A schooner /ˈskuːnər/ is a type of sailing vessel with fore-and-aft sails on two or more masts. The most common type has two masts, the foremast being shorter than the main. While the schooner was originally gaff-rigged, modern schooners typically carry a Bermuda rig.


17-11-19 SHENANDOAH Square Sail Schooner 05-07-20
Traditional square topsail schooner Shenandoah, sailing in Nantucket Sound.

The first detailed definition of a schooner, describing the vessel as two-masted vessel with fore and aft gaff-rigged sails appeared in 1769 in William Falconer's Universal Dictionary of the Marine.[1]

According to the language scholar Walter William Skeat, the term schooner comes from scoon, while the sch spelling comes from the later adoption of the Dutch spelling ("schoener"). Another study suggests that a Dutch expression praising ornate schooner yachts in the 17th century, "een schoone Schip", may have led to the term "schooner" being used by English speakers to describe the early versions of the schooner rig as it evolved in England and America.[2] The Dutch word "schoon(e)" means nice, clean, good looking, sexually arousing, or horny..

A popular legend holds that the first schooner was built by builder Andrew Robinson and launched in Gloucester, Massachusetts where a spectator exclaimed "Oh how she scoons", scoon being similar to scone,[3] a Scots word meaning to skip along the surface of the water.[4][5] Robinson replied, "A schooner let her be."[6] The launch is variously described as being in 1713 or 1745.[2] Naval architects such as Howard Chapelle have dismissed this invention story as a "childish fable",[7] but some language scholars feel that the legend may support a Gloucester origin of the word.[8]

Other sources state the etymology as unknown[9] and uncertain.[10]


Although mostly associated with North America, schooners were first used by the Dutch in the 16th or 17th century. They were further developed in North America from the early 18th century, and came into extensive use in New England.[11] Schooners were popular in trades requiring speed and windward ability, such as slaving, privateering, blockade running, and offshore fishing.[12] In the Chesapeake Bay area several distinctive schooner types evolved, including the Baltimore clipper, bugeye, and pungy. Schooners were also popular among pirates in the West Indies during the Golden Age of Piracy, for their speed and agility. They could also sail in shallow waters, and while being considerably smaller than other ships of the time period (such as frigates and galleons), they could still hold enough cannons to intimidate merchant vessels into submission.

Schooners first evolved in the late 17th century from a variety of small two-masted gaff-rigged vessels used in the coast and estuaries of the Netherlands. Most were working craft but some pleasure yachts with schooner rigs were built for wealthy merchants. Following the arrival of the Dutch Stadtholder William of Orange on the British throne, the British Royal Navy built a royal yacht with a schooner rig in 1695, HMS Royal Transport. This vessel, captured in a detailed Admiralty model, is the earliest fully documented schooner.[13] Royal Transport was quickly noted for its speed and ease of handling, and mercantile vessels soon adopted the rig in Europe and in European colonies in North America. Schooners were immediately popular with colonial traders and fishermen in North America with the first documented reference to a schooner in the United States appearing in Boston port records in 1716.[14] North American shipbuilders quickly developed a variety of schooner forms for trading, fishing and privateering.

Essex, Massachusetts, was the most significant shipbuilding center for schooners. By the 1850s, over 50 vessels a year were being launched from 15 shipyards and Essex became recognized worldwide as North America's center for fishing schooner construction. In total, Essex launched over 4,000 schooners, most headed for the Gloucester, Massachusetts, fishing industry.[15] Bath, Maine, was another notable center, which during much of the 19th century had more than a dozen yards working at a time, and from 1781 to 1892 launched 1352 schooners,[16] including the Wyoming.

Schooners were popular on both sides of the Atlantic in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, long dominating yacht races such as the America's Cup, but gradually gave way in Europe to the cutter.[17]


Schooners were used to carry cargo in many different environments, from ocean voyages to coastal runs and on large inland bodies of water. They were popular in North America. In their heyday, during the late 19th century more than 2,000 schooners carried on the Great Lakes. Three-masted "terns" were a favourite rig of Canada's Maritime Provinces. The scow schooner, which used a schooner rig on a flat-bottomed, blunt-ended scow hull, was popular in North America for coastal and river transport.

Schooners were used in North American fishing, especially the Grand Banks fishery. Some Banks fishing schooners such as Bluenose also became famous racers.

Two of the most famous racing yachts, America and Atlantic, were rigged as schooners. They were about 152 feet (46 m) in length.

