22 Important Cruising Catamaran Sailing Tips From a Sailor

It’s getting hot, and there are probably many of you itching to get out and do something this summer. Catamaran cruising is an excellent way to take the edge off the summer heat and get some adventuretime. There are, of course, certain rules and tips that you should know to sail safely, be it by yourself or with family and friends.

Here are 22 important cruising catamaran sailing tips:

  1. Get familiar with your catamaran
  2. Pack light
  3. Inspect your boat regularly
  4. Drop the anchor before you drift away
  5. Before you get fatigued, take a break
  6. Run one engine instead of two
  7. Don’t be pressured into setting sail 
  8. Document your sailing
  9. Keep the hulls clean
  10. Sail with modern weather routing
  11. Practice sailing alone
  12. Check for clear weather
  13. Avoiding storm cells
  14. Jacklines adds safety
  15. Make and use checklists
  16. Know docking cost
  17. Autopilot is no replacement For a helmsman
  18. Cats handle strong winds differently
  19. Prepare for emergencies
  20. Stay out of shipping lanes
  21. Accidents can happen close to shore
  22. Stay positive

There’s a lot that goes into sailing a cruising catamaran, and you need to know how to do it safely. Keep reading to learn some handy tips and tricks for sailing your catamaran.

1. Get Familiar With Your Catamaran

If you’re new to catamaran sailing, one of the first things you should do is understand the parts of your boat and have a general idea of how it works. Unlike other boats, catamarans or “cats” are multi-hulled watercraft. In this case, the “multi-hulled craft” consists of two horizontally facing, equal-sized hulls. As a result, cats can balance themselves due to their wider beams instead of the ballasted (stabilized) keels of monohull boats.

Check out my other article if you want to understand the different parts of a cat

It’s important to know what makes a catamaran different from a monohull when it comes to seahandling. For instance, cats often have two engines instead of the typical monohull and don’t experience much drag due to their two hulls and smaller draft. So while much of what you may have learned sailing monohulls can be applied to catamaran sailing, you still need to be aware of these differences. 

2. Pack Light

I know it can be tempting to throw everything you’ve got onto your catamaran, but take my advice; pack as lightly as possible. Cats are speedy boats mostly because they’re built on the lighter side. Weighing your cat down with all your junk can mess with the fuel efficiency and sail performance, as it’ll sink the boat lower in the water and increase drag. 

You should take care to keep from over-packing near the bows (point of the boat facing forward) and trampolines (high tension, woven decking that’s run between both hulls). An extensive amount of weight in these areas can cause pitching and result in all your belongings bouncing around, respectively. 

What are trampolines? check out my other article!

3. Inspect Your Boat Regularly

Inspecting your catamaran regularly is an absolute must. You should check the outside of the ship – the hull, keel, trampolines, and helm – and perform an interior inspection for corrosion, peeling paint, and watermarks. If you do find any of this, it’s possible that there are leaks inside. 

Create a schedule where you inspect some things daily (sails, life jackets) monthly (hulls, standing rigging) and yearly (boom, mast).

What I’ve listed is just a tiny number of things you need to inspect. To know more on what you should inspect in your boat, watch this YouTube video by Len’s Cove Lessons in Boating:

You also need to ensure that you’ve got all the proper safety gear in order. Read this article from Discover Boating to help you out. If you’re not able to or confident in your boat inspection skills, then, by all means, hire a professional to do it for you.

4. Drop The Anchor Before You Drift Away

The dual-hull design of catamarans has its pros and cons. The good part about their build is that they’ve got incredible stability on the water. 

The bad part about catamaran construction is the wider build makes it easier for the boat to drift (increased windage). However, anchoring as soon as you reach your chosen spot is the best way to ensure the wind doesn’t use your boat’s extra surface area against you and helps you stay in place.

5. Before You Get Fatigued, Take a Break

Operating a ship isn’t exactly easy work, and many people experience fatigue while out on the ocean. If you’re feeling sluggish and tired, then it’s in the best interests of you and the other passengers to stop for a bit if you’ve got enough space on the water. 

You don’t have to drop anchor if the seas aren’t too choppy, but you should lower your mainsail, roll up the majority of your jib and pull it windward. Your helm should be pointed windward, too.

Doing the above actions allows the wind to do all the heavy lifting while you take a break. The entire point of a catamaran (at least as far as this article is concerned) is to cruise, so you don’t need to work any harder than you need to. Getting in proper rest will help avoid accidents and mishaps and make the trip more fun. 

