What boat is that? Dinghy Classification

Beyond the general division of boats into “dinghies” and “cruisers”, one can further divide them into hundreds of types. If you want to know what kinds of boats there are today, you will face vast numbers of different models. In this article, I try to outline the main groups of dinghies.

With the rise of new materials such as Glass Reinforced Plastic (GRP) in the 1960ies, the number of dinghy designs exploded. Especially the market for small sailing vessels boomed for decades and continues to give rise to more boats every year. Classifying dinghies can be challenging – nevertheless, there are some standard types of boats that can be easily spotted. Here they are, increasing in their degree of “professionalism”:

Classes of Sailing Dinghies

1.) Junior Dinghies: These are normally the smallest and lightest boats and often specifically made for children. Sailing schools like to use boats of this type, because they are cheap, easy to navigate and fit for little sailors. The “Optimist” is a classic of this group, and popular all over the World not only with beginners. Similar things apply to the “Topper”, which is made in a continuous mould of plastic.

Boats of both classes are widely used for regattas. Boats of the “Blue Jay” type are often used for teaching purposes; they are meant to be sailed by at least two sailors. The “420” is a legend: An international class, it is also a class of it’s own and popular with beginners as with advanced sailors. Unlike the other vessels in the junior section, the 420 is often used with a spinnaker. It is widely used for teaching purposes and both sportive-teenager-friendly as well as family-fit.

2.) General-Purpose Dinghies: Vessels of this category are types that fit sort of in-between; they are heavier and more challenging to sail than junior dinghies, yet they are still simple designs not very suitable for competitive races of the professional kind. They generally come as family-friendly boats with good safety records and despite of not being racing boats, there are often regattas for general-purpose dinghies of particular types. For example, the “Wayfarer” or the “Enterprise”.

Both of these dinghies are very popular for non-professional races. Some boats of this class are true generalists, such as the “Mirror”: It can be sailed single-handed or by a crew, is easy to navigate even for children and comes with spinnaker or without. “Mirrors” can be easily spotted, since they normally come with scarlet-red sails.

3.) Keelboat Dinghies: Boats of this class are touching the high-performance sector, but they are still popular with families. Most of them have big international classes and are raced passionately in many countries. The most popular boat of this kind is the “Flying Fifteen”, which comes with a weighted keel, a mainsail, jib and spinnaker and can be sailed single-handed. Most “Flying Fifteen” races are done by crews, though.

4.) High-performance Dinghies: Vessels of this kind are generally less suitable for families and daysailing. They have a light hull, big rigs and spinnakers as well as trapezes for full sailing action. Many of them have popular international classes and are sailed in passionate races.

The “International 14”, for example, is indeed very international – and a true classic in the racing sector. Similar things can be said about the “18ft Skiff”, which originally came from Australia. Boats of both types have been around for decades, yet permanent improvements and the implementation of modern materials make them very competitive boats.

The “Olympic 470” and “Olympic 49’er” are more recent developments inspired by the two classics. They are sailed by small crews and very popular for races. The most popular racing dinghies, though, are probably those of the “Laser” class. This applies at least for the non-professional World, where Lasers of different models are raced all over.

They come as different models with increasing numbers, with the higher ones targeting experienced sailors with high racing ambitions. The "Laser 5000" is at the top of its class – and so are normally the sailors that race it.

5.) Sportsboat Dinghies: These heavier vessels are often used as day-racing boats. They are sailed by crews often larger and more experienced than those of High-performance Dinghies, and compared to these, have bigger rigs. A classic yacht of that type is the “Melges 24”, which was the first of this category to be developed. Its design was based on High-performance Dinghies and targeted ambitious or semi-professional sailors.

With more and more money going into sailing as a sport and industry, “Meleges 24” regattas and races are increasingly a matter for professionals. This applies to a lesser degree to the “Hunter 707”, which is lighter and cheaper. Nevertheless, “Hunters” are also often used for international races.

Further Reading

Back to "boats"

Which Yacht is that? Cruiser Classification

How to Identify a Stolen Yacht

Guide to buying a boat on About.com

United States Sailboat Show

References to Boat Shows Worldwide