The Parts of a Sailboat
(of which there are a great many!)

Some parts of a sailboat are very small and cheap, but are far from insignificant. Take the humble clevis pin for example; find one of these on the foredeck and you've cause to be concerned for the security of your rig!

If we were going to discuss all the parts of a sailboat here, it would be a very long article indeed - but relax, that's not going to happen. 

Let's make a start with...

The Parts of a Sailboat Above Deck

The Sails

Dacron is the usual choice of sailcloth for cruisers although laminated sails are becoming more common, and moulded sails are the first choice for racing sailors.

Read more about sails...

The Rigging

The standing rigging, generally made up in 1x19 stainless-steel wire, supports the mast.

The forestay and backstay secure the mast in the fore-and-aft plane, and the shrouds secure it athwartships.

The ends of the stays and shrouds are secured to the structural elements of the hull via chainplates.

The standing rigging on a sailboat supports the mast.Standing Rigging

The running rigging is the collective name for the lines (halyards, sheets, topping lifts, uphauls, downhauls etc) that control the sails. Their working ends are attached either directly to the sails or, in the case of the headsail, to the boom.

Read more about sailboat rigging...


These are the rigid struts, generally fabricated in alloy, wood or carbon fibre whose job it is to deploy the sails. For example:

  • The boom;
  • The mast;
  • The spinnaker pole;
  • The whisker pole;
  • The bowsprit;
  • The boomkin.

Read more about sailboat masts...

The Cockpit

Whitby 42 cockpitThe cockpit is the control centre when underway and the lounging centre at anchor

Like many cruising boats, the Ted Brewer designed Whitby 42 ketch pictured above has a centre-cockpit, which allows for the provision of a sumptuous aft-cabin below. Nevertheless, aft-cockpit boats have a great following with seasoned cruisers too. So what the aft versus centre-cockpit pro's and con's?

Tillers and Wheels

Smaller boats tend to be tiller-steered while larger ones, as in the image above, have wheels. Tillers are attached directly to the rudder stock; wheels are located remotely and operate the tiller through chain or hydraulic linkage.

Each approach has their devotees, but what are the arguments for and against?

The Parts of a Sailboat Below the Waterline

Keels & Rudders

A Gallant 53 Ocean Cruising SailboatThis Gallant 53 has a long-fin keel and a spade rudder.

Keels provide three key attributes in varying amounts depending on their design: directional stability, ballast, and lift to windward.

Rudders provide steerage and a small contribution towards lift to windward. They are either:

  • Outboard or inboard rudders, which can be
  • Unbalanced, balanced or semi-balanced, and be
  • Keel-hung, skeg-hung, transom-hung or spade rudders.

Rudder types are discussed here...


Sailboat propeller arrangementA 3-bladed folding propeller

Driven by the boat's diesel engine, the propeller allows good progress to be made when the wind is not cooperating.

Under sail though the propeller is redundant and the fixed blades provide nothing but unwanted drag. This is greatly reduced if the blades can fold aft in a clamshell arrangement or feather in self-alignment with the water flow.  

Sailboat propellers are either 2 or 3-bladed - and you can read more about them here...

Below Decks

Sailboat interior accommodationA typical interior layout on a mid-sized cruising sailboat

There's no 'standard' layout for the below-decks accommodation on a sailboat, although the one shown above is a popular choice.

Some layouts work well for offshore sailing whereas others are much less suitable - here's why some succeed where others fail...

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