Types of Small Sail Boats


Small sailboats are sailboats that are less than 25 feet long and have a mainsail, or a mainsail along with a jib or front sail. Small boats are great for learning the basics, with their smaller sails and fewer lines, and they respond well in light winds; skills learned on these smaller vessels can apply to any size boat. Although a sailing novice should use a small sailboat that has one sail because it is easier to focus on the fundamentals, the more-advanced sailor may use the smaller sailboat for racing by adding more sails and different rigging.

Before Buying or Using

  • Consider the person who will be manning the craft. Some small sailboats, such as small dinghies, are cramped for space and require a smaller, lighter person who is agile enough to react to quick changes of the wind and waves. The experience of the person determines the type of craft, also. For example, catamarans, with their tall masts and large sails, require skilled helmsmen when sailing in wind.

Common Types of Small Sailboats

  • Dinghies are light, portable and can be sailed, motored or rowed. Most of them can be put on top of cars or, for dinghies carrying three adults, in trailers towed behind a vehicle. They are built for small, lightweight people, such as children, and agile adults.

    Board boats carry one person, who sits on the top to one side of the hull. These are great for learners because they respond quickly and are easy to upright, and the sailor just lifts the daggerboard to beach them. No passive riders here!

    For the less hardy, a daysailer carries one or more passengers and gear. It features high sides, interior seats, a deep cockpit and high booms. The hull is heavier than the one on a board boat or a dinghy, and is not likely to capsize. When it does turn over, it has a tendency to turtle (turn completely upside down) and becomes hard to right.

    Fastest of the small sailboats, catamarans have large sails and tall masts for wind power. Their twin hulls provide great initial stability but on windy days, catamarans rely on the sailor’s knowledge and experience. Trampolines connect the two hulls, providing plenty of room for riders to sit. Some catamarans feature wings where the people sit on raised seats out over the water; while other have a trapeze that suspends a rider from a wire with his feet on the windward hull.

Parts of a Small Sailboat

  • All small sailboats have some basic parts which any skipper should know. The mainsail is the largest sail, or in some cases, the only sail on the boat. The boom is a wooden or metal beam or spar that is attached at the base of the mainsail for stabilization. If the boat has a small sail in front the mainsail, that sail is called the jib. The hull is the boat body; the painter is the rope attached to the front of the sailboat for towing or fastening the boat to the dock or a mooring. Some small sailboats have a fixed keel that extends out from the bottom of the boat.

Small Sailboat Safety

  • Let someone know where you will be sailing. That way, if you do not return in a reasonable time, someone will know where to start looking for you. If the sailor is a neophyte, have a “chase boat,” preferably a boat with a motor, on standby to respond quickly if rescue is necessary. Even though all boat occupants should know how to swim, everybody on board must wear a PFD (personal flotation device) with a whistle attached. Every sailboat should have a couple of bail buckets tied to the craft on a few feet of line, oars or paddles on board and a small folding anchor. Beginners should not only sail with another person if at all possible, but take sailing lessons from an experienced sailor or beginning sailing courses from sailing professionals.


  • Photo Credit small sailboat docked and moored image by Jorge Moro from Fotolia.com
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  • “Start Sailing Right”; Derrick Fries; 2002

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