Set Sail with Confidence: Expert Advice on Catboat Sailing

What is a Catboat?

A catboat is a sailboat with a single sail, set on a mast that is located near the bow of the boat.

The sail on a catboat is typically a gaff rig sail, which means it has a four-sided sail with a spar called a gaff, extending out from the top of the mast. This type of sail design allows for easy handling, as the sail is relatively simple to hoist, lower, and trim.

Catboats are known for their wide and stable beam, which makes them an excellent choice for cruising and day sailing in calm waters. The shallow draft of a catboat also allows them to access shallower waters that deeper draft boats cannot, making them ideal for exploring coastal areas.

Why is a catboat called a catboat?

The origin of the term catboat is unclear, but one theory suggests it may come from the Dutch word “kopje” meaning small cottage, which would be fitting for a boat used as a makeshift home away from shore.

Catboats were popular in colonial times for fishing and transport in shallow coastal waters, carrying goods and people to and from small islands and coves.

Catboat vs Catamaran

Catamarans are characterized by their twin hulls, which offer more stability and speed. They are generally larger in size and can accommodate more passengers, making them a popular choice for leisurely cruising or competitive racing.

Catboats, on the other hand, have a single hull and a relatively shallow draft, making them more maneuverable and versatile.

Catboats are known for their simplicity, with just one sail and basic rigging, and are often favored by solo sailors or those looking for a more intimate sailing experience.

Techniques for Sailing a Catboat

Sailing a catboat requires some skill and technique to maximize your speed and enjoy your sailing experience. Here are some tips to help you sail your catboat with confidence:

1. Balance the Boat

Unlike other sailboats, catboats have a single sail, which can make them more challenging to balance. To balance the boat, you need to ensure that the sail is positioned correctly and that your weight is evenly distributed.

2. Adjust the Sail

To get the best performance from your catboat, you need to adjust the sail’s position and shape.

When sailing upwind, the sail should be positioned as close to the wind as possible, while when sailing downwind, the sail should be positioned perpendicular to the boat.

3. Tack Efficiently

Tacking a catboat involves changing direction by turning the bow of the boat through the wind. To tack efficiently, you need to release the sheet (the line that controls the sail) and quickly turn the rudder to the other side.

4. Control Your Speed

Depending on the wind conditions, your catboat can quickly gain or lose speed. To maintain your speed, you need to adjust the sail’s shape and position constantly.

5. Use the Tiller Correctly

The tiller controls the direction of the boat. To sail straight, you need to position the tiller slightly to the side of the boat. To turn, you need to move the tiller in the opposite direction.

6. Reef the Sail

If the wind gets too strong, you may need to reef the sail to reduce its size and power. To reef the sail, you need to lower the halyard (the line that controls the height of the sail) and fold the sail along the reefing points.

Also Read:

Choosing the Right Boat: Single Hull vs. Twin Hull vs. Multi-Hull

Dinghies vs Keelboats: What Are The Differences?

Catalina Boat: 9 Questions Answered (For Beginners)

How much does a catboat cost?

The price of a catboat can vary depending on its size, age, and condition, as well as the location and seller. However, here are five popular catboats and their approximate costs:

Beetle Cat

This classic catboat measures 12 feet and is perfect for solo or small group sailing. It’s wooden hull and simple rigging make it easy to maintain and operate. Prices start at around $6,000.

Marshall 22

With a 22-foot fiberglass hull and room for up to six passengers, the Marshall 22 is a popular choice for day sails and weekend trips. Prices range from $25,000 to $35,000.

The Cape Dory 10

Designed for single-handed sailing, the Cape Dory 10 has a 10-foot fiberglass hull and can reach speeds of up to 6 knots. Prices start at around $5,000.

The Com-Pac Horizon Cat

Measuring 20 feet in length and featuring a shallow draft, the Com-Pac Horizon Cat is a versatile catboat that can be used for sailing in lakes, bays, and coastal waters. Prices range from $40,000 to $60,000.

The Stur-Dee Cat

This sturdy catboat features a fiberglass hull and traditional gaff rigging. With a length of 22 feet and a beam of 8 feet, it offers ample space for up to six passengers. Prices start at around $20,000.

How fast does a catboat go?

On average, a catboat can reach a top speed of around 6-8 knots (7-9 mph) in moderate winds.

However, it’s important to note that catboats are not designed for speed racing but rather for cruising and enjoying a leisurely sail.

Their wide beam and low profile make them great for relaxing on the deck and taking in the scenery. Plus, with a shallow draft, they can sail in shallow waters that other boats cannot access.

Here is a good video to show you the details of a Nathanael Herreshoff’s catboat

What are the benefits of a catboat?

1. Catboats have a unique design with a single mast and a wide beam, making them stable and easy to sail.

2. Catboats have a shallow draft, which means they can navigate in shallow waters, making them perfect for exploring coastal areas.

3. The boom on a catboat is typically very long, which allows for easy sail handling and maneuverability.

4. Catboats are known for their simplicity, making them great for beginners and experienced sailors alike.

5. They are great for family sailing adventures, with ample space on deck for lounging and enjoying the scenery.

6. Many catboats have cabins below deck, providing a cozy spot for overnight trips.

Are catboats safe?

Catboats are generally considered to be very safe boats. The low freeboard and wide beam make them stable in a variety of conditions, and their simple design means fewer systems can go wrong.

Catboats vs Sloop

Here’s a breakdown of the key differences between the two:


The most noticeable difference between catboats and sloops is in their rigging. A catboat has a single sail mounted on a single mast, while a sloop has two sails – a mainsail and a jib – mounted on two masts.


Because of their wide beam (width), catboats tend to be more stable than sloops. This makes them a popular choice for beginners or those who are prone to seasickness.


Sloops are generally more maneuverable than catboats, thanks to their smaller sails. This makes them a better choice for racing or for those who prefer a more responsive vessel.


Because of their wide beam, catboats offer more interior space than sloops. This makes them a great option for cruising or for those who prefer more living space onboard.

Catboats vs Single hull

Catboats are often compared to single-hulled boats, as they both have a single keel running the length of the vessel. However, several key differences set catboats apart.

Firstly, catboats tend to have a wider beam than single-hulled boats, which gives them more stability on the water. This can be particularly important for novice sailors or those sailing in rougher conditions.

Additionally, catboats often have a shallower draft than single-hulled boats, which means they can sail in shallower waters without risking running aground. This can be advantageous for exploring areas that may be off-limits to other types of boats.

Another key difference between catboats and single-hulled boats is the sail plan. Catboats typically have a large, single sail located towards the front of the boat, whereas single-hulled boats may have multiple sails and a more complex rigging system.