Sailing boats are powered by sails using the force of the wind. They are also referred to as sailboats, sailing dinghies, sailing yachts and simply, yachts. Sailing boats range in size, from lightweight dinghies, such as the Optimist dinghy (2.36m) all the way up to superyachts as large as 90 metres in length.

Types of Sailing Boats

There are many different types of boats for sailing, differentiated by three distinctive characteristics:

  1. Hull Type, monohull, catamaran or trimaran;

  2. Keel Type, fin keel, wing keel, bilge keel, daggerboard, or centreboard;

  3. Mast Configuration and Sails, sloop, fractional rig sloop, ketch, schooner, yawl, cutter.

Let's explore those different types in a little more detail.

tag 60 catamaran

A tag 60 catamaran flies on one hull while sailing.

Hull type: The hull is the main part of a sailing boat, which is usually made of fiberglass, metal, or wood. Hull type describes the number of hulls.

  • Monohull – one hull

  • Catamaran – two hulls

  • Trimaran – three hulls

While monohull sailing boats are more traditional and far more common, there are many performance advantages to catamaran and trimaran sailing boats including speed and stability. A monohull relies on internal or external ballast for stability. Catamarans and trimarans gain increased stability because of their multiple hulls.

trimaran sailing

Trimarans are more stable than monohulls or catamarnans.

Keel type

All sailing boats have one or more lateral surfaces, generally known as keels. Sailing boat keels use the forward motion of a boat to provide lift and offset the sideways force of the wind, and they provide critical leverage to prevent sailing boats from capsizing. The primary purpose of a keel is to counter the sideways motion of the wind to generate forward motion. A secondary purpose of most types of keel is to provide ballast; the more ballast, the more stable (and heavy) the boat is.

Fin Keel
Fin keel
Often heavy and deep, but narrow in cross section and short in relation to the length of the hull.

Full-length keel Full Keel
Often found on traditional sailing boats, with a longer, shallower and wider shape that blends with the overall shape of the hull. The rudder is often attached to the aft end.

Wing Keel
Wing or bulb keel
An often short, shallow keel type which carries a lot of weight in a bulb at its tip or in two wings that run sideways from the main keel at its tip. Although winged keels are generally found on high performance sailboats, they can help reduce draft on leisure boats to help with cruising in shallow or shoal water. The aim of a bulb keel is to set ballast as low as possible, to help gain the maximum possible amount of leverage, without increasing the depth of a sailing boat too much.

Bilge Keel
Bilge keel
Two shallow keels, located one either side of the centre line of the hull.
Sailing boats with bilge keels are able to stand upright on sand or mud at low tide. The bilge keels also reduce the tendency to roll, acting as effective stabilising fins. Whilst normally fitted to smaller sailing yachts where they are preferred for many advantages over alternative solutions, it is worth noting that bilge keels are not as effective as central fin keels in reducing sideways slippage (also known as leeway).

Centreboard or Daggerboard
Centreboards and daggerboards provide the same benefits as a keel, but they are not fixed to the hull and (especially in smaller boats) are often unballasted. A centerboard is fixed by a pin that creates a pivot point for lifting. A daggerboard sets into a slot through the boat; daggerboards are usually found in small boats, when there are advantages to raising the board in shallow water or when sailing away from the wind. They can also be used on cruising yachts and high-performance catamaran and trimaran sailing boats.

Mast Configuration and Sails

Different mast configurations and sail combinations are another way of categorising sailing boats. These are just a few of the most common types.

The most common type of sailing boat is a sloop. A sloop has one mast and two sails, a mainsail and a headsail. Depending on the size and shape of the headsail, it may be called a jib, genoa or spinnaker. The headsail is hoisted to the top of the mast on the forestay, a supporting cable that runs from the top of the mast to the bow of the sailing boat.