Schooner sail plan

Bluenose (winner) vs. Gertrude L. Thebaud, International Fishermen's Trophy, 1938, final race
Packet Schooner
1793 newspaper ad for a packet schooner, Chestertown, Maryland

Although a schooner may have several masts, the typical schooner has only two, with the foremast shorter than the mainmast. There may be a bowsprit to help balance the rig. The principal issue with a schooner sail plan is how to fill the space between the two masts most effectively. Traditional schooners were gaff rigged, and the trapezoid shape of the foresail occupied the inter-mast space to good effect, with a useful sail area and a low center of effort.

A Bermuda rigged schooner typically has four triangular sails: a mainsail, a main staysail abaft the foremast, plus a forestaysail and a jib (or genoa) forward of the foremast. An advantage of the staysail schooner is that it is easily handled and reefed by a small crew, as both staysails can be self-tacking. The main staysail will not overlap the mainsail, and so does little to prepare the wind for the mainsail, but is effective when close-hauled or when on a beam reach. Although the main staysail has less area than an equivalent gaff sail, a loose-footed "fisherman" may be flown above the main staysail to maximize drive in light airs. The fisherman's staysail, a four-sided fore-and-aft sail, is not strictly a staysail, but is clewed abaft the foremast. An alternatively light-air sail is a triangular mule.

Some Bermuda schooners have (instead of a main staysail) a rectangular boomed sail clewed to the foremast; but although it can be self-tacking, it will be smaller in area than a main staysail and its use complicates flying a fisherman.

Schooner rationale

Sailing vessels with a single mast will typically be sloops or cutters, either with a Bermuda or gaff mainsail. There is little justification for the cost and complexity of a second mast unless the vessel is reasonably large, say above 50 feet (15 m) LOA.

If a vessel's size requires a second mast, the sail plan will usually be a schooner, ketch or yawl, all of which are fore-and-aft rigged, although the "topsail schooner" variant carries one or more square topsails on its foremast. The two-topsail schooner variant carries square topsails on both the mainmast and the foremast. The schooner may be distinguished from both the yawl and the ketch by the disposition of its masts, and thus the placement of the mainsail. On the yawl and ketch, the mainsail is flown from the forward mast, or mainmast, and the aft mast is the mizzen-mast. A two-masted schooner has the mainsail on the aft mast, and its other mast is the foremast. Compared to a single-masted vessel, all the two-masted vessels can have a lower centre of pressure in the sail plan.

Although the ketch and, to a much lesser extent, the yawl are more popular than the schooner in Europe, the schooner is arguably more efficient. The schooner can carry a larger sail area, because of its much larger mainsail and the effective sail(s) between the masts. Also, in a schooner, all the sails work together in a complementary fashion, optimising airflow and drive. By contrast, on a ketch, or especially a yawl, the mizzen sail provides proportionately less power, being smaller than, and frequently blanketed by, the mainsail. The ketch however offers advantages in sail handling in poor weather.

Multi-masted schooners

Multi-masted staysail schooners usually carried a mule above each staysail except the fore staysail. Gaff-rigged schooners generally carry a triangular fore-and-aft topsail above the gaff sail on the main topmast and sometimes also on the fore topmast (see illustration), called a gaff-topsail schooner. A gaff-rigged schooner that is not set up to carry one or more gaff topsails is sometimes termed a "bare-headed" or "bald-headed" schooner. A gaff schooner may carry a square topsail atop the foremast. A schooner with no bowsprit is known as a "knockabout" schooner. A "cat-rigged" schooner not only has no bowsprit but has no headsails, and has the foremast set as far forward as possible.[18]

Governor Ames launch
Schooner Governor Ames preparing for launch, Waldoboro, Maine
Schooner 'Thomas W. Lawson' 1902-1907a
The only seven-masted schooner ever built, Thomas W. Lawson

While schooners were initially defined as having two masts, three-masted schooners were first introduced around 1800.[19] In the late 19th century, additional masts were added as schooners were built with as many as six masts (e.g., the wooden six-masted Wyoming) or seven masts to carry a larger volume of cargo. The only seven-masted schooner, the steel-hulled Thomas W. Lawson, was built in 1902, with a length of 395 ft (120 m), the top of the tallest mast being 155 feet (47 m) above deck, and carrying 25 sails with 43,000 sq ft (4,000 m2) of total sail area. It was manned by a crew of only sixteen. A two- or three-masted schooner is quite maneuverable and can be sailed by a smaller crew than some other sailing vessels. The larger multi-masted schooners were largely a cost-cutting measure introduced towards the end of the days of sail.

