Types of Sailboats: A Complete Guide

Types of Sailboats | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

June 15, 2022

Learning the different types of sailboats can help you identify vessels and choose the right boat.

In this article, we'll cover the most common kinds of sailboats, their origins, and what they're used for. We'll also go over the strengths and weaknesses of each design, along with when they're most useful.

The most common kind of sailboat is the sloop, as it's simple to operate and versatile. Other common sailboat types include the schooner, cutter, cat, ketch, schooner, catamaran, and trimaran. Other sailboat variations include pocket cruisers, motorsailers, displacement, and shoal-draft vessels.

The information found in this article is sourced from boat reference guides, including A Field Guide to Sailboats of North America by Richard M. Sherwood and trusted sources in the sailing community.

Table of contents

Distinguishing Types of Sailboats

In this article, we'll distinguish sailboats by traits such as their hull type, rig, and general configuration. Some sailboats share multiple characteristics with other boats but fall into a completely different category. For example, a sailboat with a Bermuda rig, a large engine, and a pilothouse could technically be called a sloop, but it's more likely a motorsailer.

When discerning sailboat type, the first most obvious place to look is the hull. If it has only one hull, you can immediately eliminate the trimaran and the catamaran. If it has two or more hulls, it's certainly not a typical monohull vessel.

The next trait to consider is the rig. You can tell a lot about a sailboat based on its rig, including what it's designed to be used for. For example, a long and slender sailboat with a tall triangular rig is likely designed for speed or racing, whereas a wide vessel with a complex gaff rig is probably built for offshore cruising.

Other factors that determine boat type include hull shape, overall length, cabin size, sail plan, and displacement. Hull material also plays a role, but every major type of sailboat has been built in both wood and fiberglass at some point.

Sailboat vs. Motorsailer

Most sailboats have motors, but most motorized sailboats are not motorsailers. A motorsailer is a specific kind of sailboat designed to run efficiently under sail and power, and sometimes both.

Most sailboats have an auxiliary engine, though these power plants are designed primarily for maneuvering. These vessels cannot achieve reasonable speed or fuel-efficiency. Motorsailers can operate like a powerboat.

Motorsailers provide great flexibility on short runs. They're great family boats, and they're popular in coastal communities with heavy boat traffic. However, these features come at a cost. Motorsailers aren't the fastest or most efficient powerboats, and they're also not the most agile sailboats. That said, they make an excellent general-purpose sailing craft.

Monohull vs. Multi-hull: Which is Better?

Multihull sailboats are increasingly popular, thanks to advances and lightweight materials, and sailboat design. But are they better than traditional sailboats? Monohulls are easier to maintain and less expensive, and they offer better interior layouts. Multihulls are more stable and comfortable, and they're significantly easier to control. Multihull sailboats also have a speed advantage.

Monohull Sailboats

A monohull sailboat is a traditionally-shaped vessel with a single hull. The vast majority of consumer sailboats are monohulls, as they're inexpensive to produce and easy to handle. Monohull sailboats are proven and easy to maintain, though they lack the initial stability and motion comfort of multi-hull vessels.

Monohull sailboats have a much greater rig variety than multi-hull sailboats. The vast majority of multihull sailboats have a single mast, whereas multi-masted vessels such as yawls and schooners are always monohulls. Some multi-hull sailboats have side-by-side masts, but these are the exception.

Catamaran Sailboats

The second most common sailboat configuration is the catamaran. A catamaran is a multihull sailboat that has two symmetrical hulls placed side-by-side and connected with a deck. This basic design has been used for hundreds of years, and it experienced a big resurgence in the fiberglass boat era.

Catamarans are fast, efficient, and comfortable. They don't heel very much, as this design has excellent initial stability. The primary drawback of the catamaran is below decks. The cabin of a catamaran is split between both hulls, which often leaves less space for the galley, head, and living areas.

Trimaran Sailboats

Trimarans are multi-hull sailboats similar to catamarans. Trimarans have three hulls arranged side-by-side. The profile of a trimaran is often indistinguishable from a catamaran.

Trimarans are increasingly popular, as they're faster than catamarans and monohulls and considerably easier to control. Trimarans suffer from the same spatial limitations as catamarans. The addition of an extra hull adds additional space, which is one reason why these multi-hull vessels are some of the best-selling sailboats on the market today.

Sailboat Rig Types

Rigging is another way to distinguish sailboat types. The rig of a sailboat refers to it's mast and sail configuration. Here are the most common types of sailboat rigs and what they're used for.

Sloops are the most common type of sailboat on the water today. A sloop is a simple single-mast rig that usually incorporates a tall triangular mainsail and headsail. The sloop rig is easy to control, fun to sail, and versatile. Sloops are common on racing sailboats as they can sail quite close to the wind. These maneuverable sailboats also have excellent windward performance.

The sloop rig is popular because it works well in almost any situation. That said, other more complex rigs offer finer control and superior performance for some hull types. Additionally, sloops spread their entire sail area over just to canvases, which is less flexible than multi-masted rigs. The sloop is ideal for general-purpose sailing, and it's proven itself inland and offshore.

Sloop Features:

  • Most popular sailboat rig
  • Single mast
  • One mainsail and headsail
  • Typically Bermuda-rigged
  • Easy to handle
  • Great windward performance
  • Less precise control
  • Easier to capsize
  • Requires a tall mast

Suitable Uses:

  • Offshore cruising
  • Coastal cruising

Cat (Catboat)

The cat (or catboat) is a single-masted sailboat with a large, single mainsail. Catboats have a thick forward mast, no headsail, and an exceptionally long boom. These vessels are typically gaff-rigged, as this four-edged rig offers greater sail area with a shorter mast. Catboats were popular workboats in New England around the turn of the century, and they have a large following today.

Catboats are typically short and wide, which provides excellent stability in rough coastal conditions. They're hardy and seaworthy vessels, but they're slow and not ideal for offshore use. Catboats are simple and easy to control, as they only have a single gaff sail. Catboats are easy to spot thanks to their forward-mounted mast and enormous mainsail.

Catboat Features:

  • Far forward-mounted single mast
  • Large four-sided gaff sail
  • Short and wide with a large cockpit
  • Usually between 20 and 30 feet in length
  • Excellent workboats
  • Tough and useful design
  • Great for fishing
  • Large cockpit and cabin
  • Not ideal for offshore sailing
  • Single sail offers less precise control
  • Slow compared to other rigs
  • Inland cruising

At first glance, a cutter is difficult to distinguish from a sloop. Both vessels have a single mast located in roughly the same position, but the sail plan is dramatically different. The cutter uses two headsails and often incorporates a large spar that extends from the bow (called a bowsprit).

The additional headsail is called a staysail. A sloop only carries one headsail, which is typically a jib. Cutter headsails have a lower center of gravity which provides superior performance in rough weather. It's more difficult to capsize a cutter, and they offer more precise control than a sloop. Cutters have more complex rigging, which is a disadvantage for some people.

Cutter Features:

  • Two headsails
  • Long bowsprit
  • Similar to sloop
  • Gaff or Bermuda-rigged
  • Fast and efficient
  • Offers precise control
  • Superior rough-weather performance
  • More complex than the sloop rig
  • Harder to handle than simpler rigs

Perhaps the most majestic type of sailboat rig, the schooner is a multi-masted vessel with plenty of history and rugged seaworthiness. The schooner is typically gaff-rigged with short masts and multiple sails. Schooners are fast and powerful vessels with a complex rig. These sailboats have excellent offshore handling characteristics.

Schooners have a minimum of two masts, but some have three or more. The aftermost large sail is the mainsail, and the nearly identical forward sail is called the foresail. Schooners can have one or more headsail, which includes a cutter-style staysail. Some schooners have an additional smaller sale aft of the mainsail called the mizzen.

Schooner Features:

  • At least two masts
  • Usually gaff-rigged
  • One or more headsails
  • Excellent offshore handling
  • Precise control
  • Numerous sail options (headsails, topsails, mizzen)
  • Fast and powerful
  • Complex and labor-intensive rig
  • Difficult to adjust rig single-handed
  • Offshore fishing

Picture a ketch as a sloop or a cutter with an extra mast behind the mainsail. These vessels are seaworthy, powerful, excellent for offshore cruising. A ketch is similar to a yawl, except its larger mizzen doesn't hang off the stern. The ketch is either gaff or Bermuda-rigged.

Ketch-rigged sailboats have smaller sails, and thus, shorter masts. This makes them more durable and controllable in rough weather. The mizzen can help the boat steer itself, which is advantageous on offshore voyages. A ketch is likely slower than a sloop or a cutter, which means you aren't likely to find one winning a race.

Ketch Features:

  • Headsail (or headsails), mainsail, and mizzen
  • Mizzen doesn't extend past the rudder post
  • Good offshore handling
  • Controllable and mild
  • Shorter and stronger masts
  • Easy self-steering
  • Slower than sloops and cutters
  • Less common on the used market

A dinghy is a general term for a small sailboat of fewer than 28 feet overall. Dinghys are often dual-power boats, which means they usually have oars or a small outboard in addition to a sail. These small boats are open-top and only suitable for cruising in protected waters. Many larger sailboats have a deployable dinghy on board to get to shore when at anchor.

Dinghy Features:

  • One or two people maximum capacity
  • Easy to sail
  • Works with oars, sails, or an outboard
  • Great auxiliary boat
  • Small and exposed
  • Not suitable for offshore use
  • Going from anchor to shore
  • Protected recreational sailing (lakes, rivers, and harbors)

Best Sailboat Type for Stability

Stability is a factor that varies widely between sailboat types. There are different types of stability, and some sailors prefer one over another. For initial stability, the trimaran wins with little contest. This is because these vessels have a very high beam-to-length ratio, which makes them much less prone to rolling. Next up is the catamaran, which enjoys the same benefit from a wide beam but lacks the additional support of a center hull section.

It's clear that in most conditions, multihull vessels have the greatest stability. But what about in rough weather? And what about capsizing? Multihull sailboats are impossible to right after a knockdown. This is where full-keel monohull sailboats excel.

Traditional vessels with deep displacement keels are the safest and most stable in rough weather. The shape, depth, and weight of their keels keep them from knocking over and rolling excessively. In many cases, these sailboats will suffer a dismasting long before a knockdown. The primary disadvantage of deep-keeled sailboats is their tendency to heel excessively. This characteristic isn't hazardous, though it can make novice sailors nervous and reduce cabin comfort while underway.

Best Sailboat Type for Offshore Cruising

The best sailboat type for offshore cruising is the schooner. These graceful aid robust vessels have proven themselves over centuries as durable and capable vessels. They typically use deep displacement keels, which makes them stable in rough weather and easy to keep on course.

That said, the full answer isn't quite so simple. Modern multihull designs are an attractive option, and they have also proven to be strong and safe designs. Multihull sailboats are an increasingly popular option for offshore sailors, and they offer comfort that was previously unknown in the sailing community.

Many sailors cross oceans in basic Bermuda-rigged monohulls and take full advantage of a fin-keel design speed. At the end of the day, the best offshore cruising sailboat is whatever you are comfortable handling and living aboard. There are physical limits to all sailboat designs, though almost any vessel can make it across an ocean if piloted by a competent skipper and crew.

Best Sailboat Type for Racing The modern lightweight Bermuda-rigged sailboat is the king of the regatta. When designed with the right kind of hull, these vessels are some of the fastest sailboats ever developed. Many boats constructed between the 1970s and today incorporate these design features due to their favorable coastal and inland handling characteristics. Even small sailboats, such as the Cal 20 and the Catalina 22, benefit from this design. These boats are renowned for their speed and handling characteristics.

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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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The Ultimate Guide to Sail Boat Designs: Exploring Sail Shape, Masts and Keel Types in 2023

WOS Team

  • June 4, 2023

Sail Boat Designs have changed over the years, image shows a historical sail boat with large masts and multiple sails

When it comes to sail boat designs, there is a wide array of options available, each with its own unique characteristics and advantages. From the shape of the sails to the number of masts and the type of keel, every aspect plays a crucial role in determining a sailboat’s performance, stability, and manoeuvrability. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the fascinating world of sail boat designs, exploring the various elements and their significance.

Table of Contents

The sail shape is a fundamental aspect of sail boat design, directly impacting its speed, windward performance, and maneuverability. There are several types of sail shapes, including:

1. Bermuda Rig:

The Bermuda rig is a widely used sail shape known for its versatility and performance. It features a triangular mainsail and a jib, offering excellent maneuverability and the ability to sail close to the wind. The Bermuda rig’s design allows for efficient use of wind energy, enabling sailboats to achieve higher speeds. The tall, triangular mainsail provides a larger surface area for capturing the wind, while the jib helps to balance the sail plan and optimize performance. This rig is commonly found in modern recreational sailboats and racing yachts. Its sleek and streamlined appearance adds to its aesthetic appeal, making it a popular choice among sailors of all levels of experience.

2. Gaff Rig:

The Gaff rig is a classic sail shape that exudes elegance and nostalgia. It features a four-sided mainsail with a gaff and a topsail, distinguishing it from other sail designs. The gaff, a horizontal spar, extends diagonally from the mast, providing additional area for the mainsail. This configuration allows for a taller and more powerful sail, making the Gaff rig particularly suited for downwind sailing. The Gaff rig offers a traditional aesthetic and is often found in vintage and classic sailboats, evoking a sense of nostalgia for a bygone era of maritime exploration. The distinctive shape of the Gaff rig, with its graceful curves and intricate rigging, adds a touch of timeless charm to any sailboat that dons this rig.

3. Lateen Rig:

The Lateen rig is a unique and versatile sail design that has been used for centuries in various parts of the world. It features a triangular sail that is rigged on a long yard, extending diagonally from the mast. This configuration allows for easy adjustment of the sail’s angle to catch the wind efficiently, making the Lateen rig suitable for a wide range of wind conditions. The Lateen rig is known for its ability to provide both power and maneuverability, making it ideal for small to medium-sized sailboats and traditional vessels like dhow boats. Its versatility allows sailors to navigate narrow waterways and make tight turns with ease. The distinctive silhouette of a sailboat with a Lateen rig, with its sleek triangular sail and graceful curves, evokes a sense of adventure and a connection to seafaring traditions from around the world.

Number of Masts

The number of masts in a sail boat design affects its stability, sail area, and overall performance. Let’s explore a few common configurations:

1. Sloop Rig:

The sloop rig is one of the most popular and versatile sail boat designs, favoured by sailors around the world. It consists of a single mast and two sails—a mainsail and a jib. The sloop rig offers simplicity, ease of handling, and excellent performance across various wind conditions. The mainsail, situated behind the mast, provides the primary driving force, while the jib helps to balance the sail plan and improve manoeuvrability. This configuration allows for efficient upwind sailing, as the sails can be trimmed independently to optimize performance. The sloop rig is commonly found in modern recreational sailboats due to its versatility, enabling sailors to enjoy cruising, racing, or day sailing with ease. Its streamlined design and sleek appearance on the water make it both aesthetically pleasing and efficient, capturing the essence of the sailing experience.

2. Cutter Rig:

The cutter rig is a versatile and robust sail boat design that offers excellent performance, especially in challenging weather conditions. It features a single mast and multiple headsails, typically including a larger headsail forward of the mast, known as the cutter rig’s distinguishing feature. This configuration provides a wide range of sail combinations, enabling sailors to adjust the sail plan to suit varying wind strengths and directions. The larger headsail enhances the boat’s downwind performance, while the smaller headsails offer increased flexibility and improved balance. The cutter rig excels in heavy weather, as it allows for easy reefing and depowering by simply reducing or eliminating the headsails. This design is commonly found in offshore cruising sailboats and has a strong reputation for its reliability and seaworthiness. The cutter rig combines versatility, stability, and the ability to handle adverse conditions, making it a preferred choice for sailors seeking both performance and safety on their voyages.

3. Ketch Rig:

The Ketch rig is a sail boat design characterized by the presence of two masts, with the main mast being taller than the mizzen mast. This configuration offers a divided sail plan, providing sailors with increased flexibility, balance, and versatility. The main advantage of the Ketch rig is the ability to distribute the sail area across multiple sails, allowing for easier handling and reduced stress on each individual sail. The mizzen mast, positioned aft of the main mast, helps to improve the sailboat’s balance, especially in strong winds or when sailing downwind. The Ketch rig is often favoured by cruisers and long-distance sailors as it provides a range of sail combinations suitable for various wind conditions. With its distinctive double-mast appearance, the Ketch rig exudes a classic charm and is well-regarded for its stability, comfort, and suitability for extended journeys on the open seas.

The keel is the part of the sail boat that provides stability and prevents drifting sideways due to the force of the wind. Here are some common keel types:

1. Fin Keel:

The fin keel is a popular keel type in sail boat design known for its excellent upwind performance and stability. It is a long, narrow keel that extends vertically from the sailboat’s hull, providing a substantial amount of ballast to counterbalance the force of the wind. The fin keel’s streamlined shape minimizes drag and enables the sailboat to cut through the water with efficiency. This design enhances the sailboat’s ability to sail close to the wind, making it ideal for racing and performance-oriented sailboats. The fin keel also reduces leeway, which refers to the sideways movement of the boat caused by the wind. This improves the sailboat’s ability to maintain a straight course and enhances overall manoeuvrability. Sailboats with fin keels are commonly found in coastal and offshore racing as well as cruising vessels, where stability and responsiveness are valued. The fin keel’s combination of performance, stability, and reduced leeway makes it a preferred choice for sailors seeking speed and agility on the water.

2. Full Keel:

The full keel is a design known for its exceptional stability and seaworthiness. It extends along the entire length of the sailboat, providing a continuous surface that adds substantial weight and ballast. This configuration offers significant advantages in terms of tracking and resistance to drifting sideways. The full keel’s deep draft helps to prevent leeway and allows the sailboat to maintain a steady course even in adverse conditions. Its robust construction enhances the sailboat’s ability to handle heavy seas and provides a comfortable ride for sailors on extended journeys. While full keel sailboats may sacrifice some manoeuvrability, their stability and predictable handling make them a popular choice for offshore cruising and long-distance voyages. The full keel design has stood the test of time and is often associated with classic and traditional sailboat aesthetics, appealing to sailors seeking reliability, comfort, and the ability to tackle challenging ocean passages with confidence.

3. Wing Keel:

The wing keel is a unique keel design that offers a combination of reduced draft and improved stability. It features a bulbous extension or wings on the bottom of the keel, which effectively increases the keel’s surface area. This design allows sailboats to navigate in shallower waters without sacrificing stability and performance. The wings create additional lift and prevent excessive leeway, enhancing the sailboat’s upwind capabilities. The reduced draft of the wing keel enables sailors to explore coastal areas and anchor in shallower anchorages that would be inaccessible to sailboats with deeper keels. The wing keel is particularly well-suited for sailboats in areas with variable water depths or tidal ranges. This keel design offers the advantages of increased manoeuvrability and improved performance while maintaining stability, making it a popular choice for sailors seeking versatility in a range of sailing environments.

In the vast world of sail boat designs, sail shape, number of masts, and keel types play pivotal roles in determining a boat’s performance and handling characteristics. Whether you’re a recreational sailor, a racer, or a cruiser, understanding these design elements can help you make informed choices when selecting a sailboat.

Remember to consider your specific needs, preferences, and intended use of the boat when choosing a sail boat design. Each design has its strengths and weaknesses, and finding the perfect combination will greatly enhance your sailing experience.

By gaining a deeper understanding of sail boat designs, you can embark on your next sailing adventure with confidence and make the most of the wind’s power.

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Types of Sailboats: Essential Guide for Every Sailor

Sailboats have been an essential part of human history, contributing to exploration, trade, and leisure. With a myriad of designs and sizes, these versatile vessels cater to various purposes and preferences. The defining characteristics of sailboats come from their rigging, sails, and hull design.

sailboat designs types

The basics of sailboat design play a significant role in the classification and function of these vessels. Hull shapes, keel types, and construction materials contribute to the speed, stability, and maneuverability of sailboats. Additionally, rigging and sails come in various shapes and sizes, which influence sailing performance and handling.

Key Takeaways

  • Sailboats are classified by hull design, rigging, and sails that serve specific purposes.
  • Designs and materials have a direct impact on the performance and handling of sailboats.
  • A wide range of sailboat types exists, which cater to different needs and preferences.

Basics of Sailboat Design

Sailboats come in various shapes and sizes, designed for different purposes and sailing conditions. One can classify sailboats based on hull types, keel types, and mast configurations. This section will briefly discuss these basic components of sailboat design.

There are mainly two types of hulls: monohull and multihull.

  • Monohull : This is the traditional and most common type of sailboat hull. It consists of a single hull, providing stability through the use of a keel or centerboard. Monohulls come in various shapes and sizes, suitable for various sailing conditions.
  • Catamaran : Catamarans have two parallel hulls of equal size, offering increased stability and speed compared to monohulls. They are commonly used for cruising and racing.
  • Trimaran : Trimarans have three hulls, with a larger central hull and two smaller outrigger hulls. This design offers even more stability and speed than catamarans.

