Exploring the Different Types of Sailing

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Last Updated on September 29, 2023 by Brendan

When sailing you can encounter many different experiences… from excitement and adventure to relaxing and peaceful. Depending on what type of sailing you want to do, the waterway on which you are sailing, the weather, and your skill level, there are many different types of sailing to enjoy.

Whether you are interested in sailing for recreation, or a seasoned sailor seeking to challenge yourself in some way, you are sure to find a type of sailing that will fit your needs and satisfy that desire to be on the water.

From the nimble and dynamic nature of dinghy sailing to the grandeur of yacht cruising, we explore 24 distinct types of sailing, each offering a unique blend of challenges and rewards. Let’s embark on this voyage of exploration.

A Closer Look at the Various Types of Sailing

Dinghy Sailing

dinghy sailing is one of the most popular types of sailing

Dinghy sailing is a recreational or racing type of sailing that involves the sailing of a small, single-masted boat. Depending on the type of dinghy, these lightweight boats can be easy to handle and maneuver and generally hold one or two people. These boats are ideal for use in rivers, lakes, and other sheltered waters such as coastal areas.

Dinghies range in size from 6 to 20 feet in length and are perfect for beginners and seasoned sailors. Dinghy racing is competitive with races and regattas hosted at local, regional, national, and international levels. Sailing a dinghy requires knowledge of navigation as well as seamanship, teamwork, and awareness as it is both challenging and rewarding.

Many experienced sailors started out dinghy sailing when they were kids as this is a great way to learn to sail. Skippering a dinghy means that you have to learn all the important aspects of sailing, and gives you a great foundation as you move onto bigger and more complex types of sailing.

Yacht Sailing

Yacht sailing is a sport or recreational activity that involves the sailing of larger, sometimes luxurious, and often privately owned vessels called yachts. Yachts are much larger compared to dinghies and are often designed for comfort and are used for cruising, racing, or offshore voyages. Some yachts are designed primarily for racing so don’t have all the luxuries that other yachts have. Yachts typically range in length from 20ft to 100+ ft.

The average yacht may contain living quarters, a kitchen, a bathroom, an entertaining area, and other amenities. The typical design of a yacht is to provide for longer stays on the water. Because of the size and complexity of a yacht, a skipper and crew are required to sail. On longer voyages, sailors on board often require extensive experience to ensure they can sail the yacht properly as well as stay safe.

Catamaran Sailing

catamaran sailing

A catamaran is a multi-hulled boat that has two parallel hulls connected with a platform called the bridge deck. The design of a catamaran provides greater stability than a single-hulled boat. The draft is also reduced, and the potential speed one can attain increases.

There are many different types of sailing catamarans as they can be made from aluminum, fiberglass, or carbon fiber. This makes them lightweight and efficient in the water. They also come in many different sizes from small ones for recreational purposes to large ones which are intended for racing or cruising. Catamarans are ideal for sailing in shallow waters, coastal regions, and areas with coral reefs thanks to the double hull design and shallow draft.

Trimaran Sailing

Similar to a catamaran, a trimaran is a multi-hulled watercraft but instead features three different hulls. They include two smaller outside hulls and a larger center or main hull. The outer hulls are connected to the main hull with crossbeams called outriggers. This design results in a stable and efficient sailing platform.

The design of a trimaran allows it to remain upright even in rough waters and high winds which provides comfort for passengers and ease of operation for sailors. Trimarans come in different sizes ranging from small recreational models to larger, high-performance racing vessels that are built for speed and agility.

Keelboat Sailing

This type of sailing involves yachts that have a heavy, fin-like structure attached to the bottom of the hull known as the keel. Keels are often made from lead. The weight and design of the keel are intended to lower the boat’s center of gravity which helps keep it from heeling or tipping over, even in extreme weather. This is a valuable feature when keelboat sailing in open waters and helps to improve the boat’s speed, especially when sailing upwind. These boats range in size from 20 to over 100 feet in length and are normally used for racing, recreational sailing, and cruising.

A keelboat design will often include cabins and other amenities to permit overnight stays on the water. These are great vessels for both beginners and experienced sailors.



Cruising refers to a leisurely sailing journey often with a group, such as friends or family. These types of voyages usually fall under one of three different categories: exploration, relaxation, or pleasure. Sailboats best suited for cruising are typically yachts, catamarans, or trimarans. Cruising offers participants a unique form of travel and recreation that is very popular along coastal routes or rivers with picturesque scenery.


Racing refers to competitive sailing in various formats ranging from regattas and match races to offshore racing events. Racing is performed on a pre-determined course, and there are often different classes so that boats of different shapes and sizes have a chance to win their category.

Racing usually puts boats of similar classes or divisions against each other. The races vary in length and the courses are dependent on the location. Yacht racing can be held on just about any body of water such as oceans, lakes, bays, or rivers, and can involve various-sized boats ranging from small to large yachts. Dinghy racing is typically held on smaller and less-exposed bodies of water like lakes or bays.

