This page looks at the top 9 catamaran advantages over a conventional sailboat. The advantages we talk about here are the ones that Carllie and I have come to really appreciate after seven years of catamaran sailing.
1. Level sailing gives greater comfort and is less tiring
Cruising catamarans heel only 5 to 10 degrees under sail as compared to 30 to 45 for the average keel ballasted boat. The comfort that results from this level sailing is felt many ways.
- It is far less tiring. A good friend and long time crew member, Casey Lerand, after his first trip on our 28′ cat, Light Wave, on crossing the 20-mile wide Strait of Georgia off Vancouver, remarked that he just wasn’t tired after the crossing. On a monohull heeled over 35 degrees, it is very difficult to stand and so you end up sitting at this extreme angle which turns a long sail into a very long sit-up. Your body is actually fighting against gravity. This fatigue factor on conventional sailboats results in errors of judgment and mistakes which can have serious consequences.
- As well, since most offshore passages are usually done downwind with the wind at your back, there is huge difference between the serene level sailing of a cat and the corkscrewing and wallowing of a conventional boat. Sailing down wind in 15 kts of wind at 8 to 10 kts under a spinnaker or double headsail rig is truly delightful on a cat. With a catamaran’s level sailing, seasickness is reduced significantly (come back soon for a link to our article on all our anti-seasickness strategies and counter-measures).It seems that you do the same activities whether you are at anchor, sailing, or motoring. Cooking, reading, repairs are all far less tiring on a level boat.
- You don’t have to put away everything every time you start sailing. It is only when conditions are extreme (perhaps gale force winds and going to windward) that it might get a little bouncy but still the motion is a mere fraction of what it would be in a monohull sailboat.
2. No rolling in an anchorage
We have found this a very valuable yet seldom talked about benefit, as we can drop the hook in anchorage s which are not usable by monohulls because of the wave and swell action or the wake of passing boats. We usually find we have such anchorages almost all to ourselves even in the busy summer season.
3. Cruise in shallow water
Because catamarans have a shallow draft (how much water they need to float in) you can go and cruise and anchor in areas that monohulls can’t get into. The draft on catamaran varies from 1 to 4 feet depending on whether it has mini-keels or dagger boards and the size of the cat. For example our 28′ catamaran, which has mini-keels, has a draft of just 2 feet and 4 inches.
Again, with this kind of very small draft you can go enter shallow anchorages, and be away from the crowds. You just have more options.
4. Being able to dry out
If your catamaran has mini-keels or is built to dry out (retractable rudders and reinforced hull bottoms), then you have still more anchorage options. Our favorite anchorage which is 2 days from home in Vancouver, is Home Bay on Jedediah Island in the Strait of Georgia (come back soon for a future link to all the details on this catamaran-only anchorage). This perfectly flat almost landlocked bay dries out at low tide (25% of the day) and has 8 feet of water for the other 75% of the day: perfect for swimming. We have this bay all to ourselves except for the odd kayaker and camper on shore, even during the prime summer cruising season. At low tide while Light Wave sits on the bottom, we jump off the boat and meander around the bay picking oysters and digging for clams that abound.
Another great advantage is the great 360 degree view you have from most catamaran bridge decks. In the average sailboat you are down below, the port holes are at standing eye level or higher. Before we built our cat, we were quite keen on building a 29-foot Lyle Hess cutter, the same model that Larry and Lyn Pardey built and sail on. However after touring one, we were completely turned off because you took six big steps into the hull and could see nothing and we felt trapped in a dungeon.5. View from bridge deck cabin
Instead, on a cat you usually have a full view of the anchorage, other boats, general goings on, and enjoy the scenery while eating dinner, writing, or reading a book.
6. Lots of Space
Because of the large wide deck areas there is a real feeling of space when outside on a cat, from the wide cockpit where you can set up a deck chair or hammock to the bow nets.
On a catamaran with its separate hulls from the bridge deck cabin you almost have three boats in one. Even on cats with the hulls joined to the bridgedeck there is lot of privacy as the accommodation is spread out over a very wide space. The corners of the boat are usually where the separate cabins and the head are, all very separated from the activity of the seating and lounging areas and the galley.
8. Safety: catamarans don’t sink, you aren’t thrown overboard
There are many safety advantages to a catamaran. As mentioned above under level sailing, there is less fatigue which allows you to make better decisions.
Secondly cats of have genuine positive buoyancy because of the wood and/or foam construction, as well as usually numerous watertight compartments. This means that even if holed and flooded by collision or a broken sea cock, a cat will continue float. Unfortunately this is not the case in a lead keel monohull where you have only minutes to react to holing and flooding, or risk losing the boat.
Thirdly, again because of the level sailing there is less motion and it is easier to stay on board. The majority of fatal injuries on boats is from “Man overboard” accidents. On a catamaran there is less motion so there is less risk of these man-overboard accidents.
Speed isn’t just for our racing cats. Our little 28 foot cat routinely cruises at 6-10 kts. This makes your crossings faster which opens up a wider range of destinations for a weekend or week-long cruise, or you can just glory in being among the first to arrive at those closer anchorages!
With the proper light air sails (i.e., screecher) our catamaran can out-sail most monohulls of less than 40 feet (unless they are also using their engine, which a surprising number like to do.) They are really using their sailboat like a motorsailer.
Lastly it’s just more fun to do 7 knots in just 10 knots of wind !