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What's A Catboat?


FAQs about Catboats

Q. What is a catboat?

A. A catboat is a boat that is traditionally fitted with a gaff-rigged sail on a single mast set well up in the "eyes" of the boat. Cruising catboats have cabins and normally range in overall length from 16 - 26 feet. Others are fully or partially decked and suitable for day sailing or camp cruising.



Most cats have centerboards, although some keel cats exist. Many cats have outboard or "Barn Door" rudders but some cats are built with underslung rudders.


Legnos Mystic 20 - has underslung rudder

 A popular Beetle Cat crowd and crew

A few cats have Marconi sails, but most are gaff headed. Most cats are shallow draft, broad beam boats. The classic Cape Cod Cat's beam measurement is almost half the waterline length which makes a very stable boat. but all cats have one basic characteristic; a single sail on a mast set well up in the bow of the boat.

Atlantic City 24 gaff rig with "barn door" rudder

For a personal and different perspective on the history of the catboat, you may find the following text from a recent address given to the S.S. Crocker Association by retired senior editor of the CBA Bulletin, Pete Brewer insightful.

Q. Is a catboat the same as a catamaran?

A. No. Multi-hull designed water crafts like the "Hobie Cat" are a popular and exciting sailing and racing boat; but they are not catboats. They usually consist of two or more asymmetrical hulls, dagger boards and a raised trampoline for crew seating and trapezing.

Q. Is a catboat sail different from a "regular" sailboat sail?

A. Most catboats that follow a "traditional" sail design like the Cats shown above, which use a gaff rig (four sided sails). Modern sailboats, (and quite a few catboats) use what is known as a Marconi rig (three sided sails).

 The Wenaumet Kitten, a Marconi rig catboat, close-hauled

Q. Does a gaff sail use two booms?

A. A gaff rig uses three spars and the Marconi rig uses two spars. More correctly termed a gaff, this second spar carries the top or head of the sail.



The Catboat and How to Sail Her is a paper-bound publication of the Catboat Association that can be purchased from this web site.

The Gaff Rig, by John Leather, published by International Marine, is perhaps the best and most complete source of information about this traditional working rig.

Q. Is there more that one kind of catboat?

A. Yes. There are several different catboat designs. The Popular Lines & Designs pages of this website covers the more popular ones. For a more technical discussion of the design, you can purchase The Design Elements of a Catboat by Fenwick C. Williams from the CBA Publications page.

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