Ketch Me If You Can…What’s a Two Masted Boat Called?

Published Categorized as Boats

How a boat’s sails and masts are arranged is called its sail plan or rig. Each rig type has a name, just another reason why it’s a good idea to refer to an illustrated guide to the parts of a sailboat when first learning! 

One of the most identifiable things is the arrangement of a vessel’s masts. Two masted boats may be of modern design, or you might see 2 masted ship illustrations from history books. Let’s look at what a ship with two masts might be called and the difference between each type.

Table of Contents

two masted sailboat topsail schooner

Two-Masted Boats with Fore-and-Aft Rigged Sails

With modern sailboat rigs, there are three types of sailboats with two masts. For those looking for a two masted boat crossword clue, here they are–ketch, yawl, and schooner. Now here’s a closer look at the difference between all three.

Before we dive into the many types of sailboat two masts designs, we should define what a boat with one mast is. Single-masted vessels are called sloops. As you might remember from our article on sailing terms, fore-and-aft sails are usually triangular and hoisted up the mast along the vessel’s centerline. Square-rigged sails have four corners and are mounted perpendicular to the mast. These days, square riggers are limited to historical museum ships. 


A ketch is a two-masted sailboat. The rear mast, called the mizzen mast, is shorter than the forward main mast. The mizzen mast is mounted forward of the rudder post. 

Ketches are an example of a split rig, meaning that the sailplan is divided among two masts. This means that the masts will be shorter and the sails smaller, appealing to some sailors since smaller sails are easier to handle. By having move sails, sailors can pick and choose just the right combination for the existing conditions. 

One example of this is sailing under “jib and jigger.” That’s sailor slang for flying only the foresail (like a working jib) and the mizzen. This reduces the boat’s sail area for heavy weather and leaves the helm well-balanced.

two mast boat ketch


A yawl is similar to a ketch, but the rear mizzen mast is moved farther aft, behind the rudder post. This makes the mizzen on a yawl seem like an afterthought, almost like it’s attached to the railing. The mizzen sail on a yawl is usually smaller than on a ketch, and its rigging is all outboard of the rail. 

The mizzen mast and sail on a yawl are designed to balance the helm for better control rather than divide up the power between the masts. Still, a yawl gives the sailor more choices of sail than a standard sloop does. 

Cruising yawl with two masts


If a two mast boat has masts of equal height or the forward mast is the shorter of the two, it is a schooner. While ketches and yawls are more or less designs of two masted sloop, a schooner is a different beast altogether. The rear mast on a schooner is the mainmast, and the forward mast is the foremast.

Schooners were a design progression as ships and boats transitioned to have more fore-to-aft rigged sails and fewer square sails. The proper definition of a schooner is a ship with fore-to-aft sails rigged on two or more masts. As a result, some schooners have a square topsail on the foremast. These are often called topsail schooners.

Furthermore, schooners aren’t limited to two masted boats. Schooner can have as many masts as the design called for. Four to six-masted schooners once raced across the oceans, carrying cargo and passengers from continent to continent.

Modern rigged sailboats are occasionally found in schooner designs, but they are an oddity. 

schooner sailboat two masts

Benefits of a Sailboat Two Masts

So why have two masts at all? Sailboat design is one of those things sailors love to banter about at the bar or on the dockside during sundowners. Which is better, a sloop or a ketch? Everyone has their own answer to that question!

It’s important to remember, of course, that one isn’t necessarily better than the other. They are simply different designs, each with its pros and cons.

Benefits of Two Masted Sailboats

  • Lower loads on smaller sails make them easier to handle
  • Lower sheet loads mean smaller and less expensive 
  • More sail plan options for heavy winds
  • Shorter overall mast height for bridge clearance
  • Easy to balance steering forces
  • Mizzen can be used as a riding sail at anchor
  • Easy to jury rig something after a dismasting–more parts and spars to work with

Disadvantages of a Split Rig

  • More rigging and more sails mean higher costs
  • Mizzenmast takes up space in the cockpit (aft cockpit boats)
  • Mizzen boom may block stern arch, solar panel installations, or dinghy davit options

2 Masted Ship Examples with Square Rigged Sails

Diving into old-time ship designs is more complicated. As mentioned above, a schooner is any vessel with fore-and-aft sails rigged on more than one mast. But boats and ships with square-rigged sails went by different names.


A brig is a double mast sailboat with both masts square rigged. In addition, it has fore-and-aft staysails and jibs and a mizzen sail on the aft mast–which is usually gaff-rigged.

2 masted ship brig


A brigantine is a ship with two masts, with the foremast square-rigged and the aft mainmast fore-and-aft rigged. 

Is it a Ketch? A Yawl? Schooner? They’re More Than the Answer to a Crossword Clue! They’re Two Masted Boats!

You don’t see too many two masted boats these days, which is unfortunate. They look stately and salty, ready for anything the oceans throw at them. But modern sailboat designers and many owners prefer the simplicity of a sloop. They’re generally faster, and they can be just as easy to control with new-style winches and sheets. 

Want to learn more sailing vocab? Check out our article on sailing terms you should know before setting out! And if you’ve spotted a cool boat and wonder what it might be, check out online tools like for specifications and rig types.

2 Mast Sailboat FAQs

What is a 2 masted boat called?

There are several names for sailboats with two masts. The most common examples are ketches, yawls, or schooners.

What is a sailboat with two or more masts?

A two masted sailboat, with the forward mast the taller of the two, is either a ketch or a yawl. If both masts are equal in height or it has more than two masts, then it is a schooner.

What is a two-masted square rigger?

A two-masted, square-rigged vessel is called a brig. If it also has fore-and-aft rigged sails, it might be a topsail schooner or a brigantine.

What is a two hulled boat?

A boat with two hulls is called a catamaran


By Matt C

Matt has been boating around Florida for over 25 years in everything from small powerboats to large cruising catamarans. He currently lives aboard a 38-foot Cabo Rico sailboat with his wife Lucy and adventure dog Chelsea. Together, they cruise between winters in The Bahamas and summers in the Chesapeake Bay.

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