Sailor Speak of the Week – Ketch

The Swan 65 ketch, Desperado, flying a spinnaker.



  • A two-masted sailboat with the after mast (mizzen/jigger) being shorter and stepped forward of the rudder post.


Probably earlier than the 15th century. Likely via Middle English from the Old French word, quaiche. An earlier English term was catche.


An earlier definition had the vessel as square-rigged. The craft was heavy and not particularly maneuverable.

A drawing of an older style of ketch from Sir William Symonds (RN) Naval Costumes, published in 1840 (King, Hattendorf, & Estes, 1997, p. 58).

In earlier times, these types of vessels were used for coastal trading. During the Napoleonic Wars, the English, French, and Dutch navies adapted them to tend the fleets. The ketch was also useful for mounting mortars on the forward section of the vessel, creating a bomb-ketch or a bomb vessel.


King, D., Hattendorf, J.B, & Estes, J.W. (1997). A Sea of Words: A Lexicon and Companion for Patrick O’Brian’s Seafaring Tales (2nd Ed.). Owl Books.

Rogers, J.G. (1985). Origins of Sea Terms. Mystic Seaport.

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