From Keelboats to Catamarans: Know Your Sailboat Types

As any knowledgeable sailor will tell you, there is more than one type of sailboat. Generally speaking, boats with sails are all classified as sailboats, but there are several subcategories differentiated by hull and mast number, position of masts and sails, to name a few. From keelboats to catamarans, the various types of sailboats have important distinguishing characteristics. Once you know how to tell them apart, identifying the different types is easy. If you ever have the chance to sail, this knowledge will serve a very practical purpose.


The term keelboat refers to any boat that uses a keel rather than a centerboard. The keel is the fundamental structure of a sailboat. It is a large beam running the length of the boat around which the hull is built. Instrumental in its construction is a downward-pointing fin. This part of the keel is weighted to provide a ballast to counteract the top weight of the vessel. A keel lowers the center of gravity on a sailing boat so it does not capsize in severe weather. There are different types of keels, not all of which are fin-shaped. All yachts are keelboats with a head or a toilet, while a pure keelboat is only a recreational or racing vessel.


Used primarily during the 16th through the 18th centuries, a schooner is a sailboat of Dutch design characterized by its long, sleek design and fore and aft sails on two masts. The forward mast was typically shorter or equal in height to the rear mast. Schooners could weigh up to 100 tons and had a crew of 75 or more.


A type of sailboat that has generally fallen out of use, a yawl has two masts, the rear one of which was much smaller in comparison to the foremast. The aft or smaller mast often was positioned directly on the transom, or rear end of the boat. This type of sailboat was popular because it was able to be controlled by a single sailor.


A sailboat that uses one mast that is positioned forward of the center point on the hull is known as a sloop. A sloop has both fore and aft sails rigged to the single mast. Sloops are most efficient when sailing into the wind. Due to the light weight of its rigging and the shape of its sails, sloops are well equipped for windward courses.


A multihull vessel, a catamaran combines two narrow hulls fastened together with a cross frame. They are of ancient design, used by island peoples such as the Polynesians, but only since the recent past have they been used for racing and recreation.


Another multihulled vessel, a trimaran consists of a main hull and two outrigger hulls to either side. Like the catamaran, they are fastened together with lateral frames. Trimarans are generally considered unsinkable as one floating hull is enough to keep the whole vessel afloat.

The term sailboat refers to an aquatic vessel that uses wind power as its means of propulsion, but there are several subcategories, from the general keelboat to multihulled trimarans. Once you know the differences, you will be able to point out the different types of sailboats you see. Should you ever be a sailor, the knowledge will serve you well.