What Is A Boat With 2 Masts Called?

What Is A Boat With 2 Masts Called? | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

June 15, 2022

Two-mast sailboats hold special places in many sailors’ hearts. In addition to being dignified and majestic, a two-mast sailboat offers a perfect balance that can be easily achieved by adjusting the masts in many different ways. Let’s look at the different types of two-mast sailboats.

Whether you’re a sailboat fanatic or an interested observer, there’s something special about two-mast sailboats. In most cases, the first thing you’ll notice about a sailboat is the two masts. Generally, the mainmast is often taller than the aft-mast, which is often referred to as the mizzenmast. The mizzenmast is like a trusted old friend. It not only helps in stabilizing the sailboat under power but can also act as a bow thruster in certain scenarios. There are many reasons why sailors sing a lot of praises as far as two-mast sailboats are concerned. In heavier winds, you can break down the main mast and use the mizzen mast to give you a more balanced and comfortable sail even in the worst of conditions. But what is a boat with 2 masts called?

There are several sailboats with two masts. The most common ones include yawl, ketch, schooner, and brig. In most cases, the designs of the masts do vary but the main idea remains the same. They can have the extra mast either behind or in front of the mainmast. If the additional mast is in front of the mainmast, it’s known as a foremast but if the additional mast is behind (aft of) the mainmast, it’s known as a mizzenmast.

Let’s take a brief look at these two-mast sailboats.


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A yawl is one of the most common types of two-mast sailboats. It has two masts: a mizzenmast and the mainmast. The mizzenmast is usually much shorter than the mainmast. This makes it an oblique type of a sailboat in the sense that the mainmast is located in the front of the boat while the mizzenmast is located in the rear past or the boat.

The mizzenmast of a yawl is mainly used to increase the helm balance and is located aft of or behind the rudder.


It’s always easy to confuse a yawl with a ketch so it would only make sense to clear up before going any further. They both have two masts with the mainmast at the front while the mizzenmast is smaller. The difference between a ketch and a yawl comes down to the location of the mast. In a yawl, the mizzenmast is behind the rudder post while in a ketch, the mizzenmast if in front of the rudder post.

Again, the mizzenmast of a ketch is nearly as tall as the mainmast and is used to carry a mainsail. Its main function, however, is to drive the sailboat forward and can sufficiently sail the boat, especially in heavier winds. This is very different from the mizzenmast of a yawl, which is only used to increase the helm balance and cannot drive the boat forward. This means that the mizzenmast of a ketch is bigger than the mizzenmast of a yawl. In short, the mizzenmast on a ketch is technically a driving sail while the mizzenmast on a yawl is more of a balancing sail.

A ketch generally has an advantage over a sloop in downwind or in heavy winds. This is because it has a variety of setups than a typical sloop. The mizzenmast gives you a lot of options to depower in heavy winds and find the most perfect amount of canvas to fly. It can also help in stabilizing the sailboat under the power given that the mizzenmast is naturally in an excellent position.

In essence, a ketch has many practical benefits that can be ideal in most situations in the waters. In addition to sailing peacefully on a beam-reach, a ketch is easily manageable and can give you a lot of options in various weather conditions and situations.


When it comes to a two-mast schooner (a schooner can have two or more masts), the foremast is usually smaller than the aft most mast, which is essentially the mainmast. As such, the main characteristic of a schooner is that the masts are almost of the same height but the foremost mast is slightly smaller.

Even though a schooner is easier to sail than say a sloop (one-mast sailboat), it isn’t very fast. This is why most sailors prefer a sloop to a schooner but it’s a sight to behold, especially when under full sail. While a schooner with a square topsail is the most common, there are others with sprit rigs that run diagonally. Schooners with spritsails are not ideal in big seaways because the sprit rig cannot be lowered since it could become unmanageable. On the other hand, the sprit rig is ideal in coastal waters given that the topsail can catch a high up breeze. 


Like the above-mentioned two-mast sailboats, the brig has two masts with the foremost mast squared. The mainmast can be squared, partially squared or triangular. Some brig sailboats have a lateen mainsail on the mainmast. Historically, brigs were used by pirates and were set in motion using oars. Its name is derived from the Italian word “brigantine,” which loosely translates to “pirate.” These types of sailboats were used by pirates the Mediterranean in the 16th century before they became sailboats.

The two most common types of brigs are:

Brigantine – The foremost mast is usually partially squared but the mainmast is triangular.

Hermaphrodite brig – It’s also known as the schooner brig or the half brig. The two masts are partially squared but the mainmast is gaff-rigged and topsail, which technically makes it half schooner.

When it comes to speed and maneuverability, brigs are easy to handle and maneuver and perhaps that’s why they were preferred by pirates. Again, brigs are generally larger than other two-mast sailboats or single-mast sailboats.

There you have it; there are various types of two-mast sailboats, so there’s not a single name that fits all. You can choose any of them as they’ll serve you perfectly, especially in heavy wind conditions.

Bon Voyage!

What Is A Boat With 2 Masts Called?
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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