A sailing yacht can vary in overall length from about 20 feet to well over 300 feet. However, most privately owned yachts fall on the range of about 20 feet to about 50 feet. Yachts above 30 m or 90 feet tend to be described as Superyachts.
Monohull yachts are typically fitted with a fixed or adjustable keel below the waterline to counterbalance the overturning force of wind on the vessel’s sails.
By contrast, Multihull yachts (a Catamaran for example) use two or more hulls separated from each other to provide a stable base that resists overturning.
The yacht that Ellen McArthur crossed the globe in for example was a trimaran. (pictured above).
Apart from the monohulls, multihulls and catamarans described above, sailing yachts are also described by the configuration of their masts.
In this regards, there are a variety of distinct types, and each has their own characteristics. Some are very common, others are rarely seen, but all have their enthusiasts. As you look through the pages of the ‘Boats for Sale’ classifieds, you’ll frequently see these terms.
A single-masted, fore-and-aft-rigged sailing boat with a short standing bowsprit or none at all and a single headsail set from the forestay.
The most common type of yacht these days it has the basic design for most modern boats. A sloop will also usually carry a spinnaker for going downwind.
A two-masted fore-and-aft-rigged sailing vessel with a mizzenmast stepped aft of a taller mainmast but forward of the rudder.
If it has two masts it is a ketch or a yawl. With a ketch the mast is in front of the rudder. Usually very elegant boats they can be a bit of a handfull to sail.
A two-masted fore-and-aft-rigged sailing vessel similar to the ketch but having a smaller jigger- or mizzenmast stepped abaft the rudder. Also called dandy.
The yawl is a fairly distinctive boat, usually having a small mast perched on the stern. Often these are seen out in gale force winds with only the storm jib and the mizzenmast rigged.
A fore-and-aft rigged sailing vessel having at least two masts, with a foremast that is usually smaller than the other masts.
The ketch and yawl both have two masts, but the smaller mast is usually at the stern. With the schooner the smaller mast is usually forward. Usually schooners are Tall Ships, or luxury yachts.
Until the 1950s almost all yachts were made of wood but nowadays fibreglass, steel and aluminium are frequently used in construction.
Modern yachts have efficient sails that allow them to sail into the wind. This capability is the result of a sail plan and hull design (typically a sloop rig) that utilizes Bernoulli’s principle to generate lift.
Unlike sailing yachts, motor yachts depend upon mechanical means for propulsion. These are more expensive to operate than sailing vessels due to fuel costs and the large engines typically used. A more economical hybrid type of vessel is a motor sailing yacht that can use either sail or motor propulsion (or both) as conditions dictate.