The keel is an essential component in sailboat design, helping with stability and performance. There are various keel types, including:

  • Full keel : This traditional design features a long and wide keel that extends along the boat's bottom. It offers good tracking and stability but sacrifices speed and maneuverability.
  • Fin keel : Fin keels are shorter and deeper than full keels, providing a better combination of stability and maneuverability. These are common in modern monohull sailboats.
  • Bulb keel : A bulb keel features a fin keel with a heavy bulb at the bottom, which concentrates the boat's weight, increasing stability and performance in rough conditions.
  • Swing keel or centerboard : Swing keels and centerboards can be raised or lowered, allowing the boat to adapt to different water depths and sailing conditions. They are common in smaller boats and racing sailboats.

sailboat designs types

Mast Configuration

The mast configuration affects the sail plan and overall performance of a sailboat. Some common mast configurations include:

  • Sloop : This is the most popular mast configuration and features a single mast with a mainsail and a headsail. The simple design makes it easy to handle and suitable for various sailing conditions.
  • Cutter : Similar to the sloop, the cutter also has a single mast but carries two headsails, providing more sail area and better performance in heavy weather.
  • Ketch : A ketch configuration has two masts: a taller main mast and a shorter mizzen mast. This design offers more flexibility in sail combinations and better balance in different sailing conditions.
  • Yawl : Similar to a ketch, a yawl also features two masts but the mizzen is located further aft and is smaller. This design provides better balance and control, particularly in downwind sailing scenarios.

In conclusion, the basics of sailboat design involve selecting the appropriate hull type, keel type, and mast configuration for the desired sailing performance and conditions. Understanding these concepts can help sailors make informed decisions when choosing a sailboat or planning their sailing adventures.

Rigging and Sails

When it comes to sailboats, the rigging and sails play a crucial role in the boat's overall performance and capabilities. This section will briefly cover popular rig types and sail types seen on different sailboats.

There are several types of rigs commonly found on sailboats:

  • Sloop : Sloops are the most common type of rig found on modern sailboats. They have a single mast with a mainsail and a single headsail, typically a genoa or jib.
  • Ketch : Ketches have two masts, with the main mast taller than the mizzen mast situated aft. They carry a mainsail on the main mast and a mizzen sail on the mizzen mast. Ketches benefit from easier handling and reduced sail area under strong winds.
  • Yawl : Similar to ketches, yawls have two masts, but the mizzen mast is smaller and sits further aft, behind the rudder post. Yawls are often chosen for their graceful appearance and improved balance.
  • Schooner : Schooners have two or more masts, with the aft mast(s) typically taller than the forward mast(s). Schooners can handle more sails, offering increased sail area for better performance, especially downwind.
  • Catboat : Catboats are single-masted sailboats with a single, large mainsail and no headsails. They have a wide beam, which provides stability and ample space for passengers.
  • Cutter : Cutters are similar to sloops but carry two headsails, usually a jib and staysail. Cutters may have multiple headsails for increased versatility in various wind conditions.

In addition to the types of rigs, there are also several types of sails used on sailboats, including:

  • Mainsail : The primary sail attached to the back of the main mast. It is typically raised on a track or luff groove and managed by a combination of halyard, sheet, and boom vang.
  • Genoa : A large triangular sail that overlaps the mainsail, typically used in light winds to provide additional surface area for better performance.
  • Jib : A smaller, non-overlapping triangular sail attached to the forestay. Jibs are easier to manage than genoas and are used in a variety of wind conditions.
  • Spinnaker : A large, lightweight sail used primarily for downwind sailing . Spinnakers are often brightly colored and shaped like a parachute to catch wind efficiently.
  • Staysail : A smaller sail typically used in cutter rigs, positioned between the main mast and the forestay. Staysails provide additional sail area and versatility in varied wind conditions.

Understanding the relationship between sail and rigging can help sailors optimize the performance of their sailboats. With various options for rig types and sail types, each sailboat can be configured to meet the unique needs of its skipper and crew.

sailboat designs types

Classes and Types of Sailboats

Monohulls are the most common type of sailboats, consisting of a single hull that provides stability and balance. They come in various sizes and designs, depending on their intended use. Some popular monohull sailboats include the Optimist , Finn, and Sunfish, which are frequently used for racing and recreational sailing. Monohulls tend to have a deeper draft, requiring more water depth than their multi-hull counterparts.

Multihulls, also known as multi-hull sailboats, are a more modern innovation in sailing. They feature two or more hulls connected by a frame or bridgedeck. This design offers increased stability and speed over monohulls. Some common types of multihulls are catamarans (with two hulls) and trimarans (with three hulls). Due to their wider beam and shallower draft, multihulls are particularly suitable for cruising in shallow waters and provide more living space on board.

One-Design Sailboats

One-Design sailboats are a specific class of racing sailboats in which all boats are built to the same design specifications, ensuring that the competition focuses on the skill of the sailor rather than the design of the boat. These boats must adhere to strict rules and standards, with minimal variations allowed in terms of hull shape, sail area, and rigging. Some popular one-design sailboats include the Enterprise and the aforementioned Optimist and Finn sailboats.

Dinghies and Skiffs

Dinghies and skiffs are small, lightweight sailboats that are often used for sailing classes, short-distance racing, or as tenders to larger boats. Dinghies usually have a single mast with a mainsail and sometimes a small jib. Some popular types of sailing dinghies include the Optimist, which is specifically designed for children, and the versatile Sunfish sailboat. Skiffs, on the other hand, are high-performance sailboats primarily used for racing. They have a larger sail area relative to their size and typically include features such as trapezes and planing hulls, which allow for faster speeds and greater maneuverability.

In conclusion, there are various classes and types of sailboats, each with its own unique features and characteristics. From the simplicity of monohulls to the stability and speed of multihulls, and from the fair competition of one-design sailboats to the excitement of dinghies and skiffs, there is a sailboat to satisfy every sailor's preferences.

Sailboat Size and Use

When exploring the world of sailboats, it's important to understand their different sizes and purposes. Sailboats can be categorized into three main types, each with unique characteristics and uses: Day Sailers , Racing Sailboats, and Cruising Sailboats .

Day Sailers

Day Sailers are small sailboats typically ranging from 10 to 24 feet in length. These boats are perfect for short sailing trips and are easy to maneuver for beginners. They have limited accommodations on board, providing just enough seats for a small group of people. Some popular day sailer models include the Laser, Sunfish, and Flying Scot. Lightweight and agile, Day Sailers are often used for:

  • Recreation: casual sailing or exploring nearby waters with family and friends
  • Training: beginner sailing lessons or practicing sailing techniques
  • Competition: local club races or interclub regattas

Racing Sailboats

Racing Sailboats are designed to provide maximum speed, maneuverability, and efficiency on the water. Sizes may vary greatly, from small dinghies to large yachts. Key features of racing sailboats include a sleek hull shape, high-performance sails, and minimalistic interiors to reduce weight.

Career racers and sailing enthusiasts alike participate in various types of racing events , such as:

  • One-design racing: all boats have identical specifications, emphasizing crew skill
  • Handicap racing: boats of different sizes and designs compete with time adjustments
  • Offshore racing: long-distance racing from one point to another, often around islands or across oceans

Cruising Sailboats

Cruising Sailboats are designed for longer journeys and extended stays on the water. They typically range from 25 to 70 feet in length and provide comfortable accommodations such as sleeping cabins, a galley, and storage spaces for supplies and equipment. Sailing cruisers prioritize stability, comfort, and durability for their voyage.

Here are some common types of cruising sailboats:

  • Cruiser-racers: These boats combine the speed of a racing sailboat with the comfort and amenities of a cruising sailboat. They are ideal for families or sailors who enjoy participating in racing events while still having the option for leisurely cruises.
  • Bluewater cruisers: Designed for handling the world's most demanding ocean conditions, bluewater cruisers are built with a focus on sturdy, self-reliant sailboats that can withstand long-distance voyages and challenging weather conditions.
  • Multihulls: Catamarans and trimarans are gaining popularity in the cruising world for their typically more spacious interiors and level sailing characteristics. With two or three hulls, multihulls offer high levels of stability and speed for a comfortable cruising experience.

Understanding the differences between various sailboat types will help potential sailors select the perfect vessel for their sailing goals, skills, and preferences. Day Sailers, Racing Sailboats, and Cruising Sailboats each have their unique features, catering to distinct uses and sailing experiences.

Advanced Sailboat Features

Sailboats have evolved over time, and many advanced features have been developed to enhance performance and safety. In this section, we will discuss some of the key advanced features in modern sailboats, focusing on performance enhancements and safety/navigation.

Performance Enhancements

One critical component that impacts a sailboat's performance is the type of keel it has, which affects stability, resistance, and maneuverability . There are several kinds of keels such as fin keel , wing keel , and bulb keel . Fin keels offer low drag and high efficiency, making them suitable for racing sailboats. On the other hand, wing keels provide better stability at low speeds, while bulb keels provide a lower center of gravity to enhance overall stability and comfort during long voyages.

Another feature that contributes to a sailboat's performance is its sails and rigging. The jib is a triangular sail at the front of the boat, which helps improve its upwind performance. More advanced sailboats use a combination of shrouds , which are the supporting cables running along the sides of the boat, and stays , the cables that help hold the mast in place, to create a stable and efficient rigging system.

A sailboat's performance can also be influenced by the presence of a centerboard or daggerboard , which can be adjusted to optimize stability, maneuverability, and speed. When racing or navigating in shallow waters, retractable centerboards and daggerboards are particularly useful as they provide better performance and versatility.

Safety and Navigation

Safety and navigation onboard a sailboat relies on a combination of advanced gear and equipment. A modern sailboat is usually equipped with:

  • GPS and chartplotters to assist with navigation and planning routes
  • VHF radios for communication with other vessels and authorities
  • Radar to detect obstacles, weather systems, and other vessels
  • AIS (Automatic Identification System) which helps monitor nearby vessel traffic

The design of a sailboat's hull, rigging, sails, and hardware also contribute to its safety. The boom , the horizontal pole that extends the sail, should be properly secured and designed to avoid accidents while sailing. The keel , whether it's a fin, wing, or bulb keel, plays a vital role in the overall stability and safety of the sailboat. The choice of keel should be based on the intended use of the sailboat and the prevailing sailing conditions.

In summary, advanced sailboat features significantly improve the performance, safety, and navigation capabilities of modern sailboats. Innovations in keel design, rigging systems, and onboard navigational equipment have undoubtedly contributed to the overall enjoyment and safety of sailing.

Sailboat Ownership

Buying Considerations

When considering buying a sailboat , it is important to understand the different types of sailboats available and the purpose each serves. Sailboats can be broadly categorized into three types:

  • Racing sailboats: Designed for speed and performance, with minimalistic interiors and advanced sail systems.
  • Cruising sailboats: Built for comfort and longer trips, featuring more spacious interiors and amenities.
  • Daysailers: Smaller, easy-to-handle boats that are often used for short trips and recreational sailing.

Prospective boat owners should consider factors such as boat size, type, budget, and intended use (solo vs. family sailing, charter operations, etc.). It's also essential to evaluate the availability of necessary gear and the level of experience required to handle the chosen sailboat.

Maintenance and Upkeep

Sailboat ownership involves maintenance and upkeep to ensure the boat remains functional, safe, and holds its value. Some common maintenance tasks include:

  • Hull cleaning and inspection: Regularly inspect the hull for damages and clean off any growth to maintain performance and fuel efficiency.
  • Antifouling paint: Apply antifouling paint to prevent marine organisms from attaching to the hull, which can negatively impact the boat's performance.
  • Engine maintenance: Check and replace engine oil, inspect cooling and fuel systems, and clean or replace air filters.

In addition to regular maintenance, sailboat owners should also be prepared to replace or repair critical systems and components, such as:

  • Sails: Monitor the condition of your sails and replace them as needed to maintain performance and safety.
  • Rigging: Regularly inspect and maintain the standing and running rigging, and replace worn or compromised parts.
  • Electronics and instruments: Ensure navigation systems, radios, and other electronic equipment are functioning properly.

Taking proper care of a sailboat can be time-consuming, and some owners may choose to charter their boats when not in use as a way to offset ownership costs. Others may opt for hiring professionals to manage routine maintenance, particularly when sailing solo or with limited sailing experience.

sailboat designs types

Historical and Special Sailboats

Tall ships and gaffers.

Tall Ships are large, traditionally rigged sailing vessels with multiple masts, typically square-rigged on at least one of their masts. Some examples of these ships include the clipper, brig, and square-rigged vessels. The clipper is a fast sailing ship known for its sleek hull and large sail area, while the brig features two square-rigged masts. Square-rigged ships were known for their impressive sail area and could cover large distances quickly.

Gaffers are a subset of historical sailing vessels with a gaff mainsail as their primary sail type. This gaff-rig is characterized by a spar (pole) that extends the top edge of the mainsail, giving it a quadrilateral shape to optimize wind coverage. Gaff mainsails were commonly used in England and influenced the development of other sailing vessels.

Classic and Antique Sailboats

Classic and antique sailboats refer to older, traditionally designed sailing vessels that have been preserved or restored. They often feature wooden construction and showcase a variety of rigging types, including gaff rigs and square rigs. These historical sailboats have unique designs, materials, and techniques that have since evolved or become rare.

Here are some examples of antique and classic sailboats:

  • Sloop : A single-masted sailboat with a Bermuda rig and foresail
  • Cutter : A single-masted vessel with a similar rig to the sloop, but with additional headsails for increased maneuverability
  • Ketch : A two-masted sailboat with a smaller mizzen mast aft of the main mast

In summary, historical and special sailboats encompass a wide range of vessel types, from large, multi-masted tall ships to smaller, single-masted gaffers and classic sailboats. These vessels reflect the rich maritime history and the evolution of sailing techniques and designs over time.

Sailboat Culture and Lifestyle

Sailboat culture and lifestyle encompass a variety of aspects including racing events, leisurely cruising, and exploring new destinations. The main types of sailboats include racing yachts, cruising sailboats, and motorsailers, each offering a unique experience for sailors.

Regattas and Racing Circuits

A popular aspect of sailboat culture involves participating in regattas and racing circuits . These events create a competitive atmosphere and develop camaraderie among sailors. Racing sailboats are specifically designed for speed and agility , and sailors often team up to compete in prestigious races such as the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race or the America's Cup. Yacht clubs play an essential role in cultivating this competitive sailing environment.

Sailboat Charter and Tourism

Another facet of sailing culture is the sailboat charter and tourism industry, which allows people to experience the cruising lifestyle without owning a sailboat. Charters are offered for various types of sailboats, from family-sized cruising vessels to luxurious superyachts . Yacht sailing provides tourists with a unique travel experience, as they can explore diverse destinations, immerse themselves in local cultures, or simply relax on the open water.

Cruising sailboats are designed to provide comfortable living spaces and amenities, making them perfect for longer journeys or exploring remote destinations. Motorsailers, on the other hand, are equipped with both sails and engines, offering versatility and convenience for sailors.

Some popular sailing destinations include the Caribbean, Mediterranean Sea, and the South Pacific. These regions offer beautiful scenery, rich cultural experiences, and ideal sailing conditions.

The sailboat culture and lifestyle attract individuals who enjoy adventure, exploration, and camaraderie. From competitive racing events to leisurely cruising vacations, sailing offers diverse experiences that cater to a wide range of interests.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the distinguishing features of different sailboat classes?

There are various sailboat classes, each with its own distinguishing features. Monohulls, for example, are the most common type of sailboat and have a single hull. Multihulls, such as catamarans and trimarans, have two or three hulls, respectively. These differences in hull design often affect the boat's stability, speed, and maneuverability.

Which sailboat types are best for novice sailors?

Novice sailors often benefit from starting with smaller, more manageable boats. Sailing dinghies and daysailers are popular choices due to their simple rigging and ease of handling. These boats typically have a single mast and a limited number of sails, making them ideal for beginners to learn sailing basics.

What are common types of small sailboats ideal for day sailing?

For day sailing, small sailboats such as sailing dinghies, day sailers, and pocket cruisers are ideal options. These boats usually range between 12 and 25 feet in length and offer simplicity, ease of handling, and portability. Examples of common day sailing boats include the Sunfish, Laser, and O'Day Mariner.

How do the purposes of various sailboat types vary?

Sailboats serve different purposes based on their design, size, and features. Daysailers and dinghies are ideal for short trips, sailing lessons, and casual outings. Racing sailboats, with their lighter weight and streamlined design, are built for speed and competition. Cruising sailboats, on the other hand, are designed for longer voyages and often include living quarters and additional amenities for comfortable onboard living.

What is considered the most popular class of sailboat for recreational use?

The most popular class of sailboat for recreational use often varies depending on individual preferences and local conditions. However, monohulls are commonly preferred due to their widespread availability, versatility, and affordability. Within the monohull class, boats like the Sunfish, Laser, and Catalina 22 are popular choices for their ease of use and adaptability to various sailing conditions.

Could you describe a sailing dinghy designed for two people?

A two-person sailing dinghy typically has a simple rig with a single mast and one or more sails, making it easy to handle for both experienced and novice sailors. The RS Venture , for example, is a popular choice for two-person sailing. It features a spacious cockpit, durable construction, and simplicity in its rigging and control systems. These characteristics make it an excellent option for recreational sailing, training, and even racing.

sailboat designs types

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The Different Types of Sailboats

If you’re a sailboat fanatic like me, all types of sailboats will attract your attention. Some more so than others admittedly, but all will have something about them that catches your eye.

If you’re not a fanatic (not yet, that is) but just an interested observer, then the first thing you’ll notice about a sailboat will be how many masts it has and the configuration of its sails - in other words, its 'rig'.

This observation alone will enable you to identify the five main types of sailboats — sloops, cutters, ketches, yawls and schooners - all of which are described here.

But apart from the various rig types, you can describe types of sailboats from a different viewpoint - sailing dinghies, dayboats, motorsailors, monohulls, catamarans and trimarans. 

Let's make a start with the various rig types...

A single-masted sailboat with just two sails — a foresail (aka headsail or jib) and a mainsail — is a sloop, the purest type of sailboat.

The sloop rig can also be described as a Bermuda rig, Bermudian rig or Marconi rig.

Read more about sloops...

Examples of Sloops

Columbia 29 Mk1 sloop

If a sloop has an additional sail between the headsail and the mainsail, then it's no longer a sloop - it's a cutter.

Some cutters - like the one shown here - have the foresail set forward on a bowsprit, with the inner forestay permanently rigged to the stemhead where the foresail otherwise would be, or to a central chainplate further aft on the foredeck.

Read more about cutters...

Examples of Cutters

Gulfstar 61 cutter

The following boats may look like cutters with their double headsails, but they're not cutters at all...

Trintilla 44 cruising yacht with solent rig

To find out why, click here...

A ketch is a two-masted sailboat, a main mast forward and a shorter mizzen mast aft.

But not all two-masted sailboats are ketches — they might be yawls (see below).

A ketch may also sport a staysail, with or without a bowsprit, in which case it would be known as a cutter-rigged or staysail ketch.

Read more about ketches...

Examples of Ketches

Princess 36 ketch

Note that the Ocean 71 and the Irwin 52 are cutter-rigged, and are traditionally referred to as Staysail Ketches .

Cat Ketches

Cat-ketches are recognised by the lack of any standing rigging to support their pair of unstayed masts.

And yes, if the after mast is taller than the foremast then it's called a cat- schooner sailboat.

Read more about cat-ketches...

A Freedom 35 Cat-Ketch sailboat

Yawls have their origins as old-time sail fishing boats, where the small mizzen sail was trimmed to keep the vessel steady when hauling the nets.

Much like a ketch, the difference being that the yawl has the mizzen mast positioned aft of the rudder post whereas the ketch has its mizzen mast ahead of the rudder post.

You’ll not be surprised to learn that a yawl with a staysail is known as cutter-rigged yawl.

A Hinckley 48 Yawl

A schooner is a two-or-more masted sailboat, in which the aft-most mast - the mainmast - is the same height or taller than the foremast.

The one shown here is gaff cutter rigged, with a topsail set on the mainmast.

Many sailors agree that of all the different types of sailboats, a schooner under full sail is one of the most beautiful sights afloat.

A two-masted schooner

Gaffed-rigged sailboats, or 'gaffers', have their mainsail supported by a spar - the 'gaff' - which is hauled up mast by a separate halyard.

Often these types of sailboats are rigged with a topsail, as shown here and in the gaff schooner above, which really adds some grunt in light airs.

All this comes at a price of course, both in terms of material cost and weight aloft, which is why very few modern yachts are fitted with gaff rigs these days.

All artwork on this page is by Andrew Simpson

A 'gaffer'

Examples of the Various Types of Sailboats...

Sadler 25 sailboat

Other Types of Sailboats

The seven sailboat rig variations shown here are the most popular types of modern cruising boat rigs, but there are other rig versions which were once found on commercial, fishing, and naval sailing vessels.

They include:

  • Full square-rigged sailing vessels
  • Barkentines
  • Brigantines

And you can see examples of them here ...

In this article I've said that ketches, yawls and schooners with two headsails can be called cutter rigged. This is a commonly used description but strictly speaking, there's only one rig that can accurately be called a cutter - and that's a single-masted sailboat with two headsails. My thanks to 'Old Salt' for drawing my attention to this!

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Types of Sailboats: A Comprehensive Guide

by Emma Sullivan | Jul 27, 2023 | Sailboat Lifestyle

sailboat designs types

Short answer: Type of sailboats:

Sailboats are vessels propelled by the wind using sails. The various types include dinghies, keelboats, catamarans, and trimarans. Dinghies are small, open boats often used for racing or recreational sailing. Keelboats have a fixed keel to provide stability and are suitable for cruising or racing. Catamarans feature two parallel hulls, offering stability and speed. Trimarans have three hulls, providing even more stability and space. These sailboat types cater to different needs and preferences in sailing activities.

Exploring the Different Types of Sailboats: A Comprehensive Guide

Ah, the allure of sailing – the wind in your hair, the saltwater on your skin, and the sense of freedom that comes with navigating the open sea. But before you set sail on your nautical adventure, it’s essential to understand the different types of sailboats available to you. This comprehensive guide will enlighten even seasoned sailors about the various vessels that grace our waters.

