Types of Sailboats and their Uses

Types of Sailboats | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

November 18, 2020

There are many types of sailboats with various purposes and uses. Whether you're looking to buy or charter a sailboat and indulge in some sailing adventures, it's very important to know the types of sailboats that are available, their uses, and how they'll fit your needs.

Whether you're a sailboat fanatic or just an observer looking to learn a thing or two about sailboats, it's most likely that you've realized that there are different types of sailboats. They're indeed very different in terms of sizes, shapes, and uses that it can be really confusing. This is perhaps why many people prefer to use the term "sailboat" to describe just about any vessel that's powered by wind. Well, the truth is that "sailboat" is just a generic term to describe these vessels but they're very different in terms of shapes, sizes, and uses.

Generally speaking, sailboats are a separate type of water vessels that are independent of motor-powered vessels and have very different features as far as hydrodynamics is concerned. Sailboats, however, vary in terms of sizes, shapes, and uses. They also vary in terms of rig types, number of sails, hull types, keel designs, and even mast arrangements.

In this comprehensive article, we'll take a closer look at different types of sailboats that are available today. We'll also look at their uses so that you can know what you're getting involved in and make an informed choice when either buying or chartering a sailboat.


Table of contents for this article

The Importance of Knowing Various Types of Sailboats

It doesn't matter whether you're a sailboat fanatic or just an interested observer, knowing the various types of sailboats and their uses can make you more knowledgeable in the sailing world. It can also be of great help in making an informed choice if you're looking to indulge in some sailing activities.

One of the most important things to keep in mind is that every sea and region may require a particular type of sailboat. Some types of sailboats may be appropriate for use in the ocean while being catastrophic when used in a lake. Some types of sailboats can also be great for long voyages at the ocean while others are best for weekend cruising at your nearby lake.

With that in mind, knowing the various types of sailboats is of great importance if you want to make an informed choice on the right vessel. The type of sailboat that you choose may also be affected by various features such as water depth, temperature, and composition. You'll also know the most suitable sailboat in terms of your sailing experience, the convenience that you want, and of course, the types of sailing activities that you want to do.

Sailboat Classifications

Even though there are different types of sailboats, they're usually categorized into three major categories:

  • Hull Type - Monohull or multihull
  • Keel Type - Wing keel, fin keel, daggerboard, bilge keel, or centerboard
  • Sails and Mast Arrangements - Ketch, sloop, yawl, schooner, fractional rig sloop, cat, and cutter

 By having a look at these classifications and understanding each, it will be much easier for you to understand various types of sailboats. This is because sailboats are fundamentally classified based on their keel types, hull configuration, size, rigs, as well as mast and sail configurations.

Hull Type

One of the main parts of a sailboat is the hull. Sailboats can differ based on the hull used. Again, hulls can differ based on their shapes and the total number used. Hulls are generally made of metal, wood, or fiberglass.

Hulls are categorized into three different categories:

  • Monohull - One hull
  • Catamaran - Two hulls
  • Trimaran - Three hulls


Monohulls come in different types of keels and underwater shapes. Traditional monohulls are designed with full keels, which are generally made of heavy ballast running almost the full length of the hull. On the other hand, cutaway keels are designed like full keels but cut away at the bow. This is very important in ensuring that the boat has increased maneuverability, especially in tight quarters such as when docking.

Other types of monohulls are designed to have shallow planing which is essential when surfing off a wave. This is widely common in smaller types of monohull boats. Most monohulls include foils and appendages, which are essentially some of the latest advances in sailboats. They're generally made of carbon fiber and play a crucial role in ensuring that the sailboat is sailing a lot faster. This is particularly more common in racing sailboats.

Types of Monohull Sailboats

Here are the most common types of monohull sailboats.

Cruising Sailboat

Also known as a cruiser yacht, a cruising sailboat is a type of sailboat that's specifically designed for long-distance sailing. They generally measure between 16 and 50 feet and have standing headroom. The main idea is to ensure that the crew and the passengers are very comfortable and that's why a lot of focus is put on long-term comfort. This means that such sailboats also come with living spaces and other amenities that will keep you comfortable on the water for as long as possible.

Despite being suitable for long-distance voyages and having amenities to allow you to live aboard for as long as possible, a cruising sailboat should be sizable enough not to require a professional crew. In most cases, their level of endurance is based on the boat's sail power and the storage provision for those aboard. Nonetheless, they're designed to make overnight passages and for multi-day voyages.


