Different Types Of Sailboats

7 Different Types Of Sailboats And Their Differences

There is nothing quite like sailing a sailboat.

Whether small, or large, these types of boats are simple, yet stunning.

With a sailboat, you can enjoy the pleasures of being on the open water, whether it is a day cruising across a lake, or sailing along the coast.

What is so beautiful about navigating a sailboat is that you can go wherever the water takes you, feeling the wind sweeping across your face and smelling the scents of the water.

There really is nothing better.

Sailboats are boats that rely upon the strength of the wind to propel them forwards, along with the help of a large cloth or synthetic sail.

It is for this reason that sailboats are categorized differently to motor powered boats, as they work differently and have various different hydrodynamic characteristics.

If you are a nautical novice, then a sailboat (learn about living on a sailboat) is basically just a boat that is propelled by a sail.

As you can imagine, there are many different types of sailboats, all with different characteristics, rigs and classifications.

That is why we are here, to clear the air and help you understand all of the different types of sailboats, and what these differences are.

What types of sailboats are there?

In this guide, we will go through the 7 most common types of sailboats around.

These are typically sloops, cutters, yawls, ketches, cat ketches, schooners, and gaffers.

To define each one, we will take a look at the type of boat, sails and characteristics.


A sloop is a one masted sailing boat that has a mainsail and a jib rigged fore and aft.

Sloops are often considered the simplest and most efficient types of sailboat, as this is just a single masted sailboat with a foresail and a mainsail.

The term sloop comes from the dutch word ‘sloep’ which loosely translates to the old English word ‘slupan’ which means to glide. 

This refers to the easy motion of the sloop sailboat (how fast do they go?), as it is one of the simplest rig configurations available, and is still the most popular type of yacht rigging as it can be operated with a small crew, or even single handedly.

Sloops are also often referred to as Bermuda-rigged sailboats, Bermuda rig, or Marconi rig.


A yawl is a two masted sailboat, typically with a mainsail, a mizzen and either one or more jib sails.

In most yawls, the main mast is generally higher than the mizzenmast.

A Yawl is similar to an old historic sail fishing boat, where the mizzen sail is trimmed in order to keep the boat steady when pulling the nets back in.

A yawl is similar to a Ketch (below), yet it has the mizzen mast just aft of the sailboat’s rudder post, and is more commonly used on smaller sailboats, whereas a ketch rig is typical of larger vessels. 


If you find that there is another sail between the mainsail and the headsail, then you are not looking at a sloop, that is now a cutter!

These are commonly confused with sloops as they do seem similar in nature, but they are not the same. 

A cutter is different from a sloop as it has more than one foresail, and the mast is usually set a little further back than a sloop.

Cutters gained their names due to the sailboats hull shape, which is deep, narrow and with a vertical stem and long bowsprit. 


To define a ketch, we would say that it is a two masted sailboat, featuring a main mast forwards, and a shorter mizzen mast aft of this.

A ketch rig sailboat is typically a larger sailboat, but it is similar to a yawl where the mizzen mast is smaller and set back on the boat.

Ketch boats can often be confused with sloop sailboats, too, but these are not as fast and do not sail as close to the wind as sloop sailboats as ketches have more standing rigging and running rigging to control. 

Cat Ketches

A cat ketch is a type of sailboat that is rigged to work as a ketch and as a catboat.

These sometimes have a large mast stepped at the bow of the ship, and a small mast further aft on the boat.

Cat Ketches are slightly different than other sailboats as they are lacking in standing rigging to support the unstayed masts.

This makes them much more easy to recognize as they can have tapered masts and feature an absence of standing rigging! 


A schooner is the term given to a sailboat with two or more masts, where the aft most mast or the mainmast is the same height or slightly taller than the foremast.

These types of sailboats are usually rigged with fore and aft sails on its two masts, but there can sometimes be more masts.

In most cases, the foremast will be shorter than the mainmast, which makes these types of boats easily identifiable. 


Gaffers are sailboats that are supported by a spar called a gaff. 

This gaffer helps to support the mainsail.

With a gaff rig, there will be a configuration of sails, mast and stays where the sail is fore and aft rigged, four cornered and controlled at its peak by a spar pole that we refer to as the gaff, hence the term gaffers.


With our handy guide, you will be able to show off your new nautical knowledge, and identify the different types of sailboats on the water, and how their rig defines them. 

All have various characteristics that make them unique, and operate slightly differently, despite them all being sailboats.


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igor desperatesailors

Hi, I’m Igor, Skipper of S/Y "The Hooker". A decade ago, I conquered my childhood dream: to be a sailing skipper, own a sailing yacht. Yes, it knocked dullness out of my urban life — Read more →

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