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How to Tell the Difference Between Ketch and Yawl Sailboats

Photo of a ketch type sailboat.

Photo of a ketch type sailboat.

Photo of a yawl type sailboat.

Photo of a yawl type sailboat.

How Can You Tell A Ketch Type Sailboat From A Yawl?

I love sailboats of all kinds. To me they are some of man's most perfect inventions and things of great beauty. Some of my favorite kinds of sailboats are ketches and yawls. How can you tell the difference between a ketch and a yawl? This question has plagued those new to sailing for decades, but one simple rule of thumb can help solve this dilemma. In a moment I'll explain what the one simple rule is that distinguishes ketch type sailboats from yawls. First let's take a look at what makes ketches and yawls so similar.

Ketches and yawls both have a mizzen mast. A mizzen mast is typically shorter and located aft or behind the sailboat's main mast. Both ketches and yawls are known as "divided rigs". This refers to dividing the mainsail area between two separate masts. This can allow for more driving power and less strain on any one mast and can result in greater efficiency in low winds.

The Easiest Way To Tell The Difference Between A Ketch And A Yawl

The sailboat in the first photo above is a ketch. Why is that? Because the mizzen mast is located in front of the rudder post. The rudder post on a sailboat is the point where the rudder swings from side to side. It's also where the front part of the rudder attaches to the underside of a sailboat. In the first photo above you can faintly see the captain of the boat standing at the wheel, behind the mizzen mast and just in front of the boat's wheel, which located near the rudder post. On boats that are steered with a tiller, it is easy to tell where the rudder post is located, since it is usually directly below the end of the tiller handle.

The sailboat in the second photo above is a yawl. Notice how the mizzen mast is located behind where the boat is steered and aft of the cockpit. If you notice a sailboat that has the mizzen mast located far aft, behind the cockpit, chances are it is most likely a yawl.

It might help you to remember the difference between a ketch and a yawl by making up some kind of silly rhyme involving some bad grammar, such as " Hey, y'all behind the rudder post, ketch up to us at the front", or something similar.

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About the author: I was fortunate enough to spend several years living aboard a 32' sloop (among a couple of other sailboats), in the Caribbean. For my article about living aboard, see How To Live On A Sailboat

One of the best references that you can read to learn more about the many kinds of sailboats, as well as seamanship in general, is a book called Chapman Piloting. This series of books was first started by Charles Chapman, naval architect, avid sailor and editor of Motor Boating magazine for over 56 years. Chapman Piloting is one of the reference sources for this Hub.

© 2011 Nolen Hart


Nolen Hart (author) from Southwest on May 03, 2011:

I'm sure the bow and rest of the vessel do have a bearing on whether it can fall into the category of a yawl, ketch, clipper, etc. Clipper ships are usually distinguished from yawls and ketches by having large multiple masts, multiple sails and a narrow hull.

zampano on May 03, 2011:

Hi ! I was enchanted to read this article.

But the bow's type doesn't make any difference ?

be it clipper or spoon they can both go indifferently on a yawl or a ketch ?

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