Trailerable Sailboats Comparison

Trailerable Sailboats Comparison | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

June 15, 2022

Trailerable sailboats come in a variety of shapes and sizes. These vessels can be used for everything from racing to offshore cruising.

In this article, we'll compare six of the most common trailerable sailboat types along with their uses. Additionally, we'll cover vessel design elements that distinguish different types of trailerable sailboats.

The most common types of trailerable sailboats include dinghies, racers, open-top cruising sailboats, pocket cruisers, coastal cruisers, and compact offshore sailboats. These vessels differ by size, rig type, hull type, and weight.

The information contained in this article was sourced from sailing guides and vessel identification records. Additionally, we took into consideration the opinions of sailors with experience on a variety of trailerable sailboats.


Table of contents

Defining Trailerable Sailboats

What distinguishes a trailerable sailboat from any other small cruising craft? The first and most obvious consideration is size. A trailerable sailboat has to meet the dimensional requirements set forth by the Department of Transportation. In other words, it must fit on a trailer that's small enough to travel on the road.

An additional consideration is weight. A trailerable sailboat should weigh less than around 7,000 pounds, as this is the upper towing limit for most typical Class C vehicles. Most trailerable sailboats can be towed behind a typical half ton pickup or SUV.

Additionally, most trailerable sailboats have a swing keel or centerboard. This makes it possible to rest a boat on a low trailer. Most displacement keels are simply too tall, though there are a few exceptions. The maximum trailer load height in most states is 14 ft, which a trailerable sailboat should clear without trouble.

Length is a consideration, though it's not as important as width. The maximum beam of a trailerable sailboat is 8 ft 6 in, as this is the limit for standard trailers on American highways. Typically, trailerable sailboats don't exceed 30 feet in length, as the length to beam ratio of a longer boat would lead to poor handling characteristics.

The final consideration is rigging. Due to height requirements, trailerable sailboats must have collapsible masts. Additionally, rudders and other items that extend beyond the hull must fold or stow in some manner.

Types of Trailerable Sailboats

Trailerable sailboats come in many varieties, weights, in sizes. These vessels are designed for specific uses, such as racing, cruising, fishing, or training. Here are the most common kinds of trailerable sailboats, along with what they're used for.

1. Dinghies

Dinghies are small, open sailing craft that usually don't exceed 15 feet in length. Dinghies are designed for use in protected waters. They're sometimes used to shuttle between an anchored sailboat and the shore. Dinghies are popular racing vessels, and many sailing schools use them for sailing instruction.

Popular Trailerable Dinghies:

  • Optimist “Optie” (7 ft 9 in LOA)
  • Minto (9 ft LOA)
  • Wayfarer (16 ft)

2. Racers

Trailerable racing sailboats are long and narrow. They're designed for speed and agility, not comfort or offshore cruising. These boats generally have a low profile, and they're often open-top and lack sleeping accommodations.

Racing sailboats are lightweight and easy to tow. That said, trailerable racing sailboats are designed for experienced sailors as they're easier to capsize in high winds. These vessels range in size from 15 feet to over 25 feet.

Popular Trailerable Racing Sailboats:

  • National 12 (12 ft)
  • Sunfish (13 ft 9 in)
  • Merlin Rocket (14 ft)

3. Open-Top Cruisers

Open-top cruising sailboats lack a cabin. However, these seaworthy craft are more than capable of coastal cruising in a variety of conditions. Many of these vessels are based on proven workboat designs that date back over a century. These vessels are ideal for harbor sailing and cruising on lakes.

Some people use open-top cruising sailboats for camping, as these traditional vessels are long enough to lay down a cot or sleeping bag. They make a great starter sailboat, as they're safe and easy to store in the garage or driveway.

Popular Trailerable Open-Top Cruisers

  • Norseboat (17 ft 6 in)
  • Bay Rider (20 ft)
  • Com-Pac Legacy (23)

4. Pocket Cruisers

Pocket cruisers are similar to coastal cruisers, though they're distinguishable by their size and amenities. Generally speaking, a pocket cruiser is a small sailboat (under 25 feet in length) that features a cabin, galley, self-draining cockpit, and other 'big boat' accommodations.

Pocket cruisers usually aren't designed for serious offshore cruising, but they are comfortable for extended coastal or inland voyages. They weigh more than racing vessels, as stability is a key aspect of their design. Pocket cruisers are popular because they offer impressive capabilities in a small package.

Popular Trailerable Pocket Cruisers

  • Sandpiper (15 ft)
  • Sanderling (18 ft)
  • West Wight Potter (19 ft)

5. Coastal Cruisers

Coastal cruisers are some of the most popular trailerable sailboats on the market. These vessels usually feature a cabin with a V-berth and a sink, though they occasionally include a head and a complete galley. Coastal cruisers are seaworthy enough for most near-shore and inland weather conditions.

Some adventurous sailors have taken coastal cruisers on extended bluewater voyages, though it's not particularly common. The size and sailing characteristics of these vessels is often not their greatest limiting factor.

There's only so many provisions you can store aboard a 22 to 25-foot sailboat, which is why coastal cruisers are generally considered impractical for offshore voyaging. Coastal cruisers handle well, and they're easy to sail, which is why this type of trailerable sailboat is popular in bays and harbors across the country.

Popular Trailerable Coastal Cruisers

  • Cal 20 (20 ft)
  • Catalina 22 (22 ft)
  • Hunter 22 (22 ft)

6. Compact Offshore Sailboats

Compact offshore sailboats are the rarest and most capable type of trailerable sailboat. These vessels are a big boat in a compressed package. They typically feature a long displacement keel, a wide beam, and a cramped but feature-filled cabin.

