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...


Sloops

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...


The sloop is a two-sail fore-and-aft rigged sailboatThe Sloop, a simple and efficient 2-sail rig

Cutters

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.

The cutter rig shouldn't be confused with another two-headsail rig - the solent rig...

Read more about cutters...


This cutter rigged sailboat has its rig extended by a bowspritA Cutter, two foresails and a mainsail

Ketches

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...



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...


This cat-ketch has two unstayed mastsA Cat-Ketch

Yawls

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.

The yawl has a smaller mizzen sail than the ketchA Yawl - mizzen mast aft of the rudder post

Schooners

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.


The schooner is often considered the most elegant of all sailboat rigsA two-masted Schooner

Gaffers

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.


The gaff rig is no longer seen on modern production yachtsA Gaff Cutter with topsail

All artwork on this page is by Andrew Simpson


Examples of the Various Types of Sailboats...


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
  • Barques
  • Barkentines
  • Brigs
  • Brigantines

And you can see examples of them here...

Note...

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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