Offshore Sailing

offshore sailing

The practice of sailing on open waters, often away from the coast and out of sight of land is known as offshore sailing. It can be both a recreational activity and a competitive event.

Because of the various conditions that may be experienced, sailors participating in this different type of sailing must have a high level of skill, experience, and preparation compared to other types of sailing. They must be experienced with navigation techniques, weather forecasting, night sailing, and seamanship to meet the many challenges of offshore sailing.

In offshore racing, events can cover hundreds and thousands of nautical miles and can last several days or weeks. These events are highly demanding both mentally and physically.

Coastal Sailing

coastal sailing

Sailing along coastlines of oceans, seas, lakes, or rivers, unusually within sight of land, is called coastal sailing. This different type of sailing provides sailors with the opportunity to explore scenic coastlines. It may include visiting islands and is a popular activity for recreational sailors as most voyages last not more than a day or weekend or just a few days.

Coastal sailing puts sailors in touch with marinas, ports, and anchorages where supplies can be acquired, and nearby communities and attractions can be visited. Coastal sailing requires a high level of skill including navigation, weather prediction, and seamanship.

Inshore Sailing

This form of sailing takes place on inland waters such as bays, lakes, and estuaries. It is popular with recreational sailors. Compared to offshore or coastal sailing, inshore sailing is best suited for beginners or sailors looking for a less physically demanding sailing experience.

Although this sailing type does not require quite the level of expertise as coastal sailing, sailors still need experience in navigation to keep clear of obstacles such as sandbars, rocks, and shallows. A good understanding of weather forecasting also helps. Inshore sailing is suitable for vessels ranging from small dinghies to large keelboats and catamarans.

Day Sailing

Sailing during daylight hours and returning to the same starting point is what is considered day sailing. Recreational sailors enjoy day sailing as it gives them the thrill of sailing without the commitment of an extended voyage or the worry of navigating at night.

Normally, day sailing involves short excursions of exploration. It is common for day sailing to include trips to nearby lakes, rivers, bays, or estuaries and provide participants with fun activities to fill a day. Some day sailing trips include a beach picnic or barbecue. This different type of sailing is perfect for sailors of all experience levels from beginners to more seasoned boaters.

Bluewater Sailing

bluewater type of sailing

Sailing in the deep, open waters of oceans and seas is known as Bluewater sailing. It usually takes place in locations that are a distance from coastal areas and can be beyond the sight of land for extended periods. These long-distance voyages can go for weeks, months, and even years where sailors will often sail between continents and may even circumnavigate the globe.

Bluewater sailing requires extremely high skill levels and experience. Sailors must be at an expert level in seamanship, weather forecasting, and navigation. Self-sufficiency is also a requirement for dealing with the demands of open sea unpredictability.

Round-The-World Sailing

round-the-world sailing

Also sometimes known as circumnavigation, round-the-world sailing is no small feat as it requires expert-level skills. This type of voyage involves navigating across multiple oceans and seas, crossing several longitudes and latitudes, and stopping in various countries and continents along the way. Sailors must be highly experienced and well-prepared to face and deal with any number of possible scenarios in the open seas ranging from weather and sea conditions to equipment failure.

This type of voyage can last months or years and is only suited to yachts that have been specially designed and constructed to withstand the rigors of this type of sailing.

Adventure Sailing

Adventure sailing goes beyond traditional leisure sailing and ventures into the daring. The main purpose of this different type of sailing is to explore remote and challenging locations. Many different elements can come into play when adventure sailing is the activity. They include exploration, expeditions, extreme conditions, wildlife encounters, sports and other activities, remote destinations, and sailing races and challenges.

Sailors participating in adventure sailing require a high level of skills and a sense of adventure for an immersive experience that will be truly unforgettable.

Match Racing

This is one-on-one competitive sailing with boats racing against each other. Match racing emphasizes sailing tactics and strategy with the winner determined by which boat is the first to cross the finish line. Sailors are expected to outwit and outmaneuver their challengers to gain a competitive edge on a racecourse that is typically set up in a confined area.

Usual racecourse sites include bays and marker-off sections of larger bodies of water. As the racing boats must be the same, match racing is, therefore, more of a test of skill, strategy, and teamwork and not dependent on different boat designs for any speed advantage.

Team Racing

This is a form of sailboat racing that involves teams racing against each other. Each team is made up of two or more boats and the winner is not determined by who crosses the finish line first. Instead, team racing relies on data collected from the performance of the entire team, and the one with the best result is declared the winner.

Team racing focuses on tactics and teamwork and scoring is dependent on the particular racing event rules so there is variation from race to race. This competitive type of sailing is common within boating clubs and national-level racing circuits. Sailors with critical thinking skills excel at team racing.