These vessels are true cruising boats inside and out. The cabins usually feature a full galley, standing headroom, ahead with a shower, a V-berth upfront, and provisions for navigation. Their rigging is strong enough to handle offshore weather conditions.

Compact offshore sailboats usually have the greatest displacement, as their deep draft and wide beam keep them stable in rolling seas. This also contributes to greater dry weight, which is why they can't be towed by small vehicles.

Vessels of this type are technically trailerable, as they meet the dimensional requirements to travel on the highway. That's said, moving one of these boats is difficult. Owners generally keep these vessels in the water or in dry storage most of the year to avoid the hazard and hassle of towing such a hefty boat.

Popular Compact Offshore Cruisers

  • Flicka 20 (20 ft)
  • Dana 24 (24 ft)
  • Nor'Sea 27 (27 ft)

Keel Types

The keel of a sailboat keeps it stable and tracking a straight course. Most trailerable sailboats have retractable keels of some variety, though some have fixed (permanently lowered) keels. Here are the most common types of trailerable sailboat keels in order of their popularity.

1. Centerboard

A centerboard is a form of retractable keel that's common on the smallest types of trailerable sailboats. A centerboard is essentially a long, thin blade that descends through a hole in the bottom of the boat.

Half of the centerboard remains inside the boat in a box called the 'centerboard trunk.' Centerboards are simple and easy to use, but the centerboard trunk takes up useful space in the cockpit or cabin.

2. Swing Keel

The swing keel is a type of retractable keel that eliminates the inconvenient centerboard trunk. A swing keel is a centerboard with a hinge on one end. It lives in a trunk, typically below the base of the hull, and swings down when in use.

Swing keels allow the sailboat to ride low on a trailer, which makes them a popular choice for pocket cruisers and trailer-sailers. Swing keels raise and lower using a  block and tackle system or a crank, usually located near the bilge or under a seat.

3. Fin Keel

Fin keels are less common on trailerable sailboats than they are on larger cruising boats. This type of keel is fixed to the bottom of the hull. A fin keel blade extends between 12 inches and 3 feet below the hull, and it occasionally includes a hydrodynamic bulb on the end. Fin keels are most often found on racing boats.

4. Semi-Displacement

Semi-displacement keels are long, fixed keels that run along the aft 2/3 of the hull. This type of keel is designed for cruising boats that value speed but still want to retain the stability and seaworthiness of a full keel.

Some trailerable sailboats have semi-displacement keels, especially if they're designed for offshore use. The benefits of a semi-displacement keel over a full keel are negligible on a trailer, as both types have a deep draft and high ride height.

5. Displacement (Full Keel)

Displacement keels are traditional and highly seaworthy. This type of keel runs across the entire length of the hull, usually reaching its deepest point at the stern. Displacement keels are found on vessels that are designed for offshore use.

Displacement keels are uncommon on trailerable sailboats, as they're long and cause the vessel to ride high on a trailer. Additionally, the type of vessel that uses a displacement keel is often wide and heavy, which isn't ideal for trailering.


Collapsable rigging is a hallmark of trailerable sailboats. The best trailerable sailboats have collapsible masts that stow securely across the deck. These vessels typically have a fork-shaped mast boot that acts as a hinge, allowing sailors to easily lower and secure the mast.

Many trailerable sailboats are gaff rigged. Though the traditional gaff rig is more complex than a modern Bermuda rigs, it uses a shorter and stronger mast. This has obvious benefits for trailerable boats, as the mast and spars store more easily.

Trailer Types

There are multiple types of trailers used to tow and store sailboats. The most common kind of sailboat trailer is the single-axle trailer. These trailers have one wheel on each side, and you can tow them with a standard Class IV trailer hitch.

Larger sailboats, such as heavy offshore cruising vessels, require something a bit sturdier. These vessels typically ride on dual-axle trailers, which have two wheels on each side.

Larger trailers, such as those with two axles, connect to a standard trailer hitch or to a fifth wheel hitch, which is mounted in the bed of a truck. Fifth-wheel trailers are the least common type of sailboat trailer.

Sailboat Weight and Towing

Dry weight is an important factor to consider when comparing trailerable sailboats. It's important to avoid confusing displacement and weight, even though both values use the same units.

Displacement is the weight of the water displaced by the vessel, whereas dry weight determines how much the boat weighs with its tanks empty and bilge dry. The ideal towing weight of a typical trailerable sailboat is between 3,000 and 5,000 pounds. This weight is within the towing capabilities of most trucks and full-size SUVs.

Larger trailerable vessels, such as many coastal cruisers and offshore trailer-sailers, can weigh 7,500 pounds or more. A sailboat of this magnitude requires a heavy-duty towing vehicle, such as a 1-ton diesel pickup truck.

Best Trailerable Sailboat for Cruising

For protected cruising, such as in a bay or after the river, it's hard to overlook the Catalina 22. This iconic fiberglass sailboat is known for easy handling and fun sailing characteristics. It has a comfortable cabin with plenty of room for a weekend on the water.

For more extensive cruising, especially offshore, the best trailerable sailboat is the Nor'Sea 27. This vessel is ideal due to its spacious interior and full accommodations. It has a full keel for stability, along with a head, galley, and sleeping arrangements down below.

Best Trailerable Sailboat for Weekend Sailing

The ideal weekend cruiser should be easy to tow in fast to rig, as larger and more complex vessels take too much time and effort the launch. With this in mind, it's a tie between the Wayfarer dinghy and the West Wight Potter. Both of these vessels are well-designed, fast to launch, and fun to sail.

Trailerable Sailboats Comparison
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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