Types of Racing Sailboats

Types of Racing Sailboats | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Jacob Collier

August 30, 2022

Sailboats come in many different shapes and sizes depending on a variety of factors. This means there are a variety of sailboat racing boat types on the market.

When you look specifically at racing sailboats, you will notice several different aspects that separate them from other sailboats. You might be wondering, what are the types of racing sailboats?

There are many types of racing sailboats that range from one-man dinghies all the way to 100-foot yachts. Some racing sailboats are classified as keel boats, multi-hull, and even a tower ship. These boats are built primarily for speed, so comfort is usually an afterthought depending on the brand.

For racing sailboats, each one is going to fit within a specific race category. So depending on the type of race will dictate the types of sailboats you will see.

According to sailboat data, racing boats have slightly different designs that stand out compared to bluewater sailboats. Looking at the Olympics is another example of what other racing sailboats are out there.


Table of contents

Characteristics of Racing Sailboats

There are quite a few sailboats made today that are geared specifically towards racing. They have one purpose, which is to go as fast as possible.

Some racing sailboats are advanced far more than the average ones, which is completely up to the buyer. For example, America’s Cup race showcases “foiling boats” that run on foils under the hulls. These allow the sailboats to go faster than 50 MPH.

If you are searching for boats that have characteristics to fit within a specific race type, you will find that many boats can enter different races depending on the rules. The most popular sailboat races are:

  • Fleet
  • Match
  • Team
  • Regatta
  • Offshore/Oceanic
  • Paralympic
  • Twilight
  • Club

There are key features that separate racing boats from other sailboats and allow them to enter specific races. These can be narrowed down to the hull design, the type of keel, how many masts it has, and what type of sails are used.

Size of Racing Sailboats

As mentioned, these boats range from smaller dinghies to 100-foot yachts. Depending on the type of race will determine the type of boat that is being used.

The size of certain boats might prevent them from entering races where only smaller ones are allowed. There are exceptions in some races, like a handicapped fleet race, that will adjust the rating to allow their final time to be adjusted. The reason some races are handicapped to a certain extent is so a captain and his crew can determine the outcome and not a boat that is at an advantage.

Overall Design

With racing sailboats, they are subject to racing against the wind about half of the time. The angles of the boats are still similar to cruisers but greatly differ in the size of the sails to allow the sheets to have a better shape.

As racing boats are typically trying to sheet the sails hard, they are trying to keep them within the centerline. This allows the sails to be flatter and change them as needed.

Over time, the sails will typically wear out faster than the ones being used on regular sailboats. Since they are aggressively being used to stretch in the wind, they are subject to more use than regular sailboats.

Similar Looking Sailboats

There are races that only accept sailboats called one-design. These sailboats are built to exact specifications and are nearly identical to one another.

The reason that these boats are designed is to help combat any potential advantages from one boat to the next. It does not really set itself apart from other boats, but it is a good start to get into racing.

Lack of Interior Accommodations

Racing sailboats typically lack anything special on the inside to help save weight and go faster. Since a lot of features are not available, this means it would be nearly impossible to liveaboard full time.

In most scenarios, a true racing sailboat strictly has one purpose: to go fast. This does not mean that all racing sailboats cannot have luxury or comfort, since boat racing has been in existence since boats were first invented for water.

You would need to find boats that have a great balance between using them on weekends and racing. There are plenty of options to consider for what you want to accomplish in racing and comfort.

Types of Sails Being Used

Another characteristic that separates racing boats from cruisers is the types of sails that are being used. Both are designed for performance but are measured a bit differently. Racing sails are meant for speed, as regular sails are meant for cruising.

Depending on the goal of sailing, such as racing, you could look into purchasing sails that are specific to racing. Would you rather take off an extra minute or two of your time with a long upwind leg during a race or have the same durable sail for another five years out?

This opens up the door to endless possibilities of sail-making materials to get the job done. Most cruisers use Dacron or laminates that use a high-stretch fiber. With racing boats, light laminate sails have proven to be more durable and last longer than previous racing sails.

Popular Types of Racing Sailboats

Since the goal is to be around 50 MPH and have the best handling, many options have to be considered for the type of boat to possess both. Since comfort is not a deciding factor, it is somewhat easier to narrow down a racing boat over a bluewater or cruiser boat.

The types of racing sailboats that cater to you will all depend on your budget and your main goal of use. Each series of boats has its main purpose, with some having a little bit of comfort with racing.

