not as comfortable as larger sailboats. Generally, anything over 20 feet is recommended to live aboard or engage in bluewater sailing long term.

For those that want to be as comfortable as possible while sailing, smaller sailboats might lack in that regard. Since there is not as much seating and a lack of a galley or berth, sailors might pass on small sailboats for comfort.

Why A Small Sailboat Could Be Beneficial

A variety of factors will contribute to a sailor wanting to select a specific boat to sail in. These include budget, sailing goals, and availability nearby. Small sailboats have proven to be effective for a variety of purposes.

For newer sailors, small sailboats are definitely the way to go to learn how to sail without blowing tons of money on a larger setup. After sailors have developed a comfortable amount of experience with their small sailboat or if their sailing goals have changed, then it would be ideal to move onto a larger boat to fit their needs.

Small sailboats definitely have their place in today’s market. From racers to cruisers, or daysailers to weekenders, small sailboats can fit any category that a sailor could possibly want to experience.

It is ultimately up to the individual on how they want to approach a small sailboat and its capabilities. In the best scenario, one should find a boat that is in good condition, is affordable for their budget, and is easy to handle based on their sailing goals.

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I've personally had thousands of questions about sailing and sailboats over the years. As I learn and experience sailing, and the community, I share the answers that work and make sense to me, here on Life of Sailing.

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17 Sailboat Types Explained: How To Recognize Them

Ever wondered what type of sailboat you're looking at? Identifying sailboats isn't hard, you just have to know what to look for. In this article, I'll help you.

Every time I'm around a large number of sailboats, I look around in awe (especially with the bigger ones). I recognize some, but with most of them, I'll have to ask the owner. When they answer, I try to hide my ignorance. The words don't make any sense!

So here's a complete list with pictures of the most common sailboat types today. For each of them, I'll explain exactly where the name comes from, and how you can recognize it easily.

Gaff rigged white schooner

So here's my list of popular sailboat types, explained:

Bermuda sloop, sailing hydrofoil, dutch barge, chinese junk, square-rigged tall ship, in conclusion, how to recognize any sailboat.

Before we get started, I wanted to quickly explain what you should look for when you try to identify a sailboat.

The type of sailboat is always determined by one of these four things:

  • The type of hull
  • The type of keel
  • The number of masts
  • And the type of sails and rig

The hull is the boat's body. There are basically three hull types: monohull, catamaran, and trimaran. Simply said: do I see one hull, two hulls (catamaran) or three hulls (trimaran)? Most sailboats are monohulls.

Next, there is the keel type. The keel is the underwater part of the hull. Mostly, you won't be able to see that, because it's underwater. So we'll leave that for now.

The sail plan

The last factor is the number of masts and the sail plan. The sail plan, simply put, is the number of sails, the type of sails, and how the sails are mounted to the masts (also called rigging ).

Sailboat are mostly named after the sail plan, but occasionally, a sail type is thrown in there as well.

So now we know what to pay attention to, let's go and check out some sailboats!

Row of sailing dinghies in golden hour at the dock

Dinghies are the smallest and most simple sailboats around.

They are your typical training sailboats. Small boats with an open hull, with just one mast and one sail. Perfect for learning the ways of the wind.

On average, they are between 6 and 20 ft long. Mostly sailed single-handed (solo). There's no special rigging, just the mainsail. The mainsail is commonly a Bermuda (triangular) mainsail. Dinghies have a simple rudder stick and no special equipment or rigging.

Dinghies are great for learning how to sail. The smaller the boat, the better you feel the impact of your trim and actions.

How to recognize a sailing dinghy:

  • short (8ft)
  • one Bermuda sail
  • open hull design
  • rudder stick

Common places to spot them: lakes, near docks

Three Bermuda Sloops in bright blue water

If you'd ask a kid to draw a sailboat, she'll most probably draw this one. The Bermuda Sloop is the most popular and most common sailboat type today. You'll definitely recognize this one.

How to recognize a Bermuda Sloop:

  • triangular mainsail (called a Bermuda sail)
  • a foresail (also called the jib)
  • fore-and-aft rigged
  • medium-sized (12 - 50 ft)

Fore-and-aft rigged just means "from front to back". This type of rigging helps to sail upwind.

Any sailboat with one mast and two sails could still be a sloop. Even if the sails are another shape or rigged in another way. For example, here's a gaff-rigged sloop (more on the gaff rig later):

Gaff Rigged Sloop in white in front of coastline with flat

If you want to learn all about sail rigs, check out my full Guide to Understanding Sail Rig Types here. It has good infographics and explains it in more detail

The Bermuda sloop has a lot of advantages over other sailboat types (which is why it's so popular):

  • the Bermuda rig is very maneuverable and pretty fast in almost all conditions
  • it's really versatile
  • you can sail it by yourself without any problems
  • it's a simple setup

Common places to spot a sloop: everywhere. Smaller sloops are more common for inland waters, rivers, and lakes. Medium-sized and large sloops are very popular cruising boats.

Cutter motorsailor against sun in black and white

Cutters have one mast but three or more sails. Most cutters are Bermuda rigged, which means they look a lot like sloops.

