Sailboats are one type of boat, but just because they all have sails doesn’t mean they’re all the same. There are subsets of sailboats and they differ by their shape (or number of hulls), the type of sailing rig, and their best primary use. Let’s investigate.
Sailboats can be monohulls or multihulls, which can be catamarans with two hulls or trimarans with three.
The rig of a sailboat includes the spar (mast) that holds the sails up, the boom that holds the bottom of the mainsail, and the shrouds or stays that support the mast. One sailboat can have multiple masts.
The number and placement of the masts decide what kind of boat it is. A sloop has one mast but may have multiple headsails (the sails that are in front of the mast), and therefore it may be called a cutter sloop.
A ketch or a yawl has a second smaller (mizzen) mast aft of the main mast. Schooners have multiple masts, but the secondary mast is ahead of the main mast rather than behind it. Many classic tall ships are outfitted as schooners, not generally found in modern recreational sailing.
Different uses of sailboats
As mentioned above, sailboats can be distance cruisers, racers, or something in between. Much of how they’re used will depend on their size and shape.
- Daysailers: The primary use of a daysailer is for an afternoon sailing in a bay or harbor. You can daysail on the ocean, and any boat can be sailed for just a day. Still, typical daysailers are usually smaller (under 30 feet), have no or minimal accommodations below, and are used for short outings.
- Cruisers: Sailboats can cruise for a weekend or a lifetime. Cruisers are often outfitted with amenities to accommodate overnight stays, so they have a Learn more about sailboats with Boatsetter
An expert sailor knows a sailboat isn’t just a boat with sails — there are nuances and knowing the differences will make you not only better informed, it will also enable you to decide which kind of sailboat is right for you.
Of course, the best way to get to know a sailboat is by hands-on practice. Rent a sailboat — with a captain or to sail solo — and get on-the-water practice. In no time, you’ll be a pro.
Boatsetter is a unique boat-sharing platform that gives everyone— whether you own a boat or you’re just renting — the chance to experience life on the water. You can list a boat, book a boat, or make money as a captain.
Zuzana Prochazka is an award-winning freelance journalist and photographer with regular contributions to more than a dozen sailing and powerboating magazines and online publications including Southern Boating, SEA, Latitudes & Attitudes and SAIL. She is SAIL magazines Charter Editor and the Executive Director of Boating Writers International. Zuzana serves as judge for SAIL’s Best Boats awards and for Europe’s Best of Boats in Berlin.
A USCG 100 Ton Master, Zuzana founded and manages a flotilla charter organization called Zescapes that takes guests adventure sailing at destinations worldwide.
Zuzana has lived in Europe, Africa and the United States and has traveled extensively in South America, the islands of the South Pacific and Mexico.