Sloop Fractional Rig
Fractional Rig Sloop
Very similar to the standard sloop described above, but the forestay on a fractional rig sloop doesn't reach the top of the mast; it connects at a lower point. One performance advantage that a fractional rig sloop may enjoy is the often greater capability it offers a crew to bend the top of the mast and flatten its sails on a windy day when full power is unneeded. Popular in the 60s and 70s, fractional rigged sloops are starting to become popular again, particularly for high-performance racing boats where the mast is able to bend more easily.

Also similar to a sloop; a cutter has a single mast and mainsail, but the mast is farther aft to allow for the use of two headsails from two forestays. The headstay carries the jib and the inner stay carries the staysail. This is often a favourite rig for cruising sailing boats because it offers a range of sail combinations for different wind strengths.

Similar to sloops with the addition of a second, shorter mast behind the mainmast, but forward of the rudder post. The second mast is called the mizzen mast. Once popular with fishing boats and freighters, the ketch is now used as a rig on many leisure boats.

Similar to a ketch, but a schooner has two or more masts. The aft most mast is taller than the forward mast. A schooner may have up to six masts, though most only have two.

Also similar to a ketch with a mizzen mast shorter than the main mast. The difference is that the mizzen mast on a yawl is carried behind the rudder post. The mizzen mast and sail on a yawl are not as big as a ketch, and generally provide balance to a sailing boat more than propulsion.

Different Uses of Sailing Boats

The use of sails on boats can be traced back to Ancient Egypt, when the Egyptians added sails to their reed boats to sail upstream against the River Nile’s current. Sailing boats were used to develop international trade routes, but this form of propulsion has long since been superseded by more efficient power methods.

Today, sailing boats are enjoyed for recreation. Regardless of the size or type of sailing boat, cruising and racing are popular pastimes. Both racing and cruising are enjoyed on different scales.

Sailing boat racing is a weekday evenings and weekend pastime for many at sailing clubs around the world. There are also professional sailing boat racing teams who take part in races that vary from daytime inshore racing to singlehanded and crewed teams who race around the world, sometimes without stopping.

Cruising in sailing boats is also enjoyed in many different ways, using the full range of sailing boats on many different types of water (lakes, rivers, canals, coastal waters and across oceans) for different lengths of time.

Buying a Sailing Boat

The thought of buying a sailing boat is exciting but perhaps a little daunting if you’ve not owned a sailing boat before. There are a few things to consider before taking the plunge into sailing boat ownership.

How much can you afford to spend?
The cost of owning a sailing boat normally extends beyond the purchase price so it’s worthwhile doing your research. Expenses to consider include, but are not limited to insurance premiums, mooring fees, training fees, regular annual maintenance and servicing tasks as well as ad hoc repairs.

If you plan to race your sailing boat, event organisers insist on third party liability insurance. If your sailing boat cannot live on a trailer on your drive, will you be able to afford a marina berth or mooring? If you are new to sailing do you intend to take any training courses to learn boat handling techniques and how to use safety equipment and the communication systems? Each year, your sailing boat should be fully inspected to check for damage and to repair any wear and tear. If there is an engine it should be serviced on a regular basis.

Buying New vs Used

New - Pros & Cons
If you know exactly what you want in a sailing boat, buying new could be the best route for you. You will be able to specify the finish of your boat and choose from a list of optional extras. New boats are normally sold with a manufacturer warranty, so should you have any problems with your boat they can be resolved at no extra cost to you.
However, like a new car, a sailing boat will depreciate in value over the first few years.

Used - Pros & Cons
If budget is a critical factor when choosing your sailing boat, a used boat may be a wise decision. A five year old model could save you 50% of the cost of a new boat. A larger boat is possible for a lower purchase price when buying used. However, you may have to spend money adding the features and equipment that you require. Used sailing boats rarely come with a warranty, making it very important to ensure that any boat you are considering purchasing has a full marine survey to check the condition and maintenance of the sailing boat.

Sailing Boats for Sale offers a wide range of sailing boats for sale. Refine your search by price, location, length, brand and equipment. Start your search!