Types of Sailboats: A Guide to Sailing Craft

By Mike Sellers •  Updated: 09/25/22 •  13 min read

There are many different types of sailboats. Each type has its own characteristics and uses, so it pays to be familiar with them before deciding which one is right for you.

Here’s a quick rundown of the most common types of sailboats:

Types of sailboats by hull


Monohulls are probably the type of sailboat you’re most familiar with, and they’re also the most common. A monohull has one hull (duh), which means it’s shaped like a triangle or a rectangle.

These boats have been around since the very beginning of sailing, but they’ve undergone some pretty significant changes over time.

Today, modern monohulls come in all shapes and sizes—from small dinghies to massive yachts. Monohulls typically handle better than multihulls at high speeds because there is less surface area for air to flow across when wind pushes against them.

This makes them faster overall as well as easier to maneuver during races or other competitions where speed matters more than comfort


A catamaran is a vessel consisting of two hulls of equal size, connected by a frame or trampoline. The advantage of a catamaran over a monohull is that it has more stability, thereby reducing the need for ballast weight.

Catamarans are often faster than comparable monohulls because they can utilize the larger water surface area to make use of the wind.

Photo credit: Emma Dau


A trimaran is a multihull boat with three hulls in a triangular formation. The three hulls are connected by two parallel beams, called the trampolines or outriggers.

The center hull is the largest, and it houses most of the living space on board. The outer two hulls are smaller, and they serve as steering and propulsion.

Types of sailboats by their keels

Keels are the most common type of sailboat propulsion. They come in a few different varieties:

Full-length keel

A full-length keel is a common feature for sailboat hulls, and it’s one that you’ll see on many cruising sailboats.

This type of keel runs from the bow to the stern, completely encasing the hull in lead. It provides stability and resistance to leeway when sailing or motoring at low speeds.

It’s often used on boats that are designed for long distance cruising or racing (though not exclusively). A full length keel also allows you to take advantage of all available wind angles, giving your boat maximum speed potential as well as response time in rough conditions.

The main drawback of this type of keel is that it makes tacking more difficult, especially when there isn’t much wind or current pushing against your boat’s side.

If you’re trying to tack with a full-length keel on an empty lake during high winds and waves, don’t expect an easy transition back into forward motion once you’ve completed your 180° turn!

Fin keel sailboat

Fin keel boats are those with a fixed keel that runs along the centerline of the bottom of the hull.

his type of sailboat is generally considered to be easier to handle than other types of boats and they’re good for beginners.

he disadvantage is that they can over-steer when sailing close to the wind, especially in light winds. There are two major variations on this type:

Bilge keel sailboat

A bilge keel sailboat is one that has a keel that is set below the bottom of its hull.

This type of keel offers stability and control, which makes it ideal for smaller boats used for day sailing and non-competitive racing.

Bilge keels are used on many types of boats, including catamarans and trimarans; however, they are most often seen on small sailboats.

Centerboard or Dagger board sailboat

A centerboard is a retractable keel that is lowered down into the bottom of the boat.

The centerboard is lowered when sailing upwind, so that it can reduce drag on the hull. In this way, centerboards are similar to dagger boards and other retractable keels.

Centerboards are used on smaller boats because they make these boats lighter and more maneuverable than boats with fixed keels.

Because they’re lighter, you’ll also find that some centerboard boats are faster than fixed-keel boats—they have less drag from their hulls when moving through water at high speeds.

Many people use these small racing yachts for day trips or short coastal voyages due to their ease of handling in windy conditions near shorelines.

However, they’re not always suitable for longer journeys because their lack of stability makes them prone to capsizing or rolling over if there’s too much weight distributed towards one side of the vessel (i.e., if you put too much fuel in one side).

Types of sailboats by mast configuration

The configuration of the mast(s) is also important. There are three main types of masts: the mainmast, foremast and mizzenmast.

The mainmast is usually the tallest mast on a sailboat and carries most of its weight; it’s typically used as an additional support in heavy winds.

The foremast is just behind the mainmast in terms of height and generally has less sail area than either of them.

The mizzenmast sits further back than both these masts, but isn’t as tall as one or two feet high; this type generally supports light canvas-like sails that assist with steering when underway on open water without wind conditions favorable enough for full operation from other parts of your vessel’s structure (such as during calms).


A sloop is a sailboat with a single mast. The mainmast typically has a fore-and-aft rig, where there is one sail attached to it and it runs from front to back along its length.

The mast is directly behind the center of gravity of the boat (just where the keel runs).

t’s stepped at its forward end just ahead of amidships, which means that it’s slightly tilted down toward the bow; this helps keep any water that comes over it from running back down onto your deck.

Sloops can have either a fractional or full keel—or no keel at all! A fractional keel extends below but not far beyond amidships; such boats are often referred to as centerboard yachts rather than sloops when they lack mainsails (since they don’t look like traditional gaff rigs).

A full keel curves downward in front of amidships, then rises up again into an underwater hull extension called deadrise aft (which also increases speed by reducing drag), where you will find most modern sailing vessels located today because they offer greater stability without sacrificing performance or maneuverability as much as longer fin keels do.*


A cutter is a sailboat with two masts, which can be either a sloop or a ketch. The mainmast is taller than the shorter mizzen mast, and they are both located forward of the rudderpost.

