MacGregor 26M motor-sailer on its trailer

A trailer sailer is a type of sailboat that has been designed to be easily transported using a boat trailer towed by an automobile. They are generally larger than a sailing dinghy.[1][2] Trailer sailers include day sailers and small cabin cruisers, suitable for living on.

Trailer sailers are used for both racing and recreation and are popular with small families and retirees. They occupy a space between smaller trailerable sailing dinghies which are intended for day use and larger boats which can only be removed from the water with specialised equipment such as boat lifting cranes.[3]

Unlike dinghies, many feature enclosed cabins which allow for overnight sleeping and dry storage. Most trailer sailers also feature ballast, either fixed or in a swinging centreboard or dagger board to make them easier to launch and retrieve. This makes these boats more stable than a dinghy, as well as less prone to capsize and more capable of self-righting. Sails on trailer sailers can also be lowered easily on water unlike dinghies which are often rigged fully on the shore.[3]

Trailer sailers offer a number of advantages over larger boats that are impractical to tow on a trailer. Because they can be towed and stored at home, owners can avoid the mooring fees and maintenance costs of boats that remain in the water. Towing is also a relatively fast and efficient way of reaching new destinations from which to sail.[1][2] However, they generally have less living space. All but the biggest do not have standing room in their cabins. Moreover, trailer sailers are generally more lightly-built and ballasted, making them incapable of tackling open oceans, confining them to coastal and protected waters.[3]

Due to the limitations of trailer capacity, towing vehicle size and weight, as well as highway width limitations, most trailer sailboats are limited in size to about 22 to 26 ft (6.7 to 7.9 m) in length and beams of 8 ft (2.4 m).[2][3]


Siren 17 with its trailer.

The first trailer sailers were built in the 1950s. They were light, marine plywood boats designed for home builders. Robert Tucker in the UK designed the Silhouette, in the early 1950s. His concept was to build a small boat suitable for overnight camping, which could be trailed to different locations behind a small car. It is thought that over 3000 of this type have been built.[4][5][6] In the mid-1950s, Richard Hartley of New Zealand designed the Hartley TS16, a 16 ft long trailer sailer with a towing weight of 600 kilograms (1,300 lb). The TS16 was built in large numbers in New Zealand and Australia, spurring the popularity of trailer sailers in these countries.[7] Over 12,000 boats of this type have been built.[8]

The advent of mass production fibreglass boats in the mid 1960s saw an expansion of trailer sailer designs, such as the Aquarius 21[9] Boomerang 20,[10] Cal 21,[11] Careel 18,[12] Neptune 16,[13] and Pearson 22.[14] The Catalina 22,launched in 1969, is particularly notable as it continues in production, with over 15,000 built.[15]

Trailer cabin sailboats appeared on the US market in 1970 and were sailed on small lakes and rivers. A large number were initially sold in North America in areas such as Arizona, New Mexico and the Great Lakes region.[2]

In the late 1980s and early 1990s trailer sailers evolved into sportsboats, of a similar size but more optimised for racing speed with reduced accommodation and lightweight hulls.[16][17][18] There is an absence of an accepted definition of the term.[A]


Sandpiper 565

Cabins in trailer sailers are usually arranged with dual purpose settee-berths running along the side of the boat from a V-berth at the bow, to quarter berths underneath the cockpit. Usually, the centreboard or daggerboard trunk encroaches into the cabin in the middle of the boat, but can form the base for a folding table. Some types have a small four person table with club seating. Boats may or may not have a small galley with a stove, a food preparation area and a sink. In terms of headroom, the smallest types do not have sitting head room for taller sailors, while only the largest have standing headroom. Some boats address this problem using cabin pop-tops that can be raised when not underway to provide additional head room.[19]

The smallest trailer sailers in the 14 feet (4.3 m) range generally have two berths. As boats become larger four berths are commonly fitted, with a V-berth at the bow and quarter berths at the rear. Larger boats might have up to six berths. Many trailer sailers have a small galley with a stove, built in, although on smaller trailer sailers, this may be omitted. Usually, trailer sailers have a head, which is most commonly a portable toilet, mounted in the bow V-berth area of the cabin. Some larger boats however have an enclosed toilet.[19]


