An Aft Cockpit or a
Center Cockpit Sailboat?

As I see it, the main benefit of a center cockpit sailboat is that it provides space below for a large aft cabin. A pal of mine once had a boat show salesman speechless when being led into the aft cabin (sorry, 'the owner's stateroom') of a 45ft (14m) centre cockpit sailboat, "Good Lord" he said, "It's a fornicatorium!"

Well, I know what he meant. A king-sized walk-around bed with en-suite facilities, it would've stood comparison with an upmarket honeymoon-hotel bedroom.

It certainly provided a level of privacy and seclusion not normally found on a sailboat; an in-harbour refuge par excellence, separated from the rest of the interior accommodation by a walk-through passageway along the starboard side.

At sea though, this type of aft-cabin is not so good. In fact, it's pretty much a waste of space other than as a store room, as the occupants of the bed would soon find themselves rolled out onto the cabin sole.

Some sailboat manufacturers, wrestling with the cost versus size versus accommodation conundrum and seeing such commodious aft cabins as huge selling points, produce center cockpit sailboats that end up being less than successful for offshore cruising

In these the cockpit sole has been raised to accommodate access below which in my view doesn't make for seaworthy sailboat design.

In such sailboats the sensation for the crew is of being perched insecurely on the cockpit rather than being securely protected within it.

A centre-cockpit sailboatMary at the helm of a center-cockpit cruising yacht - a Whitby 42

But it is possible to produce a smaller center cockpit sailboat with a comfortable double berth aft cabin without compromising cockpit security, but at the expense of access to it.

Gone will be the passageway connecting it to the rest of the accommodation, now access to it will be through a forward facing companionway leading from the cockpit.

There are at least three issues with this:

  • Facing into the elements, this type of companionway is very wet in bad weather;
  • When the companionway is left open to the cockpit, as it must be to provide light and ventilation, the occupants have almost no privacy if other people are aboard;
  • It's too remote from the rest of the accommodation. Shut away in the aft cabin, what chance is there of hearing the anchor chain graunch in the stemhead when the boat drags its anchor?

My view? Well, a center cockpit sailboat is great for cruising, provided that:

  • The sailboat is big enough to provide access to it from within the interior accommodation below without compromising cockpit security, and
  • There are sufficient 'proper' seaberths with lee-cloths for all offwatch crew.

Otherwise, it's an aft cockpit sailboat for me.


More on Aft v. Centre Cockpits...

What are the advantages of a centre cockpit sailboat?

Some of the advantages of a centre cockpit sailboat are:

  • It usually has a large and private aft cabin with good headroom;
  • It has better visibility all around and easier close-quarters handling due to the mid-ship position;
  • It can be fully enclosed without losing visibility, which can provide more comfort and protection in bad weather;
  • It has more aft deck space for storage of items like bicycles, life rafts, etc;
  • It is drier and safer as it is harder to get pooped by a wave into the cockpit and it is higher above the waterline;
  • It has a smoother motion in the cockpit as it is not at the end of the boat.

What are the disadvantages of a centre cockpit sailboat?

Some of the disadvantages of a centre cockpit sailboat are:

  • It has less on-deck locker space due to the use of space below the deck for the aft cabin;
  • It is harder to dock as it is not easy to reach from the wheel to a piling or a cleat;
  • It can have an ugly or bulky appearance if not done right, especially on smaller boats. It also has more windage and drag due to the higher profile;
  • It can have poor ventilation in the master cabin if it is blocked by the cockpit;
  • It can have a stiff or remote steering system, usually cable connected, that lacks feedback;
  • It can have reduced forward visibility and a higher risk of seasickness due to the high cockpit sole and the greater arc of rolling motion;
  • It can have a cramped or gloomy saloon or forward cabin, or both, due to the compromise in layout . Some older designs may not have internal access between the aft cabin and the saloon.

What are the advantages of an aft cockpit sailboat?

Some of the advantages of an aft cockpit sailboat are:

  • It has more on-deck locker space as it does not use space below deck for a large aft cabin;
  • It is easier to dock as it is possible to reach from the wheel to a piling or a cleat;
  • It has a sleeker and more balanced appearance, especially on smaller boats. It also has less windage and drag due to the lower profile;
  • It can have better ventilation in the cabins as they are not blocked by the cockpit;
  • It can have a more direct or responsive steering system, usually hydraulic or rod connected, that provides feedback;
  • It can have better forward visibility and less risk of seasickness due to the lower cockpit sole and the smaller arc of rolling motion;
  • It can have a more spacious or bright saloon or forward cabin, or both, due to the better layout . Most designs have internal access between all cabins.

What are the disadvantages of an aft cockpit sailboat?

Some of the disadvantages of an aft cockpit sailboat are:

  • It usually has a smaller and less private aft cabin with less headroom;
  • It has worse visibility all around and harder close-quarters handling due to the aft position;
  • It cannot be fully enclosed without losing visibility, which can reduce comfort and protection in bad weather.

The above answers were drafted by sailboat-cruising.com using GPT-4 (OpenAI’s large-scale language-generation model) as a research assistant to develop source material; to the best of our knowledge, we believe them to be accurate.


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