The available space for the sailor is smaller still, as the sailor usually sits on the deck in the area behind the thwart. (Sitting on the thwart while under sail puts the sailor’s head above the boom of the mainsail—even in a small boat, being struck on the head by the boom is painful.)
With a characteristic snub-nosed bow and high sides, the El Toro design is a sharp contrast to the low-profile, more sleek design of the Laser or many other newer boats. However, the stability of the El Toro makes it ideal for teaching sailing.
Many junior sailing programs use the El Toro to introduce new sailors to racing, as the boat is easier for the young or inexperienced to control. Lasers, and other similar boats, generally require a larger person and quick reactions to keep the boat under control in brisk winds.
While the boat is often used by children and junior sailors, and many adults complain of the small space available for sitting in, the boat should not be considered a "youth only" boat. As the annual regatta season makes clear, there does exist a community of adults who continue to sail El Toros long past their early junior sailor days.
Although it is possible to sail an El Toro in the Monterey Bay and San Francisco Bay, the boats are most often used on more protected waters of the lakes and estuaries in the Northern California region.
The El Toro features a decked over bow, which distinguishes it from the Naples Sabot, which is the predominant Sabot style dinghy in Southern California. With the decked over bow, the El Toro is able to handle the rougher waters of the San Francisco Bay.
The El Toro name and the shovel sail insignia are attributed to the to being named after the 'bull sessions' that gave rise to the boat and the program.
The original El Toros were made of wood, with newer materials approved for use in the 1970s. The 1970s also saw the introduction of the self-rescuing El Toro, which includes air tanks that prevent a capsized El Toro from completely submerging.
The First El Toro was built in Berkeley, in a night school shop where Harry Coxhead taught boat building. Coxhead, Hal Decker and Bill Warren were instrumental in selecting the design for the Richmond Yacht Club, which wanted a small boat for use as a yacht tender and sailing dinghy.
The trio drafted the El Toro design by copying and modifying plans published in Rudder Magazine for the MacGregor Sabot, an eight foot pram.
The Richmond Yacht Club's 40 members, who had been debating possible designs at regular meetings, adopted the plan and named the boat after these bull sessions.
According to the El Toro International Yacht Racing Association, there were over 11,000 El Toros in the class in 2002.
The original name for the race was the Ano Del Gran Concurso Barco Toro, which translates roughly into Golden Gate Bullship Race".
The Bullship Race has been running since 1953 and represents one of the most harrowing El Toro regattas in the racing schedule. The course starts in Sausalito, crosses the bay between Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge and ends at the Saint Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco.
Narrasketuck Yacht Club, located in Amityville, New York, holds an annual frostbite series for El Toros. The series kicks off with the Bullshot Regatta, held on New Year's Day.