Sailing ship

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Colombian training ship ARC Gloria at sunset in Cartagena, Colombia

The term sailing ship is used to refer to any large wind-powered vessel. In technical terms, a ship was a sailing vessel with a specific rig of at least three masts, square rigged on all of them, making the sailing adjective redundant. In popular usage "ship" became associated with all large sailing vessels and when steam power came along the adjective became necessary. Large sailing vessels which are not ship rigged may be more appropriately called boats.


USS Constitution under sail in Massachusetts Bay, 21 July 1997
INS Tarangini, a sailing ship in service with the Indian Navy.

There are many different types of sailing ships, but they all have certain basic things in common. Every sailing ship has a hull, rigging and at least one mast to hold up the sails that use the wind to power the ship. The crew who sail a ship are called sailors or hands. They take turns to take the watch, the active managers of the ship and her performance for a period. Watches are traditionally four hours long. Some sailing ships use traditional ship's bells to tell the time and regulate the watch system, with the bell being rung once for every half hour into the watch and rung eight times at watch end (a four-hour watch).

Ocean journeys by sailing ship can take many months, and a common hazard is becoming becalmed because of lack of wind, or being blown off course by severe storms or winds that do not allow progress in the desired direction. A severe storm could lead to shipwreck, and the loss of all hands.

Sailing ships are limited in their maximum size compared to ships with heat engines, so economies of scale are also limited. The heaviest sailing ships (limited to those vessels for which sails were the primary means of propulsion) never exceeded 14,000 tons displacement. Sailing ships are therefore also very limited in the supply capacity of their holds, so they have to plan long voyages carefully to include many stops to take on provisions and, in the days before watermakers, fresh water.

Types of sailing ships[edit]

There are many types of sailing ships, mostly distinguished by their rigging, hull, keel, or number and configuration of masts. There are also many types of smaller sailboats not listed here.[1] The following is a list of vessel types, many of which have changed in meaning over time:

  • barque, or bark: at least three masts, fore-and-aft rigged mizzen mast
  • barquentine: at least three masts with all but the foremost fore-and-aft rigged
  • bilander: a ship or brig with a lug-rigged mizzen sail
  • brig: two masts square rigged (may have a spanker on the aftermost)
  • brigantine: two masts, with the foremast square-rigged
  • caravel
  • carrack
  • catamaran: vessel with two parallel hulls, usually identical or mirror images, linked by beams and deck or "trampoline", with a central mast or hull mounted in rarer circumstances e.g. Team Philips.
  • clipper: a square-rigged merchant ship of the 1840–50s designed for speedy passages
  • cog: plank built, one mast, square rigged
  • corvette: an imprecise term for a small, often ship-rigged vessel
  • cutter: Fore-and-aft rigged, single mast with two headsails
  • dhow: a lateen-rigged merchant or fishing vessel
  • dinghy: a boat with lift-able ballast [centerboard or drop keel], most commonly small and are single masted.
  • wangga ndrua or drua, a sacred double hull canoe of Fiji, last made in the 1880s.
  • frigate: a ship-rigged European warship with a single gundeck, designed for commerce-raiding and reconnaissance
  • fishing smack
  • fluyt: a Dutch oceangoing merchant vessel, rigged similarly to a galleon
  • full-rigged ship: three or more masts, all of them square rigged
  • galleon: a large, primarily square-rigged vessel of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries
  • hermaphrodite brig: similar to a brigantine
  • junk: a lug-rigged Chinese tradeship
  • ketch: two masts fore-and-aft rigged, the mizzen mast forward of the rudder post
  • Koch (boat)
  • longship: vessels used by the Vikings, with a single mast and square sail, also propelled by oars.
  • lugger: vessel with at least two masts, carrying lugsails
  • luzzu
  • pink: in the Atlantic, a small oceangoing ship with a narrow stern.
  • pram
  • schooner: fore-and-aft rigged sails, with two or more masts, the aftermost mast taller or equal to the height of the forward mast(s)
  • ship of the line: the largest warship in European navies, ship-rigged
  • sloop: a single fore-and-aft rigged mast and bowsprit
  • snow: a brig carrying a square mainsail and often a spanker on a trysail mast
  • tjotter
  • trimaran: vessel with three hulls, the central usually larger, linked by beams and deck.
  • waʻa kaulua
  • windjammer: large sailing ship with an iron or for the most part steel hull, built to carry cargo in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
  • xebec: a Mediterranean warship adapted from a galley, with three lateen-rigged masts
  • yawl: two masts, fore-and-aft rigged, the mizzen mast aft of the rudder post
  • yacht:a small pleasure craft

Automated sailing[edit]

sailing ships tied to shore, circa 1900-1920

Starting in 1902 the sail ship Preussen was the first to automate handling of sails by making use of steam power without auxiliary engines for propulsion. The steam power were used for operation of the winches, hoists and pumps. A similar ship Kruzenshtern, which was a very large sailing vessel without mechanized control, had a crew of 257 men; compared the Preussen, which succeeded to reduce this number to 48 men.[2]

In 2006, automated control was taken to the point where sailing can be operated by one person using a central control unit on the boat using DynaRig. The DynaRig technology was first developed in the 1960s in Germany by W. Prolls as a propulsion alternative for commercial ships to handle a possible future energy crisis. The technology is a high-tech version of the same type of sail used by the Preussen, the "square-rigger". The main difference is that the yards do not swing around a fixed mast but are attached permanently to a rotating mast. DynaRig along with extensive computerization was used in the proof-of-concept Maltese Falcon to enable it to be sailed with no crew in the rigging.[2]

As of 2013 with increasing restrictions on use of cheap dirty bunker fuel attempts were underway to develop hybrid sailing ships using automated sail and alternative fuels.[3][4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Classes and Equipment". International Sailing Federation. Retrieved 17 June 2011. 
  2. ^ a b - Sailing at the touch of a button, 2009-04-13
  3. ^ Robert Wall (July 10, 2013). "Rolls-Royce Revives Age of Sail to Beat Fuel-Cost Surge: Freight". Bloomberg. Retrieved July 11, 2013. "Cargo vessels are set for a design change embracing sleeker hulls and hybrid propulsion systems, according to London-based Rolls, which is helping to develop a ship featuring a 180-foot sail augmented by bio-methane engines and carrying 4,500 tons" 
  4. ^ "B9 Shipping - Flagships of the Future". B9 Energy Group. Retrieved July 11, 2013. 

Further reading[edit]