Yachts and Super-Sized Sailboats

Yachts that specialize in racing tend to have a solid mix between speed and comfort. With a fiberglass hull and roughly 50 feet or so in length, these boats are not easily handled by just one or two people like others or there.

With that being said, they are also the most expensive out of the group. Even with exceptionally older models, you are still easily looking at $100,000.

You can expect to see racing yacht sailboats to reach about 17 MPH. Depending on the size, they can go faster or slower.

High-Performance Cruisers

Some boats can do it all when it comes to all-around performance. If you are looking for a boat that you can race for fun but still want to take it out offshore and live on, then you need to look at high-performance cruisers that can do both.

These boats generally range between 25 to 40 feet and are similar to yachts. However, they do not have as much luxury in comparison but the price tag is not nearly as heavy.

Trailerable Sailboats

Trailerable sailboats fall into similar categories like the dinghy and small racing boats. These boats can range in length up to 27 feet but are limited in their height and weight.

These serve a purpose for just about anything to do with sailing, but the racing ones are strictly for racing. Their design is meant for speed, not the comfort of heavy-duty performance offshore.

Small Racing Sailboats

Smaller racing sailboats are built to be lighter and have practically nothing on board compared to cruisers or dinghies. Due to their smaller size, they often get mistaken for larger dinghies even though they typically range between 20 and 70 feet.

These smaller racing sailboats are related to cruising sailboats but are a bit smaller. They are cousins to sailing dinghy boats that are used for racing. They also have fin keels and utilize laminate sails.

Sailing Dinghies

Dinghies are a category of small boats that have a wide variety of uses. If you are new to boating, it is a great place to start learning due to its size and simplicity.

These typically only need one or two people at most and are no longer than 15 feet in length at max. Many of these boats are competitively raced and will also result in a wet ride no matter what you do. You will see these types of boats used in certain Olympic events.

Racing Cruising Sailboats

Cruisers have a wide range in size and length, as they range between 16 and 50 feet or more. They feature cabins for extended cruising and have standing headroom below deck if over 26 feet.

Popular brands on the market have introduced models that are fit for racing. These are great for fleet races or for boats that are associated with cruising. With that being said, it is a great compromise for boaters that enjoy racing but also want to cruise whenever they want.


The cutter features a single mast and mainsail, which is very similar to common sailboats like a sloop. A cutter sailboat has the mast further aft which allows the attachment of the jib and staysail.

In high winds, a smaller staysail can still be flown from the inner stay. This used to be a traditional racing design back in the day.

Cutters are great for both offshore and coastal cruising. In addition, they can still be utilized as a racing boat depending on the conditions.

Fractional Rig Sloop

Fractional rig sloop sailboats were popular in the 60s and 70s, but have steadily made a comeback in today's market. This sloop’s forestay will not cross at the highest point of the mast, meaning it attaches at a lower position.

On fairly windy days when you do not have to utilize full power, the fractional rig allows the crew to slightly bend the tops of the mast and flatten out sails. This greatly affects performance and is a great option for cruising, one-design races, and even handicap sailing.

Schooner Sailboats

These particular sailboats have multiple sails which are protected by two masts. These are known as the mainmast and foremast, with the foremast being close to the ship’s foredeck and a lot shorter than the mainmast.

Depending on the size of the schooner, additional masts can be added to allow more sails. These are great for offshore cruising and sailing but can be an effective racing boat.

Trimarans and Catamarans

Trimarans have three of their hulls side by side and “cats” only have two. In comparison, they both share very similar characteristics for racing and overall performance.

Trimarans are quicker and easier to build than catamarans, so, therefore, they are more common. They both have similar restrictions on space and can be used for day sailing.

In addition, they are not as stable as compared to other sailboats out there. There are still various ways to use them and they make for great racing boats since they can reach up to 10 MPH.

How Can These Boats Go Faster?

Each person will select a racing boat that fits their needs accordingly. If you enjoy racing, but continue to lose against boats that are the same, you might want to consider either your team, the technique behind it all, or the boat itself. Routine maintenance is going to be the best thing you can do when checking to see if your racing sailboat can go any faster.

The hull has to be in top shape and needs to be able to hold tension. The sails also need to be checked to make sure they are not overly stretched or worn out.

The masts also need to be of the right stiffness, as they are bending with tension from the rigging. This one might have to be professionally calibrated if you do not know how to do it, especially since every boat with its mast is going to measure differently based on size and shape.

Finally, the weight of the boat could be the determining factor in winning or losing. Make sure the weight is appropriate and the maximum amount for the boat is not exceeded.

Types of Racing Sailboats
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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