Corsair F-27 Sport Cruiser trimaran being loaded on its trailer

Trailer sailers, by necessity, must be transported by trailer, which places a number of restrictions on their design. To make them easy to launch, retrieve and transport by trailer, boats cannot have long fixed keels. Therefore, most trailer sailers have swing keel centreboards or daggerboards. Generally a trailer sailer should be towable behind a vehicle without special licences for oversized loads. This means that the beam is usually limited to approximately 8 ft (2.44 m) depending on jurisdiction. The practical limit for the length of such boats is 26 ft (7.92 m), although some trailer sailers such as the Robb Legg 28 or the Gougeon 32 are longer.[20] Weight limitations are determined by the towing vehicle. Smaller trailer sailers can weigh 500 kg (1,100 lb) or less and can easily be towed behind average cars, while larger, heavily ballasted trailer sailers can weigh over 2,000 kg (4,400 lb) require heavy vehicles with specialised towing equipment. Larger trailer sailers over 26 ft are difficult to tow and are sometimes kept in the water and only placed on their trailers for occasional towing or storage.[3]

Trailer sailer masts must be lowered for towing. This becomes difficult on larger boats with heavier, longer masts. Such boats require complex mast raising systems.[3]

Some sailboat designs for trailering incorporate special features. The MacGregor 26S, for example is a boat 25.82 ft (7.87 m) in length, but that weighs 1,650 lb (748 kg) empty and dry and carries 1,200 lb (544 kg) of flooding water ballast in tanks which are filled when the boat is launched and drained when the boat is removed from the water, thus making the boat lighter to transport than if it used more traditional iron or lead ballast. The design also has a pivoting centreboard, plus a pivoting rudder and easily rigged mast to make getting the boat from the trailer to the water easy to accomplish. It also has a beam of 7.82 ft (2.38 m), under the 8.00 ft (2.44 m) width limit for highway trailers.[21]

On the design limitations of trailerable boats with flooding water ballast, Cruising World writer Bill Lee said in 1996:

The geometry required to make a trailerable flooding-ballast boat function is such that they are a little awkward in appearance. This is accentuated by the high freeboard and narrow beam required to meet highway trailering limits ... Such boats almost always score poorly relative to their fixed keel counterparts in both sailing performance and power to carry sail. Apart from issues of portability and low cost, the more conventional fixed-keel boats ... are superior ... in most respects. Certainly if one is on a limited budget but wants a refined, good sailing, capable boat, one should consider a previously owned ... fixed-keel vessel.[22]


A Corsair F31 trimaran sailboat folded while at the dock

Most trailer sailers use a Bermuda rig with one stayed mast, a mainsail and a single foresail.[3][23]

Mast raising

Masts can be raised by attaching them to the deck and walking them up. This is practical on smaller boats with lightweight masts, but as larger boats have longer and heavier masts. On such boats, raising the mast by brute force requires significant strength and is beyond the abilities of smaller, frail and short-handed crews. Therefore, many designs employ mast raising systems to make the task easier. Methods vary but can be classed into three groups.[3]

One method is to use the boom as a gin pole, laying the mast on deck, with the boom at right angles. Hauling on the boom then raises the mast. This method has the advantage of using equipment that is already on the boat. A second method is to attach two poles called shear legs in an A-frame configuration with poles running from the sheer to meet above the boat. The mast can then be hauled upward using the forestay. This method requires additional equipment. A third method is to attach a pole to the winch post on the trailer and haul the mast upwards once again with the forestay, which also requires additional equipment.[3]

As the mast is being raised, it must be tensioned laterally. In many boats, the sidestays are not attached to the deck close to the axis of rotation of the mast and therefore tighten or loosen as the mast raises. The mast can be either held straight by a second person, or with temporary babystays mounted close to the masts axis of rotation.[3]


Farrier F-22A trimaran, with Torqeedo electric outboard motor

Trailer sailers usually have a motor for docking and maneuvering. Most trailer sailers use outboard motors, which are best suited to sailboats 28 ft in length and under. Outboards offer the advantage of being light, easy to use and maintain and are also inexpensive, as they are commercially produced on a large scale and sold off-the-shelf. They can also be raised out of the water, to eliminate drag when sailing. This contrasts with inboard diesel engines which are heavy and occupy significant internal space and are best suited to larger vessels.[24]

