Want A Sailboat With Two Masts? Here’s What You Need To Know

Feature Photo by Katherine McCormack When you take the plunge and realize that the sailboat life is for you, you’ll soon see that there’s a…

Sailboat with two masts sails at sunset

Feature Photo by Katherine McCormack

When you take the plunge and realize that the sailboat life is for you, you’ll soon see that there’s a huge variety in the types of boats you can choose from.

One of the biggest differences between sailboats is the design of the rig. There’s an almost endless number of ways that sailors, over the years, have arranged the sails on their boats.

This has been honed down over time to a few popular choices, which can be divided into two groups; sailboats with one mast and sailboats with two masts.

Almost all sailboats being cruised around by your average cruiser fall into one of these categories of rig.

Sailboats with single masts and sailboats with two masts docked in a bank of fog

Sailboats With One Mast:

  • Sloop
  • Cutter

Sailboats With Two Masts:

  • Ketch
  • Yawl
  • Schooner

The Bermudan sloop is the most popular choice for modern boats, but each rig has its proponents.

Joshua Slocum, the first person to sail single-handed around the world, redesigned his boat to use a yawl rig, and relied on the unique characteristics of his boat, Spray, to allow him to cross oceans before the invention of self steering gear and autopilots.

Sir Robin Knox Johnson’s boat, Suhaili, was a ketch and it took him on his famous solo non-stop voyage around the world.

So a sailboat with two masts is definitely capable, but what is best for you can depend on a lot of different factors.

Here we’ll look at the different types of rig and why you might choose a boat with two masts over a boat with one.

Keep reading to learn more about sailboats with two masts and what the advantages and disadvantages might be.

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Types Of Rig – The Terminology

Sailboat leans in the wind

Sailboat With One Mast: Bermudan Sloop

This is a single-masted vessel, typically with one headsail and a mainsail.  Although sometimes two headsails are rigged, a Bermudan sloop is not generally designed to be sailed with two headsails flying at the same time.

Sailboat With One Mast: Cutter

A cutter rig is also a single-masted vessel, but with two headsails designed to fly together when on a beam reach, or close reach. Either headsail can be flown on its own, depending on the weather conditions.

Sailboat With Two Masts: Ketch

A Ketch is a sailboat with two masts, and usually two booms. A ketch has a larger mainsail further forwards, and a smaller boomed sail, known as a mizzen, further aft.

Usually the mizzen is always used, and is typically the first sail to go up and the last sail to come down. This rig is great for rolly anchorages, as the mizzen sail holds the boat into the wind.

Sailboat With Two Masts: Yawl

A yawl is a sailboat with two masts that looks similar to a ketch at first, but if you look closely, you will realize that the mizzen mast is located aft of the rudder post.

Although it seems like a small difference, this does change how the mizzen works when sailing the boat.

Sailboat With Two (Or Three) Masts: Schooner

Schooners are a two (or three) masted boat where the aft-most mast is the same height or taller than the fore-most mast. This is a rare arrangement in cruising yachts, and is now typically reserved for bigger, crewed, yachts.

We won’t discuss schooner rigs in detail here, as it’s unlikely that anyone but an expert sailor would choose one.

Want more info on choosing the best boat? Check out this post about the differences between a Catamaran and Monohull.

Advantages Of A Sailboat With Two Masts

Sailboat with two masts docked among other boats

But why would someone choose a sailboat with two masts over a single-masted one?

At first, it may seem that having one mast, one set of rigging, and as few sails as possible would make a sloop the easiest to sail. But there are advantages to having more masts and a variety of sails to choose from.

A Sailboat With Two Masts Has Better Sail Area Division

For a given boat, of a given weight, there is a sail area that works best for it. Enough sail area so that it can move along reasonably in light winds, but not so much to risk damaging or capsizing the boat in a squall.

If that sail area is divided over more sails, then each individual sail can be smaller, and easier to manage.

This can be a great asset when sailing with fewer people on board, such as crossing an ocean as a couple.

At night, when a squall sneaks up on you, smaller sails are much easier to manage, take less force to pull down, put up or to reef. This is a big advantage, and can make a sailor’s life much easier and less stressful.

