Top 10 Sailboat Classes

There are many types of sailboats for sale, each designed to serve specific purposes. Which will be the best pick for you? That’s a personal decision, but as you peruse the listings on Boat Trader one thing is for sure: one or more of the sailing craft in these top 10 sailboat classes will almost certainly fit your needs. When you go boat shopping, be sure to consider:

  1. Center Cockpits
  2. Cruisers
  3. Cutters
  4. Daysailers
  5. Ketches
  6. Motorsailers
  7. Multihulls
  8. Racer/Cruisers
  9. Racing Sailboats
  10. Sloops

Center Cockpit

gulfstar center cockpit sailboat
Center cockpit sailboats like this Gulfstar 44 CC can offer unusually large, private aft cabins. Photo via Florida Coast Yacht Sales

Center cockpit sailboats are exactly what they sound like: rather than having a cockpit located all the way aft, the cockpit is closer to centered in the boat. This allows the builder to design in a large aft cabin behind the cockpit, which provides far more privacy and seclusion between the staterooms than would normally be possible. Since having such a cabin aft of the cockpit requires lots of space, center cockpits are usually relatively large sailboats and it’s rare to find one of less than 35 or so feet of length.

See center cockpit sailboats for sale.

Cruisers

hanse 675 sailing
Cruisers like this Hanse 675 can go the distance. Photo via Seattle Yachts.

Cruising sailboats are built less for speed, and more for maximum livability and comfort aboard. They can span from the upper-20-foot range up to yacht territory, and commonly have everything you need for an extended stay aboard: full gallies, private staterooms and heads, and multiple interior and exterior social areas. Think of them like the RVs of the sea. Smaller models are often designed for weekending and short coastal hops, while larger ones can be lived aboard and some are even equipped to make ocean crossings.

See cruiser sailboats for sale.

Cutters

cutter rigged sailboat
The cutter rig allows for multiple headsails. Photo via The Shoreline Yacht Group.

A cutter is a sailboat carrying a particular type of sailing rig, which is often the choice of sailors making long passages. It features a single mast with multiple headsails, and is easy to balance and trim for windy conditions while still delivering good speed. Since long-distance cruisers are often out for long periods of time and are thus exposed to various weather conditions, cutters are an attractive option.

See cutter sailboats for sale.

Daysailers

j88 daysailer
Daysailers may or may not have a small cabin, but are generally intended for day use, only. Photo via North Point Yacht Sales.

Daysailers are just what the name implies: sailboats designed for day use as opposed to overnighting or cruising. Most are relatively small and the majority of the daysailers are 20-something-foot boats or even smaller, though you may see some large models up to 30-plus feet in length. Most “one design” sailboats used for short races are daysailers, as are many “trainers” used to teach sailing. As a general rule they’re relatively easy to rig and sail with a small crew, and many are trailerable with masts that are “stepped,” and can be raised and lowered for transport over land.

See daysailer sailboats for sale.

Ketches

ketch rigged sailboat
Ketch rigs feature two masts, with the taller one forward. Photo via Knot 10 Yacht Sales.

A ketch is another type of rigging and refers to a sailboat which has two masts, the forward mast being taller than the aft one. Ketch rigs are favored for being easy to handle and tracking well in a breeze. They also have an added level of security in that with two masts, if one is damaged there’s still a way to sail the boat. Long distance cruisers who operate the boat single-handed or with a very small crew may favor them since the mizzen (aft) mast is generally close to the cockpit, easy to access, and can be used along with a foresail when it’s necessary to drop the main in heavy wind conditions. Since having two masts obviously requires a lot of space, most ketch-rigged sailboats are relatively large models.

See ketch sailboats for sale.

Motorsailers

motorsailer
Motorsailers straddle the lines between sailboat and powerboat. Photo via Pop Yachts.

Boats designed to sail when the wind is strong, motor along at displacement speeds when it’s calm, and use a combination of sail and power when the breeze is in-between, are known as motorsailers. Some sailing purists find motorsailors less than ideal since they tend to be large, heavy, and rather clunky under sail. Being able to keep up a reasonable speed in a wide range of conditions, however, makes a motorsailer a great option for people who are making long passages while living aboard.

See motorsailer sailboats for sale.

