What Are Small Sailboats Called?

What Are Small Sailboats Called? | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Jacob Collier

August 30, 2022

Sailboats, whether in deep bluewater or for casual use, have a wide variety of capabilities. They can differ in size, with some being fairly small sailboats.

Most boats are classified by name in a specific category for what they can accomplish. You might have thought, what are small sailboats called?

A small sailboat is called a dinghy and is usually between 8 to 15 feet in length, with some being slightly larger. These sailboats vary in how they are used, but can either be powered by a motor, sailed with the use of a removable mast, or moved with oars.

In addition, you might see some of these boats being used with larger vessels as a lifeboat. Other people have primarily used them to sail for recreational use and fully harness the wind for a relaxed time at sea.

According to the National Maritime College, dinghies are considered sailing vessels regardless if they have motors or not. These can be further separated into motor sailing and regular sailing.


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Why Are Small Sailboats Called Dinghies?

The name dinghies has origins dating back to the Bengali and Hindi language. In addition, it has similar ties to the East Indies around the 1800’s.

In Hindi, the word dingy means small boat. As for other languages like Sanskrit, the term means wooden trough. Over the years, the combination of those languages with English helped form the word dinghy.

These boats were used to move about cargo and passengers in India during the 1800’s. Today they are used for both recreational use or to help out larger vessels with the same idea in mind as India had used it.

Is Sailing on a Dinghy Different?

Dinghy boats are classified as a monohull, unlike multi- hulled boats that could have two or more hulls manufactured together. Due to the unique size of dinghies, they are easier to produce.

Dinghy sailing is a bit different than your traditional bluewater sailing or larger boat vessels. You have to utilize the power of the wind to help guide you through the water.

Some of the designs will allow for speed, but other models are geared for a relaxing time at sea. You will usually see these types of boats near inland waters, but more experienced sailors could use them in rougher waters.

Due to their unique size, dinghies are typically lighter and only require one or a few people depending on the size. For larger ones around 20 feet, it might require up to five people to help move or navigate.

Larger dinghies are sometimes confused with keelboats, but dinghy sailboats do not have a keel underneath. These boats also do not have a ballast to add weight, so they are easier to turn over than other traditional boats.

Sailing with the use of a dinghy might be confused with other water sports like windsurfing. Both use smaller boats and need the wind, but windsurfing requires you to stand on the boat and move from one side to the next to help capture the wind.

As for typical dinghy use, you will be sitting down in or on the boat. This allows you to fully concentrate on the sailing aspect of it.

How to Learn Dinghy Sailing?

Sailing on a dinghy is going to require patience and you are going to get wet. Most sailing will avoid the water on deck, where dinghies put you right there in the action.

You have to understand that the sails are going to provide the boat power. Utilizing the wind at the right angle is going to be key to long term success.

If you are a first time dinghy user, it is best to try it out on a gentle day with some wind. It is also easier to test it out on calmer waters, rather than launching out into deep water.

You have every right to buy one and go try it out yourself, but it might be worth the time and money to try someone else’s dinghy first. In that case, you could look into trying out a sailing school near you that specializes in getting you started.

If you decide to go the school route, just make sure you are trying out a dinghy that is going to be similar to the one you would want. This way you know first hand how to move your size of a boat.

These courses do not last long either, especially if you are a quick learner. Within the afternoon, you should have the basics down and in just a few sessions you will be sailing like a professional.

What to Wear and Why Dinghy Sail?

As with all sailing, your safety is going to be priority in anything that you do. This means wearing buoyancy aids and potentially a helmet.

You will need to wear clothes that you do not mind getting wet. This could be quick dry material or other water gear that is best for this.

You might also consider wearing water sailing gloves, since you will be handling wet and salty ropes the entire time. If you do it often enough, you might not need the gloves.

Learning how to dinghy sail is a unique opportunity like no other in the sailing realm. No matter your age, if you can learn the basics then you can move about in various water conditions.

You will be getting a workout when using a dinghy, as you will have to constantly adjust the sails while also shifting around. In calmer conditions, it will be easier of course to get used to these movements and build confidence.

Dinghy sailing requires quite a bit of focus, especially since it does not take much to flip these boats over. Any changes in wind or water and you will need to think it through quickly.

This requires you to always be ready and not complacent with your environment. This is why many enjoy dinghy sailing, as it takes discipline to master this type of sailing.

What Are Small Sailboats Called?
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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