Famous schooners


Pride. The Schooner Yacht "Wyvern" R.Y.S. 205 tons.jpeg

The Schooner Yacht Wyvern R.Y.S. 205 tons. 1840


German former pilot schooner Atalanta

Pacific Grace 1

Canadian schooner, Pacific Grace, 2001

RW 9-15-06 011

US schooner Red Witch of Chicago


Two-masted fishing schooner


Amphitrite, the world's oldest seagoing yacht

Schooner Linden

Finnish schooner Linden

La Recouvrance

French topsail schooner La Recouvrance


Topsail schooner Pride of Baltimore II

FS Etoile

French Navy two-masted schooner Étoile


US topsail schooner Californian

Oosterschelde Kieler Foerde

Dutch topsail schooner Oosterschelde

Margaret Todd under sail (4005478541)

Four-masted schooner, Margaret Todd under sail.

Western Union 113

Western Union, flagship of State of Florida and the City of Key West

See also


  1. ^ William Falconer, Universal Dictionary of the Marine, London (1769), p. 257
  2. ^ a b Marquardt, p. 8
  3. ^ SND: Scone
  4. ^ Jamieson, John (1825). Supplement to the Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language. Edinburgh University Press. p. 349.
  5. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition 1989. Oxford University Press, Oxford. Editors John Simpson and Edmund Weiner. Volume 14, page 641
  6. ^ Babson, John. History of the Town of Gloucester, Cape Ann, including the town of Rockport. 1860. p. 251–252.
  7. ^ Howard Chapelle, The History of American Sailing Ships, Norton & Company (1935), p. 13
  8. ^ The Oxford English Dictionary doubts the truth of the anecdote but endorses the likely origin of the word in Gloucester, Mass: '...The anecdote, first recorded, on the authority of tradition, in a letter of 1790 (quoted in Babson Hist. Gloucester, p. 252), looks like an invention. The etymology which it embodies, however, is not at all improbable, though there seems to be a lack of evidence for the existence of the alleged New England verb scoon or scun, ‘to skim along on the water’. Compare Scottish (Clydesdale) scon, ‘to make flat stones skip along the surface of the water’, also intr. ‘to skip in the manner described’ (Jamieson). The early examples afford strong ground for believing that the word really originated about 1713 in Massachusetts, and probably in the town of Gloucester.' "schooner, n.1". OED Online. March 2013. Oxford University Press.
  9. ^ Merriam-Webster: schooner
  10. ^ schooner
  11. ^ 'The evidence of two or three old prints seems to prove that the type of vessel now called ‘schooner’ existed in England in the 17th cent., but it apparently first came into extensive use in New England.' "schooner, n.1". OED Online. March 2013. Oxford University Press.
  12. ^ Cunliffe, Tom (1992). Hand, Reef and Steer. Sheridan House. p. 21. ISBN 1-57409-203-0.
  13. ^ Karl Heinz Marquardt, The Global Schooner: Origins, Development, Design and Construction 1695–1845, Naval Institute Press (2003), p. 13
  14. ^ Marquardt, p. 21
  15. ^ has information about shipbuilding in Essex Archived 2007-05-31 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ Reed, Parker McCobb. History of Bath and environs, Sagadahoc County, Maine: 1607–1894. Portland, Maine: Lakeside Press, 1894. page 179.
  17. ^ Cunliffe, Tom (1992). Hand, Reef and Steer. Sheridan House. p. 22. ISBN 1-57409-203-0.
  18. ^ Collins, Joseph William, "The Evolution of the Fishing Schooner" in Oppel, Frank, ed. Tales of the New England Coast, Book Sales, Inc., Secaucus, New Jersey, 1985. p.121
  19. ^ Marquardt, p. 7

External links


A barquentine or schooner barque (alternatively "barkentine" or "schooner bark") is a sailing vessel with three or more masts; with a square rigged foremast and fore-and-aft rigged main, mizzen and any other masts.


Bluenose was a fishing and racing gaff rig schooner built in 1921 in Nova Scotia, Canada. A celebrated racing ship and fishing vessel, Bluenose under the command of Angus Walters became a provincial icon for Nova Scotia and an important Canadian symbol in the 1930s, serving as a working vessel until she was wrecked in 1946. Nicknamed the "Queen of the North Atlantic", she was later commemorated by a replica, Bluenose II, built in 1963. The name Bluenose originated as a nickname for Nova Scotians from as early as the late 18th century.

