Sailboat Debate: Monohull vs. Catamaran

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Two sailboat experts argue monohull vs. catamaran.

Contributed by Denison Yacht Sales

The great debate over which is better—one or two hulls—boils down to several factors, each with distinct advantages and disadvantages. The verdict usually defaults to personal preference and intended use of the vessel, but that didn’t stop Florida yacht brokers David Parkinson (pro-monohull) and Mike Kiely (pro-catamaran) of Denison Yacht Sales from stepping into the ring for some friendly sparring on the matter.

On Safety…

Mike Kiely: Catamarans are very stable and have natural buoyancy, making them unsinkable. Yes, they can capsize in a bad accident, but it’s better to be rescued floating on the water’s surface than sinking to the bottom in a monohull. Plus, moving around on a flat deck is much safer than on a deck at an angle.

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David Parkinson: Monohulls have much better “self-righting” capabilities in the event of a worst-case knockdown situation, particularly sailboats. Once you’re upside down in a catamaran, you stay upside down, and who wants that in the middle of a large ocean? By returning to an upright position you still have full access to onboard safety equipment, liferaft, dinghy, flotation devices, EPIRBs, strobe lights, etc. to save you in the unlikely event of the boat sinking.

Speed…

MK: Cruising catamarans are faster than monohulls, and sailing catamarans can sail half the speed of the wind, depending upon their angle. It’s ideal to be on a boat that can reach high speeds quickly and arrive at your destination in a reliable and timely manner.

DP: Due to their lower wetted surface area, catamarans are certainly faster, but you pay the price with a slapping and uncomfortable ride. Monohull designs work harmoniously with the elements instead of trying to fight them. Sailing catamarans are inefficient upwind and tack very slowly.

Fuel…

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MK: Want to save money on fuel? Get a catamaran. Since catamarans have reduced wetted surface area on their hulls, they are much more fuel-efficient. In light winds, they can use just one engine to propel the boat.

DP: True, in flat water, assuming equal number and horsepower of engines. But, not so much in heavier weather, where the higher efficiency of a monohull design presents less resistance.

Layout…

MK: The biggest perk is having all rooms on the same level. Most cruising cats have a four-cabin layout, popular for charter companies. “Owner versions” typically have three cabins, using one hull as a large cabin, which is great for entertaining. Monohull layouts are inconvenient, and who wants to use a cramped staircase?

DP: Most catamarans have a large central living area with not one but two cramped staircases—one on either side—to get down into the hulls. The spaces in the hulls feel a bit like living in a tube. They’re narrow and can’t accommodate those walkaround double/queen berths commonly found in monohulls. In an emergency, communication with someone in the other hull would be difficult.

Maneuverability…

MK: Catamarans are extremely maneuverable with their twin engines. Having two engines about 20 feet apart eliminates the need for a bow thruster. They also have shallow drafts, so you can navigate into places you can’t get to with a monohull, and you can anchor closer to shore.

DP: Monohulls maneuver better because you’re not dealing with two hulls. They can make sharper turns and navigate much more easily through narrow channels and tight spaces. Plus, their higher hull displacements reduce the adverse effects of cross winds in tight conditions.

Docking…

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MK: While it’s easy to dock a catamaran, the unique size doesn’t always fit into a traditional slip, but with some skill and careful planning, there shouldn’t be a problem finding space. You could also anchor or moor the boat and take the dinghy to shore, which is even easier to dock than a monohull.

DP: Who wants to take two separate boats to shore? A monohull is much easier to dock, takes up less space, and is cheaper to dock, haul and slip.

Maintenance…

MK: With catamarans, there is two of everything, so there’s certainly a trade-off of maintenance cost to reliability and redundancy. A huge benefit of having two of everything is you have a backup. So you can usually still use the boat if one component isn’t working, such as running on one engine if the other fails.

DP: While redundancy is great, I’ll take reduced maintenance and repair costs any day. Two of everything certainly gives you some backups, but if one of the two hulls “isn’t working,” I doubt you’ll want to take the boat out.

Stability…

MK: Catamarans have little to no heeling due to their weight bearing, and they don’t roll at anchor. Heeling on a monohull with unexpected gusts can be dangerous and uncomfortable, not to mention cause seasickness.

DP: The trade-off, again, is a noisy ride and a quick motion, which many people find uncomfortable in heavier weather. In a monohull sailboat, the heeling action actually provides stability, spills wind from the sails and adds an element of safety.

Comfort…

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MK: The ability to walk around most of the boat and entertain guests without rocking is more comfortable on a catamaran, making them very family-friendly. Did you know that seasickness is slim to none on a catamaran?

DP: Fortunately, I’m not prone to seasickness, but I once felt quite seasick on a sailing catamaran! True, entertaining on a multihull is often more comfortable because the platform is stable. But after a couple of gin and tonics, it doesn’t seem to matter as much for some reason.

Cost…

MK: With a minimum of two of everything, cost can run high. Catamarans have a great resale value and a very low depreciation rate due to their popularity, and they usually sell faster than monohulls. Since most catamarans are not built in the United States, there are delivery costs involved when purchasing the boat.

DP: Multihulls are definitely increasing in popularity and as a result of strong demand they command higher prices in both new and brokerage markets. Maintenance costs, which are significantly higher than for a monohull, need to be factored in when making a buying decision.

Which do you prefer—monohull or catamaran? Let me see your comments

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3 comments

  1. Hi
    Just completed a lifetime dream to sail from Europe to the Pacific. Lifelong sailor, a number of Atlantic crossings both ways and many 1,000 miles, all on Monohulls…..but finally decided on a Catana 50 back in October 2018 for this dream, refettled and set sail June ‘19….12,000 miles later she is now in Tahiti….the fastest, most comfortable and complete sailing vessel I have enjoyed….and my wife…who was never going to do long passages joined in St Lucia and never left…that wasn’t due my company…it was the comfort of the Catamaran. Enough said for tradewind liveaboard ! One Vote for a Cat.

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  2. The best judge is someone who sailed both. We only sailed a monohull, but I don’t think there will ever be any argument to persuade us to want to own a cat. The marriage between the elements and a monohull seems more natural.

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  3. The best judge is someone like Martin who sailed both. However, there isn’t an argument out there that will want us to change from owning a monohull to a cat. The marriage between a monohull and the elements seems more natural.

    Like

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