Solo Sailing

Solo sailing, or single-handed sailing, is where the operation of a sailboat or yacht is conducted by one person onboard. The sailor is responsible for all sailing activities ranging from trimming and changing sails, steering, anchoring, navigation, and emergency response.

Solo sailing is commonly used for adventure, reaching certain sailing goals, or meeting personal challenges. Solo sailors must have a high level of expertise and experience as they will need to understand weather forecasting, navigation, and boat handling. They will also need to cope with the physical and mental challenges solo sailing presents.

Disabled Sailing

Disabled sailing, also known as adaptive sailing or para-sailing, is the practice of sailing that is designed to meet the needs of individuals with physical, intellectual, or sensory disabilities. In other words, disabled sailing is intended to promote inclusivity in sailing.

This sailing type not only provides individuals with disabilities the opportunity to experience the excitement and freedom of sailing, but it also gives them a sense of empowerment, self-confidence, and social interaction. Programs that offer disabled sailing often use specially adapted boats and equipment to accommodate different disabilities.

Foiling Sailing

foiling sailing

This is a cutting-edge sailing technique that requires hydrofoils to lift the hull of the boat out of the water. Hydrofoils are attached to the hull and resemble wings or fins and they generate lift as the boat increases in speed. It is with this lift that the boat appears to be floating above the water on thin foils.

Drag and friction are greatly reduced when foiling which makes this a highly competitive sport based on the skills of the sailor in adjusting the angle of the foils to maintain speed and stability. The speeds attained by foiling far exceed those of almost any other type of racing boat which makes this an exciting sport for sailors and spectators.

Wing Foiling

wing foiling

Wing foiling is also known as wing surfing. The sport is a combination of windsurfing, kitesurfing, and foiling when participants use a hand-held, inflatable wing. The wing resembles a small kite and is used to capture the power of the wind to carry them across the surface of the water on a board with a hydrofoil attached beneath it. As the speed of travel increases, the board lifts out of the water on the foil.

The wings are made of different materials ranging from ripstop nylon to Dacron and have a bladder in them that holds air. The bladder provides buoyancy and structure. Wing foiling is a thrilling and unique method of traveling on the water.


Kiteboarding, also known as kitesurfing, is when you are riding on a board that is being pulled across the water by a kite. The activity is a combination of surfing, wakeboarding, paragliding, and windsurfing.

The kite is large and inflatable and can be controlled by the rider with control lines attached to the kite. The lift and pull the kite experiences from the wind is what propels the rider. Speed and direction can be controlled by adjusting the angle of the kite and the orientation of the board. There are also several “tricks” that can be performed. Kiteboarding is suitable in various settings including open water, lakes, surf beaches, and other sites with consistent winds.



This is a water sport that combines elements of surfing and sailing. Sailors stand on a board that is similar in design to a large surfboard which has a mast with a sail attached to it. A boom is attached to the mast and is used to adjust the sail which controls the board’s speed and direction. Windsurfing is an enjoyable water activity that is suitable for various locations including lakes, rivers, oceans, and other venues with steady and consistent wind.

Ice Sailing

ice sailing

Ice sailing is sailing that occurs on frozen bodies of water. It has other names such as ice boating and ice yachting and requires specialized boats outfitted with either blades or skates. The blades or skates are called runners and are attached with one at the front of the boat and two at the rear which permits gliding.

The ice boat, or ice yacht, requires a sail that catches the wind and sends the boat across the surface of the ice. There are various classes of ice boats ranging from small one-person vessels to larger ones that can carry multiple sailors. Ice sailing is both a recreational and competitive racing activity.

RC Sailing

rc sailing

RC (Radio-Controlled) sailing is a popular and engaging recreational activity that allows enthusiasts to experience the joys of sailing on a smaller scale. In RC sailing, small model sailboats are controlled remotely using radio signals, giving operators the ability to navigate, race, and maneuver the boats on various bodies of water, without actually having to be onboard the boat.

There are many different types of RC sailboats. Some such as the RC Laser offer one-design sailing where all the boats are the same, so the race winner is determined by how well the skipper sails the boat, rather than relying on differences in boat and sail design.


As you can see, there are many different types of sailing. They range from recreational to adventurous and competitive. Many of them are suitable for sailors of any skill level whereas others require expertise that comes from experience and knowledge.

All of the different types of sailing have their own intricacies which means that no 2 types of sailing are the same. If you are an experienced sailor, there is probably a type of sailing that you haven’t tried. And if you haven’t tried sailing and watersports interest you, then take a closer look at sailing. You may discover a new favorite pastime.

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About Brendan

Brendan has over 30 years experience sailing dinghies, yachts, and windsurfers, but has recently started Laser sailing. "I found it difficult to find all the information that I needed when I started sailing my Laser, and I am sure that others have had the same problem. So I combined all the information I could into this website to help other Laser sailors get the most out of this sport. If you have any questions or comments, let me know... I will get back to you as soon as I can."

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