cropped photo of man wearing blue jeans and brown shoes in white sailboat with brown backpack on bench

Set Sail on a Sloop

If you’ve always had a sense of adventure, you may have dreamed of hopping into a sailboat and floating off into the unknown.

Sloops, one of the smallest and most popular types of boats throughout history, are a common form of summer recreation for many people who live near lakes, rivers, and oceans. 


Early sloops have been around since at least the early 17th century. However, they did not reach the peak of their popularity until approximately a century ago. Sloops were named after the Dutch term sloep, which means “to glide.” While they are typically used for passengers today, they were once a popular means of transporting goods shorter distances than the routes commonly used by larger cargo ships.   


Sloops are similar to many other types of small sailboats, but they are set apart from other boats by the distinct setup of their sails. Sloops have only one mast, while larger boats can have several more. This mast holds one mainsail and one headsail for the simplest and most common sloops, though more may be used. Some sloops may also use topsails. 

Many sloops are characterized by their size, and they are often no larger than small yachts. Because they have only one mast and a limited number of sails, most sloops are no larger than 45 feet long in order to keep them from becoming difficult to control. 


While today’s sloops are mainly used for recreational purposes, often in lakes, they were also instrumental in transporting people and goods along rivers throughout history. Prior to the invention of the steamboat, a type of self-powered boat that does not rely on sails, sloops were one of the most common types of boats used in rivers. Some major rivers, such as the Hudson River and the Mississippi River, were once major travel and trade routes within the country, and sloops and other riverboats played vital roles in expanding the early United States.  


Sloops are just one of a variety of possible small sailboats for sailors to choose from. One distinct advantage to sailing sloops is the ease with which they are controlled under ideal sailing conditions, which makes them a fine choice for both experienced and novice sailors. Recreational sailboats are much smaller than other types of ships, such as the massive cargo ships that are used for transporting goods across oceans, which means that they have far fewer crew members to handle them. 

Sailing sloops also offers a distinct economic advantage over larger boats. Using one mast and a smaller number of sails and wires means that it is often cheaper to build and purchase sloops than larger boats. Because many sloops are used for recreational purposes, sailors often prefer to purchase less expensive, smaller sailboats over larger boats with more complex masts and sails. 


Like many forms of transportation, sloops have their place in pop culture. One of the best-known references to this type of sailboat is The Beach Boys’ “Sloop John B.” The Beach Boys’ version of the song, which is based on a much older folk song from Nassau, was featured in the movie Forrest Gump, and it is considered to be one of the top 500 songs of all time

Sailors of all ages and levels of experience often choose the sloop over other small boats because it is often considered to be one of the easiest boats to manage. Its popularity over the last century has given it an irreplaceable place in nautical history, pop culture, and the hearts of sailors around the world.