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Sail-plan of a catboat.
Catboats with Bermuda rig

A catboat (alternate spelling: cat boat), or a cat-rigged sailboat, is a sailing vessel characterized by a single mast carried well forward (typically near its bow). Generally a catboat has a light and shallow draft hull, wide beam approximately half its length, is gaff rigged, and carries a centreboard.

Although any boat with a single sail and a mast carried well forward is 'technically' a catboat, some catboats such as the Barnegat Bay type and more modern designs carry a Bermuda sail. A jib is sometimes added, but this may require a bowsprit, and technically creates a sloop sail-plan.

A typical New England style has a very long boom that extends over the transom and may carry foresails stayed from a bowsprit.[1]


It is generally accepted that the origin of the catboat type was in New York around 1840 and from there spread east and south as the virtues of the type — simplicity, ease of handling, shallow draft, large capacity — were discovered. Historically, they were used for fishing and transport in the coastal waters around Cape Cod, Narragansett Bay, New York and New Jersey. Some were fitted with bowsprits for swordfishing and others were used as 'party boats' with canvas-sided, wood-framed summer cabins that could be rolled up.

The Breck Marshall, a 20-foot (6.1 m) Crosby catboat design open for public use at Mystic Seaport

Around the turn of the 20th century, catboats were adapted for racing, and long booms and gaffs, bowsprits and large jibs were fitted to capture as much wind as possible. The decline of racing and advent of small, efficient gasoline engines eliminated the need for large sailplans, and catboats today are used as pleasure craft for day sailing and cruising, and have the virtues of roominess, stability and simple handling, though many catboats have poorer upwind performance than well-designed sloop-rigged craft.

One of the most well-known catboats is the 12-foot (3.7 m) Beetle Cat daysailer. Fleets of these one-design boats are found in harbors all across New England, often competing in races. In the 1960s, Breck Marshall based his 18-foot (5.5 m) fiberglass Sanderling upon an existing, wooden design. The Sanderling has since become a very popular boat, with more than 700 built, and it has helped to rekindle interest in the catboat. To honor Marshall and his contribution to the type, the Catboat Association funded the construction of the Breck Marshall, a 20-foot (6.1 m) catboat built and berthed at Mystic Seaport.

The terms catboat and cat-rigged are often confused with catamaran. Catamaran describes the hull structure of a boat (specifically, it refers to two hulls side-by-side) whereas cat-rigged and catboat describe the sail plan and vessel type, respectively.


Designer Fenwick Williams summarized the original design philosophy as: “The ample beam made the use of stone ballast feasible … the high bow provided good support for the unstayed mast … the barn door rudder provided adequate strength … high coamings served to keep water out of the large open cockpit … side decks provided a handy ledge on which to set a lobster trap."[2]

Modern catboat fans appreciate the catboat's traditional design and classic appearance and the features that make it a versatile recreational boat: simplicity, large capacity, shallow draft, stability, and safety in a boat that is easy to sail.[3]

See also

  • Beetle Cat - small "daysailer" catboat
  • Redden Catboat Traditional wooden 14' daysailer, built in Nova Scotia.
  • Nonsuch - a series of 18 ft (5.5 m) to 36 ft (11 m) modern catboats
  • Inland Cat - 14.5 footer designed and built in Northern Indiana.
  • Diesel Cat - 20 footer build in Florida.
  • Zijlsloep - classic design Dutch modern 16 ft (5 m) catboat


  1. MacKenzie, Mike (2005–2012). "Home page". Sea Talk Nautical Dictionary: The Dictionary of English Nautical Language. Retrieved January 15, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Grayson, Stan (2002). Cape Cod Catboats. Marblehead, MA: Devereux Books. ISBN 1-928862-05-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

External links


  • Mahone Bay Boatworks designer and builder of the Redden Catboat 14'. This wooden traditional 14' daysailer has mahogany decks, ash trim and spruce hull and spars.
  • Cape Cod Shipbuilding builders of fine sailboats for over 100 years.
  • Com-Pac Yachts Cat Boats builders of the trailerable catboats Picnic Cat, Sun Cat, and Horizon Cat.
  • Wagner Boat Works a manufacturer of traditionally-styled fiberglass catboats from 15 to 23 feet (7.0 m) long.
  • Marshall Marine Corporation a manufacturer of traditionally-styled fiberglass catboats from 15 to 22 feet (6.7 m) long.
  • Thompson Boatworks a manufacturer of 15- and 19-foot (5.8 m) long traditionally-styled fiberglass catboats. Now owned and supported by Wagner Boat Works.
  • Arey's Pond Boat Yard a manufacturer of traditionally-styled fiberglass catboats from 12 to 20 feet (6.1 m) long.
  • Beetle, Inc. manufacturer of the Beetle catboat.
  • Howard Boats manufacturer of the Barnstable catboat, a fiberglass version of the traditional wooden Beetle catboat.