6. Run One Engine Instead of Two

Having two engines is just one of the significant advantages that having a catamaran boat offers you. If one engine goes out, then you can still power the boat with the other.

Both engines running simultaneously don’t make your cat move much faster and can result in increased fuel expenditure. You’re better off just gently sailing along with one engine. 

How much fuel will a catamaran draw? Read my article!

7. Don’t Be Pressured Into Setting Sail

Safety is critical when sailing, so it’s crucial you let no one try to pressure you into doing it when things could get potentially dangerous. Ensuring that any trip you take goes well and that your vessel and safety equipment are in top condition takes priority over everything – including whatever trip you had planned. 

Let your passengers know that unforeseen inconveniences may arise at any time and that they should be prepared for delays due to weather or other complications. For instance, if they’re in a hurry to be somewhere, it’s possible alternative arrangements may be needed should their schedule get thrown off. 

One of my biggest misstakes in The Bahamas was telling my friends we coould meet up with some friends on a specific location at a specific time, this almost cost us our boat and made us beat into heavy weather. A misstake i will never make again.

8. Document Your Sailing

It’s a fun idea to mount a camera somewhere on your ship – preferably the most important spot, like the helm or where passengers congregate. I usually put my gopro on a 4h loop, this means that if something exciting happens it will be filmed but i wont have to worry about the memory getting full and shutting down the camera.

Having actual video footage of any goings-on during the trip is helpful for both sentimental and pragmatic reasons. You may record something amazing, and video can help in the event of an injury or accident.

Recording the helm can be an amazing tool when evaluting your skills and improving yourself as a sailor.

9. Keep The Hulls Clean

Just because part of your boat’s hull is underwater doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t keep it clean. Sea animals, like barnacles, can attach themselves to the underside of your vessel, which can damage the hull or cause the boat to drag and blow through fuel quicker.

You should maintain a regular cleaning schedule to prevent any potential damage, wasted fuel, or environmental mishaps. In addition, catamarans have less of their hulls submerged underwater than single-hull boats, which allows marine life to grow across them faster. 

10. Sail With Modern Weather Routing

When ancient sailors went to sea, they didn’t have much choice but to deal with whatever terrible weather came their way. You, however, don’t have to ride into horrendous storms thanks to satellite phones. If you can’t navigate away from awful weather, you can have a weather routing company do it for you. 

Please do yourself a favor and get very familiar with GRIB files (data on weather models) before plotting your offshore passage.


11. Practice Sailing Without a Crew (Shorthanded sailing)

You may decide that you want to be surrounded by the beauty of the ocean all by your lonesome – which is great! Though if that’s the case, you need to know how to steer your cat all by your lonesome, too. I have a dream to sail the atlantic solo so this will be a priority of mine.

Practice how to do everything by yourself because you won’t have any backup if something happens. If you don’t feel like you can learn how to sail by yourself, you can always seek help from an instructor.

12. Check for Clear Weather

The best thing you can do to ensure your trip goes as smoothly as possible is to check the day’s weather forecast. It’s imperative that you check the weather before you embark on any boating trip, as even minor storms can cause major complications. If it’s not clear and sunny out, then it’s probably not a great day to go cruising on your catamaran if your unexperinced. 

Make sure you have basic skills of understanding the weather that you can see around the boat, look out for squalls and nasty weather.

13. Avoiding Storm Cells

I know I just said that clear, sunny weather is the best kind for cruising, but sometimes, bad weather can pop up right out of nowhere. As mentioned before, having modern equipment (in this case, a good radar) can help you avoid storm cells at night or when they’re off in the distance. 

There may be times where you can’t prevent running into bad weather, but actively trying to stay away from storm cells can help you avoid lightning and strong winds. 

Make sure your jacklines are well fastened to the deck and in good condition

14. Jacklines Add Safety

Jacklines are rigid, durable wires that are installed from bow to stern of a boat. Your cat’s jacklines are where you’d attach yourself if there’s any danger of falling overboard or being swept off by a wave. The most likely reason you or your crew and passengers would fall while on a catamaran is if:

  • You end up burying the bows (essentially, the front side of your boat ends up ramming into a wave). When this happens, the drop in speed can hurl your body forward.
  • You’re lifted off the deck due to negative Gs cats typically suffer at the bow.
  • You just fall off the back of your ship.

