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13 Types of Sailboat Hulls (Including Photos!)

Explore 13 sailboat hull types with photos! Ideal for travelers seeking the perfect sailboat for speed, stability, or rough waters.

Tobi Miles
October 29, 2022
13 Types of Sailboat Hulls (Including Photos!)

A sailboat is only as good as the hull, and it ultimately determines how well you can navigate through the water. The hull of a boat plays a massive role in what type of water you can sail through and your overall speed. So, what are the types of sailboat hulls and how are they different?

The main types of sailboat hulls are planing hulls, displacement hulls, and semi-displacement hulls which offer the best of both worlds. Multi-hull boats such as pontoons and tritoons have even weight distribution and can handle rough waters. Flat-bottom sailboats are the most stable, but they don’t work well in deep waters.

Catamarans and trimarans feature space between each hull which adds stability and protects the deck from water. Choosing a sailboat with the ideal hull for you is essential in finding one that you will keep for years to come. Follow along as we explore the different types of sailboats and see what makes them unique.

Sailboat Hull Types

There are 13 types of sailboat hulls ranging from bilge keels and fin keels to displacement hulls. The ideal sailboat hull varies for you based on factors such as what type of water you’re in and weather conditions. For example, some hulls, such as flat bottoms, are ideal for shallow and smooth water.

On the other hand, semi-displacement hulls are perfect for every application whether you’re in shallow or deep water. Let’s take a look at the different types of sailboat hulls and see how they differ.

1. Planing Hull

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Planing hulls are the first of the three major categories of sailboat hulls. You can find planning hulls with 2 different shapes: v-shaped and flat-bottom hulls. Planing hulls sit on top of the water and don’t sink deep like other types.

Many boaters and enthusiasts prefer this design because of how well a boat with planning hulls can move across the water. Most fishing sailboats feature planning hulls because of how smoothly they can glide on the surface whether you’re on an ocean or lake. Boats with planing hulls can also move faster than other types of boats, and that is their main appeal.

2. Displacement Hull

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Boats with displacement hulls are slower than boats with planing hulls, but that doesn’t mean that they’re bad. While they don’t move as fast, many boaters consider displacement sailboat hulls to be much smoother. This comes in handy if you live in an area with rough waters and strong winds.

A displacement hull is rounded instead of flat at the bottom like a planning hull. The main downside to sailboats with displacement hulls is that you will likely use more fuel than you normally would. That is because the shape isn’t as aerodynamic and you’ll need the extra engine power to move through the water.

3. Semi-Displacement Hull

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As the name suggests, semi-displacement hulls combine the best of both worlds between planing and displacement hulls. A semi-displacement hull is both flat and rounded at certain parts providing both speed and stability. They aren’t as fast as a flatter planing hull, but they’re faster than a standard displacement hull.

The unique shape of semi-displacement hulls helps reduce resistance. This alone can help take a load off of your engine and let it work optimally under most water conditions. You also get the benefit of extra storage in most cases because boats with semi-displacement hulls have storage-friendly floor plans.

4. Multi-Hull

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Multi-hull boats, such as pontoons and tritoons, are smooth and easy to sail. There are separate hulls on each side of the boat that provide stability and let you power through rough waters. On a pontoon, each hull is a large tube filled with air known as a toon.

Multi-hull boats generally sit higher above the water than most boats because of their unique design. They are popular for fishing, cruising, and entertainment. A key downside to multi-hull boats is that they typically operate loudly because the propeller may not be fully submerged in the water.

5. Monohull

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The vast majority of sailboats that you will come across have a monohull. They are easy to sail, transport, and even dock at a marina because of their simple design. As the name suggests, they only feature one hull and are suitable for calm and rough water.

You can save money with a monohull sailboat compared to a multi-hull sailboat like a catamaran. A key advantage to monohull sailboats is that they are incredibly safe. You don’t have to worry about capsizing as much as you would with a multi-hull sailboat.

6. Flat-Bottom

Sailing Magazine

Flat-bottom hulls are essentially the simplest form of planning hulls. You can find flat-bottom hulls on the majority of sailing dinghies, and that’s what they are most suitable for. They aren’t ideal for oceans or rough waters, but flat-bottom sailboats are perfect for rivers and lakes.

Rowboats also feature flat-bottom hulls, and they aren’t known for being particularly smooth. You get less precision with flat-bottom hulls, especially if you have to steer and turn unexpectedly. Otherwise, you won’t have trouble with a flat-bottom sailboat hull if you go out for a quick fishing trip in an area you’re familiar with that has smooth waters.

7. Catamarans


Catamarans feature a unique take on the traditional multi-hull design. They feature 2 hulls with space between them that usually features a deck. Sometimes, the space between each hull features a trampoline or even a small pool or tub.

They aren’t suitable liveaboard boats, but they are perfect for taking out for a day of cruising and fishing. Catamarans are as smooth as possible, but that sometimes comes at the cost of speed. However, they often feature multiple engines which can consume a lot of fuel but also put less strain on each engine.

