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A sailboat or sailing boat is a boat propelled partly or entirely by sails smaller than a sailing ship. Distinctions in what constitutes a sailing boat and ship vary by region and maritime culture. Although sailboat terminology has varied across history, many terms have specific meanings in the context of modern yachting. A great number of sailboat-types may be distinguished by size, hull configuration, keel type, purpose, number and configuration of masts, and sail plan.

Traditional sailboats are monohulls, but multi-hull catamarans and trimarans are gaining popularity. Monohull boats generally rely on ballast for stability and usually are displacement hulls. This stabilizing ballast can, in boats designed for racing, be as much as 50% of the weight of the boat, but is generally around 30%. It creates two problems; one, it gives the monohull tremendous inertia, making it less maneuverable and reducing its acceleration. Secondly, unless it has been built with buoyant foam or air tanks, if a monohull fills with water, it will sink.

Multihulls rely on the geometry and the broad stance of the multiple hulls for their stability, eschewing any form of ballast. Indeed, multihulls are designed to be as light-weight as possible, yet maintain structural integrity. They are often built with foam-filled flotation chambers and many modern commercial trimarans are rated as unsinkable, meaning that, should every crew compartment be completely filled with water, the hull itself has sufficient buoyancy to remain afloat.This absence of ballast also results in some very real performance gains in terms of acceleration, top speed, and maneuverability.

All vessels have keels, it is the backbone of the hull. In traditional construction, it is the structure upon which all else depends. Modern monocoque designs include a virtual keel. Even multihulls have keels. On a sailboat, the word "keel" is also used to refer to the area that is added to the hull to improve its lateral plane. The lateral plane is what prevents leeway and allows sailing towards the wind. This can be an external piece or a part of the hull.

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