Sailing vs. Boating: What's The Difference?

Sailing vs. Boating: What's The Difference? | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

June 15, 2022

Whether or not you're into sailing, you've probably been using the terms sailing and boating interchangeably. They’re similar in many ways because after all, they're vessels that are used on the water. But the differences between the two are clear and that's what this article is all about.

Even though many boating enthusiasts use the terms sailing and boating interchangeably, these terms are very different. Of course, boating is a general phrase that's often used to refer to the act of using a boat or any other vessel on the water. While there are many kinds of boats including sailboats, which can be used for sailing, this is just one type of boating. As such, sailing is one type of boating just like yachting. In essence, there are different types of boats with each type of boat correlating to particular boating activity.

Is there any difference between sailing and boating? Yes, there is a difference. Boating is a general term that is used to refer to a leisurely activity of traveling by boat. Whether it's for recreational use, fishing, or as a means of transportation, boating revolves around using various types of boats including sailboats, yachts, powerboats, and paddle or rowing boats. On the other hand, sailing revolves around relying on the wind to propel a sailboat on the surface of the water.

So whether you're looking for the type of boat to buy and the water activity to indulge in or you happen to be just curious about the differences between sailing and boating, you've come to the right place. In this article, we'll take a comprehensive look at sailing vs. boating to help you dissect these two terms that are more than often used interchangeably.


Table of contents

What is Boating?

Simply put, boating is defined as the act of using a boat to travel on the water not just for recreational purposes but also for fishing and other activities including sports. The fact there are various types of boats means that there are different types of boating activities to indulge in. For example, you can go boating on a yacht, which is known as yachting, or a sailboat, which is known as sailing.

So as long as you're not out there on a ship, you can use various types of boats to enjoy your time on the water and this is known as boating. And given that it entails the use of various types of boats for various activities, boating is, without a doubt, one of the most popular activities in the world with millions of boaters worldwide.

Different Types of Boats

It wouldn't make much sense to talk about boating without at least highlighting the different types of boats. But before going into that, it's worth knowing exactly what a boat is so that you do not confuse it with other watercraft vessels, especially a ship. Well, a boat is technically a watercraft that is small enough to fit on a ship. While there are huge boats out there, a vessel that's categorized as a boat should typically not be more than 1,000 feet long.

Again, boats are available in different sizes, shapes, and capacity but this of course depends on its intended use. So whether you want to use the boat for recreational, commercial, or sporting purposes, it's of great importance to find out its intended use and whether or not it's going to serve you accordingly.

With that in mind, it's important to note that boats are generally categorized based on their uses. These activities are very varied, so it makes sense to at least know the type of boating activity you want to indulge in. Let's look at the different types of boats.

Bowriders - Measuring between 17 and 35 feet, a bowrider is a type of runabout boat that has an offset helm and uses an outboard engine or stern drive. Perfect for families, a bowrider can comfortably seat between six and ten people. This type of boat is generally designed for recreational purposes and come in a wide variety of styles and shapes depending on the level of luxury required.

Kayaks - Often used in Whitewater Rivers and calm inland waters, a kayak is a small and narrow water vessel that's generally propelled using double-bladed paddles. A kayak is highly popular among boaters thanks to its maneuverability and seaworthiness.

Canoes - These types of boats are highly popular in rivers and lakes and among boaters since they're very portable. They also provide a huge carrying capacity and are highly efficient on the water.

Dinghies - Also known as rowboats, these are generally oar-powered and are mainly used in protected waters.

Pontoon boats - These types of boats are very popular in inland waters and small water bodies and are known for their great stability.

Fishing boats - These types of boats are specifically built for fishing and can be used in either saltwater or freshwater or both. For example, saltwater fishing boats vary widely in length and can be designed for catching specific species of fish. They also have cuddy cabins and wheelhouses, especially if they're meant for fishing in colder climates.

Sailboats - These can be used for collegiate competition or purely for recreational purposes. They're categorized as:

  • Small sailboats - These are like dinghies made from fiberglass, aluminum, wood, or carbon-fiber spars. While racing small sailboats are usually lighter and have more sail area, normal small sailboats have sloop rigs.
  • Cruising sailboats - They're much longer, which is essential in enhancing speed and performance. They can apply the use of both sails and power and can be ideal for long voyages as well as weekend passages.
  • Daysailers - These types of sailboats are generally wider to offer more accommodation space and this affects their speed and performance.

Yachts - These are the most luxurious type of boats. They're ideal for long water trips and for hosting parties on the water.

