Does A Ketch Sailboat Make
A Good Cruising Boat?

A ketch sailboat most certainly does make a good cruising boat! With the total sail area split between 3 sails (or 4 in the staysail ketch version shown below), sail handling is easier for a shorthanded crew than it would be on a sloop of similar size.

A Bowman 57 staysail ketchSome ketches, particularly larger ones like this one sport a cutter rig and are then known as a 'staysail ketch'. Many thanks to Alex and Daria Blackwell for this great pic of their Bowman 57 'Aleria'.

But could it be a Yawl?

It's easy to confuse a ketch sailboat with a yawl so perhaps we should clear that up before we go any further. Both are two-masted rigs with a mainmast foremost and a smaller mizzen mast aft.

It's generally accepted that the difference between the two types comes down to the location of the mast in relation to the rudder post. In a yawl the mizzen is aft of the rudder post and in the ketch, it's forward.

But the real difference is one of purpose. The mizzen on a yawl is intended to help trim the boat, in capable hands giving them the ability to follow a compass course despite minor wind shifts.

This was a very handy feature in the days when commercial fishing was done under sail, but these days efficient autopilots and navigation aids have made this less important and the yawl has generally fallen out of favour.

A ketch rigged sailing boat

Ketch - Mizzen mast ahead of the rudder post

This type of sailing boat is known as a yawl

YawlMizzen mast aft of the rudder post


The Mizzen Sail on a Yawl or Ketch Sailboat

The mizzen sail of a ketch is larger than that of a yawl and is there to add drive. And so it does - off the wind.

On the wind though, the mizzen is likely to add nothing but drag, being back-winded most of the time by the mainsail.

In these conditions the mizzen sail may as well be dropped, at which point the ketch becomes in effect an under-canvassed sloop.

An Allied Princess ketchAn Allied Princess 36 Ketch makes good progress to windward


The Mizzen Staysail

Off the wind a ketch is at its most efficient, particularly so if cutter rigged and with a mizzen staysail set. 

A Westerly 33 ketch with mizzen staysail setA Westerly 33 ketch with mizzen staysail set

That's the sail set between the head of the mizzen mast and the foot of the main mast, as on the Westerly 33 shown here.

But all the additional hardware - mizzen mast, sails, winches, standing and running rigging - comes with a considerable cost burden.

But there are benefits to be had from a split rig of a ketch:~

  • First, they offer greater flexibility for sail reduction, allowing a jib and mizzen configuration in strong winds; 
  • secondly, at anchor where with the mizzen set as a steadying sail, the boat will lay comfortably head-to-wind.


The Triatic Backstay

An Amel 54 cutter rigged ketchThis Amel 54 cutter-rigged ketch sports a triatic backstay between the main and mizzen masts

Although you'll see many ketch sailboats with a triatic backstay tensioned between the two mastheads, each mast should be stayed individually.

Whilst this stay is ideally placed to act as an insulated SSB radio aerial, in the event of the loss of one mast it's almost guaranteed to result in the loss of the other.

A staysail ketch like the Amel 54 shown above will carry the following suit of working sails:~

  • jib;
  • staysail;
  • mainsail;
  • mizzen staysail;
  • mizzen;

A cruising sloop of a similar size has only two sails to make up the same sail area, which would be considerably more difficult for a short-handed crew to handle.

So in answer to the original question, although they're not the best choice for windward sailing, the ketch can make an ideal cruising sailboat.

Lastly, the mizzen mast on a ketch sailboat provides an ideal place to mount your radar scanner and wind generator. And as one old sea-dog once told me, a convenient thing to lean against when you're smoking your pipe.



A Few Examples of Ketch Rigged Cruising Boats

Other popular rigs for cruising offshore...


You are here: Sailboat Cruising > Types of Sailing Boats > Ketch Rig



New! Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.

Recent Articles

  1. Used Sailing Equipment For Sale

    Oct 18, 19 02:44 PM

    Here's where people with sailing equipment for sale advertise their stuff entirely free of charge. If you're looking for used sailing gear or other used boating accessories, here's where to find it!

    Read More

  2. Live Aboard Boats For Sale

    Oct 18, 19 10:15 AM

    Ready to live the dream? Then browsing through this listing of live aboard boats for sale might just get you on your way...

    Read More

  3. 'Heymede', a Westerly Discus 33 for Sale

    Oct 15, 19 04:44 PM

    'Heymede', our Westerly Discus 33 is for Sale! U.K Tax paid; Ready to sail away; Boat name: 'Heymede'; Builder: Westerly; Model: Discus; Year: 1980; Length:

    Read More