Can One Person Sail a Ketch?

Can One Person Sail a Ketch? | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Jacob Collier

August 30, 2022

If you want to test your endurance and perform feats of adventure, sailing on a ketch single handedly is a great idea. But can one person sail a ketch?

A ketch has two masts and a sail area divided into multiple sails, which means it’s easier to manage and is a great vessel for single-handed sailing. This rig offers more versatility and it can handle heavy winds well, which is why it is quite popular.

The ketch is a very effective and advantageous rig for bigger vessels that have a size of 40ft or more. However, before you decide to go on a solo cruise on it, it is important that you understand the factors at play when sailing a ketch.

As a person who has been sailing solo for over 20 years, I can guide on what single-handedly sailing a ketch is like based on my own experiences. This way, you can figure out whether solo ketch sailing is for you or not.


Table of contents

What is a Ketch?

A ketch is a two-masted sailboat that has a large mainmast and a shorter mizzenmast. Both of these masts have a mainsail. The mizzenmast is very useful for solo sailing and I have put it to all sorts of creative uses to sail my ketch.

Overall, a ketch is widely recognized as one of the best types of sailboats for long-distance solo cruising. There are many reasons why that is so and we will go through them one by one below. However, some of its biggest reasons are that it is incredibly comfortable to handle, operate, maneuver, and ride in. This increased comfort is due to the extra mizzen sail which offers an improved power balance.

What Kind of People Can Ride a Ketch?

The ketch is a particularly great sailboat for long distance cruising, particularly if you are expecting rough waters and heavy winds and are short-handed. Hence it is a great vessel for solo adventurers, couples who want to sail the world together, and even a liveaboard family, since you can sail a larger boat without needing extra crew members to handle the craft.

Why is a Ketch an Excellent Rig for Solo Sailing?

As we mentioned above, the extra mast of the ketch is what makes sailing it so easy, even if you are just one person. Let us take a look at what benefits a ketch offers a lone sailor.

Perform Well in Downwind Conditions

Most modern sailboats use the Bermuda rig or the Marconi rig which have the mainsail and jib sail that get in each other’s way in downwind conditions. The ketch’s sail configuration results in fewer such problems, however. The mainsail and the mizzensail work seamlessly and efficiently together, except when sailing very close to the wind. Even then, the Bermuda rig and the ketch rig can go neck and neck in such conditions. In fact, unless you are a racer, a ketch is an excellent alternative to the Bermuda rig.

Have Easily-Manageable Smaller Sails

The ketch is an excellent single-handed rig, particularly if you are manning a large vessel with a size 40 feet and above. Using smaller but a larger number of sails allow you to have a bigger sail area, but one which can still be managed by a single person.

In addition, smaller sails are easy to handle during heavier winds.Splitting the sail area allows you greater control of the ketch, even if it is a skeleton crew or just one person.

Multiple Sails Offer More Control

Because of the two masts, the ketch rig can accommodate three primary sails instead of only two. The greater number of sails offers all kinds of benefits, which we will discuss later on the guide; however, the most important one is that it offers you more control. The mizzensail also results in improved control over the stern.

In addition, you also get a lot of different trimming options for all sailing control, allowing you better control of each point of sail and in any wind condition.

Have Versatile Sail Plans

The extra sail offers you a variety of sail plan options. Sailors have the benefit of a broader operating range. In case of light winds, you have the option of putting up more sails. In rougher winds, however, you will need to take down more sails as well.

You can reef in various versatile conditions and even take down the mainsail if you want to.

Have An Extra Sail

This extra sail offers a huge number of benefits for sole sailors. For example, if your mainsail is in need of maintenance, you can just take it down without even needing to stop — the mizzensail will allow you control of the stern and will maintain your speed.

The ketch can sail on all points of wind, whether its main is down, mizzen is down, or jib is down. A spare sail can come in handy in a lot of wind conditions.

Deliver More Balanced Sailing

Ketches offers several upsides that you do not get with the modern Bermuda sloop vessel. It's mizzensail balances the jib. This means you can leave the mainsail down without it affecting the control and speed of the boat.

I have found this type of sail plan to be very balanced and it has allowed me to self-steer on a temporary basis, if somehow the autopilot on your boat breaks down temporarily.

Excellent Sail Plan in Rough Winds

Due to its more balanced sail plans, ketches offer a more comfortable ride in heavy winds, which is why many sailors prefer to take it out in rough weather. By taking down the mainsail and sailing with just the mizzensail and the jib, a ketch instantly becomes storm-ready while offering a lot of control than even replacing the mainsail with the single stormsail on a Bermuda offering.

Less Rigging Stress

When you reduce the size of the sails, you do not put as much stress on the rigging as larger sails do. In addition, it also gives you the option of using shorter masts, making them more stable and stronger. The difference in mast length is not that big; however, the forces acting on the mast are directly proportional to its length and grow exponentially the larger the mast is. So a slightly shorter mast can make a big difference.

This also reduces the stress of the rigging, which can lead to less wear and tear and lower maintenance costs. This is a big upside when compared to the Bermuda rig since it experiences more stress on the rigging.