The experience of being alone at night in a powerful squall, wrestling with the huge mainsail of a sloop can be enough to deter even the most eager crew member.

Need some sailing inspiration? SF couple quits jobs to sail the world in this gorgeous catamaran!

A Sailboat With Two Masts Offers More Heavy Weather Options

If a cruiser finds themselves caught out in higher winds than they expect, then having more sails, and therefore more options, can be a big advantage.

For example, most ketch rigged-boats can sit quite comfortably through high winds and waves with just the mizzen used to keep the bow of the boat pointing up into the wind, a technique known as “heaving to.”

This means the crew doesn’t need to be on deck, and can stay safely tucked down below while the sail does all the hard work.

Sailboat with two masts and three sails
Photo by Kristel Hayes

A Sailboat With Two Masts Offers Greater Sail Balance

In order to sail a boat efficiently, sailors need to be aware of sail balance.

This means making sure that the sails are drawing in a way that allows the boat to sail in a straight line without needing to use the rudder to correct the course too much.

If a sailor put out too much sail area, either towards the front of the boat or the rear of the boat, then the rudder will have to be offset to counteract the boat wanting to turn into the wind (rounding up) or turning away from the wind (bearing way).

Sailing with the rudder offset creates drag, and can slow the boat significantly. Sailors call this “sailing with the handbrake on”.

To bring the boat into balance, and sail efficiently, having more sails, and therefore more options, is an advantage.

For example, putting a reef in the mizzen (reducing the sail area) or easing the mizzen sheet (letting air escape from the sail) can be all that is needed to bring the boat into balance, reduce the rudder’s angle, and increase speed.

A Sailboat With Two Masts Offers Engineless Sailing

If you look forward to the satisfaction of sailing without using an engine, or if you get caught in a situation where your engine won’t start, then having a mizzen sail can be a great advantage.

For picking up or leaving a mooring ball, the mizzen can be used to sail slowly and in complete control.

The same can be said for anchoring under sail. This is not a rare situation – we have met many sailors who have needed to do this before.

View down he inside of a sailboat

A Sailboat With Two Masts Offers An Anchor Riding Sail

While cruising around any part of the world, you’ll inevitably find yourself in an anchorage that isn’t completely flat calm.

The slightest swell rolling into the anchorage can get boats rolling back and forth, making life onboard uncomfortable and not much fun.

Here, a sailboat with two masts like the ketch or yawl will have an advantage.

The mizzen can be raised, sheeted in tight, and act to resist the sideways rolling of the boat.

It can also be offset, to try to use the wind to point the bow or stern of the boat into the swell, making for a much more stable boat and a happier crew.

Get more sailing inspiration: Family gives up house, jobs to go bluewater sailing with kids.

A Sailboat With Two Masts Is Unlikely To Be Totally Dismasted

If for some reason the mast of a sloop or cutter breaks, and the boat loses its rig, the captain’s only options are to use the engine (if within motoring range of a port), to try to rebuild an improvised rig using the spinnaker pole or what’s left of the rig, or to call for rescue.

On a boat with two masts, there is an obvious advantage – the mizzen, though too small to drive the boat at maximum speed, can probably get you home.

It can also stabilize the boat if the main mast is lost, allowing the crew to deal with any injuries or to try to improvise additional rigging to keep moving.

Want to learn more about the best size boat for ocean crossing? Check out this post!

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Disavantages Of A Sailboat With Two Masts

Blue sailboat with two masts on the water, surrounded by fog
Photo by Alex Perez

A Sailboat With Two Masts Has More Lines To Control

With more sails come more lines to control them.

This can make a big difference to your living space, especially if you like to control your sails from the cockpit of your boat, as most cruising sailors do.

It means that you will probably spend more time coiling and sorting lines than a sloop sailor, and it also means that you have more rigging to replace when it gets worn and old.

A Sailboat With Two Masts Is Less Weatherly Than A Sloop

The sloop rig is generally considered the most efficient to windward, meaning that a sloop-rigged boat can sail upwind with fewer tacks and covering less distance than the equivalent ketch or yawl.

This can be an advantage if you do a lot of upwind sailing, though for typical trade wind sailing, where you spend most of your time sailing downwind, a ketch or yawl is at no disadvantage.

