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What Is a Catboat?

By Jessica F. Black
Updated May 17, 2024
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A catboat is a small sailing vessel introduced in the early 1800s that was originally used as a fishing boat or for short distance transportation. This boat has a single sail that is situated at the front of the boat, allowing the main sail to extend nearly to the rear of the vessel. The structure of the catboat makes it easier to sail because it does not require a team to operate, and can be manned by one person. It is easy to learn how to sail a catboat, and there are training courses available for advanced maneuvers.

Popularity of this boat decreased when engines were installed on most boats, which improved both fishing and transportation. These small ships faded out of existence until the mid-late 1900s, when several small groups improved the design of the catboat. Most are made from fiberglass or wood and have become increasingly popular among families and sportsmen.

Breck Marshall, a boat specialist, owned over 500 of these vessels and is the primary contributor to the modern awakening of the catboat. He was directly involved in fabricating a number of the boat designs that are still used today. The Museum of America and the Sea has a catboat named after him, which is used as a tour boat for museum visitors.

This boat is generally 12-16 feet long (3.6-4.8 m) and can usually seat up to five people. It is designed to be twice as long in length than in width. The large sail allows this small vessel to travel at relatively high speeds and is often used for racing. There are many locations that hold catboat races, which are usually at least 15 miles long.

Another appealing factor of the catboat is that it is easy to store. Most owners of these vessels are able to transport them easily and usually store their boats at home. Upkeep is also fairly easy because there are significantly less components on this boat than on either power-driven vessels or complex sail boats.

There are several explanations behind the name of this boat, but the most common reference attributes it to its slick body, graceful motion, and the ability to recover from accidents. Several organizations devote themselves to this particular sail boat, and generally have information such as boats and accessories for sale, race dates and locations, and the history of the various boat designs. The use of this boat is extremely popular in the northeastern area of the United States (US).

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