Bowdoin (Arctic schooner)

The schooner Bowdoin was designed by William H. Hand, Jr., and built in 1921, in East Boothbay, Maine, at the Hodgdon Brothers Shipyard now known as Hodgdon Yachts. She is the only American schooner built specifically for Arctic exploration, and was designed under the direction of explorer Donald B. MacMillan. She has made 29 trips above the Arctic Circle in her life, three since she was acquired by the Maine Maritime Academy in 1988. She is currently owned by the Maine Maritime Academy, located in Castine, Maine, and is used for their sail training curriculum. She is named for Bowdoin College.


A brigantine is a two-masted sailing vessel with a fully square rigged foremast and at least two sails on the main mast: a square topsail and a gaff sail mainsail (behind the mast). The main mast is the second and taller of the two masts.

Modern American definitions include vessels without the square sails on the main mast.

Capture of the schooner Bravo

The Capture of the schooner Bravo was a naval battle between United States Revenue Cutter Service cutters and one of Jean Lafitte's pirate ships.

In early 1819 the two U.S. Revenue Cutters, USRC Alabama and USRC Louisiana, had just been constructed in New York City, at a cost $4,500 each. The two sister ships, each equipped with a single pivot gun in the 9 to 18-pounder range, were dispatched to the Gulf of Mexico to conduct counter-piracy patrols. Alabama was assigned to the Mobile Squadron and Louisiana assigned to the New Orleans Squadron.

In August 1819, Alabama was temporarily assigned to New Orleans to help thwart the pirate incidents in those waters with Louisiana. On 31 August, the two ships were sailing the Gulf off southern Florida when they sighted the schooner Bravo. The Americans gave chase and eventually came within firing range. Bravo resisted and a brief gunnery duel occurred, in which the first officer and three crew members of Louisiana were wounded. The Americans then boarded Bravo and the pirates were captured. Jean La Farges, who commanded the suspected privateer, was a lieutenant of French pirate Jean Lafitte. Apparently no letter of marque was presented to the Americans which explained why the pirates fled at the sight of the Revenue Cutter schooners.

More battles between United States naval forces and pirates in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean would occur. On 19 April 1819, Alabama and Louisiana destroyed a pirate base at the Patterson's Town Raid on Breton Island, Louisiana. Another action was fought on 10 July 1820 when the Captain of Louisiana captured four pirate ships off Belize. On 2 November 1822, Louisiana along with USS Peacock and the Royal Navy schooner HMS Speedwell captured five pirate vessels off Havana, Cuba.

Capture of the schooner Fancy

The Capture of the schooner Fancy was a famous British victory over two pirate ships under Captain Edward Low. When off Delaware Bay Low attacked a Royal Navy man-of-war which he mistook for a whaler. The resulting combat lasted several hours and ended with the capture of one pirate vessel. In fact, the captured vessel was not the one named Fancy - factually, the combat should have been called "Capture of the sloop Ranger."

Coronet (yacht)

Coronet, a wooden-hull schooner yacht built in 1885, is one of the oldest and largest schooner yachts in the world.

Effie M. Morrissey

Effie M. Morrissey (now Ernestina-Morrissey) was a schooner skippered by Robert Bartlett that made many scientific expeditions to the Arctic, sponsored by American museums, the Explorers Club and the National Geographic Society. She also helped survey the Arctic for the United States Government during World War II. She is currently designated by the United States Department of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark as part of the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park. She is the State Ship of Massachusetts.

French schooner Étoile

Étoile ("star") is a French naval schooner used as a training vessel.

She was launched on 8 February 1932. She is a replica of a type of fishing vessel which was used until 1935 off Iceland. She has a sister ship, Belle Poule.

Both Étoile and Belle Poule joined the Free French Forces during the Second World War, a deed for which they are still honoured by flying the French flag with the cross of Lorraine.

Governor Stone (schooner)

Governor Stone is a historic schooner, built in 1877, in Pascagoula, Mississippi. She is the only surviving two-masted coasting cargo schooner built on the Gulf Coast of the United States, and is only one of five such surviving US-built ships. On 4 December 1991, she was added to the US National Register of Historic Places. One year later, the schooner was designated a US National Historic Landmark. She is presently berthed at Saint Andrews Marina in Panama City, Florida, where she is maintained by a nonprofit group. Sailing tours are regularly scheduled.

L. A. Dunton (schooner)

L. A. Dunton is a National Historic Landmark fishing schooner and museum exhibit located at the Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, Connecticut. Built in 1921, she is the last ship afloat of her type, which was once the most common sail-powered fishing vessel sailing from New England ports. In service in New England waters until the 1930s and Newfoundland into the 1950s. After a brief period as a cargo ship, she was acquired by the museum and restored to her original condition.