1. Monohull Sailboats: Let’s start with a classic – monohull sailboats. These are perhaps what most people imagine when they think of a sailboat; a single hull design with a keel at the bottom for stability and maneuverability. Monohulls come in various sizes, from small day-sailers to majestic yachts capable of circumnavigating the globe.

The beauty of monohulls lies in their simplicity and elegance. With only one hull slicing through the water, they provide an engaging sailing experience where every move you make affects your vessel’s performance. From sleek racer-cruisers designed for speed enthusiasts to spacious cruising boats perfect for leisurely escapades, monohulls offer something for everyone.

2. Catamarans: If stability is high on your list of priorities or if you’re planning to embark on extended voyages with plenty of space onboard, catamarans might be your ideal choice. Unlike monohulls, catamarans feature two parallel hulls connected by a wide deck or trampoline-like structure.

Catamarans excel at providing ample room for lounging and entertaining guests due to their wide beam (width). They also offer enhanced stability since two separate pontoons bear their weight instead of relying solely on ballast like monohulls do. Catamarans harness superior speed potential while minimizing heeling (tilting) motion due to this wider base.

3. Trimarans: Now here’s an intriguing sailboat type that stands out from the crowd – the trimaran. A trimaran boasts three hulls, with one central hull flanked by two smaller outriggers or “ama.” The ama keeps the craft balanced and provides extra buoyancy.

What makes trimarans truly remarkable is their exceptional speed capabilities. The combination of their sleek design, reduced weight, and multiple hulls allows them to cut through the water like a knife, reaching remarkable speeds that will leave monohulls and even some catamarans in their wake.

4. Daysailers: For those who seek shorter sailing excursions, daysailers are a perfect choice. These small sailboats focus on simplicity and ease of use for day trips or afternoon escapades on lakes or calm coastal waters.

Daysailers typically have minimal onboard accommodations but make up for it with exhilarating speed potential and nimble handling. They offer solo sailors or small groups an opportunity to reconnect with nature and enjoy the thrill of sailing without needing extensive experience or breaking the bank.

5. Dinghies: Dinghies are like the pocket rockets of the sailing world! These small, lightweight boats are perfect for beginners learning to sail or adventurous individuals looking for fast-paced fun on the water.

They come in various forms, such as prams, sabots, Optimists, or Lasers – each catering to different skill levels and purposes. Dinghies teach aspiring sailors essential techniques like balancing wind forces while providing an adrenaline-fueled experience unmatched by larger vessels.

In conclusion: Now armed with this comprehensive guide to sailboat types, you’re ready to embark on your seafaring journey with confidence! Whether you choose the elegance of a monohull, the stability of a catamaran, or daredevil rides aboard a trimaran, daysailer, or dinghy – each vessel offers its unique charm and benefits. So weigh anchor, set your sails aloft, and let the wind carry you across tranquil waters or thrilling adventures. Happy sailing!

How to Choose the Right Type of Sailboat for Your Sailing Adventures

When it comes to embarking on thrilling sailing adventures, one of the most crucial decisions you’ll face is choosing the right type of sailboat. With an array of options available, each boasting unique features and functionalities, this task may seem daunting at first. However, armed with some expert advice and a clear understanding of your requirements, you can breeze through this selection process with ease.

1. Determine Your Sailing Goals: Begin by defining your sailing goals and aspirations. Do you envision leisurely cruises along coastal waters or dream of conquering the open ocean? Will you be participating in races or prefer a more relaxed pace? By understanding what drives your passion for sailing, you can narrow down your choices and focus on boats specifically designed to meet those objectives.

2. Consider Your Experience Level: Your level of sailing experience plays a pivotal role in selecting the ideal sailboat. Novice sailors may want to opt for forgiving boat designs that are stable and easy to handle, while seasoned sailors might seek high-performance models that offer enhanced maneuverability and speed. Assessing your skills honestly will ensure that you find a sailboat tailored to match your abilities.

3. Evaluate Size and Accommodation Needs: The size of the sailboat directly impacts its handling characteristics as well as onboard comfort during longer journeys. Smaller boats are agile and require less crew but can lack space for amenities like kitchens, bathrooms, and sleeping quarters. On the other hand, larger vessels provide ample room for accommodations but demand more personnel to operate effectively. Consider how many people will be joining you on these adventures and choose accordingly.

4. Research Sailboat Types: One cannot overlook the vast range of sailboat types available in today’s market; each has its own distinctive traits designed for specific purposes.

a) Cruisers: Ideal for long-distance voyages or liveaboard lifestyles due to their spacious interiors equipped with amenities such as galleys, bathrooms, and sleeping quarters.

b) Daysailers: Perfect for shorter trips, these boats focus on ease of use with simple setups and minimal accommodations. They offer a quick and thrilling experience on the water.

c) Racer-Cruisers: These versatile sailboats blend high-performance features with comfortable interiors, making them suitable for both racing events and leisurely cruises. Such boats allow you to test your skills while enjoying the comforts of a cruising vessel.

d) Catamarans: Known for their stability and luxurious living spaces, catamarans offer wide decks, multiple cabins, and increased privacy. These multihulls are popular among those seeking an exceptional sailing experience with added comfort.

5. Assess Maintenance Requirements: Owning a sailboat involves regular maintenance to ensure its longevity and peak performance. Some designs have complex systems that demand more attention and investment than others. If you prefer spending more time sailing than carrying out maintenance tasks or lack technical expertise, consider opting for simpler designs that require less upkeep.

6. Budget Considerations: Sailboats come in varying price ranges that encompass initial purchase costs as well as ongoing expenses such as insurance, mooring fees, repairs, and upgrades. Set a realistic budget after thorough consideration of these factors to avoid any unpleasant surprises down the line.

7. Seek Professional Advice: Don’t hesitate to consult experienced sailors or boat dealers who specialize in sailboats before making your final decision. Their knowledge can prove invaluable when it comes to understanding specific boat models’ advantages and potential drawbacks.

The process of selecting the right type of sailboat should be enjoyable—just like the adventures that await you on the open water! By carefully considering your goals, abilities, preferences, budgets, and advice from experts in the field; you can confidently navigate through this exhilarating journey towards finding the sailboat that perfectly matches your sailing dreams.

Step-by-Step Breakdown: Understanding the Types of Sailboats and Their Features

Sailing enthusiasts and beginners alike often find themselves captivated by the beauty and tranquility of gliding across the water on a sailboat. Whether it’s the thrill of harnessing the wind or the sense of adventure that comes with exploring new horizons, sailing offers a unique experience like no other. However, to truly appreciate this nautical pastime, it is essential to understand the different types of sailboats and their distinctive features.

In this comprehensive guide, we will provide you with a step-by-step breakdown of various sailboat types, highlighting their functions and characteristics. So buckle up your life jacket as we embark on an exciting journey through the world of sailboats!

1. Dinghies: Let’s start small! Dinghies are typically single-handed boats designed for recreational purposes or racing events in sheltered waters. These lightweight vessels are perfect for beginners who want to learn how to handle basic sailing techniques. With compact dimensions and a simple rigging system, dinghies offer agility and maneuverability unmatched by larger counterparts.

2. Day Sailers: If you prefer spending leisurely afternoons on the water with family or friends, day sailers might be your best bet. Slightly bigger than dinghies, these boats are designed for relaxed cruising along coastal areas or inland lakes. Day sailers strike a balance between comfort and simplicity while providing ample space for socializing.

3. Cruising Sailboats: As their name suggests, cruising sailboats cater to those seeking extended voyages or liveaboard experiences. Ranging from 30 to 60 feet in length, these vessels boast spacious cabins equipped with all necessities for comfortable living at sea. They feature advanced navigational systems and amenities like kitchenettes and bathrooms (heads), allowing sailors to embark on long journeys without sacrificing convenience.

4. Racing Sailboats: For the competitive spirits, racing sailboats offer thrilling sailing experiences that test skills and tactics. These high-performance boats are designed to maximize speed and maneuverability, with sleek hulls and multiple sails. Racing crews often consist of experienced sailors who know how to push the limits for capturing that coveted first-place finish.

5. Catamarans: If stability is your priority, look no further than catamarans. These multi-hull sailboats feature two hulls connected by a spacious deck, offering exceptional stability even in rough waters. Catamarans excel in terms of space and comfort, making them popular choices for charter vacations or adventurous families looking for a luxurious sailing experience.

6. Trimarans: The odd one out in the sailboat family, trimarans have three hulls instead of the traditional two or monohull designs. This unique structure provides excellent stability and increased speed due to reduced drag. With their impressive size and ample deck area, trimarans are a favorite among experienced sailors seeking unmatched performance levels.

Now that we’ve covered the main types of sailboats let’s delve deeper into their features:

– Sails: The heart and soul of a sailboat lies within its sails. From main sails to jibs and spinnakers, each type serves a specific purpose depending on wind conditions and desired speed.

– Keel: Located beneath the waterline, a keel stabilizes the boat by providing ballast. Different types of keels (fin, wing, bulb) offer varying degrees of stability depending on sailing goals.

– Rudder: Situated at the stern (rear) of the boat, rudders steer the vessel through water currents and wind direction changes.

– Mast: Sailboat masts serve as vertical support structures holding various sails while also providing a means to adjust their positions for optimal performance.

– Hull Shape: Sailboats come in numerous hull shapes (round-bilge, vee-bottom, flat bottom, etc.). Each design influences the boat’s speed, stability, and suitability for specific sailing conditions.

In conclusion, understanding the diverse types of sailboats and their unique features is crucial for any passionate sailor or beginner who wants to embark on this exhilarating journey. With our step-by-step breakdown of everything from dinghies to trimarans, you’ll be navigating the waters like a true captain in no time. So hoist your sails and let the winds guide you towards a world of endless possibilities!

Frequently Asked Questions About Different Types of Sailboats Answered

For those who have always been intrigued by the allure of sailing, it’s not uncommon to be overwhelmed when diving into the world of sailboats. With so many different types and variations, it’s easy to feel lost. But fear not! In this comprehensive blog post, we’ll tackle some frequently asked questions about different types of sailboats and provide you with all the answers you need to set sail confidently.

1. What are the main types of sailboats? Sailboats can be broadly categorized into four main types based on their hull design: sloops, cutters, ketches, and schooners. Sloops are the most common type and feature a single mast and a fore-and-aft rigging system. Cutters have two headsails in addition to the mainsail, providing excellent versatility. Ketches have two masts, with the smaller one located forward of the mainmast. Finally, schooners are characterized by having at least two masts and multiple sails that enable efficient maneuverability.

2. How do catamarans differ from monohulls? Catamarans and monohulls are two distinct designs with their own advantages. Monohulls refer to traditional sailboats with a single hull while catamarans feature twin hulls connected by a platform or deck. Catamarans offer increased stability, spaciousness, shallow draft capabilities for exploring shallow waters, and faster cruising speeds due to reduced drag compared to monohulls.

3. What is a racing sailboat? Racing sailboats are specially designed vessels intended for competitive sailing events like regattas or races. These boats prioritize speed and agility over comfort or accommodation space on board. They often incorporate high-tech materials like carbon fiber for their hulls or sails to reduce weight and increase performance.

4. Can I live aboard a sailboat? Absolutely! Many people choose to live aboard their sailboats as a way of embracing a minimalist and adventurous lifestyle. Depending on the size and amenities of the sailboat, living aboard can offer a unique sense of freedom and being in tune with nature. It’s important to choose a sailboat with comfortable living arrangements, sufficient storage space, and necessary facilities for your daily needs.

5. What are some popular sailing destinations? The world is filled with incredible sailing destinations to explore. From the exotic turquoise waters of the Caribbean to the rugged coasts of Greece to the remote islands of Polynesia, there are plenty of options for every taste. Closer to home, coastal areas like Maine in the United States or Croatia in Europe also offer fantastic sailing experiences.

6. How do I select the right sailboat for me? Selecting the right sailboat depends on several factors such as your experience level, budget, intended use (cruising or racing), and personal preferences. It’s crucial to consider aspects like size, stability, ease of handling, comfort features, durability, and maintenance requirements before making a decision. Consulting with experienced sailors or seeking professional advice can be immensely helpful during this process.

Now armed with these answers to frequently asked questions about different types of sailboats, you’re ready to embark on your sailing journey! Whether it’s for leisurely coastal cruising or joining exhilarating races across open waters, navigating the world of sailboats will be an exciting adventure filled with new horizons and endless possibilities. So hoist those sails high and let the winds guide you towards unforgettable memories on your chosen vessel!

Choosing the Best Type of Sailboat: Factors to Consider and Mistakes to Avoid

If you are an avid sailor or even just a budding enthusiast, finding the perfect sailboat can be a thrilling yet overwhelming experience. After all, with so many types and models available in the market, how can you be sure that you are making the right choice? Fear not! In this blog post, we will delve deep into the factors that need to be considered when choosing a sailboat and also highlight some common mistakes that should be avoided.

Factors to Consider: 1. Purpose of Use: Before embarking on your search for the dream sailboat, it is important to determine your primary purpose. Are you planning on leisurely cruising on calm waters? Or do you have dreams of adventurous offshore voyages? Identifying your purpose will help narrow down your options.

2. Size and Capacity: Sailboats come in various sizes ranging from small day sailors to larger vessels suitable for extended trips. Consider how many people will accompany you on most journeys and ensure that the boat’s capacity meets your requirements without being overcrowded.

3. Sailing Conditions: The geographical location where you intend to sail plays a significant role in selecting the ideal sailboat type. Different boats perform better under certain conditions such as coastal cruising versus open-ocean navigation, so make sure to choose one designed for your sailing environment.

4. Rigging and Handling System: Understanding different types of rigs like sloop rig (single mast), ketch rig (two masts), or cat rig (single mast with no jib) is crucial while determining which type of boat suits your skills and preferences best. Additionally, consider if you prefer manual/hand-operated systems or more modern technology-driven setups like electric winches.

5. Budget: One of the most critical factors influencing every buying decision is budget consideration – identifying what range of pricing works for you can help filter out boats that exceed your affordability. Keep in mind, however, that cost should not be the sole deciding factor; functionality and suitability are equally important.

Mistakes to Avoid: 1. Impulsive Buying: Do not let your excitement overrule rational decision-making. Take your time, do extensive research, attend boat shows, seek advice from seasoned sailors or even consider renting different sailboat types before making a final purchase.

2. Neglecting Maintenance Costs: Owning a sailboat requires regular upkeep and maintenance – factors often overlooked by first-time buyers. Ensure you factor in expenses related to cleaning, repairs, insurance, mooring fees, and other ongoing costs before diving into ownership.

3. Ignoring Resale Value: While buying a sailboat is undoubtedly an investment in one’s passion for sailing, it is essential to keep potential resale value in mind as well. Opting for reputable brands/models with good market reputation can help maintain or even increase the value of your boat when the time comes to sell it.

4. Overestimating Your Skills: It is easy to get carried away by a powerful boat or advanced features but committing to more boat than you can handle can lead to dangerous situations on the water. Be honest about your experience level and choose a sailboat suited to your skills while also allowing some room for growth.

In conclusion, choosing the best type of sailboat requires careful consideration of various factors like purpose of use, size/capacity requirements, sailing conditions, rigging preferences, and budget constraints. Avoid common mistakes such as impulsive buying decisions or neglecting maintenance costs while keeping an eye on potential resale value and realistic assessment of your skills as a sailor. With thoughtful analysis and patience in finding the perfect match within these parameters, you are sure to set sail on many unforgettable adventures ahead!

A Beginner’s Guide to Navigating through the Vast Array of Sailboat Options

Title: A Beginner’s Guide to Navigating through the Vast Array of Sailboat Options: Sailing into Uncharted Waters

Introduction: Embarking on a sailboat adventure is a thrilling prospect for any budding maritime enthusiast. Picture yourself gliding through serene waters, powered solely by the wind, leaving behind the chaos of everyday life. However, before setting sail, there’s an overwhelming sea of options to navigate when it comes to choosing the right sailboat.

In this comprehensive guide, we will help you steer clear of stormy seas as we unravel the complexities and mysteries surrounding the vast array of sailboat options available. Get ready to embark on a voyage of discovery as we discuss everything from hull types and rig configurations to boat sizes and new breakthrough technologies.

1. Defining Your Purpose: Just like plotting your course on a nautical chart, clarifying your sailing goals is crucial before delving into the world of sailboats. Are you aspiring to dock at waterfront restaurants or set out for long-distance voyages? Determining your purpose will lay the foundation for selecting the right type of vessel that caters to your needs and aspirations.

2. Types of Sailboats: Navigating through various sailboat designs can be initially perplexing; however, understanding some fundamental categories will help make sense of it all:

a) Cruisers vs. Racers: Are you in pursuit of leisurely coastal cruises or adrenaline-fueled regattas? Cruisers offer comfort and cabin space suitable for extended stays, while racers prioritize speed and maneuverability.

b) Monohulls vs. Multihulls: Monohulls are traditional single-hulled boats that showcase stability and ability to slice through waves effortlessly. On the other hand, multihulls (such as catamarans) offer increased deck space and stability but sacrifice some performance attributes.

c) Keel types: The shape and size play a significant role in a boat’s stability and performance, with options ranging from fin keels to full-length keels. Each comes with its own advantages and considerations, making them worth exploring.

3. Rig Configurations: Unraveling the mysteries of how sails are set requires some understanding of rig configurations:

a) Sloop Rig: The most common configuration, consisting of a single mast, mainsail, and headsail (jib or genoa). Versatile and easy to handle, this rig offers a great starting point for beginners.

b) Cutter Rig: Suitable for long-distance offshore cruising, the cutter rig features two headsails—a smaller jib astern of a larger genoa—enabling better control in varying wind conditions.

c) Ketch or Yawl Rig: With two masts and multiple sail combinations, these rigs provide greater sail area versatility while maintaining manageable individual sail sizes. Ideal for accommodating different wind conditions during extended journeys.

4. Size Matters: Determining the ideal sailboat size depends on various factors such as crew size, intended use, budgetary constraints, and storage facilities. Smaller boats are easier to handle solo or with minimal assistance but may lack certain amenities compared to roomier vessels suitable for extended stays at sea.

5. Technology Ohoy! As advancements surge through every industry—including sailing—technology has made waves in the world of sailboats too! Features like electric propulsion systems and renewable energy platforms offer eco-friendly alternatives that complement traditional means of navigation.

Conclusion: Navigating through the vast array of sailboat options need not be an overwhelming experience. By distilling your purpose, understanding boat types, rig configurations, sizes, and keeping an eye on emerging technologies—all while considering your unique preferences—you’ll soon find yourself confidently steering towards your sailing dreams!

Embark on this exciting journey armed with knowledge previously reserved for seasoned sailors. Be prepared to hoist those sails high and let the clamor of waves carry you towards the horizon, where infinite possibilities await your adventurous spirit.

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43 of the best bluewater sailboat designs of all time

Yachting World

  • January 5, 2022

How do you choose the right yacht for you? We highlight the very best bluewater sailboat designs for every type of cruising

sailboat designs types

Which yacht is the best for bluewater boating? This question generates even more debate among sailors than questions about what’s the coolest yacht , or the best for racing. Whereas racing designs are measured against each other, cruising sailors get very limited opportunities to experience different yachts in real oceangoing conditions, so what is the best bluewater sailboat?

Here, we bring you our top choices from decades of designs and launches. Over the years, the Yachting World team has sailed these boats, tested them or judged them for European Yacht of the Year awards, and we have sifted through the many to curate a selection that we believe should be on your wishlist.

Making the right choice may come down to how you foresee your yacht being used after it has crossed an ocean or completed a passage: will you be living at anchor or cruising along the coast? If so, your guiding requirements will be space, cabin size, ease of launching a tender and anchoring closer to shore, and whether it can comfortably accommodate non-expert-sailor guests.

Article continues below…

sailboat designs types

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All of these considerations have generated the inexorable rise of the bluewater catamaran – monohulls can’t easily compete on these points. We have a full separate feature on the best bluewater multihulls of all time and here we mostly focus on monohulls. The only exceptions to that rule are two multihulls which made it into our best bluewater sailboats of 2022 list.

As so much of making the right choice is selecting the right boat for the venture in mind, we have separated out our edit into categories: best for comfort; for families; for performance; and for expedition or high latitudes sailing .

Best bluewater sailboats of 2022

The new flagship Allures 51.9, for example, is a no-nonsense adventure cruising design built and finished to a high standard. It retains Allures’ niche of using aluminium hulls with glassfibre decks and superstructures, which, the yard maintains, gives the optimum combination of least maintenance and less weight higher up. Priorities for this design were a full beam aft cabin and a spacious, long cockpit. Both are excellent, with the latter, at 6m long, offering formidable social, sailing and aft deck zones.

It likes some breeze to come to life on the wheel, but I appreciate that it’s designed to take up to five tonnes payload. And I like the ease with which you can change gears using the furling headsails and the positioning of the powerful Andersen winches inboard. The arch is standard and comes with a textile sprayhood or hard bimini.

Below decks you’ll find abundant headroom and natural light, a deep U-shape galley and cavernous stowage. For those who like the layout of the Amel 50 but would prefer aluminium or shoal draught, look no further.

Allures 51.9 price: €766,000

The Ovni 370 is another cunning new aluminum centreboard offering, a true deck saloon cruiser for two. The designers say the biggest challenge was to create a Category A ocean going yacht at this size with a lifting keel, hence the hull had to be very stable.

Enjoyable to helm, it has a practical, deep cockpit behind a large sprayhood, which can link to the bimini on the arch. Many of its most appealing features lie in the bright, light, contemporary, clever, voluminous interior, which has good stowage and tankage allocation. There’s also a practical navstation, a large workroom and a vast separate shower. I particularly like the convertible saloom, which can double as a large secure daybed or pilot berth.

Potentially the least expensive Category A lift keel boat available, the Ovni will get you dreaming of remote places again.

