Sailing Yacht Buyers Guide - Part 1

The first part of our yacht buyer’s guide looks at the different types of yacht to choose from and provides some useful tips and advice about the boat buying process

If you are thinking of buying a yacht, then you will soon discover there is a large variety to choose from, ranging from about 6 metres to over 30 metres in length, all in various states of repair and priced from virtually nothing to eye watering amounts. Having some background knowledge will help you choose the right boat to suit your needs and budget. While owning a yacht can be one of life’s most rewarding experiences, whatever size or shape, it can also be testing on occasions and leave you seriously out of pocket if unexpected repairs are needed. So, as with any major purchase, it is worth taking things step by step and to resist the urge to make an impulse buy that you could live to regret.

What are the types of sailing yacht?

yacht (jɒt ) n. 1. a vessel propelled by sail or power, used esp. for pleasure cruising, racing, etc.

The term “yacht” covers a huge range of boats in a similar way that the term “car” is used for road vehicles. In broad terms, sailing yachts (as opposed to motor yachts) can be categorised according to three main characteristics:

sailing yacht on stilts on land
  • Hull shape

  • Keel type - a keel provides stability and prevents leeway (sideways movement)

  • Rig type - configuration of masts and sails

It helps to get to grips with these basic design characteristics before you start searching for a boat, as it can become confusing with so many to choose from, even for the keenest of sailing enthusiasts. The three tables below cover some of the more common yacht characteristics you may come across in your search:


Hull Shapes


Single hull


The typical modern monohull is made of Glass Reinforced Plastic (GRP) with either a sloping or vertical bow, fin keel and single spade rudder.


Traditional vs Modern

Traditional - traditional or “classic” monohull designs have a narrow beam, long deep keel and a heavy displacement. True classics are built of wood, but there are many yachts with classic lines built of GRP (glass reinforced plastic).

Modern - modern monohull designs refer to new types of yachts designed and built over the past 50 years, using modern materials and production techniques. These are lighter than traditional designs with broader beams that allow more accommodation. They are the most common type of sailing yacht found today.



Catamaran - two hulls


Trimaran - three hulls


Multihulls allow for more accommodation, being wider than monohulls of the same length. They heel less than a monohull does, making for more comfortable sailing. They are a popular choice for family cruising where deck space and accommodation are a priority.

Bow shape

Traditional and older yachts have angled, overhanging bows, which can be straight or curved.

Modern designs often have vertical bows, developed originally for racing yachts to take maximum advantage of waterline length and improve performance.

Stern shape

Traditional yachts have a variety of flat, rounded and pointed (like a canoe) stern shapes.

Many modern designs have angled, “scooped” shapes to allow for a bathing platform at the stern.




Keel Types


illustration of a long keel on a yacht

Long, deep keels are common on traditional yachts. They form part of the hull structure as opposed to being bolted on to the hull. They provide plenty of strength and stability but are less efficient than modern designs.


Illustration of a fin keel on a yacht

A fin keel is bolted on to the underside of the hull. Fin keels vary from shallow fin to deep fin. Cruising yachts tend to have shallow, wide fin keels, sometimes with heavy bulbs at the foot to minimise the yacht’s draught. Racing yachts tend to have thin and deep keels with heavy bulbs to improve performance.


Illustration of a bilge keel on a yacht

Twin, or bilge keels enable a yacht to remain upright when dried out at low tide. They have a shallower draught than fin keels, making them suited to cruising in shallow, coastal waters. They do not perform to windward as well as a fin keel and are used for cruising as opposed to racing yachts.


Illustration of a lifting keel on a yacht

A lifting keel enables a yacht to stay afloat in very shallow water. Lifting keels work in a similar way to a sailing dinghy’s centreboard. They are an alternative solution to bilge keels, with the advantage that when lowered they perform as well as a fixed fin keel. Their design is ideal for trailer sailors.


Illustration of a canting keel on a yacht

Canting keels are used on high performance racing yachts. They have a deep fin with a bulb. They can be tilted or “canted” out sideways to counter the heeling forces. These advanced designs are used with daggerboards and foils to further improve performance. Boats with canting keels are pricey.

Trailer Sailers

Small sailing yachts up to 8 metres in length that can be towed on a trailer behind a car. Trailer Sailers tend to have basic accommodation and are well suited to weekend sailing.



Rig Types


Illustration of bermudan sloop rigging on a yacht

One mast, one mainsail, one headsail.

The Bermudan sloop has a tri-angular shaped mainsail and is the most common rig for modern yachts. Bermudan sloops can be either a masthead sloop where headsail and main both reach the top of the mast, or a fractional rig - popular with racing boats - where the headsail attaches lower down the mast.


Illustration of cutter rigging on a yacht

One mast, one mainsail, two headsails.

The additional headsail is known as a staysail, rigged between the headsail and the main. Some cutters have bowsprits which allow the headsails to be rigged further forward.


Illustration of ketch rigging on a yacht

Two masts, one main mast, one mizzen (smaller).

The mizzen is aft of the main. Some ketches have a staysail, sometimes with a bowsprit.


Illustration of yawl rigging on a yacht

Two masts, one main mast, one mizzen.

The mizzen is smaller than a ketch’s and further aft, be-hind the rudder post.


Illustration of schooner rigging on a yacht

Two masts, one main mast aft, one smaller master forward.

The main-sail of a schooner is to to-wards the rear of the yacht. Schooners are arguably the most elegant type of yacht.


Illustration of gaffer rigging on a yacht

Gaff rigs have an additional spar (the gaff) that is angled away from near the top of the main mast and supports the main-sail.

Some gaff rigs have a topsail above the mainsail.

Searching for a yacht

Once you have a better idea of the type of yacht you are looking for and have a budget in mind, then in many ways the search becomes easier. The best place to do this in the early stages is by searching online. Most online marketplaces enable you to refine your search to suit your requirements and some have advanced search features which will notify you if a boat matching your search criteria comes on the market. Here are some recommendations:

Visit the boat shows if you can, not only to look at the boats, but talk to the people working in the boating industry - designers, manufacturers, finance people, the training schools and more. Most will happily offer their advice at these shows and are used to doing so. There are many boat shows held around the UK during the year, the largest being London (every January) and Southampton (every September).

It is also advisable to talk to a few brokers in your area as they will be able to help guide you through the boat buying process. Most are happy to offer advice and can show you round boats in your price range, providing you have made appointments in advance.

Towergate Insurance have teamed up with Safe Skipper Apps to create a free to download boating app with invaluable tips and practical advice for on boat preparation, checklists, equipment, communications and emergency procedures. Check out the app at Safe Skipper.

Want to find out more about our Yacht Insurance?

More details