Outboard motors used for trailer sailers need to be geared down as trailer sailers sail at slow displacement speeds compared to the higher planing speeds of powerboats, which are the most common application for outboard motors. Outboards are often mounted on the transom, with some boats mounting them in a well, also at the stern. Outboards may be mounted on a lifting mount, to allow them to be raised up out of the water. Long shaft outboard motors are advantageous, as they prevent the propeller from exiting the water and over-speeding when the boat rides over waves.[24]


Trailer sailers usually carry anchoring equipment. Due to their small size, the tackle is also light and can be lowered and raised by hand. Therefore power winches are unnecessary.[3]

See also



  1. ^ "Internationally, in the last ten years, yachting has generally declined in terms of the numbers of boats being raced. This trend, however, has been bucked by the ever increasing number of sport yachts being built and raced world -wide. Why is that? ... for the purpose of this feature, let's define a sport boat. The main feature is, as the name implies, a sporty racing yacht. ... road trailerable. They don't fit any rule and there doesn't seem to be an international consensus to define them, [and they are evolving.] ... These boats were all performance orientated, fun to sail and fast. The biggest difference these boats displayed compared to their trailer sailor predecessors, was that they tended to plane downwind. ... The reduction in weight is not the only answer used to justify the cost of a carbon rig, because with them, we can power the boat up so that it's fully loaded in 8 knots of air. There are two developments that have advanced the sport boat cause over the past few years: exotic construction materials and asymmetric spinnakers. Both have had a big influence in the evolution of these boats."[16]


  1. ^ a b Burgess, Bob (14 July 2011). "The Zen of Trailer-Sailing". Sail Magazine. Retrieved 14 May 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d Royce, Patrick M.: Royces Sailing Illustrated, pages 52-57. Delta Lithograph, 1993. ISBN 0-911284-00-1
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Brian Gilbert (2009). The Complete Trailer Sailer. McGraw Hill. ISBN 978-0-07-147258-6.
  4. ^ "History of the Type". Retrieved 29 September 2019.
  5. ^ "Silhouette". Retrieved 29 September 2019.
  6. ^ "Silhouette Yacht / Trailer Sailer". Retrieved 29 September 2019.
  7. ^ "The Affordables" (PDF). Australian Sailing. October 2001.
  8. ^ According to the Hartley Boats website: "HARTLEY 16FT (5M) TRAILER SAILER". Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  9. ^ "Aquarius 21 sailboat". Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  10. ^ "Boomerang 20 sailboat". Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  11. ^ "Cal 21 sailboat". Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  12. ^ "Careel 18 sailboat". Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  13. ^ "Neptune 16 sailboat". Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  14. ^ "Pearson 22 sailboat". Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  15. ^ "Catalina 22 sailboat". Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  16. ^ a b Thompson, Steve (February 16, 2003). "Sports boats" No Rules, Fast and Fun: Yaching's Fast Growth Segment: Sportsboats". Retrieved 7 October 2019. ... let's define a sport boat. The main feature is, as the name implies, a sporty racing yacht. They generally tend to be between six and eight metres and are more than likely to be road trailerable. They don't fit any rule and there doesn't seem to be an international consensus to define them, but this may come in time as the boats evolve.
  17. ^ Glyn 1997, p. 161.
  18. ^ Sleight 2017, pp. 163, 165, 255.
  19. ^ a b Burgess, Robert (1992). Handbook of Trailer Sailing Paperback (2 ed.). Intl Marine Pub Co. ISBN 978-0877423430.
  20. ^ "RL 28". Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  21. ^ Browning, Randy (2016). "MacGregor 26S sailboat specifications and details". Retrieved 15 December 2016.
  22. ^ Lee, Bill: Catalina 250 Cruising World magazine, February 1996, pages 126-127. New York Times Publishing
  23. ^ Johnson, Rich; Johnson, Becky (2009). Rich Johnson's Guide to Trailer Boat Sailing. NorlightsPress.
  24. ^ a b Seidman, David (2011). The Complete Sailor:Learning the Art of Sailing (2 ed.). McGraw Hill. ISBN 978-0-07-174957-2.