Ovni 370 price: €282,080

sailboat designs types

There’s no shortage of spirit in the Windelo 50. We gave this a sustainability award after it’s founders spent two years researching environmentally-friendly composite materials, developing an eco-composite of basalt fibre and recycled PET foam so it could build boats that halve the environmental impact of standard glassfibre yachts.

The Windelo 50 is an intriguing package – from the styling, modular interior and novel layout to the solar field on the roof and the standard electric propulsion, it is completely fresh.

Windelo 50 price: €795,000

Best bluewater sailboat of 2022 – Outremer 55

I would argue that this is the most successful new production yacht on the market. Well over 50 have already sold (an equipped model typically costs €1.6m) – and I can understand why. After all, were money no object, I had this design earmarked as the new yacht I would most likely choose for a world trip.

Indeed 55 number one Sanya, was fully equipped for a family’s world cruise, and left during our stay for the Grand Large Odyssey tour. Whereas we sailed Magic Kili, which was tricked up with performance options, including foam-cored deckheads and supports, carbon crossbeam and bulkheads, and synthetic rigging.

At rest, these are enticing space ships. Taking one out to sea is another matter though. These are speed machines with the size, scale and loads to be rightly weary of. Last month Nikki Henderson wrote a feature for us about how to manage a new breed of performance cruising cats just like this and how she coaches new owners. I could not think of wiser money spent for those who do not have ample multihull sailing experience.

Under sail, the most fun was obviously reserved for the reaching leg under asymmetric, where we clocked between 11-16 knots in 15-16 knots wind. But it was the stability and of those sustained low teen speeds which really hit home  – passagemaking where you really cover miles.

Key features include the swing helms, which give you views from outboard, over the coachroof or from a protected position in the cockpit through the coachroof windows, and the vast island in the galley, which is key to an open plan main living area. It helps provide cavernous stowage and acts as the heart of the entertaining space as it would in a modern home. As Danish judge Morten Brandt-Rasmussen comments: “Apart from being the TGV of ocean passages the boat offers the most spacious, open and best integration of the cockpit and salon areas in the market.”

Outremer has done a top job in packing in the creature comforts, stowage space and payload capacity, while keeping it light enough to eat miles. Although a lot to absorb and handle, the 55 offers a formidable blend of speed and luxury cruising.

Outremer 55 price: €1.35m

Best bluewater sailboats for comfort

This is the successor to the legendary Super Maramu, a ketch design that for several decades defined easy downwind handling and fostered a cult following for the French yard. Nearly a decade old, the Amel 55 is the bridge between those world-girdling stalwarts and Amel’s more recent and totally re-imagined sloop designs, the Amel 50 and 60.

The 55 boasts all the serious features Amel aficionados loved and valued: a skeg-hung rudder, solidly built hull, watertight bulkheads, solid guardrails and rampart bulwarks. And, most noticeable, the solid doghouse in which the helmsman sits in perfect shelter at the wheel.

This is a design to live on comfortably for long periods and the list of standard features just goes on and on: passarelle; proper sea berths with lee cloths; electric furling main and genoa; and a multitude of practical items that go right down to a dishwasher and crockery.

There’s no getting around the fact these designs do look rather dated now, and through the development of easier sail handling systems the ketch rig has fallen out of fashion, but the Amel is nothing short of a phenomenon, and if you’ve never even peeked on board one, you really have missed a treat.


Photo: Sander van der Borch

Contest 50CS

A centre cockpit cruiser with true longevity, the Contest 50CS was launched by Conyplex back in 2003 and is still being built by the family-owned Dutch company, now in updated and restyled form.

With a fully balanced rudder, large wheel and modern underwater sections, the Contest 50CS is a surprisingly good performer for a boat that has a dry weight of 17.5 tonnes. Many were fitted with in-mast furling, which clearly curtails that performance, but even without, this boat is set up for a small crew.

Electric winches and mainsheet traveller are all easy to reach from the helm. On our test of the Contest 50CS, we saw for ourselves how two people can gybe downwind under spinnaker without undue drama. Upwind, a 105% genoa is so easy to tack it flatters even the weediest crewmember.

Down below, the finish level of the joinery work is up there among the best and the interior is full of clever touches, again updated and modernised since the early models. Never the cheapest bluewater sailing yacht around, the Contest 50CS has remained in demand as a brokerage buy. She is a reassuringly sure-footed, easily handled, very well built yacht that for all those reasons has stood the test of time.

This is a yacht that would be well capable of helping you extend your cruising grounds, almost without realising it.

Read more about the Contest 50CS and the new Contest 49CS


Photo: Rick Tomlinson

Hallberg-Rassy 48 Mk II

For many, the Swedish Hallberg-Rassy yard makes the quintessential bluewater cruiser for couples. With their distinctive blue cove line, these designs are famous for their seakindly behaviour, solid-as-a-rock build and beautifully finished, traditional interiors.

To some eyes, Hallberg-Rassys aren’t quite cool enough, but it’s been company owner Magnus Rassy’s confidence in the formula and belief in incremental ‘step-by-step’ evolution that has been such an exceptional guarantor of reliable quality, reputation and resale value.

The centre cockpit Hallberg-Rassy 48 epitomises the concept of comfort at sea and, like all the Frers-designed Hallberg-Rassys since the 1990s, is surprisingly fleet upwind as well as steady downwind. The 48 is perfectly able to be handled by a couple (as we found a few years back in the Pacific), and could with no great effort crack out 200-mile days.

The Hallberg-Rassy 48 was launched nearly a decade ago, but the Mk II from 2014 is our pick, updated with a more modern profile, larger windows and hull portlights that flood the saloon and aft cabin with light. With a large chart table, secure linear galley, heaps of stowage and space for bluewater extras such as machinery and gear, this yacht pretty much ticks all the boxes.


Discovery 55

First launched in 2000, the Discovery 55 has stood the test of time. Designed by Ron Holland, it hit a sweet spot in size that appealed to couples and families with world girdling plans.

Elegantly styled and well balanced, the 55 is also a practical design, with a deep and secure cockpit, comfortable seating, a self-tacking jib, dedicated stowage for the liferaft , a decent sugar scoop transom that’s useful for swimming or dinghy access, and very comfortable accommodation below. In short, it is a design that has been well thought out by those who’ve been there, got the bruises, stubbed their toes and vowed to change things in the future if they ever got the chance.

Throughout the accommodation there are plenty of examples of good detailing, from the proliferation of handholds and grabrails, to deep sinks in the galley offering immediate stowage when under way and the stand up/sit down showers. Stowage is good, too, with plenty of sensibly sized lockers in easily accessible positions.

The Discovery 55 has practical ideas and nifty details aplenty. She’s not, and never was, a breakthrough in modern luxury cruising but she is pretty, comfortable to sail and live on, and well mannered.


Photo: Latitudes Picture Library

You can’t get much more Cornish than a Rustler. The hulls of this Stephen Jones design are hand-moulded and fitted out in Falmouth – and few are more ruggedly built than this traditional, up-for-anything offshore cruiser.

She boasts an encapsulated lead keel, eliminating keel bolts and creating a sump for generous fuel and water tankage, while a chunky skeg protects the rudder. She is designed for good directional stability and load carrying ability. These are all features that lend this yacht confidence as it shoulders aside the rough stuff.

Most of those built have had a cutter rig, a flexible arrangement that makes sense for long passages in all sea and weather conditions. Down below, the galley and saloon berths are comfortable and sensible for living in port and at sea, with joinery that Rustler’s builders are rightly proud of.

As modern yachts have got wider, higher and fatter, the Rustler 42 is an exception. This is an exceptionally well-mannered seagoing yacht in the traditional vein, with elegant lines and pleasing overhangs, yet also surprisingly powerful. And although now over 20 years old, timeless looks and qualities mean this design makes her look ever more like a perennial, a modern classic.

The definitive crossover size, the point at which a yacht can be handled by a couple but is just large enough to have a professional skipper and be chartered, sits at around the 60ft mark. At 58ft 8in, the Oyster 575 fitted perfectly into this growing market when launched in 2010. It went on to be one of the most popular models from the yard, and is only now being superseded by the newer Rob Humphreys-designed Oyster 565 (just launched this spring).

Built in various configurations with either a deep keel, shoal draught keel or centreboard with twin rudders, owners could trade off better performance against easy access to shallower coves and anchorages. The deep-bodied hull, also by Rob Humphreys, is known for its easy motion at sea.

Some of the Oyster 575’s best features include its hallmark coachroof windows style and centre cockpit – almost everyone will know at first glance this is an Oyster – and superb interior finish. If she has a flaw, it is arguably the high cockpit, but the flip side is the galley headroom and passageway berth to the large aft stateroom.

This design also has a host of practical features for long-distance cruising, such as high guardrails, dedicated liferaft stowage, a vast lazarette for swallowing sails, tender, fenders etc, and a penthouse engine room.


Privilege Serie 5

A true luxury catamaran which, fully fitted out, will top €1m, this deserves to be seen alongside the likes of the Oyster 575, Gunfleet 58 and Hallberg-Rassy 55. It boasts a large cockpit and living area, and a light and spacious saloon with an emphasis on indoor-outdoor living, masses of refrigeration and a big galley.

Standout features are finish quality and solid build in a yacht designed to take a high payload, a secure walkaround deck and all-round views from the helm station. The new Privilege 510 that will replace this launches in February 2020.

Gunfleet 43

It was with this Tony Castro design that Richard Matthews, founder of Oyster Yachts, launched a brand new rival brand in 2012, the smallest of a range stretching to the flagship Gunfleet 74. The combination of short overhangs and centre cockpit at this size do make the Gunfleet 43 look modern if a little boxy, but time and subsequent design trends have been kind to her lines, and the build quality is excellent. The saloon, galley and aft cabin space is exceptional on a yacht of this size.


Photo: David Harding

Conceived as a belt-and-braces cruiser, the Kraken 50 launched last year. Its unique points lie underwater in the guise of a full skeg-hung rudder and so-called ‘Zero Keel’, an encapsulated long keel with lead ballast.

Kraken Yachts is the brainchild of British businessman and highly experienced cruiser Dick Beaumont, who is adamant that safety should be foremost in cruising yacht design and build. “There is no such thing as ‘one yacht for all purposes’… You cannot have the best of all worlds, whatever the salesman tells you,” he says.

Read our full review of the Kraken 50 .


Wauquiez Centurion 57

Few yachts can claim to be both an exciting Med-style design and a serious and practical northern European offshore cruiser, but the Wauquiez Centurion 57 tries to blend both. She slightly misses if you judge solely by either criterion, but is pretty and practical enough to suit her purpose.

A very pleasant, well-considered yacht, she is impressively built and finished with a warm and comfortable interior. More versatile than radical, she could be used for sailing across the Atlantic in comfort and raced with equal enjoyment at Antigua Sailing Week .


A modern classic if ever there was one. A medium to heavy displacement yacht, stiff and easily capable of standing up to her canvas. Pretty, traditional lines and layout below.


Photo: Voyage of Swell

Well-proven US legacy design dating back to the mid-1960s that once conquered the Transpac Race . Still admired as pretty, with slight spoon bow and overhanging transom.


Capable medium displacement cruiser, ideal size and good accommodation for couples or family cruising, and much less costly than similar luxury brands.


Photo: Peter Szamer

Swedish-built aft cockpit cruiser, smaller than many here, but a well-built and finished, super-durable pocket ocean cruiser.


Tartan 3700

Designed as a performance cruiser there are nimbler alternatives now, but this is still an extremely pretty yacht.

Broker ’ s choice


Discovery 55 Brizo

This yacht has already circumnavigated the globe and is ‘prepared for her next adventure,’ says broker Berthon. Price: £535,000 + VAT


Oyster 575 Ayesha

‘Stunning, and perfectly equipped for bluewater cruising,’ says broker Ancasta International. Price: £845,000 (tax not paid)


Oyster 575 Pearls of Nautilus

Nearly new and with a high spec, this Oyster Brokerage yacht features American white oak joinery and white leather upholstery and has a shoal draught keel. Price: $1.49m

Best bluewater yachts for performance

The Frers-designed Swan 54 may not be the newest hull shape but heralded Swan’s latest generation of displacement bluewater cruisers when launched four years ago. With raked stem, deep V hull form, lower freeboard and slight curve to the topsides she has a more timeless aesthetic than many modern slab-sided high volume yachts, and with that a seakindly motion in waves. If you plan to cover many miles to weather, this is probably the yacht you want to be on.


Photo: Carlo Borlenghi

Besides Swan’s superlative build quality, the 54 brings many true bluewater features, including a dedicated sail locker. There’s also a cockpit locker that functions as a utility cabin, with potential to hold your generator and washing machine, or be a workshop space.

The sloping transom opens out to reveal a 2.5m bathing platform, and although the cabins are not huge there is copious stowage space. Down below the top-notch oak joinery is well thought through with deep fiddles, and there is a substantial nav station. But the Swan 54 wins for handling above all, with well laid-out sail controls that can be easily managed between a couple, while offering real sailing enjoyment to the helmsman.


Photo: Graham Snook

The Performance Cruiser winner at the 2019 European Yacht of the Year awards, the Arcona 435 is all about the sailing experience. She has genuine potential as a cruiser-racer, but her strengths are as an enjoyable cruiser rather than a full-blown liveaboard bluewater boat.

Build quality is excellent, there is the option of a carbon hull and deck, and elegant lines and a plumb bow give the Arcona 435 good looks as well as excellent performance in light airs. Besides slick sail handling systems, there are well thought-out features for cruising, such as ample built-in rope bins and an optional semi-closed stern with stowage and swim platform.


Outremer 51

If you want the space and stability of a cat but still prioritise sailing performance, Outremer has built a reputation on building catamarans with true bluewater characteristics that have cruised the planet for the past 30 years.

Lighter and slimmer-hulled than most cruising cats, the Outremer 51 is all about sailing at faster speeds, more easily. The lower volume hulls and higher bridgedeck make for a better motion in waves, while owners report that being able to maintain a decent pace even under reduced canvas makes for stress-free passages. Deep daggerboards also give good upwind performance.

With bucket seats and tiller steering options, the Outremer 51 rewards sailors who want to spend time steering, while they’re famously well set up for handling with one person on deck. The compromise comes with the interior space – even with a relatively minimalist style, there is less cabin space and stowage volume than on the bulkier cats, but the Outremer 51 still packs in plenty of practical features.


The Xc45 was the first cruising yacht X-Yachts ever built, and designed to give the same X-Yachts sailing experience for sailors who’d spent years racing 30/40-footer X- and IMX designs, but in a cruising package.

Launched over 10 years ago, the Xc45 has been revisited a few times to increase the stowage and modernise some of the styling, but the key features remain the same, including substantial tanks set low for a low centre of gravity, and X-Yachts’ trademark steel keel grid structure. She has fairly traditional styling and layout, matched with solid build quality.

A soft bilge and V-shaped hull gives a kindly motion in waves, and the cockpit is secure, if narrow by modern standards.


A three or four cabin catamaran that’s fleet of foot with high bridgedeck clearance for comfortable motion at sea. With tall daggerboards and carbon construction in some high load areas, Catana cats are light and quick to accelerate.


Sweden Yachts 45

An established bluewater design that also features in plenty of offshore races. Some examples are specced with carbon rig and retractable bowsprits. All have a self-tacking jib for ease. Expect sweeping areas of teak above decks and a traditionally wooded interior with hanging wet locker.


A vintage performer, first launched in 1981, the 51 was the first Frers-designed Swan and marked a new era of iconic cruiser-racers. Some 36 of the Swan 51 were built, many still actively racing and cruising nearly 40 years on. Classic lines and a split cockpit make this a boat for helming, not sunbathing.


Photo: Julien Girardot / EYOTY

The JPK 45 comes from a French racing stable, combining race-winning design heritage with cruising amenities. What you see is what you get – there are no superfluous headliners or floorboards, but there are plenty of ocean sailing details, like inboard winches for safe trimming. The JPK 45 also has a brilliantly designed cockpit with an optional doghouse creating all-weather shelter, twin wheels and superb clutch and rope bin arrangement.


Photo: Andreas Lindlahr

For sailors who don’t mind exchanging a few creature comforts for downwind planing performance, the Pogo 50 offers double-digit surfing speeds for exhilarating tradewind sailing. There’s an open transom, tiller steering and no backstay or runners. The Pogo 50 also has a swing keel, to nose into shallow anchorages.


Seawind 1600

Seawinds are relatively unknown in Europe, but these bluewater cats are very popular in Australia. As would be expected from a Reichel-Pugh design, this 52-footer combines striking good looks and high performance, with fine entry bows and comparatively low freeboard. Rudders are foam cored lifting designs in cassettes, which offer straightforward access in case of repairs, while daggerboards are housed under the deck.

Best bluewater sailboats for families

It’s unsurprising that, for many families, it’s a catamaran that meets their requirements best of increased space – both living space and separate cabins for privacy-seeking teenagers, additional crew or visiting family – as well as stable and predictable handling.


Photo: Nicholas Claris

Undoubtedly one of the biggest success stories has been the Lagoon 450, which, together with boats like the Fountaine Pajot 44, helped drive up the popularity of catamaran cruising by making it affordable and accessible. They have sold in huge numbers – over 1,000 Lagoon 450s have been built since its launch in 2010.

The VPLP-designed 450 was originally launched with a flybridge with a near central helming position and upper level lounging areas (450F). The later ‘sport top’ option (450S) offered a starboard helm station and lower boom (and hence lower centre of gravity for reduced pitching). The 450S also gained a hull chine to create additional volume above the waterline. The Lagoon features forward lounging and aft cockpit areas for additional outdoor living space.

Besides being a big hit among charter operators, Lagoons have proven themselves over thousands of bluewater miles – there were seven Lagoon 450s in last year’s ARC alone. In what remains a competitive sector of the market, Lagoon has recently launched a new 46, with a larger self-tacking jib and mast moved aft, and more lounging areas.


Photo: Gilles Martin-Raget

Fountaine Pajot Helia 44

The FP Helia 44 is lighter, lower volume, and has a lower freeboard than the Lagoon, weighing in at 10.8 tonnes unloaded (compared to 15 for the 450). The helm station is on a mezzanine level two steps up from the bridgedeck, with a bench seat behind. A later ‘Evolution’ version was designed for liveaboard cruisers, featuring beefed up dinghy davits and an improved saloon space.

Available in three or four cabin layouts, the Helia 44 was also popular with charter owners as well as families. The new 45 promises additional volume, and an optional hydraulically lowered ‘beach club’ swim platform.


Photo: Arnaud De Buyzer /

The French RM 1370 might be less well known than the big brand names, but offers something a little bit different for anyone who wants a relatively voluminous cruising yacht. Designed by Marc Lombard, and beautifully built from plywood/epoxy, the RM is stiff and responsive, and sails superbly.

The RM yachts have a more individual look – in part down to the painted finish, which encourages many owners to personalise their yachts, but also thanks to their distinctive lines with reverse sheer and dreadnought bow. The cockpit is well laid out with the primary winches inboard for a secure trimming position. The interior is light, airy and modern, although the open transom won’t appeal to everyone.

For those wanting a monohull, the Hanse 575 hits a similar sweet spot to the popular multis, maximising accommodation for a realistic price, yet with responsive performance.

The Hanse offers a vast amount of living space thanks to the ‘loft design’ concept of having all the living areas on a single level, which gives a real feeling of spaciousness with no raised saloon or steps to accommodation. The trade-off for such lofty head height is a substantial freeboard – it towers above the pontoon, while, below, a stepladder is provided to reach some hatches.

Galley options include drawer fridge-freezers, microwave and coffee machine, and the full size nav station can double up as an office or study space.

But while the Hanse 575 is a seriously large boat, its popularity is also down to the fact that it is genuinely able to be handled by a couple. It was innovative in its deck layout: with a self-tacking jib and mainsheet winches immediately to hand next to the helm, one person could both steer and trim.

Direct steering gives a feeling of control and some tangible sailing fun, while the waterline length makes for rapid passage times. In 2016 the German yard launched the newer Hanse 588 model, having already sold 175 of the 575s in just four years.


Photo: Bertel Kolthof

Jeanneau 54

Jeanneau leads the way among production builders for versatile all-rounder yachts that balance sail performance and handling, ergonomics, liveaboard functionality and good looks. The Jeanneau 54 , part of the range designed by Philippe Briand with interior by Andrew Winch, melds the best of the larger and smaller models and is available in a vast array of layout options from two cabins/two heads right up to five cabins and three heads.

We’ve tested the Jeanneau 54 in a gale and very light winds, and it acquitted itself handsomely in both extremes. The primary and mainsheet winches are to hand next to the wheel, and the cockpit is spacious, protected and child-friendly. An electric folding swim and sun deck makes for quick fun in the water.


Nautitech Open 46

This was the first Nautitech catamaran to be built under the ownership of Bavaria, designed with an open-plan bridgedeck and cockpit for free-flowing living space. But with good pace for eating up bluewater miles, and aft twin helms rather than a flybridge, the Nautitech Open 46 also appeals to monohull sailors who prefer a more direct sailing experience.


Made by Robertson and Caine, who produce catamarans under a dual identity as both Leopard and the Sunsail/Moorings charter cats, the Leopard 45 is set to be another big seller. Reflecting its charter DNA, the Leopard 45 is voluminous, with stepped hulls for reduced waterline, and a separate forward cockpit.

Built in South Africa, they are robustly tested off the Cape and constructed ruggedly enough to handle heavy weather sailing as well as the demands of chartering.


