Having some knowledge of the different types of boats available will help you decide what type of sailing best suits you.
There are many different designs of sailing boats, from children’s dinghies, which cost only a few hundred dollars, to maxi yachts and motor cruisers worth millions. Some clubs will specialise in one type and some will offer a variety.
In general, sailing boats fall into two broad categories – Dinghies and Keelboats – but there are hundreds of different types of boat within each, which are sometimes called classes.
Types of Boats
A dinghy is a small sailing boat usually sailed by one or two people. Dinghies are transportable on trailers and sometimes are stored on racks at sailing clubs. They generally range in length from 2 to 6 metres.
A dinghy has no keel or heavy lead under the boat to counteract the force of the wind on the sails, so the crew move their weight to balance the boat and stop it from capsizing. If they capsize you can right them and keep sailing.
Learning to sail in a dinghy is a great way to start. Everything in the boat is very simple – they are easy to get ready and are light to handle.
A dinghy responds quickly to crew movements and sail adjustments, so it’s easy to see the effects of your actions and to feel the way the boat reacts. When learning to sail, people usually start in a fairly stable and simple dinghy, and as they improve might choose to progress to a higher performance boat. Starting to sail in a dinghy can be the quickest way to learn a broad range of sailing skills.
Read about our Dinghy Sailing Courses.
A keelboat has a weighted keel under the hull that helps to prevent it from capsizing.
They are larger than dinghies and are kept on moorings or at a marina. Sailed by a skipper and a crew they are more stable and drier than dinghies.
Read about our Keelboat Sailing Courses.
Sail cruisers are medium to large boats – often called yachts – and have a heavy keel underneath to make them stable for offshore sailing.
With sleeping accommodation, a kitchen (galley) and a toilet, they are designed for overnight trips or living on-board for extended periods of time. Many cruisers are used for yacht racing and have their own group named a ‘cruising division’.
They are available in many designs and configurations, with the majority being around 7 to 15 metres in length. Some have single hulls and others are multi-hulls with lots of space. Both types are suitable for family cruising.
Read about our Sail Cruising Courses.
Trailer Sailer (Trailable)
Trailer Sailers are like a keelboat in that they have a heavy weighted keel to keep them upright. But they have a retractable keel (lifting or swinging) so they can be stored or moved on a trailer. They are especially suited to sailing on inshore waters, rivers and large lakes.
Sports boats are a version of trailer sailer for people interested in more exhilarating performance
Like a keelboat they are usually crewed by three or four people and often used for racing. Others with accommodation and a toilet are more suited to cruising and overnight trips.
Powerboats come in a variety of shapes, sizes and designs, some suited to day trips and others for overnight passages.
Larger powerboats with accommodation are generally referred to as motor cruisers. The shape of the hull (lower half) suits different activities and boats are often grouped into high speed planing boats or heavier, and slower displacement boats.
Planing boats are streamlined with a high power to weight ratio and are most efficient when skimming on top of the water. Powerboats are a great way to get out on the water to cruise or go fishing and are easily stored and transported on trailers.
Read about our Powerboat Sailing Courses.
Some are set up for long range cruising over hundreds of miles, whereas others are designed for short overnight trips. Many owners of motor cruisers belong to a cruising club where they can share their experiences and cruise in company.
Read about our Motor Cruising Courses.
Catamarans have two hulls, and trimarans three, and both come in all shapes and sizes from small off the beach boats to trailable classes, and larger racing and cruising models.
Although multihulls are very stable compared with dinghies, they can still capsize if allowed to heel (lean over) too far.
Off the beach Multihulls are lightweight and fast so they feel exhilarating to sail. They need slightly different sailing techniques than dinghies, as they sail faster but turn more slowly.
A Kiteboard has a board with or without foot-straps or bindings, combined with the power of a large controllable kite to propel the rider and board across the water.
There are a number of different styles of kiteboarding, including freestyle, freeride, downwinders, speed, course racing, wakestyle, jumping and wave-riding, which is focused on kitesurfing big waves using a directional board similar to a surfboard.
Windsurfing is a water sport that combines elements of surfing and sailing. A windsurfer consists of a board usually two to three metres long and a sail attached to a rig. Windsurfing can be an exhilarating sport with options to compete in many different types of racing, or freestyle events where stunts are performed.
Read about our Windsurfing Courses.