A schooner is a sailing ship whose sail-plan has two or more masts with the forward mast being shorter or the same height as the rear masts. Most of these schooners are gaff rigged. There was no set maximum number of masts for a schooner. A small schooner has two or three masts, but they were built with as many as six or seven masts to carry a larger volume of cargo. A seven-masted schooner, the Thomas L Lawson, was built in 1902, with a length of 395 ft. and carrying 27 sails with 43,000 sq. ft. of sail. A schooner is quite maneuverable and can be sailed by a smaller crew than some other sailing vessels.
Schooners were used to carry cargo in many different environments, from ocean voyages, to coastal runs and on large inland bodies of water. They were popular in North America, and in their heyday of the late 1800s over 2000 schooners carried cargo back and forth across the Great Lakes. Three-masted "terns" were a favourite rig of Canada's Maritime Provinces. A two-masted schooner, the Bluenose, became greatly celebrated.
Technically speaking, a schooner is not a ship because it has fewer than three masts. In common parlance this distinction is rarely adhered to.