Although any boat with a single sail and a mast carried well forward is 'technically' a catboat, the traditional catboat has a wide beam approximately half the length of the boat, a centerboard, and a single gaff-rigged sail. Some catboats such as the Barnegat Bay type and more modern catboat designs carry a Bermuda sail. A jib is sometimes added, but this may require a bowsprit, and technically creates a sloop sail-plan.
It is generally accepted that the origin of the catboat type was in New York around 1840 and from there spread east and south as the virtues of the type — simplicity, ease of handling, shallow draft, large capacity — were discovered.
Historically, catboats were used for fishing and transport in the coastal waters around Cape Cod, Narragansett Bay, New York and New Jersey. Some were fitted with bowsprits for swordfishing and others were used as 'party boats' with canvas-sided, wood-framed summer cabins that could be rolled up.
Around the turn of the 19th century, catboats were adapted for racing, and long booms and gaffs, bowsprits and large jibs were fitted to capture as much wind as possible. The decline of racing and advent of small, efficient gasoline engines eliminated the need for large sailplans, and catboats today are used as pleasure craft for day sailing and cruising, and have the virtues of roominess, stability and simple handling, though many catboats have poorer upwind performance than well-designed sloop-rigged craft.
One of the most well-known catboats is the 12-foot (3.7 m) Beetle Cat daysailer. Fleets of these one-design boats are found in harbors all across New England, often competing in races. In the 1960's, Breck Marshall based his 18-foot (5.5 m) fiberglass Sanderling upon an existing, wooden design. The Sanderling has since become a very popular boat, with more than 700 built, and it has helped to rekindle interest in the catboat. To honor Marshall and his contribution to the type, the Catboat Association funded the construction of the Breck Marshall, a 20-foot (6.1 m) catboat built and berthed at Mystic Seaport.
The terms catboat and cat-rigged are often confused with catamaran. Catamaran describes the hull structure of a boat (specifically, it refers to two hulls side-by-side) whereas cat-rigged and catboat describe the sail plan and vessel type, respectively. To add to the confusion, some small sporting catamarans are cat-rigged and both terms are abbreviated cat when no ambiguity is foreseen. A catboat was used in colonial times.
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- Beetle Cat - small "daysailer" catboat
- Nonsuch - a series of 18 ft (5.5 m) to 36 ft (11 m) modern catboats
- Inland Cat - 14.5 footer designed and built in Northern Indiana.
- World of Boats (EISCA) Collection ~ Cayman Islands Cat Boat
- Cape Cod Shipbuilding builders of fine sailboats for over 100 years.
- The Catboat Association a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the history, and promoting the use, of catboats.
- Com-Pac Yachts Cat Boats builders of the trailerable catboats Picnic Cat, Sun Cat, and Horizon Cat.
- Wagner Boat Works a manufacturer of traditionally-styled fiberglass catboats from 15 to 23 feet (7.0 m) long.
- Marshall Marine Corporation a manufacturer of traditionally-styled fiberglass catboats from 15 to 22 feet (6.7 m) long.
- Thompson Boatworks a manufacturer of 15- and 19-foot (5.8 m) long traditionally-styled fiberglass catboats. Now owned and supported by Wagner Boat Works.
- Arey's Pond Boat Yard a manufacturer of traditionally-styled fiberglass catboats from 12 to 20 feet (6.1 m) long.
- MengerCat.com a resource for information about Menger Catboats built between 1976 and 2005. Now owned and supported by Wagner Boat Works.
- Selina II the largest surviving vintage catboat.
- Beetle, Inc. manufacturer of the Beetle catboat.
- New England Beetle Cat Boat Association a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the maintenance, restoration, preservation and just plain sailing the Beetle Cat Boat.
- Howard Boats manufacturer of the Barnstable catboat, a fiberglass version of the traditional wooden Beetle catboat.
- "Catboat moments" an article about catboats in the August 2005 issue of Soundings Magazine.