Watersport boats - They can be used in various watersport activities including kneeboarding, parasailing, water-skiing, wake surfing, and wakeboarding. They're widely known for their high speed and maneuverability.

Boating Activities

With various types of boats as briefly described above, it's easy to see that boating is a pretty exciting activity. It's, in fact, boating is one of the best outdoor thrills that provides everything for everyone. This makes it a lot easier to dive into the action as you'll find a boating activity for every interest, every age, and of course, every skill level.

As such, let's highlight some boating activities that you can indulge in.

Overnight Cruising

Believe it or not, one of the most rewarding boating activities is spending the night aboard a boat. Whether you've been dreaming of leisurely discovering the world beyond the water shores or planning to travel to exotic and unknown places, spending the night aboard a boat can be a truly rewarding experience. Well, as a boating activity, overnight cruising makes this very possible.

Today, many people choose overnight cruising as a boating activity as it allows them to get away and go on an adventure. The sense of excitement that overnight cruising brings is beyond measure. If anything, overnight cruising can give you a great opportunity to live on the boat full-time or even drop your anchor anywhere and call it home even if for a few days.

Some of the best boats for overnight cruising include sailboats, power cruisers, trawlers, multi-hull powerboats, cuddy cabins, cabin cruisers, and sportfishing yachts. Some of the most important things to include in your preparation checklist when planning for an overnight cruising include:

Anchoring - You'll be spending the night on a boat so it's of great importance to ensure that the anchor is strong and secure. The anchor should have room to swing should the wind change direction. If you have crewmembers, it can be essential to have crewmember interchange in shifts and stand anchor watch. The person on watch should monitor the anchor and take a good bearing of the surroundings.

Comfort and Safety - As a boating activity, overnight cruising is just like camping and your comfort and safety should always be paramount. The boat should have good beds and insect repellents to keep mosquitoes away. You should have a sheet and a pillow for hot climates and an extra duvet or sleeping bag for cold climates. And if you're going for overnight cruising with kids, make sure that they do not go on the deck unaccompanied. You should also check for strange noises, changes in weather, and unexpected light on the horizon.

In essence, overnight cruising can be a fun way of boating. All you have to do is ensure that the boat is properly anchored and the comfort and safety of you and everybody else on board should be a top priority.

Day Cruising

Day cruising is a boating activity that revolves around spending a day or part of a day cruising around on the water without having a particular destination, activity, or goal in mind. Whether you want to sail, fish, or just lounge around, day cruising is a perfect boating activity and whatever you do will certainly depend on several factors including the size and type of boat, the weather, and the duration of your adventure.

But even with that, you should have the following things for your day cruising to be perfect:

  • Throwable flotation devices
  • Well-sized life jackets for everyone onboard the boat
  • Anchor
  • Fire extinguisher

Some of the best boats for day cruising include multi-hull powerboats, deck boats, Bowriders, high-performance boats, power cruisers, motor yachts, inflatables, jet boats, sailboats, ski boats, pontoon boats, trawlers, and many more.


If you're looking to get wet while going fast, there's no shortage of boating activities that can give you just that. Generally known as watersports, these activities include water skiing, wake surfing, kneeboarding, tubing, and wakeboarding. These are superb boating activities for anyone seeking ultimate thrills and adrenaline-filled, high-energy adventures.

Some of the best boats for such boating activities include pontoon boats, deck boats, Bowriders, ski boats, jet boats, and wake boats. When looking for the best boat for such activities, you should first determine what exactly you want to do with the boat. Keep in mind that smaller boats can give you great throws but they may not be ideal if you want to make bigger waves or want plenty of storage.


Even though sailing is a major part of boating it relies on the use of sails and wind to propel the vessel. Sailing has been around throughout history and was integral in the development of civilization since it afforded humanity greater mobility than traveling overland. So whether you're an experienced sailor or just starting on the fun-filled boating activity, it's important to know that the physics of sailing revolves around balancing the forces of the wind and the vessel itself.

So if you're looking for a boating activity that gives you a sense of empowerment, sailing is the way to go. All you have to do is let the winds fill the sails, choose your point of sail, and let your boat glide peacefully through the water. Better still; sailing is an excellent boating activity that's perfect for anyone at any age. It's also environment-friendly as it only relies on wind power.

Benefits of Sailing

Honestly speaking, learning hos sail is a little more complicated than other boating activities. This is why pure sailing is beyond reach for many boaters but that doesn't mean that you cannot learn the basics. After all, there are many yachting and boating clubs as well as private schools and community parks that offer affordable sailing lessons for anyone looking to experience the thrills that come with sailing.

