Small Sailboat Sizes: A Complete Guide

Small Sailboat Sizes: A Complete Guide | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

October 30, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • Small sailboats are easy to sail, rig, and are affordable
  • They are usually under 20 feet to be considered small
  • Might not fit a particular sailing goal

There are plenty of small sailboat sizes to accommodate any sailing experience. But what kinds of small sailboats are there?

Small sailboats are generally under 20 feet in length, come in a variety of designs, and have different hulls. These include monohulls, catamarans, and trimarans. As long as they have a mast, rudder, sail, and are under 20 feet, it is considered a small sailboat.

According to experienced sailors that use a smaller boat, it is best to have one that is easy to handle and accommodates their sailing goals. When searching for the best small sailboat, it will likely differ from one person to the next.


Table of contents

23 Small Sailboats to Compare

When looking at different types of small sailboats, it is important to see how they are designed. Depending on the sailing goals a person has will ultimately affect how they intend to sail.

If I have a Hobie catamaran, I am likely going to use it for recreational purposes like coastal cruising instead of racing. For shallow drafts, I would need something that can handle entering that territory and not risk damaging a keel on some monohulls.

Marblehead Daysailer

The Marblehead 22 daysailer is a traditional looking monohull perfect for everything related to small sailboats. Even though it is compact, there is enough room for guests on board.

It has almost a 12 foot cockpit to seat several people, along with a stowaway cuddy in the front to put some gear into. With its bulb keel, however, I would not take it into shallow waters.


A Laser is a great small sailboat that is commonly raced. In fact, they have been used in the Olympics every year since 1996.

Laser’s have a tendency to capsize if mishandled by inexperienced sailors in rough conditions, but are good to learn how to sail. I would recommend taking them out on lighter days and calmer conditions.

Catalina Sport

The Catalina 22 Sport has earned the reputation for the best small sailboat for years. It has simple amenities for different sailing goals, but also has a retractable keel to allow for shoal draft exploration.

For a boat this size, it can sleep four people and has a swim ladder in the back. Sailors that are used to simple designs will be happy that it has a roller furling jib, a fractional rig, and a mainsail. For a boat that is under 25 feet, it is arguably the epitome of small sailboats.

Cape Cod Daysailer

The Daysailer by Cape Cod was a first of its kind back in the 1950’s. It could travel however a sailor saw fit, with capabilities of racing, cruising, or simple pleasure.

Roughly a thousand were built by various shipyards, but Cape Cod still continues to produce them. For a 16 foot sailboat, it packs a punch with an affordable price and enough room for a few people.


The BayRaider from Swallow Yachts is another great example of a small sailboat that is easy to navigate and to put on a trailer for transport. What I love about it is that just about all of the 20 feet of the boat is an open cockpit.

If I were consistently using it in rougher waters, I would recommend adding a spray hood to help keep sections of the boat dry. In addition, I would look for the option to add stability with 300 pounds of water ballast.

Beetle Cat

For those that enjoy a solo ride, the Beetle Cat is one to consider. This boat has a draft of two feet and is roughly 12 feet long, which makes it perfect for coastal cruising or much tighter spaces.

With its single gaff-rigged sail, it offers tons of power even with lighter air. It is also nice to use when the conditions become rough and it is easy to reef down.

West Wight Potter

The West Wight Potter has a particular model, the P19, that is on many sailors’ lists of great small sailboats. A lot of sailors prefer this boat due to a variety of features for its size.

At just under 20 feet, it has four berths, galley, sink, stove, and even a cooler. This boat also has closed-cell foam on the fore and aft, making it virtually unsinkable.


The Norseboat 17.5 is the perfect sailboat in mind when it comes to rowing and sailing. Whether it has one or two people, there is plenty of room to sail comfortably.

While it is not the best boat to probably have in rough conditions, I would likely use this to find coastal areas with good camping spots. With its excellent load capacity, there are plenty of opportunities to bring all kinds of gear without fear of weighing the boat down.


Even though the Montgomery 17 is advertised as a trailerable pocket cruiser, it packs a punch for a smaller sloop rig. It even comes with a centerboard keel that can be retracted to make the boat draft just two feet. This is great for those that want to cruise along the coast or beach it and go exploring.

The cuddy cabin has plenty of headroom and two bunks for guests. There are other models that Montgomery offers such as the 15 and 23, but the 17 is arguably the most attractive for tighter spaces navigating and the best bang for buck scenario.

CW Hood

The CW Hood 32 is somewhat misleading for a small sailboat since it is roughly 32 feet in length. However, sailors will only use about half of the boat in the cockpit with seating and navigating.