A Sailboat With Two Masts Can Be Slower

For a given hull design, a well-sailed sloop rig is generally quicker than a ketch or yawl rig.

Bigger sails and less rigging to interrupt air flow mean that if speed is the main requirement of your rig, then a sloop will almost always win.

However, for a cruising couple, who get comfortable with the smaller sails of a boat with two masts, it might be that they are more confident pushing their ketch or yawl, and actually sail it faster than they would sail a sloop.

Sailboat with two masts sails at sunset
Photo by Katherine McCormack

The Mizzen On A Sailboat With Two Masts Takes Up Space

A mizzen sail’s mast and boom can be an obstruction.

Often the mizzen mast is stepped in the cockpit, making an obstruction when moving around the boat at sea.

The boom of the mizzen often overhangs the transom of the boat. This can make it difficult to mount a windvane self steering gear, such as a Hydrovane or Monitor wind vane, on the back of the boat.

It can also be less comfortable to live on a two-masted sailboat, especially if it’s a smaller sailboat.

The mizzen means the boat designer often creates a small cabin at the back on the boat.

Check out this post and learn how to make money while sailing full time!

Five Ocean-Going Sailboats With Two Masts

Some of the most reputable boat builders in the world favor ketch and yawl rigs.

Some popular sailboats with two masts used nowadays include the Nicholson 38, the Bayfield 40, the Amel Super Maramu, the Hinckley Bermuda 40, and the Bowman 46.

Let’s look at each model.

Nicholson 38

Type: ketch
Years built: 1966-1975
LOA: 37.8ft

The Nicholson 38 is a British designed ketch that has proven very popular and seaworthy. You can spot a Nic’ 38 anywhere in the world, including French Polynesia.

Being an older boat, it’s cheaper to buy, but will probably require quite a bit of work. Some common problems include the portholes needing re-bedding, the stern tube bearing needing replacing and rudder corrosion.

Bayfield 40

Bayfield 40 sailboat with two masts
Photo Courtesy: Bayfield 40 by SV Dakota on Instagram

Type: ketch
Years built: 1984-1988
LOA: 45ft

The Bayfield 40 is a Canadian sailboat design by Ted Gozzard. It features plenty of beautiful teak trim on the outside and an old school feel.

This beautiful classic is a little older, so will likely need a little work, especially if she hasn’t been refitted since new. She is super solid and well-built, though.

Amel Super Maramu 2000

Type: ketch
Years built: 1989-1998
LOA: 53ft

This is the French design made famous by the popular sailing YouTube channel SV Delos. The Amel Super Maramu 2000 has been voted Best Boat of the Year by Cruising World in 2000.

This sailboat with two masts costs quite a lot more than the previous two and many systems, such as a the reefing, are electric, so you are looking at upping your maintenance budget by a lot.

Hinckley Bermuda 40

The Hinckley Bermuda 40 is a beautiful sailboat with two masts
Photo courtesy Hinckley Yachts

Type: yawl
Years built: 1959-1991
LOA: 40.75ft

The Hinkley Bermuda 40 is a very successful American design. It was William Tripp’s first fiberglass design. It’s a racer-cruiser, so a great compromise for those who like to go fast, but need some comfort when they stop.

Given the span of construction of this beauty, the condition of the boat might vary a lot.

Choose based on your budget but be aware of the maintenance costs of an older boat. If you’d rather buy something more modern, go for a Bermuda 50.

Bowman 46 Corsair

Type: yawl
Years built: 1972 till today
LOA: 46ft

The Bowman 46, also known by some as the Bowman Corsair, is a British yawl design still in production today. The pedigree of this boat design is fantastic and even the older interiors are fabulous.

As with the Bermuda 40, prices vary a lot for this boat, based on the year she was built. If you love the design and don’t mind an older build, she can be purchased for cheap.

How much does a sailboat cost? Find out in this post!


Sailboats with two masts offer many advantages to sailors, and should be considered closely.

This is especially true for cruising couples looking to take a boat offshore, where they need to be self sufficient, able to deal with emergencies, and most importantly able to confidently enjoy the sailing in comfort.

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