Very common in the Maldives, Sri Lanka, and South India, Dhoni is a traditional multi-purpose and handcrafted sailboat that is designed to use both a motor and lateen sails. It resembles a dhow but contemporary ones are built using fiberglass and are fitted with diesel engines. They also have steering wheels, hydraulic line haulers, satellite navigation systems, fish finders, sonars, as well as accommodation rooms.

They're generally used for fishing but can also be used for scuba diving since their low freeboard is perfect for this activity. They can also be used for comfortable dwelling on the sea, for transportation, and for voyaging. A Dhoni can accommodate up to 50 passengers and sometimes even more. It all depends on the size.


Also known as a day boat, a daysailer is generally small in size (14-20 feet) and generally do not have a cabin or sleeping accommodation. It's usually larger and steadier than a dinghy and can carry around four passengers. Well, they have a very small cabin that's used for storage or to provide shelter when it's hot.

A daysailer is meant to simplify the way you sail and to make sailing more fun. It's perfect for cruising for a day and has less equipment and strings that need tweaking and adjustments. In terms of capability, a daysailer isn't the perfect type of a sailboat for ocean passage and cannot be ideal for long-distance voyages. You can, however, use it to cruise in your nearby water body in the summer or for having a picnic on the water.

Race Cruiser

Also known as a racer, a race cruiser is a hybrid vessel that is perfectly designed for overnight cruising but structured with equipment for competitive racing. In other words, race cruisers are designed for performance, so speed is an important feature. Other crucial features include ease of handling, maneuverability, and durability.

Race cruisers generally measure less than 35 feet and are designed with light laminates such as the inclusion of fibers, Mylar, Spectra, aramid, and many more.


A motorsailer is a type of sailboat that is essentially a pleasure boat and uses both the sails and an engine to propel it. The main source of power is the sails but it has an engine that can be used when the wind isn't strong enough or for maneuvering the vessel.

A motorsailer is great for both overnight sailing and day sailing and can measure between 22 feet to 121 feet. This means that they can accommodate more than 50 people and are well furnished to offer comfortable and long-distance sailing.

And because they generally have smaller rigs, bigger engines, and larger gas and water tanks, their speeds are significantly reduced. We have to note that motorsailers are not that appealing to sailing purists who believe that wind should only be the power used to propel a sailboat. However, the fact that they have an engine, as well as the sails, makes them ideal for long-distance voyaging and for liveaboard sailors. This is a great option if you're looking for a vessel that's easy to handle, stable, fast, and comfortable. 

Racing Sailboats

There is arguably no type of sailboat that's designed for a specific purpose as a racing sailboat. Needless to say, they're built for racing so they need to be as fast as possible. Most racing sailboats are very advanced in terms of technology and are designed with some of the latest composite construction techniques and CAD design. For example, most racing sailboats, especially ones used in famous races like America's Cup, are "foiling". This means that they can rise up out of the water and run on foils located under the hulls.

With that in mind, a racing sailboat can incredibly attain speeds in excess of 50 MPH. They're also lighter and can accommodate just a few people and little attention is generally paid to comfort, though they can measure between 20 feet and 70 feet.

Pocket Cruisers

Also known as a pocket yacht, a pocket cruiser is essentially a small boat that's designed for recreational cruising but can also be used for club racing. They usually measure less than 30 feet in length and can be trailered by a normal car thanks to its lightweight design.

As a cruiser, these types of sailboats are equipped with various amenities such as a cabin, a galley, berths, cockpit, and head. These are all meant to provide comfort. If you properly equip them, they can be ideal for long-distance passages but that's not their main function.


Probably one of the most common types of a sailboat, a dinghy is a small type of boat that's generally used as a tender or a lifeboat. It is usually designed with three or fewer sails including the mainsail, jib, and spinnaker.

Operating a dinghy is quite simple and its maintenance is minimal and can be a popular choice if you're on a budget and still want to sail the waters. The fact that they are very simple to operate makes them quite popular with youngsters and those still learning the sailing ropes. Its main use is to carry transfers from a ship or larger boat to the dock, particularly in areas where the ship cannot dock at the port or marina.

The length of a dinghy usually ranges from 6 to 20 feet and can be an ideal option where there's limited space. Even though dinghies have great buoyancy, their smaller sizes mean that they are not very stable so you have to be very careful when using this vessel. It can carry one or two passengers and is arguably one of the best options if you want to learn sailing.