How to recognize a cutter:

  • looks like a sloop
  • two or more headsails instead of one
  • commonly one mast
  • sometimes an extra mast with mainsail

Cutters have more sail area, which makes them faster, but also harder to sail single-handed. There's also more strain on the mast and rigging.

Common places to spot a cutter: everywhere. Cutters are very popular for cruising.

They mostly have a Bermuda rig, which means triangular sails. But there are also gaff cutters and naval cutters, and some have two masts.

Here's an example of a two-masted naval cutter with an extra gaff mainsail and top gaff:

Dutch naval cutter with top gaff sail

The Hydrofoil is a pretty new sailboat design. It's a racing sailboat with thin wing foils under the hull. These lift up the hull, out of the water, reducing the displacement to nearly zero. The foils create downforce and keep it from lifting off entirely.

This makes the hydrofoil extremely fast and also impressive.

The hydrofoil refers to the keel type. There are both monohull and multihull hydrofoils.

How to recognize a hydrofoil:

  • it flies above the waterline and has small fins

Common places to spot a hydrofoil: at racing events

Cruising catamaran at dock in blue waters

Famous catamaran: La Vagabonde from Sailing La Vagabonde

A catamaran is a type of cruising and racing multihull sailboat with two hulls. The hulls are always the same size.

Most catamarans have a standard Bermuda rig. The catamaran refers to the hull, so it can have any number of masts, sails, sail types and rig type.

How to recognize a catamaran:

  • any boat with two hulls is called a catamaran

Common places to spot catamarans: coastal waters, The Caribbean, shallow reefs

The advantages of a catamaran: Catamarans heel less than monohulls and are more buoyant. Because of the double hull, they don't need as deep a keel to be stable. They have a smaller displacement, making them faster. They also have a very shallow draft. That's why catamarans are so popular in the Caribbean, where there's lots of shallow water.

Catamarans are nearly impossible to capsize:

"Compared with a monohull, a cruising catamaran sailboat has a high initial resistance to heeling and capsize—a fifty-footer requires four times the force to initiate a capsize than an equivalent monohull." Source: Wikipedia

Trimaran in green-blue waves

How to recognize a trimaran:

  • any boat with three hulls is called a trimaran

Trimarans have three hulls, so it's a multi-hull design. It's mostly a regular monohull with two smaller hulls or floaters on the sides. Some trimarans can be trailered by winching in the auxiliary hulls, like this:

Extended trimaran hull

This makes them very suitable for long-term cruising, but also for regular docking. This is great for crowded areas and small berths, like in the Mediterranean. It sure is more cost-effective than the catamaran (but you also don't have the extra storage and living space!).

Common places to spot Trimarans: mostly popular for long-term cruising, you'll find the trimaran in coastal areas.

Gaff rigged white schooner

Gaffer refers to gaff-rigged, which is the way the sails are rigged. A gaff rig is a rectangular sail with a top pole, or 'spar', which attaches it to the mast. This pole is called the 'gaff'. To hoist the mainsail, you hoist this top spar with a separate halyard. Most gaffers carry additional gaff topsails as well.

Gaff rigs are a bit less versatile than sloops. Because of the gaff, they can have a larger sail area. So they will perform better with downwind points of sail. Upwind, however, they handle less well.

How to recognize a gaffer:

  • sail is rectangular
  • mainsail has a top pole (or spar)

Since a gaffer refers to the rig type, and not the mast configuration or keel type, all sailboats with this kind of rigging can be called 'gaffers'.

Common places to spot a gaffer: Gaffers are popular inland sailboats. It's a more traditional rig, being used recreationally.

White schooner with two headsails

Schooners used to be extremely popular before sloops took over. Schooners are easy to sail but slower than sloops. They handle better than sloops in all comfortable (cruising) points of sail, except for upwind.

How to recognize a schooner:

  • mostly two masts
  • smaller mast in front
  • taller mast in the back
  • fore-and-aft rigged sails
  • gaff-rigged mainsails (spar on top of the sail)

Common places to spot a schooner: coastal marinas, bays

Ketch with maroon sails

How to recognize a ketch:

  • medium-sized (30 ft and up)
  • smaller mast in back
  • taller mast in front
  • both masts have a mainsail

The ketch refers to the sail plan (mast configuration and type of rig). Ketches actually handle really well. The back mast (mizzenmast) powers the hull, giving the skipper more control. Because of the extra mainsail, the ketch has shorter masts. This means less stress on masts and rigging, and less heel.

Common places to spot a ketch: larger marinas, coastal regions

White yawl with two masts and blue spinnaker

How to recognize a yawl:

  • main mast in front
  • much smaller mast in the back
  • back mast doesn't carry a mainsail

The aft mast is called a mizzenmast. Most ketches are gaff-rigged, so they have a spar at the top of the sail. They sometimes carry gaff topsails. They are harder to sail than sloops.

The yawl refers to the sail plan (mast configuration and type of rig).

Common places to spot a yawl: they are not as popular as sloops, and most yawls are vintage sailboat models. You'll find most being used as daysailers on lakes and in bays.