La Amistad

La Amistad (pronounced [la a.misˈtað]; Spanish for Friendship) was a 19th-century two-masted schooner, owned by a Spaniard living in Cuba. It became renowned in July 1839 for a slave revolt by Mende captives, who had been enslaved in Sierra Leone, and were being transported from Havana, Cuba, to their purchasers' plantations. The African captives took control of the ship, killing some of the crew and ordering the survivors to sail the ship to Africa. The Spanish survivors secretly maneuvered the ship north, and La Amistad was captured off the coast of Long Island by the brig USS Washington. The Mende and La Amistad were interned in Connecticut while federal court proceedings were undertaken for their disposition. The owners of the ship and Spanish government claimed the slaves as property; but the US had banned the African trade and argued that the Mende were legally free.

Because of issues of ownership and jurisdiction, the case gained international attention. Known as United States v. The Amistad (1841), the case was finally decided by the Supreme Court of the United States in favor of the Mende, restoring their freedom. It became a symbol in the United States in the movement to abolish slavery.

Lettie G. Howard

Lettie G. Howard, formerly Mystic C and Caviare, is a wooden Fredonia schooner built in 1893 in Essex, Massachusetts, USA. This type of craft was commonly used by American offshore fishermen, and is believed to be the last surviving example of its type. She was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1989. She is now based at the South Street Seaport Museum in New York City.

Lewis R. French (schooner)

Lewis R. French is a gaff-rigged topsail schooner sailing out of Camden, Maine as a "Maine windjammer" offering weeklong cruises to tourists. Built in 1871, she is the oldest known two-masted schooner in the United States, and one of a small number of this once-common form of vessel in active service. She was designated a US National Historic Landmark in 1992.

Marilyn Anne (schooner)

Marilyn Anne is a three-masted auxiliary schooner that was built in 1919 as Frem by her Danish owner. She was sold to Sweden in 1938 and later renamed Vestvåg. In 1958, she was sold to Denmark and renamed Vest. Following her sale to an American owner in 1968, she was renamed Marilyn Anne. In 1977, she became a training ship for disadvantaged Danish children.


Roseway is a wooden gaff-rigged schooner launched on 24 November 1925 in Essex, Massachusetts. She is currently operated by World Ocean School, a non-profit educational organization based in Camden, Maine, and is normally operated out of Boston, Massachusetts and Saint Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. She was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1997 as the only known surviving example of a fishing schooner built specifically with racing competition as an objective.

Schooner Te Vega

Te Vega is a two-masted, gaff-rigged auxiliary schooner. Originally launched as the Etak, she was designed by New York naval architects Cox & Stevens in 1929 for American businessman Walter Graeme Ladd and his wife, Catherine ("Kate") Everit Macy Ladd. Etak ("Kate" spelled backwards) was built at the Friedrich Krupp Germaniawerft shipyard in Kiel, Germany, and launched in 1930. During World War II she served the US Navy as Juniata (IX-77). She is among the largest steel-hulled schooners afloat.

Shenandoah (schooner)

The Shenandoah is a 108-foot (33 m) square topsail schooner built in Maine in 1964. Operating as a cruise ship and educational vessel in the waters of Vineyard Haven Harbor, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, she is claimed to be the only schooner of her size and topsail rig without an engine within the world.

Sooner Schooner

The Sooner Schooner is an official mascot of the sports teams of the University of Oklahoma Sooners. Pulled by two white ponies named Boomer and Sooner, it is a scaled-down replica of the Studebaker Conestoga wagon used by settlers of the Oklahoma Territory around the time of the Land Run of 1889 and is considered the first mobile home. Its name comes from the common term for such wagons ("prairie schooners") and the name for settlers who sneaked into the Territory before it was officially opened for settlement ("Sooners").

The Schooner is maintained and driven by members of the RUF/NEKS, the university's all-male spirit organization. At home football games and bowl games, the Sooner Schooner is driven onto the field in an arc that almost reaches the 50-yard line after every score. The RUF/NEK Queen sits next to the driver, and a young member of the RUF/NEKS usually hangs by his legs off the back, waving the university's flag. Until the late 1980s, it was customary for the schooner's driver to stand up while driving the ponies onto the field after scores, and duck down only an instant before reaching the stadium tunnel parking spot, barely clearing the tunnel ceiling—a practice eventually ended for safety reasons. The Schooner made its debut at Owen Field in 1964, and it became the University's official mascot in 1980.

Types of sailing vessels and rigs
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