Understanding Sailboat Hull and Rig Types

Sailboats are wind-powered boats. In other words, they use the force of the wind for propulsion. Their categorizations as sailing dinghies, boats, or yachts depend on their design and use, as well as size. When compared to vehicles, sailboats have a broader spectrum. The variety is intended to suit the various purposes to which sailboats could be put. This may include social or sports activities.

Sailboats are often categorized under two distinguishing categories: hull type and rig type. More sails mean less stress on the rigging and the masts.

Sailboat Hull Types

Sailboat hull types are categorized according to the shape and functionality of the hull. Examples include monohull, catamaran, or trimaran.


Monohulls, as the name implies, have one hull. However, the hull differs depending on the type of sailboat. Monohulls may have full keels, bolted on fin keels, or a swing keel. Board-up keels allow the boat to travel on shallow water. Small monohulls, such as sailing dinghies, have shallow planning hulls that can comfortably ride a wave. Of all the three hull types, monohulls are the most traditional and the most common. Their reliance on ballast makes them faster and more stable. Examples of monohull designs are dinghy, cutter, sloop, etc. They are becoming a great choice among those who own cruising yachts.


Catamarans (or cats) are multihull boats with two hulls – this is one feature that is central to all catamarans. Catamarans are bridged by a deck or a trampoline to make it rigid. The deck in large models has a cabin in each part of the hulls for enhanced privacy. Their beams are long (usually a minimum of 35 feet) about the length of the boat, making them roomier than monohulls.

Due to their lack of deep and heavy keels, catamarans tend to sail faster off the wind. Also, their unique sizes make it difficult for them to fit into a traditional slip. Some of their advantages include their ability to handle rough seas incredibly well and enhanced stability. They are a great choice for charter operations, leisure, and sport sailing.


Trimarans have three hulls, that is, the main hull (known as Vaka) and two side hulls (also known as amas) for stability. Some trimarans have foldable arms that hold the amas, making them narrower for trailering and storage. The large models are fast, stable, and have a minimal wetted surface area. Their lengths range between 19 to 36 feet. Their advantages include increased stability, reduced wave impact, and increased deck space. Despite their greater overall beam, a keel does not weigh them down.

Sailboat Rig Types

Sailboat rig type involves the classification of sailboats according to mast configuration and sails. In other words, a sail rig determines how the sails are attached to the masts. The sail and mast hardware constitute the rig. Usually, rig types are used to refer to as types of boats. Examples include sloop, schooners, fractional rig sloop, ketch, schooner, yawl, cutter, and cat.


Also known as Marconi rig, a sloop is the most common modern sailboat. It has one mast with two sails – one mainsail and one headsail. The headsail may be referred to as a jib, genoa, or spinnaker, depending on its size. It is hoisted on the top of the mast and supported by a cable (forestay) that runs down the bow of the boat. Its simple configuration makes it suitable for upwind sailing/performance. A sloop rig is being used by most recreational sailboats.


They have multiple masts – that is, a minimum of two. Usually, the mainmast is longer than the foremost mast. It is often difficult to rig tall ships that fall within this category. Though schooners are easy to sail, they are not very fast. The mainsails of schooners are generally gaff-rigged.

Fractional Rig Sloop

Rather than reach the top of the mast, the forestay on a fractional rig sloop connects at a lower point. The mast could be easily bent to flatten the sails during the wind. This is because the full power is not usually needed. Fractional rigged sloops are becoming popular in race boats owing to their high-performance coupled with the fact that they offer greater capability to a crew.


Usually, a cutter rig has a mast with a minimum of two headsails for two forestays. The presence of multiple headsails allows for more flexible sails in variable wind strengths and conditions. The jib is situated in the headstay while the staysail is housed by the inner stay. It shares some similarities with the Bermuda rig, but one significant difference is that the former allows for two smaller headsails while the latter has one large headsail. This rig is common in small sailboats planning on long ocean journeys. Cutters have a larger sail area and are more suitable for Bluewater sailing than sloops. 


Ketches have either a sloop or a cutter. Just as the cutter rig, ketches are also configured in a way that breaks sails into smaller areas, making it easier to manage. Their aft-most mast (that is, mizzen mast) lies behind the mainmast but at the front of the rudderpost. The extra sails make it difficult to figure out the sail that connects each line.


Yawls are similar to ketches, making them difficult to identify. In contrast to ketches, yawls place the mizzenmast behind the rudderpost. Also, their mizzenmasts are smaller. They are also popular for their downwind performance, availability of various sail combinations, as well as ease of sail handling. They are suitable for a long ocean voyage. 

Note: The mizzenmast is the mast at the front of a sailboat (usually a minimum of three masts) or the mast at the back of the mainmast (usually two masts). 


A cat rig has one sail, with the mast located at the front. It could be easily handled. This rig is popular on smaller boats, also known as “catboats.” It does not afford one with more sail options.