Photo: Olivier Blanchet

If space is king then three hulls might be even better than two. The Neel 51 is rare as a cruising trimaran with enough space for proper liveaboard sailing. The galley and saloon are in the large central hull, together with an owner’s cabin on one level for a unique sensation of living above the water. Guest or family cabins lie in the outer hulls for privacy and there is a cavernous full height engine room under the cabin sole.

Performance is notably higher than an equivalent cruising cat, particularly in light winds, with a single rudder giving a truly direct feel in the helm, although manoeuvring a 50ft trimaran may daunt many sailors.


Beneteau Oceanis 46.1

A brilliant new model from Beneteau, this Finot Conq design has a modern stepped hull, which offers exhilarating and confidence-inspiring handling in big breezes, and slippery performance in lighter winds.

The Beneteau Oceanis 46.1 was the standout performer at this year’s European Yacht of the Year awards, and, in replacing the popular Oceanis 45, looks set to be another bestseller. Interior space is well used with a double island berth in the forepeak. An additional inboard unit creates a secure galley area, but tank capacity is moderate for long periods aboard.


Beneteau Oceanis 473

A popular model that offers beam and height in a functional layout, although, as with many boats of this age (she was launched in 2002), the mainsheet is not within reach of the helmsman.


Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 49

The Philippe Briand-designed Sun Odyssey range has a solid reputation as family production cruisers. Like the 473, the Sun Odyssey 49 was popular for charter so there are plenty of four-cabin models on the market.


Nautitech 441

The hull design dates back to 1995, but was relaunched in 2012. Though the saloon interior has dated, the 441 has solid practical features, such as a rainwater run-off collection gutter around the coachroof.


Atlantic 42

Chris White-designed cats feature a pilothouse and forward waist-high working cockpit with helm position, as well as an inside wheel at the nav station. The Atlantic 42 offers limited accommodation by modern cat standards but a very different sailing experience.

Best bluewater sailing yachts for expeditions

Bestevaer 56.

All of the yachts in our ‘expedition’ category are aluminium-hulled designs suitable for high latitude sailing, and all are exceptional yachts. But the Bestevaer 56 is a spectacular amount of boat to take on a true adventure. Each Bestevaer is a near-custom build with plenty of bespoke options for owners to customise the layout and where they fall on the scale of rugged off-grid adventurer to 4×4-style luxury fit out.


The Bestevaer range began when renowned naval architect Gerard Dijkstra chose to design his own personal yacht for liveaboard adventure cruising, a 53-footer. The concept drew plenty of interest from bluewater sailors wanting to make longer expeditions and Bestevaers are now available in a range of sizes, with the 56-footer proving a popular mid-range length.

The well-known Bestevaer 56 Tranquilo  (pictured above) has a deep, secure cockpit, voluminous tanks (700lt water and over 1,100lt fuel) and a lifting keel plus water ballast, with classically styled teak clad decks and pilot house. Other owners have opted for functional bare aluminium hull and deck, some choose a doghouse and others a pilothouse.


Photo: Jean-Marie Liot

The Boreal 52 also offers Land Rover-esque practicality, with utilitarian bare aluminium hulls and a distinctive double-level doghouse/coachroof arrangement for added protection in all weathers. The cockpit is clean and uncluttered, thanks to the mainsheet position on top of the doghouse, although for visibility in close manoeuvring the helmsman will want to step up onto the aft deck.

Twin daggerboards, a lifting centreboard and long skeg on which she can settle make this a true go-anywhere expedition yacht. The metres of chain required for adventurous anchoring is stowed in a special locker by the mast to keep the weight central. Down below has been thought through with equally practical touches, including plenty of bracing points and lighting that switches on to red light first to protect your night vision.


Photo: Morris Adant / Garcia Yachts

Garcia Exploration 45

The Garcia Exploration 45 comes with real experience behind her – she was created in association with Jimmy Cornell, based on his many hundreds of thousands of miles of bluewater cruising, to go anywhere from high latitudes to the tropics.

Arguably less of a looker than the Bestevaer, the Garcia Exploration 45 features a rounded aluminium hull, centreboard with deep skeg and twin daggerboards. The considerable anchor chain weight has again been brought aft, this time via a special conduit to a watertight locker in front of the centreboard.

This is a yacht designed to be lived on for extended periods with ample storage, and panoramic portlights to give a near 360° view of whichever extraordinary landscape you are exploring. Safety features include a watertight companionway door to keep extreme weather out and through-hull fittings placed above the waterline. When former Vendée Globe skipper Pete Goss went cruising , this was the boat he chose to do it in.



A truly well-proven expedition design, some 1,500 Ovnis have been built and many sailed to some of the most far-flung corners of the world. (Jimmy Cornell sailed his Aventura some 30,000 miles, including two Drake Passage crossings, one in 50 knots of wind).


Futuna Exploration 54

Another aluminium design with a swinging centreboard and a solid enclosed pilothouse with protected cockpit area. There’s a chunky bowsprit and substantial transom arch to house all manner of electronics and power generation.

Previous boats have been spec’d for North West Passage crossings with additional heating and engine power, although there’s a carbon rig option for those that want a touch of the black stuff. The tanks are capacious, with 1,000lt capability for both fresh water and fuel.

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sailboat designs types

13 Types of Sailboat Hulls (Including Photos!)

Explore 13 sailboat hull types with photos! Ideal for travelers seeking the perfect sailboat for speed, stability, or rough waters.

sailboat designs types

A sailboat is only as good as the hull, and it ultimately determines how well you can navigate through the water. The hull of a boat plays a massive role in what type of water you can sail through and your overall speed. So, what are the types of sailboat hulls and how are they different?

The main types of sailboat hulls are planing hulls, displacement hulls, and semi-displacement hulls which offer the best of both worlds. Multi-hull boats such as pontoons and tritoons have even weight distribution and can handle rough waters. Flat-bottom sailboats are the most stable, but they don’t work well in deep waters.

Catamarans and trimarans feature space between each hull which adds stability and protects the deck from water. Choosing a sailboat with the ideal hull for you is essential in finding one that you will keep for years to come. Follow along as we explore the different types of sailboats and see what makes them unique.

Sailboat Hull Types

There are 13 types of sailboat hulls ranging from bilge keels and fin keels to displacement hulls. The ideal sailboat hull varies for you based on factors such as what type of water you’re in and weather conditions.  For example, some hulls, such as flat bottoms, are ideal for shallow and smooth water .

On the other hand, semi-displacement hulls are perfect for every application whether you’re in shallow or deep water. Let’s take a look at the different types of sailboat hulls and see how they differ.

1. Planing Hull

sailboat designs types

Sail Magazine

Planing hulls are the first of the three major categories of sailboat hulls. You can find planning hulls with 2 different shapes: v-shaped and flat-bottom hulls.  Planing hulls sit on top of the water and don’t sink deep like other types .

Many boaters and enthusiasts prefer this design because of how well a boat with planning hulls can move across the water.  Most fishing sailboats feature planning hulls because of how smoothly they can glide on the surface whether you’re on an ocean or lake . Boats with planing hulls can also move faster than other types of boats, and that is their main appeal.

2. Displacement Hull

sailboat designs types

Improve Sailing

Boats with displacement hulls are slower than boats with planing hulls, but that doesn’t mean that they’re bad . While they don’t move as fast, many boaters consider displacement sailboat hulls to be much smoother.  This comes in handy if you live in an area with rough waters and strong winds .

A displacement hull is rounded instead of flat at the bottom like a planning hull. The main downside to sailboats with displacement hulls is that you will likely use more fuel than you normally would. That is because the shape isn’t as aerodynamic and you’ll need the extra engine power to move through the water.

3. Semi-Displacement Hull

sailboat designs types

Seattle Yachts

As the name suggests, semi-displacement hulls combine the best of both worlds between planing and displacement hulls. A semi-displacement hull is both flat and rounded at certain parts providing both speed and stability.  They aren’t as fast as a flatter planing hull, but they’re faster than a standard displacement hull .

The unique shape of semi-displacement hulls helps reduce resistance. This alone can help take a load off of your engine and let it work optimally under most water conditions. You also get the benefit of extra storage in most cases because boats with semi-displacement hulls have storage-friendly floor plans.

4. Multi-Hull

sailboat designs types

Multi-hull boats, such as pontoons and tritoons, are smooth and easy to sail . There are separate hulls on each side of the boat that provide stability and let you power through rough waters. On a pontoon, each hull is a large tube filled with air known as a toon.

Multi-hull boats generally sit higher above the water than most boats because of their unique design. They are popular for fishing, cruising, and entertainment.  A key downside to multi-hull boats is that they typically operate loudly because the propeller may not be fully submerged in the water .

5. Monohull

sailboat designs types

The vast majority of sailboats that you will come across have a monohull . They are easy to sail, transport, and even dock at a marina because of their simple design. As the name suggests, they only feature one hull and are suitable for calm and rough water.

You can save money with a monohull sailboat compared to a multi-hull sailboat like a catamaran. A key advantage to monohull sailboats is that they are incredibly safe. You don’t have to worry about capsizing as much as you would with a multi-hull sailboat.

6. Flat-Bottom

sailboat designs types

Sailing Magazine

Flat-bottom hulls are essentially the simplest form of planning hulls. You can find flat-bottom hulls on the majority of sailing dinghies, and that’s what they are most suitable for.  They aren’t ideal for oceans or rough waters, but flat-bottom sailboats are perfect for rivers and lakes .

Rowboats also feature flat-bottom hulls, and they aren’t known for being particularly smooth. You get less precision with flat-bottom hulls, especially if you have to steer and turn unexpectedly. Otherwise, you won’t have trouble with a flat-bottom sailboat hull if you go out for a quick fishing trip in an area you’re familiar with that has smooth waters.

7. Catamarans

sailboat designs types

Catamarans feature a unique take on the traditional multi-hull design . They feature 2 hulls with space between them that usually features a deck. Sometimes, the space between each hull features a trampoline or even a small pool or tub.

They aren’t suitable liveaboard boats, but they are perfect for taking out for a day of cruising and fishing. Catamarans are as smooth as possible, but that sometimes comes at the cost of speed. However, they often feature multiple engines which can consume a lot of fuel but also put less strain on each engine.

8. Trimaran

sailboat designs types

Quiberon 24 Television / Youtube

Trimarans are essentially a step up from catamarans because they feature a third hull. Many people prefer the stability that trimarans offer over catamarans.  The extra stability also helps increase the speed that you can cruise at with a trimaran .

They are also safer than catamarans because the multi-hull design allows for perfect weight distribution. That’s not to say that catamarans are unsafe, but the extra hull that trimarans feature is more durable.  Most of the weight lies on the center hull and the rest is distributed between the 2 outer hulls .

sailboat designs types

BlueWater Yacht Sales

Deep v hulls are another type of planing hull, but they are less common than some of the other varieties. Granted, high-end modern powerboats often feature a deep v hull, but they come at a high price.  The v design allows the hull to cut into the water easily which lets you easily control the boat in any type of water condition .

Generally, the deadrise goes between 21 and 26 degrees for a deep v hull which is ideal for many boaters. However, boats with deep v hulls are primarily geared toward anglers and aren’t ideal for cruising at high speeds. Deep v hulls are usually made out of aluminum which means that they will be loud as they glide across the water.

10. Bilge Keel

sailboat designs types

Bilge keel hulls are specifically designed to reduce the risk of a boat rolling . The strange shape of a bilge keel hull lets it stand upright whether you’re on the shore or in shallow waters. This makes them much easier to maintain than many other types of boats.

The bottom of a bilge keel hull features multiple fins in a row that helps ensure a smooth ride. They never feature more than 2 keels which means that they have a shallow draft and you can easily beach them. The one downside to sailboats with a bilge keel hull is that they are difficult to transport to a port because of the bottom.

11. Bulb Keel

sailboat designs types

Bulb keel sailboats feature a teardrop-shaped ballast that increases the boat’s stability.  They are even faster than bilge keel sailboats because of how hydrodynamic they are . Unlike some types of hulls, a bulb keel works just as well on the sea as it does on lakes and rivers.

They feature incredible weight distribution because of the inclusion of an extra ballast. However, you have to be careful with bulb keel sailboats in shallow waters near the shore. They are more susceptible to damage at the bottom so they can be difficult to bring to shore and require precision.

12. Fin Keel

Jordan Yacht Brokerage

Unlike bulb keel and bilge keel hulls, fin keel sailboats are perfect for raising . Fin keel hulls improve the draft of a sailboat which comes in handy when you want to reach high speeds. Some sailors use fin keel sailboats to travel long distances across the water, especially if the weather is in their favor.

They are a perfect happy medium between flat and round-bottomed hulls offering the best of both worlds.  Fin keel sailboats are also quite comfortable because of the unique bottom shape that can easily handle choppy waters . With that said, they aren’t ideal for beginners because they can be difficult to steer compared to standard flat-bottom hulls if you are inexperienced.

13. Cathedral Hull

sailboat designs types

Jeff Clark / YouTube

Cathedral hulls get their name from their appearance which is similar to that of a classic cathedral. The unique appearance is one of the biggest benefits of cathedral hulls because the whole boat takes on that shape. They feature sharp bows and high sterns that are immediately recognizable.

With that said, cathedral-hull sailboats can be difficult to steer compared to flat-bottom or rounded hulls because of their bulky shape . You get plenty of storage with cathedral hulls which makes them perfect for long day trips with many people. They are incredibly stable because of the wide beams and wide berth, so there isn’t a serious risk of capsizing as long as you pack your cargo well.

What Type of Hull is Best For Rough Waters?

sailboat designs types

Any type of boat with a v-shaped hull is best for rough waters. Whether it’s a deep v or shallow v, this hull design makes it easy to cut through rough water without getting too much on your deck.  The last thing that you want is to go through rough waters and take on excess water weight onboard .

They are specifically designed to glide across the water without sinking low which is necessary for choppy waters. Boats with v-shaped hulls also often come with high-performance engines, so they offer the best of both worlds.  Generally, deep v hulls are the most precise and smoothest when it comes to rough waters .

They are perfect for keeping course which is essential if you’re in rough waters that can kick you off of your path. You can find many deep v hulls that are made out of fiberglass which is incredibly durable and withstand water exposure. Fiberglass v-shaped hulls are also easy to repair either by yourself or at a professional shop at a low cost.

What is The Most Stable Hull Design?

sailboat designs types

Flat-bottom hull sailboats have the most stable design for shallow water and multi-hull boats are the most stable in deep water. The inclusion of multiple hulls adds stability in deep water that prevents water from landing on the deck. This can save you expensive repairs and can also prevent your sailboat from capsizing.

Pontoons and tritoons are multi-hull boats and they are specifically popular because of their stability.  You can’t find a more stable design than a flat-bottom hull if you plan to cruise in shallow waters . Flat-bottomed hulls are also typically the fastest when you aren’t far from shore, especially if you are in smooth waters.

The box shape of flat-bottomed hulls is conducive to gliding across shallow water. However, they struggle to ride across waves and choppy waters because of the wide surface area. Multi-hull boats such as pontoons and tritoons are the best option if you plan to take your boat out to lakes, rivers, and oceans because they thrive in any scenario.

What is Better Flat Bottom or V-Hull?

Flat-bottom boats are better than v-hull boats for most uses, but v-hulls are better in choppy and deep waters. You can get by with a flat bottom in oceans and lakes alike, but they don’t always do well in deep water.  Conversely, v-hull boats can tear through rough and wavey water even at steep depths .

V-hull boats don’t do well in shallow waters and you are more likely to get stuck than you would be with a flat-bottom boat. Of course, you can always have someone push from behind when you depart, but that doesn’t help much when you return to shore.  V-hull boats are the better option for deep waters, however, even if you are in rough water .

Flat-bottom boats take on more water than v-hull boats unless you stay in calm waters. It’s always worth choosing a boat that won’t take on water that will weigh it down. However, if you’re looking for a reliable boat with a high capacity, then I would recommend looking into v-hull boats.

What Type of Hull Cuts Through Water?

sailboat designs types

Displacement hulls are the best at cutting through the water, especially when compared to planing hulls. They don’t rely on a powerful engine to cut through the water because of their design. Displacement hulls displace water once you lower them in from the shore.

This displacement isn’t ideal for speed, but it is perfect for rough waters and strong winds.  You can take sailboats with displacement hulls out on the ocean without having to worry about waves . They also work well in freshwater, but they are less necessary because of the lack of waves compared to the ocean.

Otherwise, you can get the best of both worlds with a semi-displacement hull . They aren’t quite as precise as displacement hulls, but they are better at navigating choppy waters than planing hulls. You sacrifice a little bit of speed, but the shape of a boat with a displacement hull lets you power through waves without veering off of your path.

How Long Do Sailboat Hulls Last?

Sailboat hulls last for an average of 15 years, but many of them can last for 20 years or longer. It ultimately depends on how well you maintain them and how often they are in the water.  For example, a sailboat that you always keep in the water and rarely store in a dry place may need hull repairs and replacement much sooner .

Sailboat hulls are susceptible to algae damage, and that is more likely if you always keep them in the water. Cleaning the hull of a boat is essential to protect them from algae and examine them for potential damage.  Fiberglass is the best material for a boat hull, even compared to aluminum which was the standard for years .

Fiberglass hulls can last for up to 50 years or more with regular cleaning and maintenance. A sailboat’s hull won’t last as long if it suffers damage neglecting maintenance or hits the shore too fast. The best way to increase the longevity of your sailboat is to take it out of the water every once in a while and scrub the hull to remove algae.

How Do You Inspect a Sailboat Hull?

sailboat designs types

The best way to inspect a sailboat hull is to take it out of the water and clean it . You can easily inspect a sailboat’s hull if it is clean and dry, or else you will mix cracks and dents. Cracks are the most important thing to look out for because it’s best to catch them early on.

You should be concerned if you come across cracks because they can eventually worse and threaten your boat’s structural integrity. This is especially true if you have a sailboat with an aluminum hull that you regularly take out onto saltwater.  Aluminum can eventually break down in saltwater so it’s important to inspect it regularly, especially after 10 years or more .

The hull is the first part of a boat that you should inspect because hull damage can cause a boat to sink. Always inspect your boat’s hull if you sail too fast in shallow water because that is when you risk the most trouble. Clean and dry your boat’s hull, then follow along it closely to look for spots that don’t glisten as much. This will indicate a weak point, scratch, tear, or dent.

Fastest Sailboat Hull Design

Multi-hull, trimarans, and flat-bottom boats feature the fastest sailboat hull designs . They are hydrodynamic which lets them glide through the water with minimal resistance. Trimarans move incredibly fast, especially in salt water, as long as they aren’t weighed down with too much cargo.

Careful packing reduces the necessity to haul less cargo because trimarans have incredible weight distribution. However, factors such as water conditions and what type of body of water you are on ultimately play a huge role.  Boats move up to 2% faster when in saltwater than in freshwater no matter which type of sailboat hull design you have .

Other factors such as your boat’s capacity and how much cargo you are carrying make a huge difference as well. Any type of boat with a planing hull is a safe bet if you want to move quickly through the water. Avoid sailboats with a displacement hull if you value speed because they often move the slowest.

So, What Are the Types of Sailboat Hulls?

The three main types of sailboat hulls are planing hulls, displacement hulls, and semi-displacement hulls.  Bilge keel, bulb keel, and fin keel hulls are similar but have different practical applications between freshwater and saltwater . Trimarans and catamarans feature sturdy hulls that are highly regarded for their even weight distribution and roomy storage.

Multi-hull boats such as pontoons and tritoons sit above the water and can withstand rough waters because of how high they sit. Displacement hulls are the best option if you need to cut through choppy waters and maintain your routing. Otherwise, consider a flat-bottomed hull if you primarily stay in shallow water because of how stable they are.

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Sailboat Design Evolution

  • By Dan Spurr
  • Updated: June 10, 2020

X-Yachts 46

You know the old saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same”? As a judge for the 2020 Boat of the Year (BOTY) competition at this past fall’s US Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Maryland, I helped inspect and test-sail 22 brand-new current-model sailboats. And I came away thinking, Man, these aren’t the boats I grew up on. In the case of new boats, the saying is wrong: “Nothing stays the same.”

OK, sure, today’s boats still have masts and sails, and the monohulls still have keels. But comparing the Hinckley Bermuda 40, considered by many to be one of the most beautiful and seaworthy boats of the 1960s, ’70s and even ’80s, with, say, the Beneteau First Yacht 53, which debuted at the show, is pretty much apples and oranges.

To get a better sense of what has happened to yacht design, boatbuilding and equipment over the past three, four or even six decades, let’s take a closer look.

Design Dilemmas

At the risk of oversimplification, since the fiberglass era began in the late 1940s and ’50s, the design of midsize and full-size yachts has transitioned from the Cruising Club of America rules, which favored all-around boats (racers had to have comfortable interiors) with moderate beam and long overhangs, to a succession of racing rules such as the IOR, IMS and IRC. All of them dictated proportions, and each required a measurer to determine its rating.

Beneteau First Yacht 53

As frustration grew with each (no handicap rule is perfect), alternatives arose, such as the Performance Handicap Racing Fleet, which essentially based one’s handicap on past performance of the same boats in the same fleet. Also, one-design racing became more popular, which spread beyond identical small boats to full-size yachts, popularized in part by builders such as J/Boats and Carroll Marine. The ethos there was: Who cares about intricate rating rules? Let’s just go out and sail fast and have fun!