Multihulls

lagoon 46 catamaran
Catamarans like this Lagoon 46 are just one of many kinds of multihull sailboats. Photo via Annapolis Yacht Sales.

Any sailboat with more than one hull is a multihull. In the world of sailboats this term covers a lot of ground, because the variety of sailboats with multiple hulls is huge. A 16-foot “beach cat” catamaran with two hulls and a trampoline for a deck is a multihull, yet so is a 60-foot sailing catamaran yacht. And there are also trimarans, which generally have a large center hull flanked by a pair of narrower hulls called “amas.” Catamarans deliver a number of big advantages, like enhanced stability, shallower draft, more privacy in the staterooms since they can be in separate hulls, and more space for the length because they carry their full beam all the way to the bow. But they have drawbacks, too, as they’re often more expensive to buy and moor due to the extra beam, they can’t sail as close to the wind as a monohull, and some suffer from “tunnel slap” when waves strike the boat between the two hulls.

See multihull sailboats for sale.

Racer/Cruisers

dehler 46 racer cruiser
Racer/cruisers like this Dehler 46 are made to sail fast, but also make a few speed sacrifices in the name of comfort. Photo via Seattle Yachts.

Many people enjoy sailing both for fun and for friendly competition, and for these sorts of sailors, racer/cruisers are an ideal pick. These boats straddle the lines between racing sailboats and cruising sailboats, and usually have minimal accommodations to keep weight down, but just enough to maintain a good level of comfort aboard during cruises. They can be any size, but since most have cabins and at least some level of cruising abilities, racer/cruisers tend to be in the 30 foot or larger range.

See racer/cruiser sailboats for sale.

Racing Sailboats

racing sailboat
Racing sailboats are built to maximize speed, period. Photo via North Point Yacht Sales.

Racing sailboats are used for, well, racing. Sailboat racing is a very popular sport and many areas hold weekly, monthly, and annual races for different classes of sailboats. They can range from small sailing dinghies manned by a single person to full-blown yachts with crews of professional sailors. In many cases racers are also one-design sailboats, in which all the boats in a race are the same make and model and may be nearly identical, in order to level the playing field. Most true racers are built as light as possible and don’t have many creature comforts, since accessories like sofas, air conditioning, and ovens all increase a boat’s weight and make it slower.

See racing sailboats for sale.

Sloops

jeanneau sloop
Sloops like this Jeanneau Sun Odyssey are among the most popular sailboats around. Photo via Club Nautique.

A sloop has a single mast with fore and aft sails, called the headsail and the mainsail. Sloop rigs have a lot of advantages for modern sailors: they’re relatively simple and easy to handle including with a limited crew, they’re good at heading upwind, sloops are usually relatively fast as compared to other rigs, and the reduced rigging is relatively inexpensive. As a result, sloops are one of the most popular sailing rigs around. Since sloops are limited to a single mast they’re generally 40 or fewer feet in length, however, larger models do exist.

See sloop sailboats for sale.

When considering these different classes of sailboats, it’s important to remember that the types and rigs can overlap with one another. You can find multihulls, for example, that are also sloops. Yet you can find other multihulls that may be ketches. At the same time, there are cruisers that also qualify as center cockpits. Then there are antique and classic sailboats to consider. Many people love them for their classic lines and historic appeal, and an antique or classic sailboat could also fit into any of the above categories.

The fact of the matter is that there are virtually countless different sizes, shapes, styles, and types of sailboats out there with many different types of sailing rigs. So, categorizing a boat is often easier said than done. In reality, each and every sailboat has its own specific traits, perks, and quirks. And that’s part of the beauty of sailing — and of knowing that somewhere out there, there’s a sailboat that’s the perfect match for you.

See the Top 10 Powerboat Classes to learn about boats the depend on engines for propulsion instead of the wind. And see Boat Types and Hulls: a Complete Guide, for the rundown on all types of boats.

Written by: Lenny Rudow

With over two decades of experience in marine journalism, Lenny Rudow has contributed to publications including YachtWorld, boats.com, Boating Magazine, Marlin Magazine, Boating World, Saltwater Sportsman, Texas Fish & Game, and many others. Lenny is a graduate of the Westlawn School of Yacht Design, and he has won numerous BWI and OWAA writing awards.

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