Common types of yachts

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a twin-masted schooner and a gaff-rigged sloop? Equinox Sailing has put together a guide to the different types of yachts and some of their characteristics.

There are three main types, based on the number of hulls the yacht has, a monohull which has one, a catamaran which has two and a trimaran which has three hulls.

Monohull’s were amongst the earliest yacht’s, but are unstable unless ballast is added to the hull as low as possible. This is achieved on most sailing boats by a heavy keel. The greater the percentage of the overall weight of the boat the keel represents the more stable the boat will become.  Monohull yachts are by far the most common style of hull. They are available in a wide range of sizes from small day sailors with a basic cabin to large luxury yachts.

Catamaran’s, with their two hulls, achieve stability from the width of the boat. Being able to achieve the stability without a keel allows for the same size of craft to be lighter and to have a shallower draft than a monohull. Catamaran’s are able to achieve much faster speed when sailing compared to monohulls, as demonstrated by the America’s Cup. A downside to a cruising catamaran is they tend to be bigger than a lot of monohulls, this brings additional costs for mooring and boat yard fees due to the increase in size.

Trimaran’s with their three hulls can offer the interior space of a similar sized monohull, so are available in smaller sizes compared to catamarans while maintaining the increased stability and speed of the catamaran, compared to a monohull.  However like a catamaran, the extra width can increase mooring fees due to the increased size. There are a few clever designs that enable the hulls of a trimaran to be retracted, allowing them to be a similar width to a monohull when in a marina.

Type of keel
As noted above, all monohull yachts require some sort of keel to increase their stability.  The type of keel a boat has will make it appealing to different types of sailors.

A fin keel is the most common keel type and comes in different shapes and sizes depending on the age of the boat and its intended purpose. Older traditional sailing boats have a long keel that runs the length of the boat, while modern racing boats have a deeper fin with a bulb placing the ballast as low as possible. The keel acts to keep the boats stable and decreases leeway (when a boat slips sideways through the water due to the wind).

Fin Keel-150x150

Bilge keels are very popular in areas where there are very shallow harbours and the tide would leave the boats resting on the seabed. Instead of having one large keel they have 2 shorter keels, allowing them to rest on the seabed without tipping over. This makes them great for exploring shallow areas.  However the shorter keels decrease stability and increase leeway.



Instead of having a keel, some yachts have a centreboard or daggerboard, which is lowered while sailing to reduce leeway. These yachts usually have heavy weights or water ballast tanks on the hull and a weighted centreboard to increasing the stability of the boat. The main advantage to a centreboard is the ability to decrease your draft should you need wish to explore a shallow harbour, while decreasing leeway. The downside is you lose interior space as the keel has to be stored inside the hull.  Also known as trailer sailors, they are often a first boat for families and can be launched and recovered from a slipway.


There are many different types of sail and mast configuration offering sailors the option of less sails to handle, making shorthanded sailing easier or more sails, offering greater flexibility over which sail plan to use, resulting in a greater number to manage. A ‘bermuda rigged’ boat has triangular sails, while a ‘gaff-rigged’ boat has a four cornered sail and an optional smaller triangular top sail.  Over time the Bermuda rig has become more popular as it requires less sails to achieve a full sail plan.  However a gaff-rigged boat offers greater flexibility for sail choice allowing the right combination of sails to be used for the correct wind conditions.

sloop gaff rig

The number of masts and the mast configuration also dictates the type of rigging a boat has, below are a few of the most common types.

A sloop is the most common configuration, one mast and two sails, but even a sloop has variations. There are two types of sloops, a ‘mast head’ where the jib and the main sail are the same height and a ‘fractional rig’ when the jib is shorter than the mainsail. Most racing boats will have a fractional rig as they offer the ability to bend the mast for different wind strengths. A masthead is stronger and more common on cruising boats.

Sloop-Fractional-Rig-150x150 Sloop-150x150

A ketch is a boat that has two masts, the forward mast is always the larger of the two. The additional sail is called the ‘mizzen’ and is located forward of the rudder.  Although there is an extra sail to be adjusted, the sails can be smaller so easier to handle and offer a greater flexibility of sail choice in stronger winds.


A ‘schooner’ also has at least two masts with the larger mast being at the rear of the boat, but before a mizzen if there is one.


A ‘yawl’ is another twin-mast boat, this time the much smaller aft mizzen mast is located behind the rudder. The main reason for the smaller mizzen was to be used to maintain a neutral helm allowing the helm to be tied off and the boat sailed a straight course, very popular with long distance sailors before self-steering and autopilots were available.


A ‘cutter rig’ is a boat with twin headsails, they can be used together in lighter winds or separately depending on the wind conditions. The forward jib is normally larger than the aft staysail, making it difficult to tack or gybe the boat.  Sometimes it needs to be furled away each time the boat tacks or gybes and unfurled on the opposite side.  A cutter rig is popular amongst long distance cruisers as it gives then the additional flexibility of sail choice.  A cutter can be combined with a sloop, ketch, yawl or schooner and be either bermuda or gaff-rigged.


Boats have changed a lot over the years depending on the needs of people and as technology has advanced.  Now sailing is a recreational sport enjoyed by millions around the world on a variety of types of boats.

If you are new to sailing and would like to give it a try, Equinox Sailing run sailing taster days throughout the year. The aim of the taster days is to provide the opportunity for beginner sailors to experience sailing. For more information and our 2018 dates please contact us on 020 7002 7676 or email [email protected]

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