This boat is specifically designed for day sailing in mind, with nothing on board to distract anyone from sailing. It is a perfect sailboat for a family without being too large to handle.

Sun Cat

The 17 foot and half Sun Cat from Com-Pac Yachts is a great looking small sailboat. With its gaff-rigged mainsail, it powers easily with light conditions.

It can be for solo sailing or a small group that wants to share twin six foot berths. It has a handful of amenities to make this a great boat to have on the weekend or small trips.


There was a time that the Sunfish was the most popular small sailboat in existence. But price and competition flooded the market and other top names are pushing them away from the top.

However, this might be a good opportunity to find one at a discount. The Sunfish is excellent for those wanting to day sail or learn how to sail, meaning anyone can enjoy time on the water with this simple 14 foot setup.


The Catalina 16.5 is considered the middle child between its models of 12.5 and the 22. It can come in two different models, one with a centerboard or another with a shoal draft fixed keel.

At slightly over 17 feet, the centerboard model can draft as low as five inches on the water or a little over four feet with the board down. It also features plenty of room in the cockpit and a waterproof hatch for storage.


For those that want a taste of stability from a catamaran and a small sailboat that is easy to trailer, a Hobie 16 is the right boat. Since 1969, there have been plenty of models from that brand but over 100,000 have been made with the 16 alone.

All catamarans can be beached, but some might need some attention beforehand to ensure so. For example, this one will need rudders kicked up before beaching.


The Hunter 15 is the pinnacle of simplicity and functionality. This boat, whether an experienced sailor or newbie is navigating, is one of the best boats without having to think too much about while underway.

With its kick up rudder, any sailor can relax as they enter shoal drafts. This 15 footer is great for day sailing since there are not any special features on board.

Super Snark

The Super Snark has been around since 1970 and has proven to be successful at just 11 feet in length. It is easy to transport, either on a trailer or on top of a vehicle.

The boat weighs just 50 pounds and has a payload capacity of about 310 pounds. For those that want a small unsinkable boat built for two people, it is hard to pass up a Super Snark.

Flying Scot

The Flying Scot is another great small sailboat that is just under 20 feet in length. Not much has changed since it was produced in 1957 with its sloop rig and spinnaker.

Even though it is a good racer for just one or two people, it can comfortably be used as a family boat for up to eight people. It also has a centerboard keel that can be retracted to make it have an eight inch draft.

RS Venture

RS Sailing typically builds racing dinghies, but the Venture model is a 16 footer that is great for those newer to sailing. This boat is commonly used in training classes across the U.S.

The cockpit can comfortably hold a handful of people or a group of smaller kids. It also features an outboard motor mount and a swim ladder in case anyone wants to take a swim.

RS Aero

The RS Sailing brand needs one more mention due to the amount of small sailboats they put out. The RS Aero, for example, is an award winning racing dinghy just shy of 14 feet that has been used in competitions all over the world.

It is not a boat that can be easily learned for a newbie to reach top speeds, but experienced racers love the performance it offers. It only seats one, but it is perfect for those that have sailing experience, whether they are young or old.


Topaz makes a variety of smaller sailboats, but the one that is most popular is the Taz. At just under 10 feet in length, it is one of the smaller sailboats out there that can accommodate an adult and maybe a small child.

This could also be used for larger boats that need a dinghy to make it to shore. For the price point, it will be difficult to ignore for a compelling dinghy.


The WRTango by WindRider is a perfect trimaran at 10 feet that is easy to sail and to transport. It is the smallest edition of trimarans offered by this brand, just behind the WR 16 and 17.

Since it has forward facing seating, steering with a foot pedal, and a lower center of gravity, sailors will feel like they are sitting in a kayak. It has a six inch draft, a single sail, and heavy duty outriggers that are designed to take a beating.


Minicat has a special line of inflatable catamarans available in various sizes. These come equipped with a multi-piece mast and even a trampoline, along with the inflatable hulls of course.

It is arguably the easiest small sailboat to travel with, as it can be put away in one or two bags for transport. As for sailing, it rivals the speeds and handle of other popular small catamarans.

Vancouver 28

The Vancouver 28 is outside the range of what would be considered a dinghy, but it still offers a lot of value for being a smaller bluewater sailboat. At 28 feet, there is a little something for everyone.

This boat is considered a pocket cruiser that can essentially go anywhere. For those that are trying to downsize from other larger sailboats, they should strongly consider a change with the Vancouver 28.

