Why Do Sailboats Have Two Sails?

Why are there 2 sails on sailboats

There are many different boats on the market, but one thing that they all have in common is the fact that there are at least two sails attached. Have you ever asked yourself why that is, and how these sails work? Today, we are going to provide some easy to understand answers to some very complex questions dealing with physics!

The vast majority of sailboats feature a mainsail and a jib. These two sailboat sails provide endless benefits when it comes to speed an maneuverability of a sailboat. There are plenty of different configurations for these two sails however, and we will get into some different boat styles a bit later on in the article.

Whichever sail and rigging setup you decide to go for, ensure that you can stow and unfurl them with ease with the assistance of some amazing boat zipper and snap lube! Once those sails are safely stowed, you can easily dock your boat with a durable standard boat hook end. It's also great for snagging lines quickly and easily.

Why Do Sailboats Have Two Sails? sailing boats sail boat

How Sails Work

Before we get into the nitty gritty, we need to give a brief overview of how sailboat sails actually function. An inexperienced sailor might think that the wind simply blows into the sail and this pushes the vessel forward, and they'd be half right. That's exactly how a sail works, but only when you are directly downwind.

The vast majority of the time your sailboat's sails won't be directly lined up with the direction of the wind. When properly trimmed the luff or leading edge of the sail will be lined up pointing into the wind. This creates higher pressure on the windward side and lower pressure on the leeward side.

Naturally, the boat will move toward the side with the lower pressure. This is possible because the sail isn't just a flat piece of cloth. You might think of it as your sails as being somewhat similar to the construction of an airplane wing, albeit an airplane wing that is standing up on its side.

Why Do Sailboats Have Two Sails ship boat sail

Gotta Go Fast!

When it comes to getting around, what could possibly be better than one sail? Well, why not two sails? The wind that sweeps around the first sail can be easily caught by the second and add to the overall speed of your sailboat. To easily demonstrate this, take down that extra sail if possible.

Obviously this will catch less wind, but it might not seem as apparent until you feel the effects for yourself. You'll certainly notice a significant decrease in speed, and very likely some decreased agility as well. The interesting thing is that adding a third sail has diminishing returns, and will only affect speed very slightly.

Maximum Maneuverability

With two sheets up a boat can easily drift due to the forces being exerted on it. Things like the keel and rudder will compensate for the sideways drag and keep your sailboat on a steady heading. The added forward force can also be used to increase a boat's ability to maneuver. A slight shift in the jib can result in a fairly sharp turn.

This is another of the myriad uses of a sailboat's second sail. When you're on the open ocean the ability to change direction quickly can be imperative to the safety of you and your crew. The closer you get to harbor, the more important it can be to operate your vessel with more precision.

Why Do Sailboats Have Two Sails sailing europa

Sailboat Types

The sail and mast configuration of a sailboat can differ fairly widely and this had led to many different names and types of boat. The many uses of mast configuration sailboats can vary widely, and we will break down a few of these sailboats, how they work, and what makes each of them special and just how they differ. This is just a small sampling, and we will very likely revisit different sailboat types in another blog for more in-depth analysis.


A sloop is by far the most common kind of sailboat you will generally see. The sloop has one mast and two sails, a mainsail and a headsail. The headsail might be referred to as a jib, spinnaker, or genoa depending on the actual size and shape. The headsail is hoisted to the top of the mast on a supporting cable known as a forestay.


A cutter has a single mast and mainsail, but the mast is further aft in order to allow space for two headsails from two separate forestays. The headstay holds the jib, and the innter stay carries the staysail. The cutter is a favorite rig for cruising sailboats since it has an easily managed range of sail combinations that can easily be changed and customized to compensate for different wind strengths.


The ketch has a second, smaller mast that sits behind the mainmast. This smaller mast is called a mizzenmast.


The schooner's aft mast is taller than its forward mast. Technically schooners can have anywhere from two to six masts, but the vast majority only have two.


Similar to a ketch, the yawl features a mizzenmast. The difference being that the mizzen on a yawl sits behind the rudder post and is therefore smaller than it would be on a ketch.


Catboats feature one mast and one sail. The mast sits very far forward, and this is a popular rig configuration on small boats.