Can a Catamaran Sail Boat be a Good Choice for Cruising?

With accommodation in both hulls and the central structure, catamaran sailboats have certainly got ample space below to make good cruising homes - but not all of them make good long-term cruising sailboats.

And catamarans work better in some parts of the world than others. In the Caribbean for example, where they're very popular, safe leeward anchorages abound - so there's little reason to tie up in expensive marinas.

In other parts where safe anchorages are not so easy to find, mooring your catamaran in a marina can be pretty expensive. Expect to pay double what you'd pay for a monohull of similar length overall.

Charterers though, looking for a spacious floating home for a few weeks that doesn't heel over, love them.

And herein lies the problem with most, but not all, production catamarans...

Their ability to sail upright, together with their commodious accommodation makes them very attractive to the bareboat charter market.

The temptation is for the catamaran manufacturer to pander more to the lucrative charter market than the prospective cruising owner, and maximise accommodation - and hence the income for the charter company - to the detriment of everything else.

However, some enlightened manufacturers market two versions of their creations - a Charter Version and an Owners Version. Clearly if you're looking for a catamaran for cruising, the OWNERS VERSION is the one to go for. 

A Typical Accommodation Layout in a Catamaran Sail Boat

interior layout of cruising charter catamaranInterior layout of cruising charter catamaran

Three separate cabins, each with a double berth, is the norm in a 38 foot catamaran sail boat designed for chartering.

Unlike a monohull, these double berths stay reasonably flat and level when underway, so individual seaberths with leecloths aren't necessary.

In multihull sailboats of this type, the bridgedeck is often set low to provide standing headroom in the saloon, when it would be better set higher to enable waves to pass unhindered beneath it.

The resultant noise and slamming when underway is not something that can be easily ignored.

The accommodation in a similarly sized trimaran is not nearly so, er, accommodating - but the performance will be much more exhilarating.

Characteristics of a Catamaran Sail Boat Underway

The windage of these bungalow-proportioned multihulls has lead to the catamarans' reputation as a poor windward performer, and this is particularly so when reefed down in heavy weather.

Overloading a catamaran sail boat will, as with all light displacement sailboats, decrease the Sail-Area/Displacement Ratio and spoil performance.

Consequently small, high volume cats, when loaded with the equipment for offshore cruising can become, well, dogs. And it's for this reason that, in my opinion, long-distance cruising catamarans only begin to make sense at around 45 feet.

Gunboat 62 Catamaran'Zenyatta' - A Gunboat 62 Cruising Catamaran

Some, like the the magnificent example shown above, are manufactured from hi-tech materials - carbon composite hull, carbon masts...

On the wind, owing to their minimal draft, catamarans can make considerable leeway. Most have vestigial keels to resist this tendency, but those designed to really tramp on have daggerboards.

At sea, their inability to absorb the small variations in the wind by heeling gives them a peculiar, lurching movement which can be a bit disconcerting until you get used to it.

Also, the rapid variations in speed and the effects these have on the apparent wind direction, mean that wind vane self-steering systems find it very difficult to keep multihulls on a straight course

The Freebird 50, a long distance cruising catamaran built by Northshore Yachts.A Freebird 50 catamaran designed for long-distance cruising.

But a properly designed catamaran from the board of a designer unconstrained by the requirements of the charter market can make a fine cruising boat.

In reasonable conditions a well-sailed catamaran can often arrive at an upwind destination earlier than a monohull of similar length - any inferior pointing ability having been compensated by a higher speed through the water and resulting VMG (Velocity Made Good).

Under power, a catamaran's maneuverability can be remarkable.

If they have an engine in each hull, putting one astern and the other ahead will turn a catamaran sailboat in its own length with ease - a redeeming feature in a marina, where you're likely to attract a hefty surcharge for a berth.

Meanwhile the catamaran versus monohull debate rages on...

Anchoring & Mooring a Catamaran Sail Boat

A catamaran at anchor is prone to swing and yaw about - a characteristic not universally applauded by monohull cruisers anchored nearby. This cavorting at anchor is a result of the catamaran's:

  • high windage;
  • light displacement;
  • shallow draft.

But it can be much reduced by a bridle as sported by the catamaran shown below...

A Lagoon 42 cruising catamaran at anchorA Lagoon 42 catamaran anchored with a bridle to reduce swinging and yawing.

The catamaran is anchored from the bow centreline in the normal way following which the bridle is attached.

The bridle is attached to the anchor chain by a grab hook, and secured to each of the hulls at an adequately engineered pad eye. Most skippers leave the bridle permanently fitted to the hulls ready for deployment at the next anchorage as demonstrated by the Krysna 480 shown below.

A Krysna 480 catamaran prepares to anchor.The bridle is ready for attachment to the anchor chain when the crew of this Krysna 480 have securely anchored.

What Other Visitors Have Said

Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page...

Multihull Owners Testimonials 
My 2005 Admiral 38 catamaran Afloat is a 38 foot long, 23 foot beam, owner's version (3 stateroom) beauty. Admiral cats were manufactured in South …

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