Sailboat Buying Guide 2023

A sailboat is for boating enthusiasts interested in navigating their boat as they trim sails and glide across the water.

A sailboat refers to sailing vessels 78 feet and below (unlike sailing yachts that are 79ft and above). Sailboats are for boating enthusiasts who enjoy playing a bit more of an active role in navigating their boat as they trim sails and glide across the water. If you’re curious about sailboats, read on for more information.

Featured Image Credit: 1915 78′ HERRESHOFF Yacht for Sale 1915 78′ HERRESHOFF Classic Yacht

What is a sailboat?

A sailboat is a vessel that is propelled either completely or partially by sails. Sailboats are vessels under 78ft, while sailing yachts are those that measure 79ft and up. Sailboats encompass a number of different styles including daysailers, racers, cutters, ketches, schooners, sloops, yawls and more.

Altair 1982 78' EXPORT YACHTS N.Z. Cruising Sailboat
Image Credit: Altair 1982 78′ EXPORT YACHTS N.Z. Cruising Sailboat

How does a sailboat work?

Sailboats work through a combination of aerodynamics and hydrodynamics. The wind on the sails, combined with the water below combine to propel the sailboat across the water. When the sails are unfurled, they act similar to an airplane in that the wind moves across the sails and propels the boat forward. Most sailboats will still come with a small engine to supplement the wind power or even use 100 percent if there is little to no wind when you are out on the water.

How fast do sailboats go?

The speed a sailboat can achieve will depend on a few factors: 

  • Boat size 
  • Number of sails 
  • Added motor power (if used) 
  • Weather conditions 

For a general idea, the average speed of a racing sailboat is 15 knots or 17 miles per hour; while a cruising sailboat will usually attain a top speed of 7 knots or 8 miles per hour.

How do sailboats sail into the wind?

Sailboats can sail into the wind by simply making a few adjustments. Slightly angle the bow toward a more forward direction than the wind so the wind will go up and over the sail and help propel the boat forward. The keel will help to balance the force of the wind in the sails to keep your journey smooth and balanced.

Do sailboats have motors?

While not all sailboats must have a motor, the majority of sailboats will come equipped with one either as a safety back up, or to help propel the boat during days of little wind. Even if you have a smaller sailboat, it’s a good idea to keep an outboard motor on hand in case you are in an emergency situation and need to get back to shore immediately, or if you are traveling long distances and can’t always depend on optimal wind conditions.

How to live on a sailboat

Living on a sailboat isn’t the right lifestyle for everyone but if you’re looking to live a minimalist lifestyle or cast off the bowlines and spend some time exploring the world around you onboard your own sailboat, it can be your very own floating home away from home.  

Before you make the leap to living onboard your sailboat full-time, here are some things to consider: 

  • Size – Will you be living onboard the sailboat by yourself? Or will you be living with a family where there are children and pets to consider? You’ll want to make sure there is enough room for everyone living onboard to not only sleep, but to enjoy some private living spaces as well. 
  • Safety – Based on the above, if you have children or pets living on the sailboat with you, you’ll want to do a complete safety check to make sure everyone can live safely onboard. 
  • Storage – Not simply for clothes and food provisions, but also for additional fuel if cruising for long distances, and extra materials to be stored if anything needs to be repaired while underway. 
  • Location – If you’re cruising, you’ll need to make arrangements for stops along the way. However, if you plan to live on your sailboat at a yacht club or marina full-time, you’ll need to make sure the one you choose allows people to live aboard full-time and pay the appropriate fees. 

Aside from the above, you’ll also want to be cognizant of what you are giving up when you live on a sailboat permanently. Without a home address, mail and deliveries can be harder to get, visitors can sometimes be tricky to host and feeling a bit more transient are all factors that may arise when you choose to live on a sailboat.

SPARK III 2021 76' CNB YACHTS Cruising Sailboat
Image Credit: SPARK III 2021 76′ CNB YACHTS Cruising Sailboat

How to rig a sailboat

If you have a sailboat at the larger end of the spectrum you may not be able to completely rig the sailboat on your own (at least not the first time!). If we look at a standard sailboat with two sails, you’ll need to be able to rig the following items: 

  • Halyards – The halyards are the lines that pull your sails up. You’ll need different halyards for each sail you plan to rig. 
  • Mainsail – You’ll first want to rig up the mainsail which attaches to the back of the mast. Connect the top of the sail in the mast track and pull on the halyard to feed the length of the mainsail into the mast. Once up, secure the halyard in a cleat and keep your head low and out of the way of the mast! 
  • Jib – The smaller triangular sail at the bow of the boat will usually be rolled up when not in use. The bottom corner attaches to a fitting on the deck, and you’ll then connect the jib to the forestay with clips. You’ll then attach the head of the jib to the other jib halyard with a shackle and split ring. Tie off your two lines from the jib on each side of the boat. The jib is much easier to handle and hoist than the mainsail.

How to buy a sailboat

As with any boat purchase, it’s always best to work with a reputable boat dealer or broker. Start with our worldwide broker finder to find the best broker to help you in your purchase of a sailboat.

Purchasing a sailboat is an exciting moment in someone’s life – to get closer to the water, to take the sail in your hands, and truly be a navigator of the sea is an exhilarating feeling. To start your search, please check YATCO’s sailboats for sale. For similar boats, please check our Schooner guide, and Liveaboard boat guide. If, after consulting our guide on “How Much Boat Can I Afford?” you realize you have a bit more money to spend, check out our sailing yacht guide for vessels 79ft and above.

An excellent place to start is reading our Boat Buyer Guide to understand a bit more about the boat buying process.

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