Clipper with leeboards

Dutch Barges are very traditional cargo ships for inland waters. My hometown is literally littered with a very well-known type of barge, the Skutsje. This is a Frisian design with leeboards.

Skutsjes don't have a keel but use leeboards for stability instead, which are the 'swords' or boards on the side of the hull.

How to recognize a Dutch Barge:

  • most barges have one or two masts
  • large, wooden masts
  • leeboards (wooden wings on the side of the hull)
  • mostly gaff-rigged sails (pole on top of the sail, attached to mast)
  • a ducktail transom

small racing sailboats

The clipper is one of the latest sailboat designs before steam-powered vessels took over. The cutter has a large cargo area for transporting cargo. But they also needed to be fast to compete with steam vessels. It's a large, yet surprisingly fast sailboat model, and is known for its good handling.

This made them good for trade, especially transporting valuable goods like tea or spices.

How to recognize a Clipper:

  • mostly three masts
  • square-rigged sails
  • narrow but long, steel hull

Common places to spot a clipper: inland waters, used as houseboats, but coastal waters as well. There are a lot of clippers on the Frisian Lakes and Waddenzee in The Netherlands (where I live).

Chinese Junk sailboat with red sails

This particular junk is Satu, from the Chesapeake Bay Area.

The Chinese Junk is an ancient type of sailboat. Junks were used to sail to Indonesia and India from the start of the Middle Ages onward (500 AD). The word junk supposedly comes from the Chinese word 'jung', meaning 'floating house'.

How to recognize a Chinese junk:

  • medium-sized (30 - 50 ft)
  • large, flat sails with full-length battens
  • stern (back of the hull) opens up in a high deck
  • mostly two masts (sometimes one)
  • with two mainsails, sails are traditionally maroon
  • lug-rigged sails

The junk has a large sail area. The full-length battens make sure the sails stay flat. It's one of the flattest sails around, which makes it good for downwind courses. This also comes at a cost: the junk doesn't sail as well upwind.

White cat boat with single gaff-rigged sail

The cat rig is a sail plan with most commonly just one mast and one sail, the mainsail.

Most sailing dinghies are cats, but there are also larger boats with this type of sail plan. The picture above is a great example.

How to recognize a cat rig:

  • smaller boats
  • mostly one mast
  • one sail per mast
  • no standing rigging

Cat-rigged refers to the rigging, not the mast configuration or sail type. So you can have cats with a Bermuda sail (called a Bermuda Cat) or gaff-rigged sail (called a Gaff Cat), and so on. There are also Cat Ketches and Cat Schooners, for example. These have two masts.

The important thing to know is: cats have one sail per mast and no standing rigging .

Most typical place to spot Cats: lakes and inland waters

Brig under sail with woodlands

Famous brig: HMS Beagle (Charles Darwin's ship)

A brig was a very popular type of small warship of the U.S. navy during the 19th century. They were used in the American Revolution and other wars with the United Kingdom. They carry 10-18 guns and are relatively fast and maneuverable. They required less crew than a square-rigged ship.

How to recognize a brig:

  • square-rigged foremast
  • mainmast square-rigged or square-rigged and gaff-rigged

small racing sailboats

How to recognize a tall ship:

  • three or four masts
  • square sails with a pole across the top
  • multiple square sails on each mast
  • a lot of lines and rigging

Square-rigged ships, or tall ships, are what we think of when we think of pirate ships. Now, most pirate ships weren't actually tall ships, but they come from around the same period. They used to be built from wood, but more modern tall ships are nearly always steel.

Tall ships have three or four masts and square sails which are square-rigged. That means they are attached to the masts with yards.

We have the tall ship races every four years, where dozens of tall ships meet and race just offshore.

Most common place to spot Tall Ships: Museums, special events, open ocean

Trabaccolo with large yellow sails

This is a bonus type since it is not very common anymore. As far as I know, there's only one left.

The Trabaccolo is a small cargo ship used in the Adriatic Sea. It has lug sails. A lug rig is a rectangular sail, but on a long pole or yard that runs fore-and-aft. It was a popular Venetian sailboat used for trade.

The name comes from the Italian word trabacca , which means tent, referring to the sails.

How to recognize a Trabaccolo:

  • wide and short hull
  • sails look like a tent

Most common place to spot Trabaccolo's: the Marine Museum of Cesenatico has a fully restored Trabaccolo.

So, there you have it. Now you know what to look for, and how to recognize the most common sailboat types easily. Next time you encounter a magnificent sailboat, you'll know what it's called - or where to find out quickly.

Pinterest image for 17 Sailboat Types Explained: How To Recognize Them

I loved this article. I had no idea there were so many kinds of sailboats.

i have a large sailing boat about 28ft. that im having a difficult time identifying. it was my fathers & unfortunately hes passed away now. any helpful information would be appreciated.

Jorge Eusali Castro Archbold

I find a saleboat boat but i can find the módem…os registré out off bru’x, and the saleboat name is TADCOZ, can you tell me who to go about this matter in getting info.thank con voz your time…

Leave a comment

You may also like, guide to understanding sail rig types (with pictures).

There are a lot of different sail rig types and it can be difficult to remember what's what. So I've come up with a system. Let me explain it in this article.

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