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Catamaran vs Monohull: Why the Cat is Better for Your Sailing Trip

Catamaran vs Monohull

You have a big decision to make.

You’re the captain, planning your next week-long bareboat sailing vacation in the caribbean. What type of sailing yacht do you choose? Make sure you don’t disappoint the crew.

There are more than a couple things to consider.

I’ll preface this so you know my bias up front – I only sail catamarans for yacht charters. This is what I recommend.

That said, I don’t think there is a right and a wrong answer. 

The catamaran is a good fit for our crew – 4 couples in our 30s. A couple reasons why:

  • We enjoy the extra lounge space a cat provides, especially a flybridge if available – that’s where we’ll spend most of our time during the day
  • We like the common areas being above the waterline and the better stability
  • We care less about sailing performance – we are the type of crew that is OK dropping sails if the winds are light or it’s more convenient to motor
  • As the captain, I appreciate the maneuverability twin engines provide for docking – it keeps some stress out of the equation
  • Most tend to come with generators, AC, and water makers: all features we enjoy on these trips

Here’s a review of the Bali 5.4 I put together that talks about some of these reasons, including lots of pictures.

Catamaran vs monohull comparison
Catamaran vs monohull - which has the advantage?

I came up with a few criteria to consider as a framework for your next trip…just remember – choose what makes the most sense for your group and budget.

If you want to learn more about handling and sailing catamarans, check out the Smarter Charter Guide or ASA’s Cruising Catamarans Made Easy.

Smarter Charter (Amazon)

This covers everything you need to know including docking, sailing, and anchoring a catamaran. I like to review it as a refresher before our bareboat charter trips.

Cruising Catamarans Made Easy (Amazon)

Another great resource is the American Sailing Association's Cruising Catamarans Made Easy.

Let the catamaran vs monohull debate begin. 

I’ll go through each of these in more detail:

Lounging on the catamaran's top deck
You'll find lounging space everywhere on a catamaran

Space & lounging

Advantage: Catamaran

I enjoy the added living space that a catamaran offers – there are many areas for hanging out and lounging. The beauty of many of the designs is that these spaces blend together – it doesn’t feel compartmentalized.

The trampoline and flybridge are some of our favorite places to hang out. You absolutely can’t beat the visibility and view from a flybridge. Neither of these are available on a monohull design.

Catamarans tend to have bigger cabins with more headroom and privacy. Although we don’t spend much time in the cabins, it’s a vacation – treat yourself!

Lastly, I prefer the galley to be above the waterline. The below deck space in monohulls feels claustrophobic to me.

And if you are the one prepping a meal on a cat, it still feels like you are part of the action. Look out the windows and enjoy the view.

Some people enjoy the thrill of heeling over in a fresh breeze

Sailing performance

Advantage: Monohull

I have to give the advantage to the monohull for sailing performance. And if you have less sailing experience, you may find it’s easier to sail a monohull.

When sailing upwind, monohulls can usually sail closer to the wind. They will also make less leeway (sideways drift while moving forward) since they have deeper keels than a catamaran. This means the monohull can get to a destination faster at this point of sail.

Many people also find that sailing in a monohull can be much more exhilarating since you can feel the power of the wind as it heels over. 

Catamaran downwind sailing on a bareboat charter trip
Easy downwind sailing with just the mainsail

Tacking is usually harder on a catamaran since it is sometimes more difficult to maintain momentum through the turn. In part, this is due to leeway. It is possible in such a scenario to stall out and getting the cat moving again can be difficult.

If that happens, it can help to fire up the motors and use the added power to regain momentum.

Speed – most charter sailboats aren’t particularly fast, topping out around 8-10 knots on ideal points of sail and fresh breezes. While the monohull is faster upwind, the catamaran is faster on a downwind, beam reach.

Strong winds – since catamarans don’t heel over (which can be used as a warning that you are overpressed), you need to be more vigilant in a cat about reducing sail/reefing early. Capsizing is rare, but the possibility is always present.