8. Trimaran

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Trimarans are essentially a step up from catamarans because they feature a third hull. Many people prefer the stability that trimarans offer over catamarans. The extra stability also helps increase the speed that you can cruise at with a trimaran.

They are also safer than catamarans because the multi-hull design allows for perfect weight distribution. That’s not to say that catamarans are unsafe, but the extra hull that trimarans feature is more durable. Most of the weight lies on the center hull and the rest is distributed between the 2 outer hulls.

9. Deep V

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Deep v hulls are another type of planing hull, but they are less common than some of the other varieties. Granted, high-end modern powerboats often feature a deep v hull, but they come at a high price. The v design allows the hull to cut into the water easily which lets you easily control the boat in any type of water condition.

Generally, the deadrise goes between 21 and 26 degrees for a deep v hull which is ideal for many boaters. However, boats with deep v hulls are primarily geared toward anglers and aren’t ideal for cruising at high speeds. Deep v hulls are usually made out of aluminum which means that they will be loud as they glide across the water.

10. Bilge Keel

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Bilge keel hulls are specifically designed to reduce the risk of a boat rolling. The strange shape of a bilge keel hull lets it stand upright whether you’re on the shore or in shallow waters. This makes them much easier to maintain than many other types of boats.

The bottom of a bilge keel hull features multiple fins in a row that helps ensure a smooth ride. They never feature more than 2 keels which means that they have a shallow draft and you can easily beach them. The one downside to sailboats with a bilge keel hull is that they are difficult to transport to a port because of the bottom.

11. Bulb Keel

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Bulb keel sailboats feature a teardrop-shaped ballast that increases the boat’s stability. They are even faster than bilge keel sailboats because of how hydrodynamic they are. Unlike some types of hulls, a bulb keel works just as well on the sea as it does on lakes and rivers.

They feature incredible weight distribution because of the inclusion of an extra ballast. However, you have to be careful with bulb keel sailboats in shallow waters near the shore. They are more susceptible to damage at the bottom so they can be difficult to bring to shore and require precision.

12. Fin Keel

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Unlike bulb keel and bilge keel hulls, fin keel sailboats are perfect for raising. Fin keel hulls improve the draft of a sailboat which comes in handy when you want to reach high speeds. Some sailors use fin keel sailboats to travel long distances across the water, especially if the weather is in their favor.

They are a perfect happy medium between flat and round-bottomed hulls offering the best of both worlds. Fin keel sailboats are also quite comfortable because of the unique bottom shape that can easily handle choppy waters. With that said, they aren’t ideal for beginners because they can be difficult to steer compared to standard flat-bottom hulls if you are inexperienced.

13. Cathedral Hull

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Cathedral hulls get their name from their appearance which is similar to that of a classic cathedral. The unique appearance is one of the biggest benefits of cathedral hulls because the whole boat takes on that shape. They feature sharp bows and high sterns that are immediately recognizable.

With that said, cathedral-hull sailboats can be difficult to steer compared to flat-bottom or rounded hulls because of their bulky shape. You get plenty of storage with cathedral hulls which makes them perfect for long day trips with many people. They are incredibly stable because of the wide beams and wide berth, so there isn’t a serious risk of capsizing as long as you pack your cargo well.

What Type of Hull is Best For Rough Waters?

Any type of boat with a v-shaped hull is best for rough waters. Whether it’s a deep v or shallow v, this hull design makes it easy to cut through rough water without getting too much on your deck. The last thing that you want is to go through rough waters and take on excess water weight onboard.

They are specifically designed to glide across the water without sinking low which is necessary for choppy waters. Boats with v-shaped hulls also often come with high-performance engines, so they offer the best of both worlds. Generally, deep v hulls are the most precise and smoothest when it comes to rough waters.

They are perfect for keeping course which is essential if you’re in rough waters that can kick you off of your path. You can find many deep v hulls that are made out of fiberglass which is incredibly durable and withstand water exposure. Fiberglass v-shaped hulls are also easy to repair either by yourself or at a professional shop at a low cost.

What is The Most Stable Hull Design?

Flat-bottom hull sailboats have the most stable design for shallow water and multi-hull boats are the most stable in deep water. The inclusion of multiple hulls adds stability in deep water that prevents water from landing on the deck. This can save you expensive repairs and can also prevent your sailboat from capsizing.

Pontoons and tritoons are multi-hull boats and they are specifically popular because of their stability. You can’t find a more stable design than a flat-bottom hull if you plan to cruise in shallow waters. Flat-bottomed hulls are also typically the fastest when you aren’t far from shore, especially if you are in smooth waters.

The box shape of flat-bottomed hulls is conducive to gliding across shallow water. However, they struggle to ride across waves and choppy waters because of the wide surface area. Multi-hull boats such as pontoons and tritoons are the best option if you plan to take your boat out to lakes, rivers, and oceans because they thrive in any scenario.