And that might best sum up the design briefs for the monohulls in this year’s BOTY competition: good all-around performance with comfortable, even luxurious accommodations. Gone are interiors that noted naval architect Robert Perry called “the boy’s cabin in the woods,” deeply influenced by stodgy British designers of the past century and their now-old-fashioned (though ­sea-friendly, one should note) concepts of a proper yacht, drawn and spec’d by the same guy who designed the hull, deck and rig. Today, dedicated European interior designers are specially commissioned to inject modernity, home fashion colors and textures, amenities, and more light—even dubiously large port lights in the topsides.

rigging led below deck

Overhangs, bow and stern, have virtually disappeared. Why? It seems largely a matter of style. Plus, the bonus of increased usable space below, not to mention a longer waterline length for a given length overall, which translates to more speed. Former naval architect for C&C Yachts and Hunter Marine, Rob Mazza, recalls that 19th-century pilot cutters and fishing schooners operating in offshore conditions generally had plumb bows, so in a sense, bow forms have come full circle.

Today’s boats are carrying their wide beam farther aft. Gone are the days of the cod’s head and mackerel tail. Wide, flat canoe bodies are decidedly fast off the wind, and might even surf, but they pay a comfort penalty upwind.

These boats have lighter displacement/length (D/L) ratios, which means flatter bottoms and less stowage and space for tanks. The Beneteau 53 has a D/L of 118, compared with the ­aforementioned Bermuda 40 of 373. Among entries in this year’s BOTY, the heaviest D/L belonged to the Elan Impression 45.1, with a D/L of 195. Recall that when Perry’s extremely popular Valiant 40 was introduced in 1975, the cruising establishment howled that its D/L of 267 was unsuitable for offshore sailing. My, how times have changed!

Perhaps more important, one must ask: “Have the requirements for a good, safe bluewater cruiser actually changed? Or are the majority of today’s production sailboats really best-suited for coastal cruising?”

The ramifications of lighter displacement don’t end there; designers must consider two types of stability: form and ultimate. As weight is taken out of the boat, beam is increased to improve form stability. And with tanks and machinery sometimes raised, ­ballast might have to be added and/or lowered to improve ultimate stability.

What else to do? Make the boat bigger all around, which also improves stability and stowage. Certainly the average cruising boat today is longer than those of the earlier decades, both wood and fiberglass. And the necessarily shallower bilges mean pumps must be in good shape and of adequate size. That’s not as immediate an issue with a deep or full keel boat with internal ballast and a deep sump; for instance, I couldn’t reach the bottom of the sump in our 1977 Pearson 365.

Bali 5.4 catamaran

And how do these wide, shallow, lighter boats handle under sail? Like a witch when cracked off the wind. We saw this trend beginning with shorthanded offshore racers like those of the BOC Challenge round-the-world race in the early 1980s. As CW executive editor Herb McCormick, who has some experience in these boats, says, “They’ll knock your teeth out upwind.” But route planning allows designers to minimize time upwind, and cruisers can too…if you have enough room and distance in front of you. Coastal sailors, on the other hand, will inevitably find even moderate displacement boats more comfortable as they punch into head seas trying to make port.

Bavaria C50

A wide beam carried aft permits a number of useful advantages: the possibility of a dinghy garage under the cockpit on larger boats; easy access to a swim platform and a launched dinghy; and twin helms, which are almost a necessity for good sightlines port and starboard. Of course, two of anything always costs twice as much as one.

Some multihulls now have reverse bows. This retro styling now looks space-age. Very cool. But not everyone is sold on them. Canadian designer Laurie McGowan wrote in a Professional BoatBuilder opinion piece, “I saw through the fog of faddishness and realized that reverse bows are designed to fail—that is, to cause vessels to plunge when lift is required.” Mazza ­concurs: “Modern multihulls often have ­reverse stems with negative reserve buoyancy, and those are boats that really can’t afford to bury their bows.”

X-Yachts 46

McGowan also cites another designer critiquing reverse bows for being noticeably wet and requiring alternative ground-­tackle arrangements. The latter also is problematic on plumb bows, strongly suggesting a platform or sprit to keep the anchor away from the stem.

Rigging Redux

If there was a boat in Annapolis with double lower shrouds, single uppers, and spreaders ­perpendicular to the boat’s centerline, I must have missed it. I believe every boat we sailed had swept-back spreaders and single lowers. An early criticism of extreme swept-back spreaders, as seen on some B&R rigs installed on Hunter sailboats, was that they prevented fully winging out the mainsail. The counter argument was that so many average sailors never go dead downwind in any case, and broad reaching might get them to their destinations faster anyway—and with their lunch sandwiches still in their stomachs.

That issue aside, the current rigging configuration may allow for better mainsail shape. But as Mazza points out, it’s not necessarily simple: “By sweeping the spreaders, the ‘transverse’ rigging starts to add fore-and-aft support to the midsection of the mast as well, reducing the need for the forward lowers. However, spreader sweep really does complicate rig tuning, especially if you are using the fixed backstay to induce headstay tension. Swept spreaders do make it easier to sheet non-overlapping headsails, and do better support the top of the forestay on fractional rigs.”

Certainly, the days of 150 ­percent genoas are over, replaced by 100 percent jibs that fit ­perfectly in the foretriangle, often as a self-tacker.

Another notable piece of rigging the judges found common was some form of lazy jacks or mainsail containment, from traditional, multiple lines secured at the mast and boom; to the Dutchman system with monofilament run through cringles sewn into the sail like a window blind; to sailmaker solutions like the Doyle StackPak. This is good news for all sailors, especially those who sail shorthanded on larger boats.

Construction Codas

Improvements in tooling—that is, the making of molds—are easily evident in today’s boats, particularly with deck details, and in fairness. That’s because many of today’s tools are designed with computer software that is extraordinarily accurate, and that accuracy is transferred flawlessly to big five-axis routers that sculpt from giant blocks of foam the desired shape to within thousandths of an inch. Gone are the days of lofting lines on a plywood floor, taken from a table of offsets, and then building a male plug with wood planks and frames. I once owned a 1960s-era sailboat, built by a reputable company, where the centerline of the cockpit was 7 degrees off the centerline of the deck—and they were one piece!

Hanse 675

Additive processes, such as 3D printing, are quickly complementing subtractive processes like the milling described above. Already, a company in California has made a multipart mold for a 34-foot sailboat. Advantages include less waste materials.

Job training also has had an impact on the quality of fiberglass boats. There are now ­numerous schools across the country offering basic-skills training in composites that include spraying molds with gelcoat, lamination, and an introduction to vacuum bagging and infusion.

Catalina 545 dinghy garage

The patent on SCRIMP—­perhaps the first widely employed infusion process—has long ago expired, but many builders have adopted it or a similar process whereby layers of fiberglass are placed in the mold dry along with a network of tubes that will carry resin under vacuum pressure to each area of the hull. After careful placement, the entire mold is covered with a bag, a vacuum is drawn by a pump, and lines to the pot of resin are opened. If done correctly, the result is a more uniform fiberglass part with a more controlled glass-to-resin ratio than is achievable with hand lay-up. And as a huge bonus, there are no volatile organic compounds released into the workplace, and no need for expensive exhaust fans and ductwork. OSHA likes that, and so do the workers.

However, sloppy processes and glasswork can still be found on some new boats. Surveyor Jonathan Klopman—who is based in Marblehead, Massachusetts, but has inspected dozens, if not hundreds, of boats damaged by hurricanes in the Caribbean—tells me that he is appalled by some of the shoddy work he sees, such as balsa cores not vacuum-bagged to the fiberglass skins, resulting in delamination. But overall, I ­believe workmanship has improved, which is evident when you look behind backrests, inside lockers and into bilges, where the tidiness of glasswork (or lack thereof) is often exposed. Mechanical and electrical systems also have improved, in part due to the promulgation of standards by the American Boat & Yacht Council, and informal enforcement by insurance companies and surveyors.

Dufour 390

We all know stainless steel isn’t entirely stainless, and that penetrations in the deck are potentially troublesome; allowing moisture to enter a core material, such as end-grain balsa, can have serious consequences. The core and fiberglass skins must be properly bonded and the kerfs not filled with resin. Beginning in the mid-1990s, some builders such as TPI, which built the early Lagoon cruising catamarans, began using structural adhesives, like Plexus, to bond the hull/deck joint rather than using dozens of metal fasteners. These methacrylate resins are now commonly used for this application and others. Klopman says it basically should be considered a permanent bond, that the two parts, in effect, become one. If you think a through-bolted hull/deck joint makes more sense because one could theoretically separate them for repairs, consider how likely that would ever be: not highly.


Wide transoms spawned an unexpected bonus; besides the possibility of a dinghy “garage” under the cockpit on larger boats, swim platforms are also possible. In more than one BOTY yacht, the aft end of the cockpit rotated down hydraulically to form the swim platform—pretty slick.

Teak decks are still around, despite their spurning for many years by owners who didn’t want the upkeep. In the 1960s and ’70s, they were considered a sign of a classy boat but fell from favor for a variety of reasons: maintenance, weight and threat of damaging the deck core (the bung sealant wears out and water travels down the fastener through the top fiberglass skin into the core). Specialty companies that supply builders, like Teakdecking Systems in Florida, use epoxy resin to bond their product to decks rather than metal fasteners. And the BOTY judges saw several synthetic faux-teak products that are difficult to distinguish from real teak—the Esthec installed on the Bavaria C50 being one example.

Elan Impression 45.1

LPG tanks no longer have to be strapped to a stanchion or mounted in a deck box because decks now often incorporate molded lockers specifically designed for one or two tanks of a given size. To meet ABYC standards, they drain overboard. In tandem with these lockers, some boats also have placements or mounts for barbecues that are located out of the wind, obviating the common and exposed stern-rail mount.

Low-voltage LED lights are replacing incandescent bulbs in nearly all applications; ­improvements in technology have increased brightness (lumens), so some even meet requirements for the range of navigation lights. Advances in battery technology translate to longer life, and depending on type, faster charging. And networked digital switching systems for DC-power ­distribution also are becoming more common.

Last, I was surprised at how many expensive yachts exhibited at Annapolis had nearly the least-expensive toilets one can buy. Considering the grief caused by small joker valves and poorly sealed hand pumps, one would think builders might install ­systems that incorporate higher-quality parts or vacuum ­flushing, and eliminate the minimal hosing that famously permeate odors.

Dan Spurr is an author, editor and cruising sailor who has served on the staffs of Cruising World, Practical Sailor and Professional Boatbuilder. His many books include Heart of Glass , a history of fiberglass boatbuilding and boatbuilders .

Other Design Observations

Here are a few other (surprising) items gleaned from several days of walking the docks and sailing the latest models:

  • Multihulls have gained acceptance, though many ­production models are aimed more at the charter trade than private ownership for solitary cruising. You’d have to have been into boats back in the ’60s and ’70s to remember how skeptical and alarmist the sailing establishment was of two- and three-hull boats: “They’ll capsize and then you’ll drown.” That myth has been roundly debunked. Back then, the only fiberglass-­production multihulls were from Europe, many from Prout, which exported a few to the US. There are still plenty of European builders, particularly from France, but South Africa is now a major player in the catamaran market.
  • The French builders now own the world market, which of course includes the US. Other than Catalina, few US ­builders are making a similar impact. In terms of volume, Groupe Beneteau is the largest builder in the world, and they’ve expanded way beyond sailboats into powerboats, runabouts and trawlers.
  • Prices seem to have outpaced inflation, perhaps because, like with automobiles, where everyone wants air conditioning, electric windows and automatic transmissions, today’s boats incorporate as standard equipment items that used to be optional. Think hot- and cold-pressure water, pedestal-wheel steering, and full suites of sailing instruments and autopilots.
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My Cruiser Life Magazine

Sailboat Types: Full-Guide

For generations, sailing has been a mode of essential transportation, a rewarding hobby, an active and competitive sport, and a lifestyle. Sailing appeals to all, and there are dozens and dozens of types of sailboats.

Small sailboats are perfect for kids to sail on, and massive sailboats are used to cross oceans in style. In between, there are daysailers, racers, and cruisers. 

Table of Contents

  • What Does a Sailboat Look Like? 

Small Sailboats

Cruising boats, cruising catamarans, cruising trimarans, full keel boats, fin keel boats, centerboard keel.

  • Hydrofoil Sailboats 

A Purpose for Every Type of Sailboat

Faqs (frequently asked questions).

There are many types of sailboats

What Are Sailboat Types?

Sailboats are boats that are propelled by the wind. Sailboats use wind power instead of a motor or oars to move the boat. It should be noted, though, that nearly all modern sailboats have a motor as well. It comes in handy when docking in tight marinas and if the wind dies!

A sailboat has one, two, or three hulls. It has at least one mast, or tall vertical spar, that holds up one or more sails. The sails harness the power of the wind to move the boat forward.

To get started, here are some sailing boat types and terms to give you an idea of the sorts of boats that are out there.

  • Dinghies — a small open boat, usually for only one or two people
  • Daysailors — boats designed to go out for a day trip
  • Cruising Sailboats — boats designed to travel long distances that have accommodations for their crew to live aboard a long term
  • Sloop — the most common type of sailboat, with one mast and two sails (a jib and a mainsail)
  • Ketch, yawl, or schooner — types of sailboats with two or more masts
  • Monohull — a boat with only one hull
  • Catamaran — a boat with two equal-sized hulls in the water that are connected together by a bridge deck
  • Trimaran — a boat with three hulls in the water, the center of which is much larger than the outer two

What Does a Sailboat Look Like?

There are many different types of sailboats, so they look a little different from each other. The basics, however, are the same. 

Each sailboat has at least one hull that sits in the water. Part of the hull is visible above the waterline. Part of the sailboat hull sits below the waterline. 

The part beneath the waterline might be relatively small, or it can be quite large. The rudder, the mechanism used to steer the boat, is also underwater. 

The cockpit is where the helmsperson sits and steers the boat. On small boats, the cockpit takes up the entire boat. Cruising boats have interior accommodations as well as a safe cockpit.

Sailboats have at least one mast and at least one mainsail. As you get to know the different types of sailboats, you’ll see many different hull and sail configurations. 

What do sailboats look like

Different Types of Sail Boats

Sailboats come in all types of sailboat shapes and sailboat sizes . Sailboats can be classified by their hull shape, size, or sail plan. The sail plan is how many sails they carry on how many masts.

Hull shapes include monohulls, catamarans, trimarans, and sailing hydrofoils. A monohull has just one hull, a catamaran has two hulls, a trimaran has three hulls, and a hydrofoil lifts out of the water. 

Sizes range from eight-foot sailboats to megayachts that are hundreds of feet long. Some sailboats are so small they are only suitable for one child who wants to go skimming across the lake. The largest pure sailing yacht in the world is the Black Pearl at 350 feet long (106.7 meters) long. Visit our Yacht vs Sailboat guide for a more definitive difference between the two and their sizes.

Sailboats also have different sail configurations or sail plans. For example, a sailboat with just one big sail on a forward-mounted mast is called a catboat. A boat with dozens of different sails on three masts is called a three-mast schooner.

Small sailboats are extremely popular and offer a lot of fun to the young and old. Most of the time, these boats are just used for daytime use in pleasant weather conditions. Kids often learn to sail in small monohull sailboats. Families might go for a picnic in a Hobie catamaran. 

Yacht club members might race their 16-foot daysailors, while adventurous souls might take their 19-ft weekender and anchor in a calm cove for the weekend. 

Racing sailing dinghy

What is a Small Sailboat Called?

Small sailboats have different names, depending on the type of sailboat and the number of sail boat hulls. For example, the boat might be a monohull dinghy, small catboat, small catamaran, or daysailor.

Additionally, like every car on the road, every boat on the water is identified by its make and model. In small boats that are commonly raced, a certain make and model may set up a class of racing boats. Class racing means that all of the boats are identical, so the race is based solely on the skills of the skippers.

Sailing Dinghies

Kids and adults often learn to sail on sailing dinghies. Sailing dinghies can be as small as eight feet long. This small size makes it easy for kids to handle.

Some common sailing dinghies are Optis, Lasers, and Sunfish.

This size sailboat is also functional. They can be used to ferry sailors from their larger anchored boats to shore. The small size also helps sailors easily store their dinghy on larger boats. The word dinghy is often used to refer to any small boat used as a tender for a larger vessel, even if the tender is a motorboat.

Cat Rig Boats

A cat rig boat, or cat boat, is a type of sailboat that usually just has one large mainsail and a forward-mounted mast. Many smaller dinghies and training boats are catboats. A catboat has a free-standing mast with no standing rigging.

Small Catamarans

A catamaran is a boat with two hulls. The Hobie brand is synonymous with small catamarans, which are popular with families looking for a fun hobby. Hobie Cats are seen on the sand at beach resorts all over the world—they’re safe, fun, and fast.

Catamarans are faster than monohulls, and these boats are fun to race. Small catamarans are often used by families that live on the waterfront. Their lightweight makes them easy to drag to the waterfront and launch.

Small catamarans are also popular on beaches. Many beach resorts offer Hobie cats for rent. Small catamarans are between 12-20 feet in length. The hulls are joined only with spars and netting, so these fast and light open boats are not set up to carry a lot of people or supplies.

Daysailors are the ultimate fun boat. As the name implies, this type of sailing boat is used for day sailing. These boats are usually between 12 to 20 feet long. Some use these smaller boats for racing or overnight camping, but most sailors use daysailors for a leisurely sail.

Small Sailboats with Cabins

While most small sailboats just have a large open cockpit, several small yacht types have cabins. These cabins offer a chance for sailors to use a porta-potty or get out of the sun. Some small sailboats even have sleeping accommodations for overnight stays.

An excellent example of this is the Cape Dory Typhoon Weekender. This small sailboat is known as “America’s Littlest Yacht.” Down below, there are two small bunks for sleeping and enough space to have a small stove and a porta-potty. Most owners don’t stay aboard long-term, but the cabin is a useful place to stow items while sailing or to hide during a rainstorm.

Small daysailor

Cruising boats are boats that are capable of traveling long distances. Cruising boats have sleeping accommodations, cooking facilities, and bathroom facilities. These boats are like RVs for the waterway.

Cruising boats offer sailors the chance to live on their boats while sailing. Like RVs, cruising sailboats travel to different ports of call. Cruising sailboats are one of the more popular types of sailing boat. They offer adventurous sailors the chance to enjoy sailing as a sport while seeing new things.

Cruising boats are usually 30 to 50 feet long. Most cruising couples prefer a boat that is around 40 feet long since this provides enough space to live comfortably and enough storage space for all of their gear.

Monohulls are very popular cruising boats. These boats offer good storage, are safe, and are easy for a couple to handle together. Monohulls have different types of sail configurations.

Cruising Bermuda Rigged Sloops

Most monohulls are Bermuda rig sloops. This sail plan features one mast with a mainsail and a headsail. Bermuda rig sloops are easy to single-hand and very versatile. How many sails does a sloop have? A Bermuda sloop flies two sails at a time, which are the mainsail and a headsail.

However, the boat might have other sails onboard. For example, the captain might take down the jib in light winds and use a bigger genoa to capture more wind power. During a downwind sail with light winds, the captain might rig a large spinnaker, which looks like a huge kite, to keep sailing even in little wind.

Even within the sloop category, there are many variations in the design. A masthead sloop is one whose forestay (headsail) goes all the way to the top of the mast. In contrast, a fractional sloop’s forestay connects at some point lower. So a 3/4 fractional rig has a headsail that only goes up three-quarters of the way to the top.

Riggers and boat designers have a lot of tools in their toolbox from which they can make a boat faster or more user-friendly. The type of rigging and sail plan a boat is equipped with offers it performance improvements as well as functionality.

Cruising Cutter

A cutter is a sailboat with one mast, one mainsail, and two sails forward of the mast. The sail at the front of the boat is the jib, genoa, or yankee depending on its size and cut. The next sail in, the inner headsail, is called the staysail. Island Packets are popular boats with this sail plan.

Cutters are popular choices as cruising and bluewater cruiser boats because the staysail provides the skipper with many different sail options. They could fly all three sails fully, or they could fly a small partial mainsail and just the staysail for heavy winds.

Cruising Ketch With Mizzen Sail

Some cruising monohulls are ketches. A ketch can be easily identified by its two masts. The forward mast is the main mast with a mainsail. The aft mizzen mast is shorter and has a mizzen sail. This sail plan can make it easier to carry a big sail area and configure the sails for various sailing conditions.

A boat with more than one mast is called a split rig because the rig is split between two shorter masts instead of all mounted on one tall one. The advantage of a split rig is that there are more sails, each of which is smaller. That makes them easier to handle, and important consideration when you are sailing alone or with only one other person.

Cruising Yawl

A yawl is similar to a ketch and has two masts. However, the mizzen mast on a yawl is aft of the rudder post, whereas it is forward of the rudder post on a ketch. This mizzen mast location is even further back than a ketch’s. Yawls are one of the less popular types of sailboats. However, like the ketch, they offer diverse sail options and can keep sailing in many different types of weather. 

On both ketches and yawls, the mizzen mast is shorter than the main mast. If the two masts are of equal height, or the forward mast is shorter, then you are looking at a schooner.

Cruising yawl with two masts

Cruising catamarans are one of the most popular classes of sailboats right now. This type of sailing boat has two hulls and offers sailors speed, space, and comfort. A cruising catamaran is usually between 40 and 60 feet long and 20 to 30 feet wide. The additional width offers cruise sailors huge amounts of space. 

Cruising catamarans have excellent storage space and ample living accommodations if you intend to living on a boat . These boats are popular with couples and families and are often used to sail around the world on circumnavigations. 

Cruising catamarans are usually fractional sloop rigs. They have one mast, a large mainsail, and a jib or genoa. In general, these boats are designed to be easy to sail and minimize complications.

Cruising catamaran sailboat

Trimarans are a type of sailboat with three hulls. Trimarans are known to be fast and are popular with racing sailors. However, they are also gaining popularity as cruising boats. These boats usually have fewer accommodations than cruising monohulls and catamarans. However, more modern trimarans like the Neel Trimaran have luxurious living spaces.

