Small Sailboats: What Are They Called?

Small Sailboats: What Are They Called?

It doesn’t matter what the use is, there is absolutely no questioning the amazing capabilities of sailboats, no matter whether they are big or small.

If you didn’t know already, boats actually feature different types of classification depending on their size and what sort of sailing capabilities they have! 

So, the likelihood is that you’re reading this because you’re interested in what small sailboats are called, well keep reading on, as we have all the information you need to know about what small sailboats are called! 

What Are They Called? 

Typically, most sailboats that measure between eight to fifteen feet in length are classified as dinghies, although they can sometimes be a little larger than this.

Dinghies have a lot of different uses and can either be powered by a motor, make use of a removable mast and sails, or simply be steered and moved through the use of oars. 

Dinghies are mainly used as recreational sailboats, making use of a removable mast and sails in order to spend an easy and relaxing time on the ocean (see also ‘6 Differences Between Sailing On The Ocean Vs. A Lake‘). 

Dinghies aren’t just used as small craft, however, as they can often be seen on or around larger vessels as a form of a lifeboat, in order to be used should the crew from the larger vessel need to leave. 

Interestingly enough though, no matter whether a dinghy has a motor or not, they are still considered to be sailing vessels as per the National Maritime College, which means that you are also able to categorize them further depending on whether or not they’re powered by a motor or not. 

Why Are They Called Dinghies? 

Whilst it’s easy to figure out which types of sailboats are called dinghies, you may be wondering exactly where the name dinghy originated from, as it’s quite an unusual name! 

Well, the name actually has origins in both Hindi and Bengali! As well as plenty of ties to the West Indies circa the 19th century. 

In the Hindi language, the word dinghy itself actually just means small boat.

Compared to other languages from across the world, such as Sanskrit, where the name dinghy actually means wooden trough, it’s clear that a combination of a lot of these went into making the word what we know it as today! 

In the 19th century, these sorts of boats were used in order to help transport small amounts of passengers as well as cargo and goods and were most commonly used in places like India. 

Nowadays, dinghies tend to be used purely for recreational purposes, however, in some cases they do occasionally get used to help larger vessels with small amounts of passengers or cargo, just as they used to be used in India! 

What’s It Like To Sail On A Dinghy? 

Dinghies are super easy to produce, which is mainly because of their smaller size. It’s also because dinghies are actually classified as monohull sailboats!

This means that unlike multihull sailboats, which tend to feature two to three different hulls that have been joined together, they only have one. 

As such, if you find yourself on the open sea in a dinghy, you’ll notice that it is actually quite a bit different from sailing on more traditional sailing ships or at least different to sailing on something a little bit larger. 

The biggest factor to consider when sailing on a dinghy is that you have to really utilize the wind to its full potential in order to help you guide and propel the boat, so it’s not all just plain sailing! 

Dinghies often vary in design depending on their intended use, for example, some dinghies are designed for speed, whilst others are manufactured with a calmer time on the water in mind.

These more relaxed dinghies will tend to be spotted closer to the shore, however, some particularly brave sailors take it upon themselves to sail them in rougher waters too! 

Regardless of the size, dinghies are a super light type of boat, and often don’t require a particularly big crew in order to sail them, which is why they make great boats for people to learn how to sail on.

For dinghies that reach 20 feet in length, then it may take up to 5 people in order to navigate and sail, but it all depends on the level of experience! 

What’s It Like To Sail On A Dinghy? 

It is worth noting that people do often get confused between keelboats and dinghies, which is understandable as they do have quite similar silhouettes, but the main difference is that dinghies don’t have a keel underneath them.

In addition to this, there is also a lack of ballast, which is there to help add weight in order to make turning easier. 

You also shouldn’t get sailing with a mast on a dinghy confused with some watersports, such as windsurfing, as there are actually a considerable number of differences.

The main one is that watersports such as windsurfing require you to stand up as well as move back and forth in order to help catch wind for you to propel yourself forward. 

In comparison, you don’t have to stand up at all whilst sailing on a dinghy, which means that you can relax fully and take in the beauty of being on the water, as well as being able to focus on sailing too. 

Is Dinghy Sailing Easy To Learn? 

Learning how to sail a dinghy isn’t especially difficult, but it is going to require two things: One, is a whole load of patience, and the other, is that you’ll get quite wet!

This is because in comparison to other sailboats, where you don’t tend to have water on the deck, dinghies are quite the opposite, and getting splashed is super common! 

The key to learning how to sail a dinghy is all done into perfecting the angle of the sails, and understanding the best way to direct the sails in order to help the dinghy propel itself forward. Otherwise, you’ll end up going nowhere at all. 

For those who are looking to embark on their first sailing adventure in a dinghy, we recommend trying to pick a day where the water is especially calm, but with some gentle wind to ensure that you can actually sail.

Try to avoid deep or rougher waters, or you won’t have a good time at all. 

If it is your first time, it is perhaps best that you take someone along with you who is experienced in dinghy sailing and even use their dinghy at first before purchasing one for yourself.

Alternatively, you could try and locate the nearest sailing school to you in order to have them teach you all you need to know about sailing a dinghy. 

If you do choose to find a sailing school, ensure that the dinghy that they will be teaching you on is similar to the one you’ll be using once you’ve been taught, as otherwise none of the skills you learned will translate, and you’ll struggle once you’re by yourself. 

With the help of a learning school, and if you’re a particularly attentive and quick learner, you should have nailed the basics of sailing a dinghy within the space of an afternoon!

A few sessions more, and you’ll be sailing just as well as all of the professionals. 

What To Wear When Sailing A Dinghy

As we previously mentioned, sailing a dinghy is a wet affair, which means that you’ll probably want to wear something like a wetsuit, or at least something that you don’t mind getting wet. 

In addition to this, you also want to prioritize your safety as well, which means that you should be wearing a life jacket or buoyancy aid of some form, as well as a helmet if you feel so inclined to.

Finally, since you’re going to be handling a lot of wet rope, you might opt to wear sailing gloves if you find that your hands suffer after a long day of sailing! 

Why Sail A Dinghy? 

Learning how to sail a dinghy is a great experience, and is easy enough to do that it doesn’t really matter what your age is or your previous sailing experience, which is why so many people love sailing on a dinghy. 

In addition to this, sailing a dinghy is actually quite the workout! Especially if you find yourself in slightly rougher conditions, which means that you will have to work the sails quite a bit. But in calmer conditions, you’ll be able to relax much more. 

You do have to focus though, as dinghies can be flipped easily, so you need to be able to concentrate too! 


We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about everything you could possibly want to know about small sailboats, which you will now know are also known as dinghies!