Pros and Cons to Small Sailboats

Small sailboats have become more popular over the last few decades. Smaller bluewater sailboats have a lot to like, but also present some disadvantages that might not fit into a sailor’s category to sail.

It is important to figure out what sailing goals a sailor wants to take part in. Whether it is cruising, weekend sailing, or day sailing, small sailboats are potentially a good fit.


There are a handful of pros to look at for small sailboats. The key is to find one that fits specific to a sailing goal, such as racing or cruising.


It is easy to see why small sailboats are common, especially since they cost much less than larger ones. They are even less expensive models if a sailor can find a used one.

Depending on how long a boat is will determine how much it costs to build. It is easier and costs less to make repairs on smaller boats since the damaged areas are smaller as well. So finding a small, yet functional sailboat will be the most cost effective.

Simpler Systems

Small sailboats are easier to maintain and have a lot less issues than larger boats. This is simply because they have a lot less to offer, such as a watermaker or an electric anchor windlass.

Some are just bare bones when it comes to sailing, while others have galleys or berths. Depending on the model and brand will determine how easy it is to maintain.

Easy to Sail

Inexperienced sailors often gravitate to smaller sailors simply because they are easier to sail. Imagine the difference between raising a sail between an 18 footer and a 48 footer, or even the difference between one or a few sails.

These boats are also meant for solo sailing or for smaller groups, making it easier to handle functions on board. These are also used in training schools that teach how to sail. There is also less stress on the boat in general, making it easier to maintain.

Easy to Rig

Whether a sailor wants to put a small sailboat on a trailer or the top of their car, no one can deny how convenient it is to move around. No special tricks are needed for these types of boats, as they are simple to put up once they are done being used.

When looking at the inflatable catamaran for example, it is one of the easiest to set up and put away. Larger boats require to be parked at a dock or will be more difficult to pull out of the water.

Easy to Find Parts

Every sailboat will need something replaced or fixed at some point. For small sailboats, it will be easier to find parts or replacement items because these boats are often made in bulk.

Smaller boats can be found everywhere and a lot were made back in the early 1950’s and 60’s. Some will have compatible parts to newer ones and the other way around.


As good as small sailboats might be to some, sailors might choose to look elsewhere if their sailing goals do not fit what a small sailboat offers. If sailors are simply wanting to get out on the water and not have a lot of amenities, this could work for them. So depending on what a sailor is expecting to get out of a boat makes the biggest difference.

Much Slower

If sailors were to travel the same distance at the same time in different sized boats, more often than not the large boat will win. While some small sailboats are only meant for racing, a lot of them are not meant to travel very fast.

The hull speed is in conjunction with the square root of the length of the water, meaning you need more hull to go faster. This could become an issue when trying to evade a storm and get to safety quickly.

Larger boats tend to average between seven to 10 knots while small sailboats average less. Depending on how much the difference is in length and sail area will determine the speed.

Not as Much Space

Small sailboats under 20 feet are difficult to live aboard or travel long distances with a lack of gear or food. There are some that can cater to one or two people for full time sailing, but these have limited space as well.

Unless sailors are able to effectively downsize from larger boats to smaller boats, there will likely be some issues with the amount of gear or other items they are taking on board. In addition, it makes it difficult to travel with a crew or even a pet.

Not as Comfortable

There will be some debate between how comfortable small sailboats are, but the argument can be made that they are not as comfortable as larger sailboats. Generally, anything over 20 feet is recommended to live aboard or engage in bluewater sailing long term.

For those that want to be as comfortable as possible while sailing, smaller sailboats might lack in that regard. Since there is not as much seating and a lack of a galley or berth, sailors might pass on small sailboats for comfort.

Why A Small Sailboat Could Be Beneficial

A variety of factors will contribute to a sailor wanting to select a specific boat to sail in. These include budget, sailing goals, and availability nearby. Small sailboats have proven to be effective for a variety of purposes.

For newer sailors, small sailboats are definitely the way to go to learn how to sail without blowing tons of money on a larger setup. After sailors have developed a comfortable amount of experience with their small sailboat or if their sailing goals have changed, then it would be ideal to move onto a larger boat to fit their needs.

Small sailboats definitely have their place in today’s market. From racers to cruisers, or daysailers to weekenders, small sailboats can fit any category that a sailor could possibly want to experience.

It is ultimately up to the individual on how they want to approach a small sailboat and its capabilities. In the best scenario, one should find a boat that is in good condition, is affordable for their budget, and is easy to handle based on their sailing goals.

Small Sailboat Sizes: A Complete Guide
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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