Types of Keel

Another way to classify the different types of sailing boats is by looking at the boat’s keel type. You can easily get an idea of different keel designs by walking around a boatyard. When a sailboat is in the water, it is hard to tell the shape of its keel.

The keel is the bottom part of the hull and is underwater. The keel is structurally essential. The keel’s weight helps the boat sail evenly and uprightly. The force created by the water moving over the keel counteracts the effects of the wind on the sails.

So a keel does two jobs for a sailboat. First, it provides a force that allows a sailboat to sail into the wind. Second, it provides stability. If storm-force weather conditions cause a monohull boat to roll, the weight in the keel will help the boat right itself.

Many older cruising boats had full keels. The keel shape runs the entire length of the boat. A full-keel boat is strong and easy to manufacture. Full-keel boats often have deeper drafts. The boat’s draft refers to the amount of water it needs to float. Full-keel boats can’t go into the shallow anchorages that catamarans or swing-keel boats can access.

Captains often report that full-keel boats are harder to maneuver in tight places such as marinas. Full-keel boats lack quick maneuverability. They have a reputation for being slower than more modern designs, but they make up for this by providing a very comfortable and safe ride in rough weather.

a full keel boat in a dry dock

A boat with a fin keel has a smaller underwater profile than a boat with a full keel. This smaller keel resembles a fish fin. Captains find fin keel boats easier to maneuver. Fin keels use their shape to create very effective forces underwater. That makes them very good at countering the forces on the sails, meaning that fin keels sail upwind very well.

A boat with a bulb keel has a torpedo-shaped bulb on the bottom of a fin keel. Bulb keels offer improved stability. Bulb keels have shallower keels than a fin keel boat. The bulb also lowers the center of gravity in the boat, making it more stable overall.

A wing keel features a keel with a small wing on either side of the keel. Viewed from above, the keel looks like it has a set of small airplane wings. 

Similar to a bulb keel, wing keel boats often have a shallower draft than fin-keel boats. However, the additional shape causes drag and can reduce sailing performance in some circumstances.

A centerboard is common on small daysailors that are launched and retrieved from trailers. Deep keels make getting those boats in and out of the water difficult. By chopping off the keel, you can make a sailboat as easy to launch as a powerboat.

Related: Best Trailerable Sailboats

But of course, a sailboat needs to have a keel. A centerboard is a simple swinging fin keel that can be raised or lowered. This provides some excellent benefits if the sailor on board likes to explore areas with shallow water.

Many bigger boats have centerboards, too. A boat with a centerboard can be seen as the best of both worlds. A centerboard boat has a fixed shallow draft keel. However, the captain can deploy the centerboard when sailing in deeper waters. The centerboard adds depth to the keel and offers increased stability and performance.

A modification of the centerboard is the swing keel — a ballasted keel that can be retracted like a centerboard . These are rare. They’re used on large cruising boats where the crews want the option of accessing shallow waters. In England, this type of boat is used and can be dried out when the tide goes out.

Racing Sailboats

Yacht racing is a popular sailing sport. It’s a great way to get out on the water while competing. In fact, racing is a great way for sailors to hone their sailing skills. Sailors have to pay close attention to weather conditions and manage their sails effectively to maximize their speed.

Sailors can race any boat with sails. Kids race sailing dinghies against each other. Club racers sail daysailors or catboats. Catamarans and trimarans are also popular race boats. Several classes of boat races in the Summer Olympics.

Hydrofoil Sailboats

A hydrofoil is a unique and modern type of racing sailboat. A hydrofoil can be a monohull, catamaran, or trimaran. A hydrofoil has wing-like foils on the hull’s underside.

As the sailboat speeds up, the hydrofoils lift the hull out of the water, and the hydrofoil sailboat almost appears to be flying above the water.

Because the hull is now out of the water, drag, and resistance are minimal, and the sailboat can sail even faster. For example, a dinghy that usually goes four knots can accelerate to 12 knots when fitted with a hydrofoil.

Most hydrofoil sailboats are catamarans and trimarans. The added width of these multihull sailboats gives the hydrofoil sailboat more stability.

Traditional Sailboats

Traditional sailboats are the type of sailboats used to transport people and goods before modern transportation options were available. Before the railway, cars, and airplanes, a tall ship sailboat was used to ship cargo and people across oceans and from port to port. 

Traditional schooner

A gaff rig refers to the gaff, which is the upper spar on a square-shaped sail. Gaff rigs can be used with any mast configuration, but this feature is usually seen on traditional boats like a catboat, tall ship, or schooner.

A schooner has at least two masts. They are different from other mast configuration designs with two spars in that both masts are equal in height, or the forward mast is shorter. Schooners are faster than most traditional boats and were often used to transport perishable goods such as fruit. 

Schooners were also popular race boats in the early 20th century. For example, first America’s Cup races were won by schooners.

Today, schooners are usually used as charters for vacations or youth sail training programs. But there are a few cruising boats out there that feature schooner rigs. 

Any way you divvy it up, there are tons of different types of sailboats out there. With a little research and a little looking, you’re sure to find one that suits your style and boating plans.

What are the classes of sailboats?

Sailboat styles can be classified by hull type, use, or sail plan. The types of sailboat hulls include monohulls, catamarans, and trimarans. You can also categorize the kinds of sailboats by their use. For example, sailors use their boats for daysailing, cruising, and racing. Finally, different kinds of sailboats have different sail plans. A sailboat might be a sloop, ketch, yawl, catboat, or schooner.  The term “classes” has a particular meaning in sailing, however. Class racing is the competitive racing between boats of the same make and model—boats of the same “class” or of “one design.” There are hundreds of different classes of sailboats out there. Some of the most popular classes include the Laser and Sunfish classes.

What is a small 2 person sailboat called?

A small two-person sailboat is a dinghy. These small boats are fun to sail on protected waters. Many kids learn to sail in a sailing dinghy. There are dozens of makes and models of sailing dinghies available, some are used in Olympic sailing racing while others are just rowboats with sail rigs attached.

sailboat designs types

Matt has been boating around Florida for over 25 years in everything from small powerboats to large cruising catamarans. He currently lives aboard a 38-foot Cabo Rico sailboat with his wife Lucy and adventure dog Chelsea. Together, they cruise between winters in The Bahamas and summers in the Chesapeake Bay.

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sailboat designs types

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.

What are the different types of sail rig? The sail rig is determined by the number of masts and the layout and shape of sails. Most modern ships are fore-and-aft rigged, while old ships are square-rigged. Rigs with one mast are sloops and cutters. Ketches, yawls, brigs, and schooners have two masts. Barques have three masts. Rigs can contain up to seven masts.

'Yeah, that's a gaff brig, and that a Bermuda cutter' - If you don't know what this means (neither did I) and want to know what to call a two-masted ship with a square-rigged mainsail, this article is definitely for you.

Sailboat in front of NYC with Bermuda mainsail and Jib

On this page:

More info on sail rig types, mast configurations and rig types, rigs with one mast, rigs with two masts, rigs with three masts, related questions.

This article is part 2 of my series on sails and rig types. Part 1 is all about the different types of sails. If you want to know everything there is to know about sails once and for all, I really recommend you read it. It gives a good overview of sail types and is easy to understand.

sailboat designs types

The Ultimate Guide to Sail Types and Rigs (with Pictures)

First of all, what is a sail rig? A sail rig is the way in which the sails are attached to the mast(s). In other words, it's the setup or configuration of the sailboat. The rig consists of the sail and mast hardware. The sail rig and sail type are both part of the sail plan. We usually use the sail rig type to refer to the type of boat.

Let's start by taking a look at the most commonly used modern sail rigs. Don't worry if you don't exactly understand what's going on. At the end of this article, you'll understand everything about rig types.

Diagram of most common rig types (Bermuda sloop, gaff cutter, gaff ketch, gaf schooner, full rigged ship)

The sail rig and sail plan are often used interchangeably. When we talk of the sail rig we usually mean the sail plan . Although they are not quite the same. A sail plan is the set of drawings by the naval architect that shows the different combinations of sails and how they are set up for different weather conditions. For example a light air sail plan, storm sail plan, and the working sail plan (which is used most of the time).

So let's take a look at the three things that make up the sail plan.

The 3 things that make up the sail plan

I want to do a quick recap of my previous article. A sail plan is made up of:

  • Mast configuration - refers to the number of masts and where they are placed
  • Sail type - refers to the sail shape and functionality
  • Rig type - refers to the way these sails are set up on your boat

I'll explore the most common rig types in detail later in this post. I've also added pictures to learn to recognize them more easily. ( Click here to skip to the section with pictures ).

How to recognize the sail plan?

So how do you know what kind of boat you're dealing with? If you want to determine what the rig type of a boat is, you need to look at these three things:

  • Check the number of masts, and how they are set up.
  • You look at the type of sails used (the shape of the sails, how many there are, and what functionality they have).
  • And you have to determine the rig type, which means the way the sails are set up.

Below I'll explain each of these factors in more detail.

The most common rig types on sailboats

To give you an idea of the most-used sail rigs, I'll quickly summarize some sail plans below and mention the three things that make up their sail plan.

  • Bermuda sloop - one mast, one mainsail, one headsail, fore-and-aft rigged
  • Gaff cutter - one mast, one mainsail, two staysails, fore-and-aft rigged
  • Gaff schooner - two-masted (foremast), two mainsails, staysails, fore-and-aft rigged
  • Gaff ketch - two-masted (mizzen), two mainsails, staysails, fore-and-aft rigged
  • Full-rigged ship or tall ship - three or more masts, mainsail on each mast, staysails, square-rigged

The first word is the shape and rigging of the mainsail. So this is the way the sail is attached to the mast. I'll go into this later on. The second word refers to the mast setup and amount of sails used.

Most sailboats are Bermuda sloops. Gaff-rigged sails are mostly found on older, classic boats. Square-rigged sails are generally not used anymore.

But first I want to discuss the three factors that make up the sail plan in more detail.

Ways to rig sails

There are basically two ways to rig sails:

  • From side to side, called Square-rigged sails - the classic pirate sails
  • From front to back, called Fore-and-aft rigged sails - the modern sail rig

Almost all boats are fore-and-aft rigged nowadays.

Square sails are good for running downwind, but they're pretty useless when you're on an upwind tack. These sails were used on Viking longships, for example. Their boats were quicker downwind than the boats with fore-and-aft rigged sails, but they didn't handle as well.

The Arabs first used fore-and-aft rigged sails, making them quicker in difficult wind conditions.

Quick recap from part 1: the reason most boats are fore-and-aft rigged today is the increased maneuverability of this configuration. A square-rigged ship is only good for downwind runs, but a fore-and-aft rigged ship can sail close to the wind, using the lift to move forward.

The way the sails are attached to the mast determines the shape of the sail. The square-rigged sails are always attached the same way to the mast. The fore-and-aft rig, however, has a lot of variations.

The three main sail rigs are:

  • Bermuda rig - most used - has a three-sided (triangular) mainsail
  • Gaff rig - has a four-sided mainsail, the head of the mainsail is guided by a gaff
  • Lateen rig - has a three-sided (triangular) mainsail on a long yard

The Bermuda is the most used, the gaff is a bit old-fashioned, and the lateen rig is outdated (about a thousand years). Lateen rigs were used by the Moors. The Bermuda rig is actually based on the Lateen rig (the Dutch got inspired by the Moors).

Diagram of lateen, gaff, and bermuda rig

Other rig types that are not very common anymore are:

  • Junk rig - has horizontal battens to control the sail
  • Settee rig - Lateen with the front corner cut off
  • Crabclaw rig

Mast configuration

Okay, we know the shape of the mainsail. Now it's time to take a look at the mast configuration. The first thing is the number of masts:

  • one-masted boats
  • two-masted boats
  • three-masted boats
  • four masts or up
  • full or ship-rigged boats - also called 'ships' or 'tall ships'

I've briefly mentioned the one and two mast configurations in part 1 of this article. In this part, I'll also go over the three-masted configurations, and the tall ships as well.

A boat with one mast has a straightforward configuration because there's just one mast. You can choose to carry more sails or less, but that's about it.

A boat with two masts or more gets interesting. When you add a mast, it means you have to decide where to put the extra mast: in front, or in back of the mainmast. You can also choose whether or not the extra mast will carry an extra mainsail. The placement and size of the extra mast are important in determining what kind of boat we're dealing with. So you start by locating the largest mast, which is always the mainmast.

From front to back: the first mast is called the foremast. The middle mast is called the mainmast. And the rear mast is called the mizzenmast.

Diagram of different mast names (foremast, mainmast, mizzenmast)

What is the mizzenmast? The mizzenmast is the aft-most (rear) mast on a sailboat with three or more masts or the mast behind the mainmast on a boat with two masts. The mizzenmast carries the mizzen sail. On a two-masted boat, the mizzenmast is always (slightly) smaller than the mainmast. What is the purpose of the mizzen sail? The mizzen sail provides more sail area and flexibility in sail plan. It can be used as a big wind rudder, helping the sailor to have more control over the stern of the ship. It pushes the stern away from the wind and forces the bow in the opposite way. This may help to bring the bow into the wind when at anchor.

I always look at the number of masts first, because this is the easiest to spot. So to make this stuff more easy to understand, I've divided up the rig types based on the number of masts below.

Why would you want more masts and sail anyways?

Good question. The biggest advantage of two masts compared to one (let's say a ketch compared to a sloop), is that it allows you to use multiple smaller sails to get the same sail area. It also allows for shorter masts.

This means you reduce the stress on the rigging and the masts, which makes the ketch rig safer and less prone to wear and tear. It also doesn't capsize as quickly. So there are a couple of real advantages of a ketch rig over a sloop rig.

In the case of one mast, we look at the number of sails it carries.

Boats with one mast can have either one sail, two sails, or three or more sails.

Most single-masted boats are sloops, which means one mast with two sails (mainsail + headsail). The extra sail increases maneuverability. The mainsail gives you control over the stern, while the headsail gives you control over the bow.

Sailor tip: you steer a boat using its sails, not using its rudder.

The one-masted rigs are:

  • Cat - one mast, one sail
  • Sloop - one mast, two sails
  • Cutter - one mast, three or more sails

Diagram of one-masted rigs (bermuda cat, bermuda sloop, gaff cutter)

The cat is the simplest sail plan and has one mast with one sail. It's easy to handle alone, so it's very popular as a fishing boat. Most (very) small sailboats are catboats, like the Sunfish, and many Laser varieties. But it has a limited sail area and doesn't give you the control and options you have with more sails.

The most common sail plan is the sloop. It has one mast and two sails: the main and headsail. Most sloops have a Bermuda mainsail. It's one of the best racing rigs because it's able to sail very close to the wind (also called 'weatherly'). It's one of the fastest rig types for upwind sailing.

It's a simple sail plan that allows for high performance, and you can sail it short-handed. That's why most sailboats you see today are (Bermuda) sloops.

This rig is also called the Marconi rig, and it was developed by a Dutch Bermudian (or a Bermudian Dutchman) - someone from Holland who lived on Bermuda.

A cutter has three or more sails. Usually, the sail plan looks a lot like the sloop, but it has three headsails instead of one. Naval cutters can carry up to 6 sails.

Cutters have larger sail area, so they are better in light air. The partition of the sail area into more smaller sails give you more control in heavier winds as well. Cutters are considered better for bluewater sailing than sloops (although sloops will do fine also). But the additional sails just give you a bit more to play with.

Two-masted boats can have an extra mast in front or behind the mainmast. If the extra mast is behind (aft of) the mainmast, it's called a mizzenmast . If it's in front of the mainmast, it's called a foremast .

If you look at a boat with two masts and it has a foremast, it's most likely either a schooner or a brig. It's easy to recognize a foremast: the foremast is smaller than the aft mast.

If the aft mast is smaller than the front mast, it is a sail plan with a mizzenmast. That means the extra mast has been placed at the back of the boat. In this case, the front mast isn't the foremast, but the mainmast. Boats with two masts that have a mizzenmast are most likely a yawl or ketch.

The two-masted rigs are:

  • Lugger - two masts (mizzen), with lugsail (a cross between gaff rig and lateen rig) on both masts
  • Yawl - two masts (mizzen), fore-and-aft rigged on both masts. Main mast is much taller than mizzen. Mizzen without a mainsail.
  • Ketch - two masts (mizzen), fore-and-aft rigged on both masts. Main mast with only slightly smaller mizzen. Mizzen has mainsail.
  • Schooner - two masts (foremast), generally gaff rig on both masts. Main mast with only slightly smaller foremast. Sometimes build with three masts, up to seven in the age of sail.
  • Bilander - two masts (foremast). Has a lateen-rigged mainsail and square-rigged sails on the foremast and topsails.
  • Brig - two masts (foremast), partially square-rigged. The main mast carries small lateen-rigged sail.

Diagram of two-masted rigs (gaff yawl, gaff ketch, gaff schooner, and brig)

The yawl has two masts that are fore-and-aft rigged and a mizzenmast. The mizzenmast is much shorter than the mainmast, and it doesn't carry a mainsail. The mizzenmast is located aft of the rudder and is mainly used to increase helm balance.

A ketch has two masts that are fore-and-aft rigged. The extra mast is a mizzenmast. It's nearly as tall as the mainmast and carries a mainsail. Usually, the mainsails of the ketch are gaff-rigged, but there are Bermuda-rigged ketches too. The mizzenmast is located in front of the rudder instead of aft, as on the yawl.

The function of the ketch's mizzen sail is different from that of the yawl. It's actually used to drive the boat forward, and the mizzen sail, together with the headsail, are sufficient to sail the ketch. The mizzen sail on a yawl can't really drive the boat forward.

Schooners have two masts that are fore-and-aft rigged. The extra mast is a foremast which is generally smaller than the mainmast, but it does carry a mainsail. Schooners are also built with a lot more masts, up to seven (not anymore). The schooner's mainsails are generally gaff-rigged.

The schooner is easy to sail but not very fast. It handles easier than a sloop, except for upwind, and it's only because of better technology that sloops are now more popular than the schooner.

The brig has two masts. The foremast is always square-rigged. The mainmast can be square-rigged or is partially square-rigged. Some brigs carry a lateen mainsail on the mainmast, with square-rigged topsails.

Some variations on the brig are:

Brigantine - two masts (foremast), partially square-rigged. Mainmast carries no square-rigged mainsail.

Hermaphrodite brig - also called half brig or schooner brig. Has two masts (foremast), partially square-rigged. Mainmast carries a gaff rig mainsail and topsail, making it half schooner.

Three-masted boats are mostly barques or schooners. Sometimes sail plans with two masts are used with more masts.

The three-masted rigs are:

  • Barque - three masts, fore, and mainmast are square-rigged, the mizzenmast is usually gaff-rigged. All masts carry mainsail.
  • Barquentine - three masts, foremast is square-rigged, the main and mizzenmast are fore-and-aft rigged. Also called the schooner barque.
  • Polacca - three masts, foremast is square-rigged, the main and mizzenmast are lateen-rigged.
  • Xebec - three masts, all masts are lateen-rigged.

Diagram of three-masted rigs (barque, full rigged ship)

A barque has three or four masts. The fore and mainmast are square-rigged, and the mizzen fore-and-aft, usually gaff-rigged. Carries a mainsail on each mast, but the mainsail shape differs per mast (square or gaff). Barques were built with up to five masts. Four-masted barques were quite common.

Barques were a good alternative to full-rigged ships because they require a lot fewer sailors. But they were also slower. Very popular rig for ocean crossings, so a great rig for merchants who travel long distances and don't want 30 - 50 sailors to run their ship.


The barquentine usually has three masts. The foremast is square-rigged and the main and mizzenmast fore-and-aft. The rear masts are usually gaff-rigged.

Faster than a barque or a schooner, but the performance is worse than both.

The polacca or polacre rig has three masts with a square-rigged foremast. The main and mizzenmast are lateen-rigged. Beautiful boat to see. Polacca literally means 'Polish' (it's Italian). It was a popular rig type in the Mediterranean in the 17th century. It looks like the xebec, which has three lateen-rigged masts.

Fun fact: polaccas were used by a Dutch sailor-turned-Turkish-pirate (called Murat Reis).

The xebec is a Mediterranean trading ship with three masts. All masts are lateen-rigged. I couldn't find any surviving xebecs, only models and paintings. So I guess this rig is outdated a long time.

A boat with three or more masts that all carry square-rigged sails is called a ship, a tall ship, or a full-rigged ship. So it's at this point that we start calling boats 'ships'. It has nothing to do with size but with the type of rigging.

More sails mean less stress on all of them. These ships use a lot of sails to distribute the forces, which reduces the stress on the rigging and the masts. Square sails mean double the sail area in comparison to triangular sails.

They are quite fast for their size, and they could outrun most sloops and schooners (schooners were relatively a lot heavier). The reason is that tall ships could be a lot longer than sloops, giving them a lot of extra hull speed. Sloops couldn't be as large because there weren't strong enough materials available. Try making a single triangular sail with a sail area of over 500 sq. ft. from linen.

So a lot of smaller sails made sense. You could have a large ship with a good maximum hull speed, without your sails ripping apart with every gust of wind.

But you need A LOT of sailors to sail a tall ship: about 30 sailors in total to ie. reef down sails and operate the ship. That's really a lot.

Tall ships are used nowadays for racing, with the popular tall ship races traveling the world. Every four years I go and check them out when they are at Harlingen (which is very close to where I live).

Check out the amazing ships in this video of the tall ship races last year near my hometown. (The event was organized by friends of mine).

What is the difference between a schooner and a sloop? A schooner has two masts, whereas the sloop only has one. The schooner carries more sails, with a mainsail on both masts. Also, sloops are usually Bermuda-rigged, whereas schooners are usually gaff-rigged. Most schooners also carry one or two additional headsails, in contrast to the single jib of the sloop.

