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Types of Sailboats

Updated on November 11, 2012

Types Of Sailboats

Sailboats range in size from tiny day sailing craft that are suitable for solo sailing to tall ships that are capable of trans-ocean travel. Sailing vessels are classified by sail configuration, hull type, keel design, mast configurations, or other attributes.

Sail Configurations

The following list describes a few of the most popular sailboats, classified by sail configuration:


Sloops are the most common type of sailboat. Sloop sailboat designs utilize a mainsail and foresail, using a single mast. Sloops usually bend only one headsail, though some exceptions to this rule exist. Sloops are popular among casual sailing enthusiasts, yachtsmen, and as racing boats.


The cutter design is very similar to a sloop with a single mast and a mainsail. Cutter sailboats generally carry the mast further aft to allow for the use of two headsails. In this layout, the head stay carries the jib and the inner stay carries the staysail. Cutter configurations are not popular for racing, but make good cruising boats. Their layout works better in high wind conditions than some other designs.


Catboat sail configurations employ a single mast. Modern day catboats are popular as pleasure craft. In the19th century catboats were also used for racing.


Ketch sailboats are equipped with two masts; a main mast, and a shorter mizzen mast. Both masts are rigged mainly fore-and-aft. Because of their exceptional handling, ketches are very popular for long distance cruising.


Schooner designs are popular for mid to large sailing vessels. Schooners may have two or more masts. The second mast is at least as tall as the first mast.

Baltimore Clipper

Baltimore clippers originated in the Chesapeake Bay before the American Revolution. These topsail schooners were named for their speed as they often "clipped along" at 12 knots or more. Baltimore schooners were armed and raided British shipping in the War of 1812.

Sailing and Sailboat Movies

Hull Types

Sailboats are also classified by hull type. Most sailboats are built with a mono or a single hull.

Chesapeake Bay Skipjack

Chesapeake Bay skipjacks became common in the late 1800's as working vessels. These single masted vessels were relatively inexpensive to build and their draft enabled them to dredge oysters closer to shore. Chesapeake Bay skipjacks were usually built by watermen or local boat builders. Limited numbers of skipjack sailboats still exist and compete in the Deal Island Skipjack Race.


The batteau, a shallow-draft, flat-bottomed sailing vessel, was once common in colonial America. The name is derived from the French word, bateau, meaning "boat". In American terminology, the plural form is spelled batteaux.


Other sailing vessels utilize multi-hull boats. Multi-hull designs include catamaran (twin hulls) and tri-maran (triple hull) vessels. Multi-hull boat handling is quite different than mono-hull designs. In a multi-hull boat acceleration is very quick.

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Tall Ships

The term "tall ship" usually refers to a large, traditionally-rigged sailing vessel. Popular tall ship configurations include topsail schooners, brigantines, brigs and barques.

The term is often used at festivals or other events in reference to a broad range of large sailing vessels.

Sailing Skills

Sailboats require a high level of experience and skill to operate. Crews must be able to quickly change rigs, rudder angle and other factors to change the speed and direction of the boat. Sailors must also be able to work in a variety of weather and sea conditions. In addition to steering the boat and managing the sails, crews must have basic skills related to weather forecasting, navigation, emergency repairs, marine electronics, first aid, and others.


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