A cutter is generally a small to medium-sized vessel, depending on its role and definition. Historically, it was a smallish single- or double-masted, decked sailcraft designed for speed rather than capacity. As such, it was gaff-rigged, with two or more headsails and often a bowsprit of some length, with a mast sometimes set farther back than on a sloop. While historically a workboat, as used by harbor pilots, the military, and privateers, sailing cutters today are most commonly fore-and-aft rigged private yachts.
Powered cutters vary in size depending on their function, with small boats for ferrying passengers between larger craft and shore sometimes referred to as cutters, rugged smallish vessels serving the traditional role of delivering harbor pilots, and large ocean-going U.S. Coast Guard or UK Border Force ships referred to as cutters by tradition.
Open oared cutters were carried aboard 18th century naval vessels and rowed by pairs of men sitting side-by-side on benches. A similar form that evolved among London watermen remains in use today in club racing.[en]