AskDefine | Define sailboats

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Plural of sailboat

Extensive Definition

A sailboat or sailing boat is a boat propelled partly or entirely by sails. The term covers a variety of boats, larger than small vessels such as sailboards and smaller than sailing ships, but distinctions in size are not strictly defined and what constitutes a sailing ship, sailboat, or a smaller vessel (such as a sailboard) varies by region and culture.
Apart from size, sailboats may be distinguished by hull configuration (monohull, catamaran, trimaran), keel type (full, fin, wing, centerboard etc.), purpose (sport, racing, cruising), number and configuration of masts, and sail plan. Although sailboat terminology has varied across history, many terms now have specific meanings in the context of modern yachting.


Today, the most common sailboat is the sloop which features one mast and two sails, a normal mainsail and a foresail. This simple configuration is very efficient for sailing towards the wind. The mainsail is attached to the mast and the boom, which is a spar capable of swinging across the boat, depending on the direction of the wind. Depending on the size and design of the foresail it can be called a jib, genoa, or spinnaker; it is possible but not common for a sloop to carry two foresails from the one forestay at one time (wing on wing). The forestay is a line or cable running from near the top of the mast to a point near the bow. In Bermuda, where a rig design influenced by the Lateen rig appeared on boats and came to be known as the Bermuda rig, a large spinnaker was carried on a spinnaker boom when running down-wind. An example of a typical sloop can be seen on the Islander 36.

Fractional Rig Sloop

On a fractional rig sloop the forestay does not run to the top of the mast, rather it connects at some point below. This allows the top of the mast to be raked aft by increasing the tension of the backstay, while arching the middle of the mast forward. Without great explanation, this gives a performance advantage in some conditions by flattening the sails. The big mainsail provides most of the drive, and the small headsail is easier for a short-handed crew to manage.


The cutter is similar to a sloop with a single mast and mainsail, but generally carries the mast further aft to allow for the use of two headsails attached to two forestays, the head stay and the inner stay, which carry the jib and staysail respectively. This is rarely considered a racing configuration; however, it gives versatility to cruising boats, especially in high wind conditions, when a small jib can be flown from the inner stay.
Importantly, the traditional and most accurate definition of a true cutter, however, is not in the number of headsails, but rather that the outermost sails are set on stays that are not strictly structural to the rig itself. This in itself is a function of a much more complicated design set, involving mast placement, mast height, rig, boom length and fore-triangle size.


A schooner can have two or more masts, the aftermost mast taller or equal to the height of the forward mast(s), distinguishing this design from a ketch or a yawl. Top sail schooners are rigged to carry a square sail near the top of their foremast, but generally modern schooners are gaff or marconi rigged.


Traditional sailboats are monohulls, but multi-hull catamarans and trimarans are gaining popularity. Monohull boats generally rely on ballast for stability, and generally are known as displacement hulls. This stabilizing ballast can be on the order of multiple tons of lead, for a 12m (39 Ft.) boat. However, it creates two problems; one, that this gives the monohull a tremendous inertia, making it less maneuverable and reducing its acceleration. Secondly, if the boat ever fills with water, it will sink immediately, without question. Multihulls rely on the geometry and the broad stance of the multiple hulls, for their stability, eschewing any form of ballast. Indeed, multihulls are designed to be as light-weight as possible, yet maintain structural integrity. They are also built with foam-filled flotation chambers and most modern commercial trimarans are rated as unsinkable, meaning that, should every crew compartment be completely filled with water, the hull itself has sufficient buoyancy to remain afloat. This can only occur in the absence of ballast.
This absence, of ballast, also results in some very real performance gains, in terms of acceleration, top speed, and maneuverability.
  • The lack of ballast makes it much easier to get a multihull on plane, reducing its wetted surface area and thus its drag.
  • Compared to a monohull, acceleration to top speed is near-instantaneous.
  • Reduced overall weight means a reduced draft, with a much reduced underwater profile. This, in turn, results directly in reduced wetted surface area and drag, yielding higher top speeds.
  • Without a ballast keel multihulls can go, in shallow waters, where monohulls can't.
All these hull types may also be manufactured as, or outfitted with hydrofoils.


All vessels have keels, it is the backbone of the hull. In traditional construction it is the structure upon which all else depends. Modern monocoque designs include a virtual keel. Even multihulls have keels. On a sailboat the word Keel is also used to refer to the area that is added to the hull to improve its lateral plane. The lateral plane is what prevents leeway and allows sailing towards the wind. This can be an external piece or a part of the hull.
Most monohulls larger than a dinghy require ballast, depending on the design ballast will be 20 to 50 percent of the displacement. The ballast is often integrated into their keels as large masses of lead or cast iron. This secures the ballast and gets it as low as possible to improve it's effectivness. External keels are cast in the shape of the keel. A monohull's keel is made effective by a combination of weight, depth and length.
Most modern monohull boats have fin keels, which are heavy and deep, but short in relation to the hull length. More traditional yachts carried a full keel which is generally half or more of the length of the boat. A recent feature is a winged keel, which is short and shallow, but carries a lot of weight in two "wings" which run sideways from the main part of the keel. Even more recent is the concept of canting keels, designed to move the weight at the bottom of a sailboat to the upwind side, allowing the boat to carry more sails.
Multihulls, on the other hand, have minimal need for such ballast, as they depend on the geometry of their design, the wide base of their multiple hulls, for their stability. Designers of performance multihulls, such as the Open 60's, go to great lengths to reduce overall boat weight as much as possible. This leads some to comment that designing a multihull is more similar to designing an aircraft.


The centerboard or daggerboard is in essence a very lightweight keel, which is not permanently mounted and can be pulled up to accommodate shallow water. Some sports boats are designed to plane on top of the water since they feature centerboards or light keels.


References and Bibliography

sailboats in Bosnian: Kuter
sailboats in Danish: Kutter
sailboats in German: Kutter (Schiff)
sailboats in Modern Greek (1453-): Κότερο
sailboats in Persian: قایق بادبانی
sailboats in French: Cotre
sailboats in Icelandic: Kútter
sailboats in Hungarian: Kutter
sailboats in Dutch: Kotter
sailboats in Japanese: 帆船
sailboats in Norwegian: Kutter
sailboats in Polish: Kuter (jacht)
sailboats in Russian: Катер
sailboats in Serbian: Кутер
sailboats in Serbo-Croatian: Kuter
sailboats in Swedish: Kutter
sailboats in Ukrainian: Катер
sailboats in Korean: 범선
sailboats in German: Segelboot
sailboats in Spanish: Embarcación a vela
sailboats in French: voilier
sailboats in Scottish Gaelic: Bàta-siùil
sailboats in Italian: Barca a vela
sailboats in Hebrew: מפרשית
sailboats in Swedish: Segelbåt
sailboats in Chinese: 帆船
sailboats in Norwegian: Seilbåt
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