The 6 Most Common Sailboat Rigs And How To Tell Them Apart

Sailboats come in all shapes and sizes. To the uninitiated, telling one from the other can be a bit of a challenge. The main distinctions are based on mast placement. There are six main categories used by Naval architects to determine a boat’s classification:

  • sloop
  • cutter
  • cat
  • ketch
  • yawl
  • schooner

With variations in rigging and sails, dozens or even hundreds of combinations are used throughout the world.

Here are the six main categories of sailboat rigs, from most common to least, according to Jordan Yachts.

1. The Sloop is the most common sailboat.

Reliance sloop

The most common (and most popular?) design among modern sailboats is the sloop. A sloop has a mast positioned about one third of the way back from the bow of the boat.

The sloop is typically easier to sail, with a simple sail plan that works well with the wind.

2. The cutter is often mistaken for a sloop.

Valkyrie cutter

With its single mast, the cutter is easy to confuse with a sloop. The mast is slightly aft, or closer to the rear, in position. The difference can be so slight that without a plan of the boat, it is hard to determine a cutter from a sloop.

The biggest difference is in the size of the foretriangle. The distinction is often made by the presence of a “jibstay” a cable that runs from the rear of the boat to the top of the mast.

3. The Ketch has an added mast.

The Ketch has two masts, of differing height. The main mast is in approximately the same location as a Sloop’s, about a third of the way back from the prow of the boat.

The Mizzen mast, as the second mast is known, is positioned slightly aft, or behind the main. It is also shorter than the main mast. These two masts and their positions make the Ketch’s sail possibilities very flexible, allowing for sailing in a variety of conditions with relative ease.

4. The Yawl bears a close resemblance to the Ketch.

Navahoe yawl

Much like the Sloop/Cutter dilemma, it is often difficult to tell a Yawl from a Ketch. The mizzen mast is positioned slightly further aft and is typically shorter. Like the Ketch, this means a more versatile sail plan as well.

The Yawl is not typically seen in modern production yachts and is considered an out of date style. The mizzen mast uses smaller sails than on the Ketch, and its position can make it more challenging to maneuver.

5. The Schooner has a romantic charm to it.

America schooner

Schooners are typically best left to highly experienced yachtsmen. The fore positioned main mast is close to the prow, and the mizzen mast sits just behind the center of the boat in most cases.

Unlike the Ketch and Yawl, the mizzen mast is the taller of the two, which can present challenges as the sails compete for wind. An experienced sailor can get good speed from a Schooner running downwind, since it allows for some unique canvas positioning.

6. The Cat is a simple rig for small boats.

The Cat has a single mast, like the Sloop and Cutter. The mast is positioned close to the nose of the boat to allow room for the boom, if it has one. The Cat is sailed without a head sail and lacks versatility.

Cat rigs are most commonly seen on small boats, such as racing dinghies. It is a good, simple rig for beginning sailors, and some are even simple enough to be solo piloted by young children.

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