You can install a third jackline in the back of your cockpit, too; this jackline will offer you more freedom of movement while you’re attached. If you don’t know how to install jacklines, you should get professionals to do it. 

Make sure your jacklines are sturdy! I see too many sloppy ones out there!

15. Make and Use Checklists

Cruising in your cat should be fun, but you’re going to have to be extra attentive if you’ve decided to go solo. Fatigue can set in throughout your trip, and you might not be in the best state of mind to make good decisions, so a checklist can really take off the edge. 

Your list should be well-thought-out, written well before your trip, and have common, basic solutions to typically encountered problems.

I suggest you read the book “checklist Manifesto” to understand the magic of checklists!

16. Know Docking Cost

If you’ve decided to become a cat owner, it would be prudent to figure out how much docking will cost you where you live. It’s also important to note that docking for catamarans costs more than a single-hull boat because they’ll need more space. Docking prices can vary wildly across the world and can also differ significantly from season to season. 

You might find it easier to find transient (nightly) docking while you’re out cruising than any permanent arrangements, so always set out with this in mind. One other thing, many marinas can’t accommodate larger cats, so you might not be able to find as many places to dock.

On this Lagoon 380 the autopilot is hidden under the steering column cover

17. Autopilot Is No Replacement For a Helmsman

It might be more appropriate to say that autopilot can’t completely compensate for you. When everything is smooth sailing, autopilot does just fine, but; the thing about cruising on the water is that it’s easy to end up off course. 

Autopilot can’t navigate you around reefs or rocks, and it can’t compensate for ocean currents either. If you’re close to land, you still have to keep a close eye out and step in if you see something off.

18. Cats Handle Strong Winds Differently

Catamarans and monohulls don’t handle quite the same on the ocean; you have to trim cats differently, for starters. You need to be aware that cats don’t react to wind speed the same as a monohull would, either, so it can be hard to tell if you should increase or lower power when the wind is strong. Monohulls indicate the need for reefing by heeling and since catamarans dont heel you will have to read the windspeed and reef according to a “reefingtable”.

Also, light winds can make sailing forward rather tricky, but on the upside, catamarans don’t lean as much as monohulls do. Here’s an article i have written, showing the differences between catamarans and monohulls. 

19. Prepare for Emergencies

Anything can happen when you’re out cruising on your catamaran, so you should be prepared for it. Have a first aid kit on hand and consider learning how to treat minor injuries like cuts and sprains. Keep your cat stocked with food, freshwater, and fuel, and make sure that there are life jackets for you and your crew. 

You should also have flashlights, batteries, and flares. Perhaps the most important thing you should remember is always telling someone where you’re going and having at least an estimate (if not an exact amount of time) of how long you’ll be gone. 

20. Stay Out of Shipping Lanes

Your catamaran likely doesn’t compare to a shipping vessel, so it’s best to stay out of their way – or at least try your best to do so. Make it your mission to know where shipping lanes are and plot your way around them, especially at night. It can be hard to differentiate the lights of the shoreline from that of a vessel. 

If you do end up too close to another ship (in any circumstance), your automatic identification system (AIS) will alert you. Note that AIS isn’t specifically meant for traffic avoidance, but it can help you navigate away from other boats.

Note: AIS only detects other ships that uses the same system, boats without AIS will not be identified.

Notice the underwater reefs

21. Accidents Can Happen Close to Shore

Many people dread the idea of having an accident that leaves them stranded in the middle of the ocean, but many accidents tend to happen close to land. The further offshore you are, the less chance you have of running agorund on rocks or smaller, semi submerged objects. 

Still, you should always be prepared for emergencies, and never let anyone talk you into breaking safety protocol for the sake of their fun or schedules.

22. Stay Positive

We’ve covered several tips in this article, but this is the last – and hopefully most manageable – tip I have to share with you: The best thing you can do when sailing is to keep calm and stay focused. When something goes wrong – even if it’s just nerves – some people can’t think clearly and bad decisions happen. 

So while you’re out on your cat, focus on the fun aspects of the experience. Concentrate on how excited your passengers are to be on the water or how much you’re enjoying the solitude of cruising solo. A happy state of mind can do wonders for stress relief, and sailing is an activity that should be as stress-free as possible.


Owner of CatamaranFreedom.com. A minimalist that has lived in a caravan in Sweden, 35ft Monohull in the Bahamas, and right now in his self-built Van. He just started the next adventure, to circumnavigate the world on a Catamaran!

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