What is Better Flat Bottom or V-Hull?

Flat-bottom boats are better than v-hull boats for most uses, but v-hulls are better in choppy and deep waters. You can get by with a flat bottom in oceans and lakes alike, but they don’t always do well in deep water. Conversely, v-hull boats can tear through rough and wavey water even at steep depths.

V-hull boats don’t do well in shallow waters and you are more likely to get stuck than you would be with a flat-bottom boat. Of course, you can always have someone push from behind when you depart, but that doesn’t help much when you return to shore. V-hull boats are the better option for deep waters, however, even if you are in rough water.

Flat-bottom boats take on more water than v-hull boats unless you stay in calm waters. It’s always worth choosing a boat that won’t take on water that will weigh it down. However, if you’re looking for a reliable boat with a high capacity, then I would recommend looking into v-hull boats.

What Type of Hull Cuts Through Water?

Displacement hulls are the best at cutting through the water, especially when compared to planing hulls. They don’t rely on a powerful engine to cut through the water because of their design. Displacement hulls displace water once you lower them in from the shore.

This displacement isn’t ideal for speed, but it is perfect for rough waters and strong winds. You can take sailboats with displacement hulls out on the ocean without having to worry about waves. They also work well in freshwater, but they are less necessary because of the lack of waves compared to the ocean.

Otherwise, you can get the best of both worlds with a semi-displacement hull. They aren’t quite as precise as displacement hulls, but they are better at navigating choppy waters than planing hulls. You sacrifice a little bit of speed, but the shape of a boat with a displacement hull lets you power through waves without veering off of your path.

How Long Do Sailboat Hulls Last?

Sailboat hulls last for an average of 15 years, but many of them can last for 20 years or longer. It ultimately depends on how well you maintain them and how often they are in the water. For example, a sailboat that you always keep in the water and rarely store in a dry place may need hull repairs and replacement much sooner.

Sailboat hulls are susceptible to algae damage, and that is more likely if you always keep them in the water. Cleaning the hull of a boat is essential to protect them from algae and examine them for potential damage. Fiberglass is the best material for a boat hull, even compared to aluminum which was the standard for years.

Fiberglass hulls can last for up to 50 years or more with regular cleaning and maintenance. A sailboat’s hull won’t last as long if it suffers damage neglecting maintenance or hits the shore too fast. The best way to increase the longevity of your sailboat is to take it out of the water every once in a while and scrub the hull to remove algae.

How Do You Inspect a Sailboat Hull?

The best way to inspect a sailboat hull is to take it out of the water and clean it. You can easily inspect a sailboat’s hull if it is clean and dry, or else you will mix cracks and dents. Cracks are the most important thing to look out for because it’s best to catch them early on.

You should be concerned if you come across cracks because they can eventually worse and threaten your boat’s structural integrity. This is especially true if you have a sailboat with an aluminum hull that you regularly take out onto saltwater. Aluminum can eventually break down in saltwater so it’s important to inspect it regularly, especially after 10 years or more.

The hull is the first part of a boat that you should inspect because hull damage can cause a boat to sink. Always inspect your boat’s hull if you sail too fast in shallow water because that is when you risk the most trouble. Clean and dry your boat’s hull, then follow along it closely to look for spots that don’t glisten as much. This will indicate a weak point, scratch, tear, or dent.

Fastest Sailboat Hull Design

Multi-hull, trimarans, and flat-bottom boats feature the fastest sailboat hull designs. They are hydrodynamic which lets them glide through the water with minimal resistance. Trimarans move incredibly fast, especially in salt water, as long as they aren’t weighed down with too much cargo.

Careful packing reduces the necessity to haul less cargo because trimarans have incredible weight distribution. However, factors such as water conditions and what type of body of water you are on ultimately play a huge role. Boats move up to 2% faster when in saltwater than in freshwater no matter which type of sailboat hull design you have.

Other factors such as your boat’s capacity and how much cargo you are carrying make a huge difference as well. Any type of boat with a planing hull is a safe bet if you want to move quickly through the water. Avoid sailboats with a displacement hull if you value speed because they often move the slowest.

So, What Are the Types of Sailboat Hulls?

The three main types of sailboat hulls are planing hulls, displacement hulls, and semi-displacement hulls. Bilge keel, bulb keel, and fin keel hulls are similar but have different practical applications between freshwater and saltwater. Trimarans and catamarans feature sturdy hulls that are highly regarded for their even weight distribution and roomy storage.

Multi-hull boats such as pontoons and tritoons sit above the water and can withstand rough waters because of how high they sit. Displacement hulls are the best option if you need to cut through choppy waters and maintain your routing. Otherwise, consider a flat-bottomed hull if you primarily stay in shallow water because of how stable they are.

Tobi Miles
Article updated:
March 28, 2024
A nomadic wordsmith savoring the world's flavors and penning stories that turn every journey into an epic.
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