Sports Boats

Sport boats were originally built for racing and were optimized for high performance at the expense of comfort and luxury. They were designed with large surface areas, built with light materials, and structured with modern equipment to increase speed.

Meant for a crew of three to six, these types of sailboats can be built with fin keel for simpler designs and wing keel for more advanced and professional designs.


This is probably one of the best choices if you want an ideal sailboat for sailing the big blue ocean. Most of them have caught the attention of many sailors across the world. However, you'll rarely see them during your sailing escapades since their maintenance and operating costs are quite high. For example, it requires a dozen crew and best sailors to propel.


Generally popular in New Zealand and Australia, skiffs have high-powered rigs and are always quick and light. They measure between 12 and 18 feet and can carry two to four passengers.

Types of Multihulls

As we highlighted earlier, sailboats that have more than one hull are known as multihulls. They include catamarans, Proas, and trimarans. Such sailboats are not only quick but also offer an enjoyable form of sailing and that's why you'll find them in most yacht clubs around the world. Some of the best-known multihull sailboats include Formula 18 cats and Hobie 16.


Using two hulls that are either attached together by a beam or by some form of bridge, catamarans have become quite popular with many sailors all over the world. The hulls are parallel to each other and are of equal sizes. Using such a sailboat will, of course, have both their advantages and disadvantages just like any other type of sailboat.

Speaking of their advantages, catamarans are more stable and quicker than monohulls. The fact that catamarans have smaller displacement and less hull volume, which gives them smaller hydrodynamic resistance, which in turn means that they will require less power to propel. They also have shallower draughts, especially when compared to standard boats. Differently, maneuvering them can be quite difficult, particularly in limited or congested spaces. Here are the most popular types of catamarans.

In essence, catamarans are more efficient, quicker, and have a bigger carrying capacity than monohulls. Catamarans are typically used for recreation, sports, cruising, passenger transport, and in some cases, for military activities.

Cruising Catamarans

Cruising catamarans are almost similar to monohulls in the sense that they offer accommodation just like ocean cruising sailboats. In addition to having shallow draughts, cruising catamarans generally measure between 25 feet and 50+ feet and have immense stability when compared to monohull sailboats. Some of the most popular cruising catamarans include Dolphin 42, Manta 42, Privilege 435, and Nautitech 44.

Beach Catamarans

Commonly referred to as beach cats, these are essentially an off-the-beach class of catamaran sailboats. They're mainly used for day sailing and often measure between 14 and 20 feet and are so quick. Their origins can be traced back to the Polynesian double-canoe sailboats that could be pushed into the ocean when in use and shoved up onto the beach when not in use.

Beach catamarans are generally very light for their size, which makes them a lot easier to launch. This is achieved because they do not have a solid deck. Instead, a trampoline or rigid material is used to bridge the open areas between the two hulls and their supports. These cats are also structured with rudders that can be flipped up or removed so that they do not stick into the sand when beached up. They can also be easily disassembled for easy transportation.

Most beach catamarans are very quick and can easily attain 20 knots but getting wet is just part of using a beach catamaran. The Hobie Cat remains one of the most popular and iconic beach catamarans.


Also known as double-outriggers, trimarans are another subset of multihulls. It has three hulls with the main hull and two small hulls (known as double outriggers). These smaller hulls are attached to the main hull using lateral beams. Such types of sailboats originated from Indonesia and the Philippines where they were predominantly used for fishing. Today, trimarans are commonly used for recreation and racing and in some instances for transportation and in the military.

The main feature of these types of sailboats is the stability that they bring to your sailing activities. There are also high-speed trimarans and are generally used for international passenger voyages, especially for transporting refugees as well as for naval activities.

Keel Types

Running longitudinally across the bottom of the sailboat, a keel is practically the backbone of the sailboat. It is essentially the bottom-most structural part of the boat around which the boat's hull is built. It runs along the centerline of the sailboat from the bow to the stern and is generally the first part of the boat's hull to be constructed. The main aim of a keel is to:

  • Help the sailboat counter any sideways force and pressure that's generated by the wind so as to provide a forward motion by creating a lift at the bottom.
  • Provide ballast which is essential in giving the boat stability. You, however, have to keep in mind that more ballast will make the boat more stable but a lot heavier, thereby affecting speed.

