Two-Mast Sailboat Types

Two-Mast Sailboat Types

Numerous sailors have a soft spot for two-mast sailboats, and there really is something unique in two-mast sails, irrespective of whether you are a sailboat enthusiast or just an intrigued passerby.

The two masts are typically the first feature you observe on such a sailboat. The mainmast, or foremast will usually be larger than the rear mast, also known as the mizzenmast.

But aside from being elegant and impressive, a two-mast sailboat provides perfect balance, which can be best obtained by making adjustments to the masts in a variety of ways.

The mizzenmast acts as that shoulder you can rely on as it assists with the sailboat’s stability while it is moving, and it can also function as a propulsion system in certain situations.

So, let’s take a look below at various kinds of two-mast sailboats and their advantages!

What Do You Call A Sailboat With Two Masts?

Several sailboats have two masts (see also ‘Sailboat Mast: Everything You Need To Know‘), the four most popular of which we will explore in a bit. In these sailboats, the styles of their masts differ in most instances, but the basic concept stays the same.

All these sailboats come with an extra mast at the rear or the front of the foremast. If that supplemental mast is in front of the foremast, it is called a foremast; if it is behind it, it is called a mizzenmast.


Among the most popular two-mast sailing vessels is the yawl. It is equipped with a mizzenmast and a foremast. Typically, the mizzenmast will be relatively short, particularly when compared to the foremast.

This renders it an angled sailboat, seeing that the foremast is situated at the front of the boat and the mizzenmast is situated at the back. A yawl’s mizzenmast is situated toward the back of the boat steering mechanism and is primarily used to boost helm stability.


It’s very easy to mix up a yawl and a ketch, so it’s best to clear that up before proceeding. They both are two-mast sailboats, with the foremast at the front and the mizzenmast behind it.

The spot of the mast is what distinguishes a ketch from a yawl. The mizzenmast is placed behind the boat steering mechanism post in a yawl and in front of it in a ketch.

A ketch’s mizzenmast is approximately the same height as the foremast, and it is employed to hold the mainsail. Its primary purpose, though, is to propel the boat as well as sail it adequately, especially in stronger wind.

That very function contrasts with a yawl’s mizzenmast, which is only utilized to help with balancing the steering wheel and cannot propel the boat forward.

This indicates that a ketch’s mizzenmast is larger than a yawl’s mizzenmast. In summary, a ketch’s mizzenmast is a moving sail, whereas a yawl’s mizzenmast serves as a balancing one.

In downwind or wind gusts, a ketch is at a favorable position when compared to a sloop. This is due to the fact that it has more setup options than a standard sloop.

The rear mast allows the sailor to adjust in strong winds and choose the most appropriate percentage of canvas to move with.

Provided that the mizzenmast is typically in an ideal position, it may also aid in the stabilization of the sailboat under force.

Essentially, a ketch comes with numerous practical advantages that make it ideal for most scenarios on the water.

A ketch, other than cruising serenely on a beam reach, is completely controllable and can provide a wide range of possibilities in a variety of weather circumstances and situations.


A schooner can even have three masts, but the one with two typically has a fairly small mainmast and a bigger mizzenmast, which in essence becomes the mainmast.

As a result, the main feature of a schooner is that its masts are both tall and with little to no difference, with the rear mast, in some cases, being a bit taller.

A schooner is slower than a sloop, despite being simpler to navigate. That is why so many seafarers choose to sail with a sloop than with a schooner, although it’s still an impressive sight, and even more so when fully sailing.

Even though schooners with square-shaped sail is what most people often get, several other schooners available are equipped with diagonal sprit rigs.

Schooners that have spritsails are unsuitable for large sea routes as, when the sprit rig gets lowered, it becomes impossible to manage. The sprit rig, on the contrary, is perfect in coastal areas because the topsail can hold a high gust of wind.


The brig, same as all the previously mentioned sailing ships, is a two-mast sailboat, with the foremast being of a square shape.

