What's the Best Rig for Offshore Sailing?

Written by William Porter in Beginner Info

There are many boat and rig combinations which work well offshore, but is there any one which is easier, safer, or superior?

The Bermuda rigged sloop, also known as the sloop or Marconi rig, is widely regarded as the best rig for offshore sailing. It's simple and easy to handle, allows for a variety of sail choices, and has good all-around sailing performance. There are many good options for offshore rigs, but the sloop is the most popular.

The Case for the Bermuda Rig

The Bermuda rig is a single mast rig where the mainsail luff attaches to the back of the mast and the clew attaches to the end of the boom. The foot of the sail may be loose-footed or run along a slot in the top of the boom. A sloop configuration adds a single headsail on the headstay (or forestay) controlled by sheets attached to the clew of the sail.

The rig is secured to the hull by a backstay, a forestay, and stabilized side-to-side shrouds on the sides which are offset by spreaders on the side of the mast. Some boats may have additional lower stays to add more stability and strength.

Rig Options

The Marconi sloop may be a fractional rig, where the forestay attaches partway up the mast, or a masthead rig with a headstay (forestay) that attaches to the top of the mast.

Masthead rigs have larger headsails which carry more of the driving force from the sails, while fractional rigs often have smaller jibs and derive most of their sail power from the mainsail.


With one mast and only a few sail controls, the sloop rig is very simple. One halyard for each sail and one sheet for the main and two for the jib are the gross trim controls. Fine sail control with the traveler, outhaul, and jib cars is not complex, and many cruisers don't change them much on passage.

This makes setting and trimming sails easy, but also balancing the rig and the boat isn't as difficult since there are fewer forces at play.


The major advantage of the Bermuda sloop is the many sail options you have for different weather. The mainsail is easily reefed to reduce sail area, and jibs of different sizes give a broad range of performance options.

Off the wind, you can sail the sloop wing-on-wing, or "goose-winged", with the main out away from the wind and the headsail on the windward side. Or a variety of symmetrical spinnakers, asymmetrical spinnakers, cruising gennakers, and code sails give much better performance than the normal jib and main.

Another modification to the sloop rig is a removable inner forestay. Unlike a true cutter, where the rig is further aft, a sloop with a staysail is just that - still a sloop. The staysail will give more speed from close reaching to broad reaching, but it takes a few degrees of upwind point away and shouldn't be flown for dead upwind sailing. An inner forestay is usually the choice for flying a storm jib, especially if the headsail is on a furler.

For major sail area reduction in storm conditions, a storm trysail and a storm jib are options for near bulletproof sails for high winds.

The sloop also sails well and easily bareheaded (no jib) or with jib alone.

Although the "Marconi Rig" nickname references the inventor of the radio, Guglielmo Marconi, he had nothing to do with the development of it. Rather, people who saw the wires holding up the mast thought they looked like radio towers, and attached his name to it from the appearance.

Marconi had a luxurious steam yacht with a sailing rig which he used as a floating laboratory, and the antennas and rigging wires of Elettra may have inspired those who nicknamed the Bermuda rig.


The sloop rig is the top all-around performer, and one of the most efficient all-around rigs. While some sail plans and rigs may be faster reaching or off the wind, the options available to the sloop rig can offset those. If the benchmark is a schooner on a beam reach, put up a big asymmetrical spinnaker and the schooner loses its advantage.

No other rig can touch the sloop sailing upwind. Not only does it point higher into the wind, it sails quickly when properly trimmed. If you can't avoid a long beating leg, the sloop rig will be the most efficient over any split rig or single sailed boat.


The disadvantages of a sloop rig are highlighted by how it compares to the advantages of other rig types. Some sailors may prefer the benefits of other rig types over the features of the sloop, but that does not make the sloop feature a drawback.

The main reason behind the popularity of split rigs is that they divide the sail plan into smaller sails. The main and jib on a large sloop can be quite large and more unwieldy than smaller sails on a ketch or yawl of the same size. For frequent sail changes, this makes a big difference.

The sloop is also a single point of failure on a rig. If the mast breaks, it is more difficult to jury-rig a solution to keep sailing. Boats with an additional mast can still fly sails from the remaining rigging.

Other Rig Options

The Marconi sloop is far from the only option available, and many rigs are perfectly suitable for offshore sailing. It comes down to the question of what the skipper and crew prefer, and how they want to sail.


The cutter rig is popular because it divides the sail plan up into two smaller headsails - a Yankee and a staysail, and a main. The main sail is often smaller, as the rig is usually pushed back in the boat to offset the center of effort of the two headsails. Some cutters also have small sprits to extend the forestay further out for a larger headsail.

The cutter is not as efficient going to windward as a sloop, but can make up for it with good reaching performance with the two headsails. Tacking two sails in close quarters, or one sail with an inner forestay in the way, can be a bit of a hassle, and care must be taken to keep the trim of both sails in line for maximum smooth airflow. Cutters can carry spinnakers and other off-the-wind sails.

Split Rigs

Split rigs include the ketch and the yawl, and any yacht with multiple masts to split up the sail plan. They both are like a Bermuda rig, but with a second mast smaller than the mainmast. On a ketch, the mast is larger and forward of the rudder post. On a yawl, the small mizzen is aft of the rudder. The larger mizzen sail on a ketch is more of a driving force for boat speed, but on a yawl, the mizzen may be much smaller and may add more balance than speed.

The major advantages of the split rig are reduced sail sizes for easier sail handling and more versatility for sail options. Smaller, lighter sails are easier to move and hoist. With two masts and three or four sails, you can set sails for different conditions for optimal comfort, balance, and speed, and you can use the same downwind sails as a sloop.

The disadvantages are primarily in upwind performance and complexity. Split rig boats don't point as high upwind, and rigging often involves more stays, wires between rigs, and potential points of failure.

Cat Rigs

The cat rig has a single mast placed up near the bow of the boat. In most cases, it's a single large sail, and can be a simple rig with reasonable performance. Some use a "wishbone" boom, though gaff-rigged catboats aren't uncommon in older designs. A cat-rigged ketch has two masts, with the second slightly smaller than the first.

The primary advantage of a cat rig is simplicity. Cat rigs are unstayed, so there is less standing rigging to maintain or catch on. With a single large sail, there are very few sail controls to worry about, and you may not even have to adjust your trim to tack. They don't go to weather badly, and that large sail fills well for off the wind sailing.

The disadvantage is the limited sail plan options. You can't fly spinnakers or off the wind sails, or different combinations of sails.

Older Rig Styles

Schooners are split-rig boats with the main mast towards the stern and a smaller foremast. While beautiful under sail, they are often more complex to rig, trim and tack. They are usually gaff-rigged, and can fly multiple headsails, fishermen, topsails and other sails to increase off the wind sail area. They will handle off shore conditions and sail very well on reaches, but require more effort and attention to sail properly.

Lateen rigs are not popular cruising rigs, though they may be found in many coastal boats and dinghies like the Sunfish. The single triangular sail mounts to two spars and suspends from an unstayed mast. Simple to use, but not easy to reef.

For more information on rigs, see our Guide to Understanding Sail Rig Types (with Pictures).

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