Cutters are among the most common types of sailboats. The design helps balance out heavy winds in all directions with its two sails and symmetrical rig (mainsail on one side, jib on the other).

You may also see this type of sailing vessel referred to as brigantine or barquentine depending on its rigging arrangement.


A ketch is a sailboat with two masts. The mainmast is larger than the foremast and has the same length as the hull.

This type of sailboat usually has a jib on the main, and a staysail or mizzen on its smaller topmast.

Ketch-rigged boats can be identified by their triangular shaped sails and their “V” shape when viewed from above.

A spinnaker is another type of sail that can be used on a ketch rig boat, but it is only used when sailing downwind at high speeds


A schooner is a sailboat with two (or more) masts. The foremast is usually shorter than the mainmast.

Schooners were first developed in the Netherlands and northern Germany in the 17th century.

The design was meant to improve on the square-rigged ships that were common at the time by increasing speed, maneuverability and cargo capacity.

Schooners became popular in North America in the 18th century due to their ability to navigate shallow waters and for their speed.


A yawl is a two-masted sailing vessel. The mainmast is stepped further aft than on a sloop, and the mainsail is hoisted from a boom. The jib will be hoisted from a bowsprit.


The catboat is a type of sailboat, with a single mast, usually a Bermuda rig, and a single headsail. It has a flat-bottomed hull and may be rigged as a sloop, cutter or yawl. The centerboard may be retractable or fixed.

The mainmast is often in the middle of the boat (centerboard amidships) but can also be near the bow (centerboard forward). Catboats are usually gaff rigged; if they have more than one jib on each side they are called cat schooners.

Photo Credit: Leonhard Peters

Other “types” of sailboats


A dinghy is a small boat used for racing, or for towing behind a larger vessel. The term is also used to refer to any small craft or boat. A dinghy may be propelled by oars, sails, or motors.

Sailing Dinghies were usually small undecked boats carried aboard larger ships as part of the ship’s complement and launched or lowered on deck when required.

While most people today reserve the term “dinghy” for small human-powered vessels such as inflatables that are suspended from another boat’s deck by ropes or cables (rather than being carried), this usage has not always been so clearly defined.

Photo credit: Ludomil Sawicki


A dory is a small, flat-bottomed boat with a single mast and a lug sail. It was used mainly as a fishing boat in the 19th century but has also been used as lifeboats on the Titanic and Essex. A dory was also used to rescue survivors of the sinking of the Essex in 1820.

Drift Boat

A drift boat is a boat that’s designed to be sailed or rowed with no sail. It can be any size, but usually refers to small boats, often used for fishing.

A drift boat could also be a rowing boat with a centerboard, which is lowered during sailing to provide greater stability.

Alternatively, it may refer to a traditional sailing dinghy (a small boat) that has been rigged so that all sails are furled while under way and only used as oars when stopped or nearly stopped—with the exception of jibing maneuvers where they’re deployed briefly while tacking or gybing in order to keep heading straight into the wind until they can once again use their oars without fear of capsizing due to excessive speed during maneuvers.

Cruising sailboat

Cruising sailboats are designed for long distance travel. They are typically larger than day sailing boats but smaller than ocean racers. They can range from 20 feet to over 100 feet in length.


A daysailer is a small, simple sailboat. Daysailers are usually used for short trips on inland waterways and are often single-masted boats with a jib and mainsail. They’re also less than 18 feet long, making them easy to carry and launch at the dock.

Daysailers come in all shapes and sizes, but they tend to be either catboats or ketches that have been designed with easy handling in mind. A catboat has two flat sides, while a ketch has three flat sides—two parallel hulls connected by stays (or “booms”) that form an X shape across the boat’s cockpit (the area where you sit when sailing).

Both types of sailboats can be rigged to be sailed by one person or two persons together; however, yachtsmen typically prefer two people so that one person can steer while another person adjusts lines as needed during maneuvers such as tacking (turning into wind) or jibing (changing direction of travel by turning 90 degrees).


Racer-cruisers are fast, responsive and can race or cruise in shallow waters. These boats are highly maneuverable because they have a high center of gravity and lack ballast.

They’re good for racing but not so much for cruising: racer-cruisers don’t have much room below deck, which isn’t ideal for taking long trips with lots of gear onboard.

They’re also not recommended if you want to sail in light winds—the lighter the air pressure, the more difficult it becomes to keep your boat moving forward on course when it’s lightweight (due to its lack of ballast).


A skiff is a type of sailboat. It is usually small and light with a single mast located forward of the center of buoyancy (the place where the boat’s weight is centered). Skiffs are often used for racing or fishing, but they can also be used in shallow waters.

They may look like dinghies, but they don’t have as much freeboard (distance between the waterline and deck).

There are many different kinds of sailboats

As you can see, there are many different types of sailboats. It’s important to know the types of boats that are available so that when you’re shopping for one, you’ll have a better idea of what kind will be right for your needs and desires.

Mike Sellers

Hey there, my name is Mike Sellers. I’m the guy behind this website. I've been sailing for over a decade and I'm going to show you everything I know about how to sail better, cheaper, and smarter.