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A yawl flying genoa, main, and mizzen sails

A yawl is a two-masted sailing craft whose mainmast is taller than the mizzen mast (or aft-mast). Compared to a similar sized ketch, a yawl's mizzen mast is set further aft and its mizzen sail is smaller.

Historically, the yawl was a commercial working vessel, but today, the yawl is a fore-and-aft rigged pleasure yacht. In Europe yawls are much less common than the more popular ketch.



A small 18th-century yawl-rigged fishing craft

The yawl was originally developed as a rowboat with two small masts to assist the oarsmen. (When adding a sailing rig to a rowboat, the masts must not interfere with the rowers; so the mainmast is placed well forward and the mizzen as far back as possible). The yawl became a rig for commercial fishing boats, an example being the Salcombe Yawl, a small traditional fishing boat built in Devon.[citation needed]

After 1890, the yawl became a popular rig for pleasure yachts, being particularly suited to hulls with extended counter sterns. In its heyday, the yawl's ability to be trimmed to sail without rudder input made it particularly popular with single-handed sailors, such as circumnavigators Harry Pidgeon and Francis Chichester. Modern self-steering and navigation aids have made this less important, and the yawl has generally fallen out of favor.[citation needed]

Both the yawl and the ketch rig have proved generally to be more suitable for motorsailers than the Bermuda rig.[citation needed]

The etymology of the word 'yawl' is that it is derived from the Dutch jol.[note 1] In the United Kingdom a yawl is sometimes known as a dandy.[citation needed] The Webster's dictionary 1828 definition provides "Yawl: A small ship's boat, usually rowed by four or six oars". The twentieth-century American yacht designer, Francis Herreshoff, reflected this traditional definition[1] of a yawl as "a ship's boat resembling the pinnace" set up to be primarily rowed.[citation needed]

Yawls, sloops & ketches comparedEdit

Although both the single-masted Bermuda sloop and cutter have simpler rigging and are more efficient, the sails on a yawl are smaller and more easily handled, and its mainmast is shorter.

Both the yawl and the ketch have two masts, with the main mast foremost. The acknowledged distinction, particularly for yachts with overhanging sterns and inboard rudders, is that a ketch has the mizzen mast forward of the rudder post, whereas on a yawl, it is aft of the rudder post.[2][3] For boats with shorter overhangs or outboard rudders, the distinction is more usefully determined by comparing the purposes and relative sizes of the mizzens. A yawl's mizzen sail is very much smaller than its mainsail, and is usually situated well aft, behind the helm station.

On a ketch, the principal purpose of the larger mizzen sail is to help propel the vessel as part of the working sail, the sail area being divided to ease handling. A yawl's smaller mizzen mainly serves to help trim and balance, working as an "air rudder" or trim tab rather than as a substantial part of the working sail area. Yawls tend to have mainsails almost as large as those of sloops and cutters with similar sized hulls.

Sparkman & Stephens yawl, the Skylark of 1937, during the ‘Corsica Classic 2013’ yacht race

The "rudder post" distinction between a yawl and a ketch owes much to handicap systems for racing yachts. The CCA (Cruising Club of America) rating rule was developed following World War II to allow different styles of boats to race against each other with a handicap calculated from measurements of each boat. It was later combined with the RORC (Royal Ocean Racing Club) rule to become the IOR (International Offshore Rule) rule in the late 1950s which was used to handicap international racing until the late 1980s. The CCA and the following rules used the rudder post definitions of ketch and yawl so they had a cut and dried definition for measuring sail so boats could be handicapped with boats fulfilling their new and arbitrary definition of Yawl and Ketch receiving slightly different handicaps. In the 1950s and 1960s ocean racing yawls were developed to take advantage of a handicapping rule that did not penalize them for flying a mizzen staysail, which on long ocean races, often downwind, was an advantage. A good example of this was Olin Stephens' Finisterre.

Canoe yawls have a pointed stern similar to a canoe. Its rudder was placed on the sternpost, and could usually be raised to allow the boat to be beached.

Famous yawlsEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Historic. The current Dutch word 'jol' refers to a dinghy, and has nothing to do with the current 'yawl'.


  1. ^ L. Francis Herreshoff Collection; Daniel S. Gregory Ships Plans Library, Mystic Seaport; 1,511 sheets representing 486 designs and additional non-vessel material
    items 38.51 PERSEPHONE Design #69; 38.104 Name unknown Design #unknown; 38.157 DANCING FEATHER Design #102; 38.163 Name unknown Design #96; 38.167 ROZINANTE Design 98; 38.332 Calculations of universal rule for sloop, schooner and yawl 38.385 Photostat of plan for PETREL Design #510
  2. ^ Maloney, Elbert S. (2006) Chapman Piloting & Seamanship 65th Edition, page 30. Hearst Communications. ISBN 978-1-58816-232-8.
  3. ^ Rule F.1.2 of Equipment Rules of sailing (PDF) (edition valid from 2009 to 2012 ed.), International Sailing Federation, retrieved 2009-06-13
  4. ^ Rozinante

External linksEdit