Mizzenmast As An Air Rudder

The mizzenmast can be extremely helpful when it comes to mooring and other types of navigation. Many people who operate ketches use the mizzenmast as a type of wind rudder, which can be very useful when you want to sail with extra control. If you learn to use the mizzenmast well, it means you have an extra rudder, which allows you superior control over the stern and can help you maneuver your rig in tight spaces.

Riding Sail at Anchor

Another use for the mizzensail is that it can be used as a riding sail at anchor. However, I do not highly recommend that you do this often since your sail will wear down much more quickly because of higher exposure to the UV rays. I just wanted you to know that it can be done in case of emergencies when you want to keep your boat’s bow into the wind.

More Comfort But Less Speed

As you can see, there are lots of reasons why a ketch is a winner if you are sailing out alone in heavier winds. If you prioritize comfort while sailing, the mizzensail offers a lot of benefits, including improved balance as well as a variety of sail trimming options that give you a smooth ride in most sailing conditions.

However, all of this comes with the small price of slightly slower speed. The ketch is a slower vessel than a Bermuda rig. However, when sailing downwind, the ketch will more than satisfy you as its larger sail area will give it a great momentum, comparable to a Bermuda rig.

Very Fast in Right Conditions

The ketch may be a bit slower overall as compared to a Marconi rig. However, when sailing under the right conditions, it too can become incredibly fast, particularly if it is a large boat that has a well-balanced sail plan.

If you are able to use the larger sail area well and find an optimal point of sail, the ketch can go really, really fast.

Offers Easy Reefing

Because there are more sails, most of which are smaller, you can have an easier time reefing. There is less stress on the sails and it allows you to reef down in phases, one sail after the other. This results in comfortable reefing without your ketch losing too much speed.

Another thing that I have experience with is that you can also quickly drop your mainsail in heavier winds, which can instantly make you storm-proof, without disrupting your course and reducing your momentum.

So these are the reasons why a ketch is a great vessel for people who want to travel solo but also want to be prepared for all sorts of weather. Now let us take a look at some of the limitations and considerations you need to factor in to find out whether a ketch should be your preferred vessel.

Things to Consider When Sailing a Ketch Single-Handedly

Keep in mind that no matter how smooth your sailing, you will be just one person manning the ketch. Here are some things that you need to expect and prepare for when going out on a solo adventure on a ketch.

Cockpit Layout

If you are just one person sailing a ketch, the layout of the ketch is doubly important. Since you will need to do most of the navigation from the helm, it is important that your vessel has a chartplotter on deck which can make this easier. Particularly, when you are out in coastal waters, you will need to keep a proper lookout, which means less amount of time down below at the chart table.

It is important that you know your ketch well enough to operate. It is a good idea to take a refresher course on the key components of your main system before you set sail.


An autopilot can give you much needed rest if you are sailing a ketch single handedly. The autopilot is great under power as it will enable the engine to keep the batteries topped up. However, if you have not trimmed correctly for the neutral helm under sail, the autopilot will draw much more power as it needs to work hard and can quickly drain your batteries.

For this reason, it is important that you get a visible battery monitor on deck. Some autopilots also use a remote control device that you can wear that can help you alter course.

Physical Fitness

Single-handedly operating a ketch — or any boat for that matter — requires a certain level of physical fitness. Keep in mind that you will need to perform every maneuver alone for which you need energy. In addition, every maneuver will take longer and will be more arduous on a solo sail, so you want high endurance.

It can also be very easy to become dehydrated when sailing so keep a bottle of water with you and a few dry foods, like crackers to keep your energy levels up.

If you are feeling tired when you start to sail, it may trigger seasickness in you. So it is a good idea to take it easy at the start of your journey. Go only a short distance and anchor up for some hours to get some rest until you get your sea legs. These small things can make a huge difference between a wonderful solo journey on a ketch and a terrible one.

It is a good idea to get in the habit of working out a few months before you decide to sail a ketch single-handedly.

Solo Safety

It is important to take a cautious approach when sailing alone, because you will be the sole person responsible for your safety. Make sure you have everything you need at hand. It can be easy for rope and rigging to pile up when there is no other pair of hands to help you. Make sure you keep your boat tidy so that you don’t end up tangling in them, tripping, and injuring yourself — or worse going overboard.

If you do go overboard, it can become even more serious since there will be no one to help you out of the water. That is why it is important to always wear a life jacket that can help you float. It is also a good idea to wear a tether that will keep you connected to a boat. To get back onboard, you should also hang a safety ladder on the side.

Although these are simple considerations, they can make a big impact on your solo sailing journey. I hope this guide helped provide some insight to help you make the final decision of whether a ketch is a good option for you. With proper understanding of your vessel and equipment, single-handedly sailing a ketch can be a very interesting experience for people who want to explore the waters with only themselves for company. 

Can One Person Sail a Ketch?
Jacob Collier

Jacob Collier

Born into a family of sailing enthusiasts, words like “ballast” and “jibing” were often a part of dinner conversations. These days Jacob sails a Hallberg-Rassy 44, having covered almost 6000 NM. While he’s made several voyages, his favorite one is the trip from California to Hawaii as it was his first fully independent voyage.

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