The foremast may come in the shape of a square, part square, or triangle in design. The foremast of certain brigs has a lateen mainsail (see also ‘The Definition And History Of The Lateen (Triangular) Sail‘).

These sailboats have been heretofore employed by pirates and launched by oars. Its name originates from the Italian term “brigantine,” which roughly translates to “pirate.” Before becoming sailboats, such kinds of sailboats were employed by pirates in the 1500s.

The two most prevalent brig varieties are:

  • Brigantine – The main mast is triangular, while the front mast is partly squared.
  • Hermaphrodite brig – This brig is equipped with two slightly squared masts, with the mainmast being gaff-rigged and topsail, something that makes it a half schooner. That is why it is also referred to as the schooner brig or the half brig.

Brigs are simple to operate and navigate in terms of speed and drivability, which may be why pirates favored them, and they are usually bigger than the rest of the two-mast or single-mast sailboats.

The Benefits Of A Two-Masted Sailboat

But why might someone prefer a two-masted sailboat more than a single-masted one?

At first glance, perhaps it will look like a one-masted sloop is easier to control. However, having more masts and a wider range of sails to pick from has its benefits.

Two-Mast Sailboat Types (1)

A Two-Masted Sailboat Has Greater Sail Area Division

When a sail area is split over a larger number of sails, the area for every sail becomes smaller and easier to navigate.

This is especially useful when moving with fewer passengers on board and in strong weather conditions.

A Two-Masted Sailboat Provides More Rough Weather Choices

If a cruiser encounters higher-than-expected winds, having more sails, and thus more alternatives, can be extremely beneficial.

Most ketch-rigged boats, for instance, can rest nicely in rising winds and waves with only the mizzen being used to hold the boat’s bow facing up into the wind, a practice called “heaving to.”

This tends to mean that the staff does not have to be on deck and can remain safely hidden below since the sail works on its own.

A Two-Masted Sailboat Provides More Sail Balance

Seafarers must be knowledgeable of sail balance if they want to maneuver a boat proficiently.

This entails ensuring that the sails are drawn in such a way that the sailboat can float in a horizontal line without having to utilize the rudder excessively in order to right the route.

A Two-Masted Sailboat Allows For Engine-Free Sailing

If you want the enjoyment of cruising without relying on an engine, or if your engine won’t work, knowing that you have a mizzen sail could be extremely advantageous.

The mizzen can be employed to float smoothly and in perfect control when trying to catch or deciding to leave a mooring ball.

The same is true for anchoring while sailing. This is definitely not an uncommon case scenario; we have all had to do something similar at least once in our lives.

A Two-Masted Sailboat Provides An Anchor Riding Sail

Even as you are sailing across the globe, you will inevitably come across an anchorage that is just not perfectly easy and serene.

The smallest wave that can create some kind of shuddering can make people onboard feel nervous and become dissatisfied with their sailing experience.

A two-mast sailboat will be in an advantageous position in this situation as the mizzen can be lifted and fastened in firmly to counteract the boat’s side-to-side moving.

It may also be counterbalanced by attempting to make use of the wind to direct the boat’s bow into the waves, resulting in a way steadier sailboat and a satisfied crew.

A Two-Masted Sailboat Is Nearly Impossible To Be Completely Dismasted

A two-masted sailboat has an extra benefit: the mizzen, while too small to push the sailboat at high speeds, can most likely get you back safe in case the mainmast breaks or is torn apart in extreme situations.

The Bottom Line

There are dozens of reasons why seafarers chant paeans to these sailboats. Even in windy conditions, you can break down the mainmast and employ the mizzen mast to provide a more aligned and pleasant voyage.

There are different kinds of two-mast sailboats, thus there is no single term that can fit them all.

The only thing that can group them is their two-mast feature, so if you decide to sail in one of them, it is up to your preference to choose which one will take you on your next adventure!