What do you call a two-masted sailboat? A two-masted sailboat is most likely a yawl, ketch, schooner, or brig. To determine which one it is you have to locate the mainmast (the tallest). At the rear: schooner or brig. In front: yawl or ketch. Brigs have a square-rigged foremast, schooners don't. Ketches carry a mainsail on the rear mast; yawls don't.

What is a sloop rig? A sloop rig is a sailboat with one mast and two sails: a mainsail and headsail. It's a simple sail plan that handles well and offers good upwind performance. The sloop rig can be sailed shorthanded and is able to sail very close to the wind, making it very popular. Most recreational sailboats use a sloop rig.

What is the difference between a ketch and a yawl? The most important difference between a ketch and a yawl are the position and height of the mizzenmast. The mizzenmast on a yawl is located aft of the rudder, is shorter than the mainmast and doesn't carry a mainsail. On a ketch, it's nearly as long as the mainmast and carries a mainsail.

Pinterest image for Guide to Understanding Sail Rig Types (with Pictures)

There are a wonderful lots of DIY changeability shows on the cable airwaves these days.

Rick the rigger

There are SO many errors on this site it really should be taken down.

First major mistake is to say you are no longer afraid of the sea.

One that truly gets up my nose is the term ‘fully’ rigged ship. It’s a FULL rigged ship!! Your mast names are the wrong way round and just because there may be 3 it doesn’t automatically mean the one in the middle is the main.

I could go on and totally destroy your over inflated but fragile ego but I won’t. All I will say is go learn a lot more before posting.

Shawn Buckles

Thanks for your feedback. If you like to point out anything more specific, please let me know and I will update the articles. I’ve changed fully-rigged to full-rigged ship - which is a typo on my part. I try to be as concise as I can, but, obviously, we all make mistakes every now and then. The great thing about the internet is that we can learn from each other and update our knowledge together.

If you want to write yourself and share your knowledge, please consider applying as a writer for my blog by clicking on the top banner.

Thanks, Shawn

Well, I feel that I’ve learned a bit from this. The information is clear and well laid out. Is it accurate? I can’t see anything at odds with the little I knew before, except that I understood a xebec has a square rigged centre mainmast, such as the Pelican ( )

Hi, Shawn, You forgot (failed) to mention another type of rig? The oldest type of rig known and still functions today JUNK RIG!

Why are so many of the comments here negative. I think it is wonderful to share knowledge and learn together. I knew a little about the subject (I’m an Aubrey-Maturin fan!) but still found this clarified some things for me. I can’t comment therefore on the accuracy of the article, but it seems clear to me that the spirit of the author is positive. We owe you some more bonhomme I suggest Shawn.

As they say in the Navy: “BZ” - for a good article.

Been reading S.M. Stirling and wanted to understand the ship types he references. Thank you, very helpful.

This site is an awesome starting point for anyone who would like to get an overview of the subject. I am gratefull to Shawn for sharing - Thanks & Kudos to you! If the negative reviewers want to get a deeper technical knowledge that is accurate to the n-th then go study the appropriate material. Contribute rather than destroy another’s good work. Well done Shawn. Great job!

Good stuff Shawn - very helpful. As a novice, it’s too confusing to figure out in bits and pieces. Thanks for laying it out.

First of all I have to say that Rick ‘the rigger’ is obviously the one with the “over inflated but fragile ego” and I laughed when you suggested he share his knowledge on your blog, well played!

As for the content it’s great, hope to read more soon!

Alec Lowenthal

Shawn, I have a painting of a Spanish vessel, two masted, with. Lateen sails on both masts and a jib. The mainsail is ahead of the main mast (fore) and the other is aft of the mizzen mast. Would this be what you call lugger rig? I have not seen a similar picture. Thanks, Alec.

Thank you for your article I found easy to read and understand, and more importantly remember, which emphasises the well written.. Pity about the negative comments, but love your proactive responses!

This vessel, “SEBASTIAN” out of Garrucha, Almería, España, was painted by Gustave Gillman in 1899.

Sorry, picture not accepted!

Thank you for a very informative article. I sail a bit and am always looking for more knowledge. I like the way you put forth your info and I feel if you can’t say anything positive, then that person should have their own blog or keep their opinions to their-self. I will be looking for more from you. I salute your way of dealing with negative comments.

Thank you for a great intro to sailing boats! I searched different sailboats because I use old sails tp make bags and wanted to learn the difference. Way more than I ever expected. Thanks for all the work put in to teach the rest of us.

Your description of a cutter is lacking, and your illustrations of “cutters” are actually cutter-rigged sloops. On a true cutter, the mast is moved further aft (with more than 40% of the ship forward of the mast). A sloop uses tension in the backstay to tension the luff of the foresail. The cutter can’t do this.

Also, a bermuda-rigged ketch will have a line running from the top of the mainmast to the top of the mizzenmast.

wow great guide to rig types! thanks

Interesting guide, however I am confused about the description of the brig. You say the main mast on a brig can have a lateen sail, but in your picture it looks like a gaff sail to me. How is it a lateen sail?

Hi Shawn, thank you for taking the time to share this information. It is clear and very helpful. I am new to sailing and thinking of buying my own blue water yacht. The information you have supplied is very useful. I still am seeking more information on performance and safety. Please keep up the good work. Best Regards

mickey fanelli

I’m starting to repair a model sailboat used in the lake I have three masts that have long been broken off and the sails need replacement. So my question is there a special relationship between the three masts I do have reminents of where the masts should go. they all broke off the boat along with the sails I can figure out where they go because of the old glue marks but it makes no sense. or does it really matter on a model thank you mickey

Cool, total novice here. I have learnt a lot. Thanks for sharing - the diagrams along with the text make it really easy to understand, especially for a beginner who hasn’t even stepped on a sailing boat.

Daryl Beatt

Thank you. Cleared up quite a few things for me. For example, I was familiar with the names “Xebecs” and “Polaccas” from recent reading about the Barbary War. I had gathered that the two Barbary types were better suited to sailing in the Med, but perhaps they were less able to be adaptable to military uses,(but one might assume that would be ok if one plans to board and fight, as opposed to fight a running gun duel). Specifically, the strangely one sided August 1, 1801 battle between the USS Enterprise under Lt. John Sterett and the Polacca cruiser Tripoli under Admiral Rais Mahomet Rous. On paper both ships seemed nearly equal in size, guns and crew, but pictures of the battle are confusing. While the Enterprise is usually rendered as the familiar schooner, the polacca Tripoli has been pictured in radically different ways. Thus the Wikipedia picture by Hoff in 1878 used to illustrate the Battle shows a Brig design for Tripoli, indicating 77 years later, polaccas were no longer common.

Lee Christiansen

I am curious as to what you would call a modern race boat with a fractional jib,not equipped for full masthead hoist? Thanks Lee

Thanks Guy: The information and pictures really eliminate a lot of the mystery of the terminology and the meanings. Also appreciate the insight of the handling idiosyncrasies “hand” (staff) requirements to manage a vessel for one that has not been on the water much. I long to spend significant time afloat, but have concern about the ability to handle a vessel due to advancing age. The Significant Other prefers to sit (in AC comfort)and be entertained by parties of cruise line employees. Thanks again for the information.

Gordon Smith

Your discussion made no mention of the galleon, a vessel with either square-rigged Fore and Main masts and a shorter lateen-rigged Mizzen, or, on larger galleons, square-rigged Fore and Main masts, with a lateen-rigged Mizzen and a lateen-rigged Bonaventure mast, both shorter than either the Fore or Main masts. Also, it was not uncommon for a galleon to hoist a square-rigged bowsprit topsail in addition to the usual square-rigged spritsail.

Emma Delaney

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Types of Sailboat Designs and Styles

sailboat designs types

Whether we are seeking relaxation, exhilaration, or both, we feel exhilarated when we harness the power of the wind to carry us across the water. Over time, certain types of sailboats have emerged as favorites for cruising, racing, and other specialized applications. Sailboats differ not only in the kinds of mast configurations and sails they use, but also in their hull and keel designs. Here’s a look at the variety of sailboats plying the waves today.

Mast and Sail Configurations:

With that classic sailboat shape that sports a single mast with a fore-and-aft rig, the sloop is immediately recognizable. It’s also the most popular type of small or mid-sized sailboat of the modern era. As recreational sailing gains popularity and smaller crews head out on the water, a sloop allows maximum maneuverability upwind and overall control when sailing in a smaller boat. For a faster ride, racing sloops add some extra sail to the same general rigging layout.

A favorite vessel for cruising, like the sloop, the cutter is a single-masted sailboat. The main difference is that the mast is set farther aft, allowing room for two headsails from two forestays. Cutters are valued for their easily managed range of possible sail positions, making the craft maneuverable under challenging winds.

The last of our single-masted sailboats, the cat rig has a single sail, which is set so well forward that it allows for considerably more cabin room than other types of sailboats of comparable size. These boats are simple to sail, economical, and attractive, but the sail configuration makes for a significant loss in upwind performance.  

A traditional choice for sailors ready to take on a larger cruising craft, the ketch is rigged similarly to a sloop, but with a second mast, called a mizzenmast, set aft. Each separate sail on a ketch is a bit smaller than what would be found on a sloop of similar size, allowing for more flexibility in sail usage, and making the vessel more comfortable to control, overall, especially in larger sailboats. Though the greater flexibility can come at an elevated cost to account for the extra sail, mast, and rigging, and though a ketch is considered a slower craft than a sloop, it offers a smooth cruising ride for the recreational sailor.

Like a ketch, a yawl boasts two masts, a main and a mizzen, but in the yawl , the mizzen mast is smaller and set behind the rudder post. The debate between ketches and yawls rages on, with sailboat lovers in both camps expounding the virtues of their favorite. Many will concede that the mizzen on a yawl is not what it is on a ketch, especially for ease of handling. However, yawl purists will tell you that the aft sail provides a certain balance that makes for beautiful handling. Everyone agrees that a yawl, with its graceful and elegant craft design, undeniably appeals to the romantic sailor looking for that connection with the perfect vessel.  

A schooner is a sailing vessel with fore-and-aft sails on two or more masts, with the foremast designed to be a bit shorter than the main mast. Though the schooner has held an undeniable place in the history of sailing, this style of craft has largely been replaced by sloops and yawls, which are better upwind and easier to manage. Still, schooners are hearty, powerful, and stately, and they were once the fastest ships in the seas.  

Hull and Keel Designs

Hulls come in three basic configurations: monohull, catamaran, and trimaran. Monohull boats are the traditional sailboat design. These single-hulled vessels rely on ballast for stability. Though a monohull sailboat has that clean and classic sailboat look that many enjoy, both the dual-hulled catamarans and the tri-hulled trimarans are more stable than monohull crafts since they derive their stability from the distance between the hulls.

Keels also come in a variety of designs, but no matter what they look like, they are all designed to help keep a boat from slipping sideways in the water. The most typical is a full-length keel, which relies on its length, rather than its depth, to provide lift and balance to the hull. Fin keels are separate from the rudder and will run deeper into the water since they don’t run the full length of the hull. A wing or bulb keel has more righting ability, for use in high-performance sailboats, while a bilge keel will reduce keel performance, but it will allow a boat to stand on mud or sand at low tide. Finally, a centerboard or daggerboard can be raised or lowered by the crew. When lifted, it reduces drag, but when dropped, it will provide the same benefits as a keel.

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The Definitive Guide to Sailboat Hull Types


If you’ve ever been on a sailboat or any kind of boat, one of the first parts of the boat you saw was its hull and you might not have even known it.

Simply put, the hull is the bottom part of a boat that rides in and on top of the water. When a sailboat is underwater, it’s accompanied by the keel and the rudder.

Just like knowing the different types of sails , knowing the hull type on your sailboat means you’ll have a better understanding of how your boat operates while it’s out on the water.

All in all, the hull of any boat is meant to keep the boat afloat and to ensure minimum resistance against the water while being propelled forward. Now let’s dive into the different sailboat hull types and even some other types of hulls in boats in general!

Main Sailboat Hull Types

There are two main hull types that we’ll be looking at that encompass the many other types of hulls that vary from these two main types.

Depending on the type of boat you have, you’ll be floating around with one or the other. We’ll take a look at what you can expect if your boat has either of these hull types.

Displacement Hulls

The most common sailboat hull type you’ll find out there is the displacement hull, which is very effective at pushing the water aside and powering through it during forward propulsion.

A displacement hull is often found not only on sailboats, but also fishing, freight, cruise, and other larger boats.

All boats that have a displacement hull will be limited in their speed based on the waterline length of the hull. Regardless of how much power you use, whether it’s from the wind or motor, the maximum speed can’t be increased.

This is why you’ll see people mention the waterline length of a boat’s hull when putting them on the market to sell.

The big advantage of having a displacement hull is that they require far less power to get moving across the water compared to the other main hull type; the planing hull.

What this means is that your boat will be able to cruise for a long time with the same amount of energy, which also allows you to carry more items on board.

Planing Hulls

It’s almost guaranteed that your sailboat won’t have a planing hull since they’re most commonly found on powerboats and personal watercrafts (PWCs), like jet skis.

Planing hulls allow the boat to lift itself out of the water, reducing drag and increasing the speed of the boat.

Almost any boat that’s equipped with a planing hull will be able to attain a speed much greater than a boat with a displacement boat.

The main reason for this is the lift that’s produced when traveling at high speeds which reduces drag on the water.

The maximum speed of a boat with a planing hull is dependent on the horsepower of the engine and how much of the hull can be removed from the water while still cruising.

The biggest advantage of having a planing hull is that your boat will be able to pick up speed quickly and reach a greater maximum speed.

This allows for shorter journey times. However, there needs to be a source of all that energy, which comes directly from a combustion engine. The faster a boat with a planing hull goes, the larger the cost of fuel will be.

How Planing Works

The way planing works is actually pretty interesting, so I thought I’d dive into it a bit. Even though a sailboat is virtually guaranteed not to have one, it’s always nice to know how other boats operate while out on the water.

1. Displacement

Before a boat with a planing hull actually planes, it starts out acting like a displacement hull.

As a matter of fact, a boat with a planing hull needs to reach a certain speed before it starts to produce lift. Before that happens, it’s essentially a displacement hull.

While a boat with a planing hull is picking up speed and lifting itself out of the water, it’s in a plowing mode.

You’ll know when a boat is in plowing mode when the bow of the boat is elevated and the boat is throwing a relatively large wake. The goal, however, is to move from plowing mode to planing mode, which requires further acceleration.

Once the boat with a planing hull reaches a certain speed, it’ll leave plowing mode and enter planing mode.

As I already described, planing is when the hull is gliding across the water with a smaller amount of the hull dragging in the water when compared to the previous modes. Different boats will start planing when reaching different speeds.

Common Sailboat Hull Styles

Now that we’ve gone over the two main types of hulls you’ll find in sailboats and other types of boats, we have a good foundation for the hull styles you’ll commonly see when out on the water.

There are three main hull styles that you’ll see quite often, so let’s take a look at those.

sailboat designs types

By far the most common hull style you’ll see on sailboats is the monohull, which is simply a single hull.

Traditionally, a sailboat will have a monohull and they can be found all over the place. It’s probably the style of hull that comes to most peoples’ mind when imagining a sailboat.

Monohulls on sailboats are virtually all displacement hulls. As we went over previously, this allows your sailboat to cruise for long stretches and has a greater efficiency compared to planing hulls.

However, most boats that exist on planet earth are monohulls, including powerboats, which can also be of the planing hull type.

When it comes to a monohull on a sailboat, the only way it can keep its stability is to have a proper keel attached to it.

A keel is a wing-like object that sticks out of the bottom of the hull in the water and provides a sailboat with ballast for stability. It’s important to understand how a keel works when operating a sailboat with a monohull since it’s one of the main reasons a sailboat can move forward without tipping.

sailboat designs types

There are certainly a lot of monohull sailboats out there, but there’s no doubt that you’ll also see your fair share of catamarans.

Catamarans are sailboats with two hulls and operate quite differently than their monohull cousin. Catamarans are known to be fast and are likely to outrun most monohull sailboats.

Unlike monohull sailboats, catamarans can be fitted with displacement hulls as well as planing hulls. However, even if they have a planing hull they can still produce a relatively good amount of cruising time and do so rather efficiently.

Catamarans are a bit different than monohulls in the sense that they can reach greater speeds. There are several reasons for this. For one, a catamaran doesn’t need a ballast for stability since the broad stance between the two hulls provides enough stability.

This means there’s no need for a large, heavy keel. Second, they’re often built out of lightweight materials that allow the boat to reach a higher maximum speed compared to heavier sailboats.

Also, if a catamaran has a planing hull, it’ll have the ability to produce lift resulting in reduced drag on the water and even greater speeds.

Unfortunately, catamarans do have the disadvantage of being more likely to capsize in unwanted high-wind situations.

Also, it’s very difficult for a catamaran to recover from capsizing as opposed to a monohull sailboat that has a good ballast from its keel.

sailboat designs types

You might have already guessed from the name, but I’ll state the obvious anyway. A trimaran is exactly like a catamaran but with three hulls instead of two.

Often times you’ll see a trimaran look like a monohull sailboat with a pair of hulls attached to its side.

Similar to a catamaran, trimarans can hit speeds much greater than your average monohull sailboat. As a matter of fact, they’re known to be “unsinkable” under the situation that the hulls on the port and starboard side of the central hull are completely filled up with water.

One of the coolest aspects of having a trimaran is that when it has a planing hull and/or a hydrofoil, the trimaran’s central hull will lift completely out of the water.

This gives it the effect that it’s floating across the air, which is the result of lift produced from the planing hull or a hydrofoil. It’s very cool to see this!

Sailboat Hull Bottoms

Apart from the main boat hull styles, like the monohull, catamaran, and trimaran, there are hull bottoms that pop up in the world of boating that can differ in style and function.

These hull bottoms are more of a deeper look at the hulls of a monohull, catamaran, or trimaran, so you can think of them more as a feature of any of the previously mentioned styles of hull.

Flat Bottom

sailboat designs types

A very common hull bottom for boats that are derived from the planing hull type is a flat bottom hull.

The flat bottom hull is considered to be one of the less stable styles of hulls, especially when confronted with rough waters.

However, you’ll often find them on boats that don’t necessarily ride in these situations, including fishing or taxi areas.

  • Good for small lakes and rivers due to having a shallow draft.
  • Able to hit relatively high speeds once entering planing mode.


  • Not good at handling choppy waters resulting in a rough ride.

Round Bottom

sailboat designs types

When it comes to sailboats, you’re most likely going to run into monohull sailboats that have a displacement style hull with a round bottom.

While these are the most common hull bottom for sailboats, they can also be found on smaller boats that are used for fishing, canoeing, and other similar kinds of boats.

  • Easily moves through the water due to being a displacement hull type.
  • When accompanied by a keel, it produces a great amount of stability from the ballast.
  • Without a keel, it can roll when entering and exiting the boat as well as when waves are present.
  • Less maneuverable compared to other hull styles.

Deep ‘V’ Bottom

sailboat designs types

If you’re operating a powerboat, then in all likeliness your boat has a planing hull with a deep ‘V’ bottom.

Since deep ‘V’ bottoms are found on planing hulls, these types of boats will be able to pick up speed quickly and at high maximums. This is the most common setup for powerboats out on the water.

This is the most common type of powerboat hull. This hull type allows boats to move through rough water at higher speeds and they provide a smoother ride than other hull types.

  • Provides a smooth ride compared to its flat bottom rival.
  • Good at handling rough water.
  • Requires more power to plane compared to its flat bottom rival.
  • Cannot handle sharp turns very well resulting in potential rolling or banking.

Multi-Chine Bottom

We took a good look at multi-hull styles like the catamaran and the trimaran earlier, which are the exact style of hulls that have a multi-chine bottom.

A multi-chine bottom is a great example of a displacement hull on either a catamaran or trimaran as it’s the most common bottom you’ll find.

  • In a multi-hull boat, it has a great amount of stability due to its wide beam.
  • In a multi-hull boat, it needs a large area when either tacking or jibing.

Main Parts of a Sailboat Hull

There’s some terminology I threw around while describing the many types of hulls a sailboat and other types of boats have.

As is the case with a lot of activities, learning the terminology is just something you have to do.

Thankfully, the terminology will eventually sink in overtime and eventually you’ll be able to ring off any hull terminology that comes up.

The bow is simply the most forward part of a sailboat and, thus, the very front of the hull.

The stern, conversely to the bow, is the most backward part of a sailboat and, thus, the very end of the hull.

The port side of a hull is the left side. I always remember this with the phrase “I left my port on the table”, with the port being wine.

This just so happens to also be the side where boats will have a red light turned on at night, which is the color of port wine.

The starboard side of a hull is on the right side.

Opposite the port side, in the evening boats will have a green light turned on and will be located on the starboard side of the boat.

Fore is a sailor’s way of saying “forward”.

Aft is a sailor’s way of saying “back”.

A transom is the aft-most (see what I did there?) section of the boat that connects the port and starboard sections of the boat.

The flare of a hull is where the hull starts to form a large angle the closer the hull gets to the deck.

The waterline is the line around the hull where the water touches when under a normal load.

Waterline Length

The waterline length, once referred to as the Load Waterline Length (LWL), is the length of the hull where the waterline is located.

This is not the entire length of the boat.

Length Overall (LOA)

The length overall (LOA) is, you guessed it, the overall length of the boat. This is measured from the tip of the bow to the end of the stern.

The freeboard is the space on the hull of a boat above the waterline and below the deck.

The draft is the length from the bottom-most part of a boat (the tip of the keel on a sailboat) and the waterline.

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