Visibility – on average, catamarans are going to have better visibility since the helmstation is often perched higher. This is especially true if your cat has a flybridge (flybridge for the win!).

Dinghy – on monohulls during sailing trips, you are unlikely to haul the dinghy aboard. You’ll need to tow it behind you. A minor point, but it might slow you down some and you’ll need to be careful with the line in the water during anchoring. On catamarans, you can always raise the dinghy out of the water.

Pirate's Lair Warderick Wells Exumas
Twin engines helped me stay on station as the tide ripped through this mooring field at Warderick Wells

Maneuverability

Advantage: Catamaran

Twin engines on the cat means that you can spin on a dime and make precise corrections for docking. The bigger ones might even have bow thrusters.

It’s also helpful to make adjustments and stay on station when picking up a mooring ball – this can be particularly useful if you have fewer experienced crew members aboard.

Docking

I would point out that for a week-long trip, you can get away without docking. The only reason you must dock mid trip would be to refuel or take on water. 

Running out of fuel has never been an issue for us, even on trips where light winds mean we have to motor more frequently. I’ve never had to refuel more than half a tank at the end of a week-long trip

As far as water goes – this depends on your crew and usage behaviors.

Catamarans have bigger water tanks. Usually there are two of them. If you educate the crew about how to conserve, you shouldn’t have a problem with running dry.

Water makers (although sometimes they malfunction) are another luxury that should keep you off the dock.

Lastly, on the way back to the base, you can always radio the charter company – they can send someone out to dock the yacht for you.

Catamaran in shallow water at Staniel Cay
The catamaran can help you access shallower water anchorages | This one is at Staniel Cay in the Exumas

Draft

Advantage: Catamaran

Most catamarans are going to have a shallower draft than monohulls. However the difference in the bareboat fleets is probably only about a foot.

  • Catamaran draft: ~4-5 feet
  • Monohull draft: ~5-6 feet

If you are sailing in the British Virgin Islands, this probably won’t matter much since most navigation is line of sight in relatively deep water. The anchorages are also less shallow

However, if you are planning a trip to the Exumas Bahamas, the shallower waters will make a difference. You will most certainly be able to access some anchorages in a catamaran that you would want to avoid in a monohull. On our last trip to the Exumas, we visited several of these, such as Fresh Well Bay at Shroud Cay.

Bali 5.4 blue lights in the Exumas
This cat we sailed in the Exumas that had all the bells and whistles, including underwater blue lights

Comfort & stability

Advantage: Catamaran

Hands down, the cat is the easy pick here. At anchor, the cat will pitch and roll much less if a swell is wrapping it’s way into the anchorage.

While sailing, some people prefer not to heel – if that’s the case, the cat is your choice. This is generally a good idea if you are aboard with a family and some younger children.

For those more susceptible to seasickness, you will feel the effects of the sea less in a cat.

While more stable in heavy seas, water can slap the catamaran’s bridge deck. This tends to be more of a nuisance than a disadvantage.

Bali 5.4 top deck
This cat, the Bali 5.4, is at the upper end of what you'll pay for a yacht charter | The top deck even has a refrigerator

Cost

Advantage: Monohull

I’ve generally found that monohulls are more cost effective, especially if you have a smaller crew.

For a similarly equipped yacht that accommodates the same number of crew, you can almost always expect to pay more for the cat…sometimes many thousands more. 

Why is this? Catamaran’s are more expensive to build and maintain. That cost is passed on to you as a charterer. I also believe that catamarans are in increasingly in higher demand from the bareboat community for the reasons described above.

If you enjoy docking for a night or two in a different marina during your trip – expect to pay more since cats take up a full slip. Fuel costs will also be a bit higher.

I hope that clarified a few points for you when considering catamaran vs. monohull for your next bareboat sailing trip. If you’re interested in learning more about taking sailing vacations, check out our beginner’s guide.

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