Sailing ship

For the song of the same name by After the Fire, see Der Kommissar (album).
ARC Gloria, a three-masted barque and Colombian Navy training ship, at sunset in Cartagena

A modern sailing ship or sailship is any large wind-powered vessel. Traditionally a sailing ship (or simply ship) is a sailing vessel that carries three or more masts with square sails on each. Large sailing vessels that are not ship-rigged may be more precisely referred to by their sail rig, such as schooner, barque (also spelled "bark"), brig, barkentine, brigantine or sloop.[1]


USS Constitution under sail in Massachusetts Bay, 21 July 1997. Nicknamed "Old Ironsides," the frigate became famous in the War of 1812 when British cannonballs bounced off her oak hull. She is the oldest commissioned warship still afloat, and is open to the public in Charlestown, Massachusetts.[2]
For a history of ship construction, see shipbuilding.

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).[3][4]

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

Further information: Sail-plan § Types of ships

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.[5] 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 lug sails
  • 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

The Moshulu is a rare four-masted bark (with square sales on all masts except for the jigger-mast, which carries fore-and-aft sails. She is berthed in Philadelphia and is now open as a restaurant.[6]

In 1902 the sailing vessel Preussen was the first to assist handling of sails by making use of steam power without auxiliary engines for propulsion. The steam power was used to drive the winches, hoists and pumps. A similar ship Kruzenshtern, a very large sailing vessel without mechanical assists, had a crew of 257 men, compared to the Preussen, which required only 48 men.[7]

In 2006, automated control had been taken to the point where sails could be operated by one person using a central control unit, DynaRig. The DynaRig technology was first developed in the 1960s in Germany by W. Prolls as a propulsion alternative for commercial ships to prepare for 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 rigidly attached 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 aloft.[7]

As of 2013, with increasing restrictions on use of bunker fuel, attempts were underway to develop hybrid sailing ships using automated sail and alternative fuels.[8][9]

See also


  1. Parker, Dana T. Square Riggers in the United States and Canada, pp. 6-7, Transportation Trails, Polo, IL, 1994. ISBN 0-933449-19-4.
  2. Parker, Dana T. Square Riggers in the United States and Canada, p. 12, Transportation Trails, Polo, IL, 1994. ISBN 0-933449-19-4.
  3. Tony Gray. "Workshop Hints: Ship's Bells". The British Horological Institute. Archived from the original on 9 November 2012. Retrieved 12 June 2011.
  4. "Ship's Bell". National Maritime Museum. Archived from the original on 9 December 2008. Retrieved 2008-04-07.
  5. "Classes and Equipment". International Sailing Federation. Retrieved 17 June 2011.
  6. Parker, Dana T. Square Riggers in the United States and Canada, p. 25, Transportation Trails, Polo, IL, 1994. ISBN 0-933449-19-4.
  7. 1 2 - Sailing at the touch of a button, 2009-04-13
  8. 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
  9. "B9 Shipping - Flagships of the Future". B9 Energy Group. Retrieved July 11, 2013.
  10. Parker, Dana T. Square Riggers in the United States and Canada, p. 59, Transportation Trails, Polo, IL, 1994. ISBN 0-933449-19-4.
  11. "Cutty Sark," Royal Museums Greenwich Web site ( Retrieved July 29, 2014.
  12. Parker, Dana T. Square Riggers in the United States and Canada, p. 45, Transportation Trails, Polo, IL, 1994. ISBN 0-933449-19-4.

Further reading

Look up sailing ship in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

Media related to Sailing ships at Wikimedia Commons

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