With that in mind, here are a few benefits of sailing and why it's quite different from other boating activities.

A Very Different Style of Recreation

Unlike most boating activities that are all about using power to propel the vessel either leisurely or at high speed, sailing is an incredible boating activity that can change your outlook in terms of your ambitions and on how and where you want to spend your free time.

Freedom and Sustainability

While any boating activity is fun, sailing is on another high level. This is a magnificent boating activity that revolves around harnessing the power of the wind to take you on a unique adventure that is spectacularly freeing. In other words, the independence that sailing gives you is excellent and a superb way of forgetting about your day-to-day stresses while recharging your personal batteries.

That's not all; sailing is one of the most sustainable boating activities. When done right, sailing is environment-friendly and is an outstanding way to enjoy yourself on the water without contributing to the increase of the carbon footprint, which is currently a serious environmental issue in the world. So whether you've been dreaming of sailing on a sunny afternoon or want to get your adrenaline rushing down your spinal cord while sailing in rough upwind weather, there's probably no better feeling than commanding and controlling a sailboat under the power of the wind.

A Great Way to Spend Time with Friends and Family

Today, we all have tight and busy schedules that it's almost difficult to create enough time for friends and family. But if you want a superb way to connect and spend time with friends and family, sailing might just be the best boating activity for you. The physical endeavors involved in setting sails are not only engaging but are also a great way to spend quality time in the company of one another for hours.

Exploring New Places

Sailing is a great way to travel the world and see new places. Once you learn how to sail and become experienced, you can sail to far-flung areas and exotic places without any worry in the world. That's not all; sailing brings forth new challenges and accomplishments that are unmatched.

A Great way of Enhancing Your Knowledge

We all know that not all hobbies are created equal and sailing is a notch higher. Unlike other boating activities, it takes time and commitment to learn how to sail and develop the required skills. By learning how to sail, you'll be envied by many and will be in a group of boaters known as sailors, which we've always believed is something to be proud of. It doesn't matter your age, you can learn sailing at any age and you'll never regret it.

Again, you get to learn a lot of things that aren't available in other boating activities. For instance, you get to learn about wind and currents and how they can affect your sailboat. You also get to learn how to change tack, how to sail using upwind or downwind, as well as how to trim the sails.

Rules and Regulations of Boating and Sailing

Whether it's about sailing or just any boating activity, it's important to keep in mind that any water activity is subject to rules and regulations. As such, it's important to know the rules in your area and how they may affect the type of boating activity that you choose to indulge in.

Depending on your country or area, you may be required to have a license to engage in any boating activity including sailing. Generally, any type of commercial boating activity may be subject to certain rules and regulations as well as licenses as per the boating jurisdiction. The same may also apply to recreational boating but this may depend on the size of the boat, the passengers, and the activities involved. On the contrary, you may not require any license to use international waters as there are no laws or restrictions governing international waters.

When it comes to rules and regulations governing sailing they generally adhere to the boating rules and regulations within a particular place. Again, sailing events have their rules and regulations and every participant is expected to observe these rules. With that in mind, it's important to know the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea and to observe them. Similarly, every sailor is expected to do the following irrespective of his/her sailing activity or location:

  • Adjust to speeds that suit their sailing conditions
  • Be on the lookout at all times
  • Know whether to give way or stand on, especially in close-quarter situations
  • Know the right lights to be shown by vessels either at night or when visibility is restricted
  • Know all the requirements needed on their boats including flags and sound signals

All in all, it's important to note that licensing regulations for sailing may vary widely worldwide, so it's important to adhere to the licensing requirements as well as rules and regulations of the area you're sailing at. While there may are no rules and regulations governing sailing in international waters, you still have to adhere to rules and regulations governing inland and coastal waters.

To this end, it's easy to note that boating and sailing are two different things. While boating refers to the general activities that revolve around using a boat, sailing specifically refers to using a sailboat that's powered by wind and sails. So whether you're looking for a low-key water activity or something that offers speed, knowing the difference between sailing and boating is essential if you're looking for the right boat and want to engage in a water activity that suits your lifestyle and occasion. Whatever boating activity you choose, make sure that you stay safe, and enjoy yourself to the fullest.

Sailing vs. Boating: What's The Difference?
Daniel Wade

Daniel Wade

I've personally had thousands of questions about sailing and sailboats over the years. As I learn and experience sailing, and the community, I share the answers that work and make sense to me, here on Life of Sailing.

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