Not all catamaran charters are created equal. If it’s in your budget, a ~45-50 foot catamaran is the sweet spot for most crews of 8-10. It has all the space and features you need to enjoy in style, your week in paradise.
I’ve learned what to look for after chartering catamarans in the Caribbean for 10 years. I’ll tell you which sailing catamaran features are worth paying up for. Additionally, I’ll describe what you can expect from the four different classes of catamarans: 40-footers all the way up to 55+. Let’s dive in.
Which sailing catamaran charter features do you need?
What catamaran yacht features do you need for your trip, and which are worth budgeting for? Here are my thoughts on the 14 most common features you can expect to see.
What is a flybridge? It’s an area up top with seating and/or lounge space where most of the crew can hang together. Sometimes, the helm station is also integrated.
If you book a 45+ foot catamaran for a bareboat charter, you are usually guaranteed to have a flybridge. On a 42-foot cat, there may be a lounge area for two underneath the boom, but I wouldn’t consider that a flybridge.
This is a must-have for me – the flybridge is our main hangout area during our charter trips when we are on the move. I prefer the layouts on Lagoons and Balis where the helm station is integrated, not offset to port or starboard. Another benefit of these versions? You get a bimini with shade for everyone, not just the skipper.
Outdoor speakers ⚓⚓⚓⚓⚓
Yes, believe it or not, I’ve chartered a catamaran without outdoor speakers. We had to use a portable one, and it was less than ideal.
It’s rare, but worth checking for this one.
Air conditioning and generator ⚓⚓⚓⚓
This is another must-have for our crew, and I recommend it if you have the budget. Adjusting to sleep on a catamaran charter usually takes a day or two, and it’s made harder if you are tossing and turning in a stuffy cabin. Sleeping well for us is important while on vacation.
If you’re on a catamaran charter in the winter months when the trades blow stronger and cooler, it’s possible to get away without the AC.
Of course, there are downsides to using the AC. The main one is the constant hum of the generator. The units can also be finicky, sometimes requiring troubleshooting and maintenance calls from the base.
In destinations such as the Exumas or Spanish Virgin Islands, with fewer opportunities to top off tanks, a watermaker is a sensible choice.
If you adhere to good water discipline, it’s possible to make it a week without topping off. The biggest water savers are using saltwater for dishes and taking navy showers (turning off the water when soaping up).
I appreciate not having to worry about water usage rates, and I prioritize booking cats with this feature.
Bimini cover ⚓⚓⚓⚓
An often overlooked feature, many crews don’t realize that their flybridge areas underneath the boom are sometimes not covered at all.
Look for models with integrated helm stations, such as the Lagoon 46.
I take it a step further and find yachts with hardtop bimini covers for the crews that we help. This is advantageous for several reasons:
The coverage area is usually larger than soft tops
You can climb on top to access the boom/mainsail
It gives you a better handhold when sailing in spirited conditions
Underwater blue lights ⚓⚓⚓
Underwater lights are great if you like to fish. It’s always fun to see what marine critters will show up. Plus, they look cool!
Hydraulic swimming platform ⚓⚓
Another nice to have on sailing catamarans. I appreciate it more from the fact that it makes raising the dinghy up much easier, especially compared to a system with a manual winch.
Electric winches ⚓⚓
At a minimum, most cats will have an electric winch to raise the main. Sometimes they will also have electric winches for the jib, but not always.
I also would like to see an electric winch for the dinghy davit system, but sometimes it’s hard to confirm this feature.
Forward hatch in the salon ⚓⚓
This is another nice to have on catamaran charters, and many yachts in the 50+ foot range might have, especially Balis.
Garage door-style salon ⚓⚓
This is a feature unique to the Bali. There is one table, and the garage door opens up to create an indoor/outdoor space. Side windows also slide open.
I enjoy the setup, but it’s not for everyone. Keep in mind the salon is not air-conditioned since the garage door is not airtight.
Teak decking ⚓
Looks nice, I guess? But, not something important to me on a sailing vacation.
Solar panels ⚓
These might help you run the engines less for battery re-charging, but I really don’t pay attention to this feature when choosing a cat for week-long charters.
Bow thrusters ⚓
I’ve seen these on a Bali 5.4, but we were advised not to use them. With twin engines, catamarans can spin on a dime already.
Self-tacking jib ⚓
This is a nice feature since it requires less work from the crew, but I’ve recently found many of the jib clew control systems are broken. This prevents proper sheet position management and sail trim. In that case, I’d rather just have a traditional jib sheet setup.
This isn’t an important feature for me.
The four classes of charter catamarans
These are great for families or crews traveling on a budget. You’ll get 3-4 cabins, but usually only two heads. If you’ve got kids aboard, this probably works out just fine.
Most 40-footers catamaran charters do not have any flybridge or lounge area. On the plus side, the mainsail will be much more accessible!
One exception on the flybridge is a newer model from Bali – the Catspace.
Fontaine Pajot (FP) Isla 40
42-foot catamaran charters
These are usually 3-4 cabins and 3-4 heads (depending on if it’s an owner’s version). Many 42-footers will have options for air conditioning and water makers. The biggest feature lacking is a dedicated flybridge area, which shows up in the next class of charter catamarans.
These are great for crews who are still budget-minded but are looking for a few more features to lighten the load on their sailing vacation.
FP Astrea 42
This is the sweet spot for most crews of eight. There is plenty of space, and you can find any feature that might be important to you without breaking the budget.
Lagoon 46 (previously the Lagoon 450)
FP Elba 45
50+ foot catamaran charters
Here’s where you enter party barge territory for your catamaran charter. These charter catamarans typically have 5-6 cabins, sometimes mixing in single or bunk bed cabins.
They feature larger flybridge areas and usually have some of the many, if not most, of the features I listed above.