Keels come in different forms, types, and have varying features. This is why it's possible to categorize sailboats based on the type of keel that they have.

Fin Keel

Commonly found in skiffs and many sports boats, a fin keel is a narrow plate that is placed in the middle of the sailboat. It can be made either from metal or wood and generally faces downwards with its primary purpose being to provide lateral resistance, which will in turn make the sailboat a lot stable and steadier.

This type of keel covers almost half the length of the boat's bottom and is great in reducing drag and making less leeway. This means that it will enable the boat to be a lot faster while remaining very stable. The boat is also a lot easier to steer and even more efficient.

One of the most noticeable downsides of fin keels is that they're a lot harder to engineer and can lead to the grounding of the boat, especially if you're sailing in shallow waters. They also have less directional stability.

Full-length Keel

A common feature in traditional sailboats, a full-length keel runs the full length of the hull with the forward edges vertically. Unlike fin keels, which are known for directional instability and less safe grounding, full-length keels offer much safe grounding and more directional stability.

This means that your sailboat will be safer when it lies on hard ground or when sailing in shallow waters. In other words, a full-length keel is the strong and stable balancing point of the hull. On the other hand, a full keel is not known for performance and high speed. This is because they drag slowly through the water but in a sturdier way.

So if you have a full-length keel you can be sure that you won't outrun a storm like boats with fin keels can but you'll comfortably run out the storm.

Wing/Bulb Keels

This is a great alternative to the fin keel and is made by sawing off a fin keel. It's more streamlined but can easily break as it looks like an airplane tail. Its main aim is to enhance the righting moment without necessarily increasing too much weight while increasing the amount of leverage without having too much keel depth.

These types of keels are more common in professional racing sailboats such as sports boats but can be added to cruising sailboats as well. This is because they help in decreasing the draft thereby improving the approach in shallow waters.

Bilge Keel

Commonly used in low stream waters, bilge keels enable sailboats to stand on mud or sand and are suitable if you're planning to sail in areas with large tidal ranges. You, however, have to keep in mind that they may not be as efficient as wing and fin keels if your main intention is to decrease leeway.

Daggerboard or Centerboard

Generally used in catamarans, trimarans, and dinghies, they can help in decreasing the draft and wetted surface and can either be raised or lowered. The centerboard is fastened to the sailboat using a pin, which is used as a fulcrum point when raising the centerboard.

Sails and Mast Arrangements

Another way that's used to classify different types of sailboats is how the masts and sails are arranged.


This refers to sailboats that use a single mast; a headsail or a mainsail and is very common in sailboats. Depending on the sizes and shapes, headsails can take various names including genoa, jib, or spinnaker.

Fractional Rig Sloop

The forestay does not have to reach the highest point of the mast as it is attached to a low fulcrum. It is a great option if you're sailing short handed.


Like the sloop, it has a mainsail and a mast with the mast being the further aft so as to provide more space for two headsails from forestays. A cutter is perfect as it enables you to easily use various configurations in different wind strengths and circumstances. In short, they're very practical and probably the most effective in different situations and conditions.


This has the mainmast and mizzenmast; all placed on the deck.


While they are generally two masts, they can have up to six masts and they can be divided into various subgroups including three-mast topsail schooner, hermaphrodite brig, topsail schooner, staysail schooner, three-mast schooner, fore and aft schooner, yawl, fully rigged ship, catboat, fully rigged ship, cog, brig, brigantine, barque, barquentine, lugger, and lateen xebec.

To this end, it's easy to see that there are many different types of sailboats based on size, shape, and activity. So whether you're looking to spend your day relaxing on the water, racing, or planning for a long-distance voyage, you have various types of sailboats suited for whatever activity you want to indulge in. No matter your choice, the most important thing is your safety and happiness. So you can choose whichever type of sailboat that's most appealing to you and most suitable for your activities and enjoyment.

More importantly, stay safe, stay informed, and sail far.

Types of Sailboats and their Uses

Home /

Types of Sailboats and their Uses

7 Best Places To Liveaboard A Sailboat >>Can You Live On A Sailboat Year Round? >>

Most Recent

Important Legal Info

Popular Posts

Get The Best Sailing Content

Welcome aboard! Check your email...
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Lifeofsailing.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon. This site also participates in other affiliate programs and is compensated for referring traffic and business to these companies.

© 2020 Life of Sailing Privacy Policy