Types and uses of sailing ships

A small boat in a body of water

A sailing ship is a ship that uses wind power to propel it and can be propelled in different ways depending on its type. It’s the oldest known form of propulsion, dating back thousands of years. The term can also apply to modern ships used for leisure purposes which are “sailing” by themselves without human input. Ships are big boats that sail the sea and oceans.

Types of sailing ships:

A small boat in a body of water

1-  Square-rigged (or square-sail)

2- Lateen sails (used on the Mediterranean Sea since antiquity, but now mostly used in the South Pacific)

3- Lugger

4- Galjoen

5- Karakuri Nawa

6- Chinese junk (used in Asia since 800 BC)

7- Nova scotia duck

8- Triangle sails (used in medieval times, but now only used in the Dutch Zaanse Schans area)

9- Dhow (used on the Indian Ocean since antiquity, but now mostly used in Asia)

10- Bluenose (a fishing vessel from Canada)

11- Brig

12- Catboat

13- Catamaran (used mostly nowadays for leisure purposes)

14- Galley

15- Cog (used in Central Europe since antiquity)

16- Fluyt

17- Full-rigged ship (“ship of the line” of the Royal Navy of the 18th century)

18- Junk (used in Asia since antiquity) 19- Ketch (a two-masted ship used mostly for leisure purposes, but also for fishing and cargo nowadays)

20- Lugger (used in France and England since the 17th century, but now only used in the French island of Réunion)

21- Lugger (used in the UK around 1890)

22- Pinnace (a small boat used for travel, reconnaissance or transport of materials since antiquity, but now mostly used for sport or pleasure.)

23- Pink (a fishing vessel from England)

24- Schooner

25- Snauwaert  (a fishing vessel from the Netherlands)

26- Three-masted merchant ship (used in Northern Europe and North America since antiquity, but now mostly used for pleasure purposes)

27- Yawl (a two-masted ship mainly used as a pleasure craft or as a tender.)

How are sailing ships powered?

A large ship in a body of water

Sailing ships are propelled by the power of the wind in most cases. The force of the wind itself is sometimes called “wind power”. Sails can also be moved (or trimmed) to make them catch more or less wind. This way, sailors can control whether a sailing ship moves fast or slow and which direction it goes. There are also some wind-powered machines that do not resemble sails, like whirligigs and windmills.

How big are sailing ships?

The size of a sailing ship can vary greatly. For example, the large full-rigged ship “Mary Rose” (ship-of-the-line of King Henry VIII of England) was about 148 meters long. On the other hand, the smallest known ship used for trading purposes is only 4 meters long. It is called a Karakuri Nawa and can even be found on display in an exhibition of full-sized ships in Japan.

Where are sailing ships used?

Sailing ships are generally used for trade and transport. However, there are also some ships that were specifically built to wage war (with cannons mainly, but with other weapons as well.) These warships include the full-rigged ship “Mary Rose” and the Chinese junk. Sailing ships can be found in many countries around the world. For example, large trading vessels used for carrying goods can be seen in many harbors around the world. In addition, every country has at least one navy that operates sailing ships as well as other types of warships. The best-known naval fleet with a large number of sailing ships included was the Royal Navy of England (and later Great Britain) during the 18th century.


Sailing ships are vessels that can use the power of the wind to propel themselves. This way, very large and small vessels alike can be propelled in different ways (depending on how they were built). The oldest known sailing vessel is a Chinese junk that was found buried at sea in Southeast Asia. For many centuries, trading ships have been used for trading purposes. Since the end of the 18th century, sailing warships have also been used for war purposes. Today, many different types of vessels continue to be built that let their owners travel on water using wind power.

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