Are Catamarans Easier to Sail?


This is one of many topics in the section of “multihulls versus monohulls”, this one though is not as emotionally charged as the “which one is fastest” debate. Combining my own experience sailing and the research I did for this article I came to the conclusion that catamarans are easier to sail and here’s why!

  • Catamarans don’t heel
  • Upwind sailing on a catamaran requires a different tactic
  • Monohull tacking is easier
  • Catamarans reduce the risk of running aground
  • Catamarans are easier to handle in port

So why are Catamarans easier to sail than its monohull counterpart?

One of the coolest things about sailing cats, getting close to the beach!

1. Catamarans don’t heel

So catamaran stability works very differently from monohull stability, in short, the monohull uses a heavy keel below the waterline to compensate for the forces that the wind will apply to the sails. this means the boat always will lean at a certain angle compared to the strength of the wind.

A catamaran on the other hand uses a wide beam to provide stability, this means that catamaran sails flat (between 5-10 degrees instead of 20+) and doesn’t lean over as much. This reduces the feedback when at the helm and could make it much harder understand when to the reef, at least for an inexperienced captain, many say this is only a problem for those who are transition from monohulls to multihull and not much of an issue for those who are originally trained on a catamaran.

So heeling isn’t just uncomfortable, it’s also a problem when it comes to safety. My personal experience of sailing in heavy weather tells me that I would rather be on a boat that is more stable than less. And being on a monohull in a storm is many times horrible, but when you also have to leave the cockpit to change sails, which of course have snagged somewhere, while the entire thing is declined like an alpine ski resort is not something that I like.

Reducing the rolling and pitching motion also reduces the risk of falling overboard

Heeling monohull

2. Upwind sailing on a catamaran requires a different tactic

Going hard into the wind the advantages of a large keel becomes apparent, this means that when sailing a monohull upwind the pushing forces from the wind doesn’t make the boat sideways as much as on a catamaran. the catamaran needs to head downwind a few degrees so that it won’t drift as much. This makes sailing upwind more difficult on a catamaran in the sense that you might lose a lot of ground speed since you are also going sideways.

There is an easy fix to this, since the catamaran is faster if you head downwind a degree or two, you will have to travel a longer distance than the sailboat to reach the same destination, but since you are also faster you could be there at the same time.

Something that is indirectly important for the sailing experience is something that happens when going into the waves on a confused sea, this makes the waves coming in hit the underdeck hard and makes for some very uncomfortable noise and vibrations. although these are not dangerous in any way they can impact unexperienced cat sailors and will take its toll on and quickly increase the fatigue of the crew.

3. Monohull tacking is easier

Monohulls are heavy displacement boats with large keels, this creates a lot of momentum making the boat able to continue any movement that it has started and makes it less sensitive to small forces.

This is very useful when you are tacking( when turning your boat so the wind comes from the other side), having this large amount of energy makes the tacking easier since once the wind is out of the sails the boat will still continue to move in the water and as long as its moving and water are passing around the rudders you will be able to steer the boat and maintain control.

Since a catamaran doesn’t have a heavy lead keel and is mainly built from plastics it’s much much lighter, this is usually beneficial, it makes the boat go faster draw less diesel, etc. but it also means that the catamarans are more susceptible to forces acting upon it. this means it has less kinetic energy and will stop faster.

So to be able to safely tack with a catamaran you must be able to use the power of the wind for as long as you can, relaxing the sails for a short time as possible, while on a multihull you basically just turn the boat into the wind, loosen the halyards and re-tighten it on the other side and off you go.

3. Catamarans reduce the risk of running aground

Catamarans use a different hull type and this makes the boat don’t stick as deep into the water, this can be a great opportunity not just only because to can beach the cat. That is sailing all the way up to the beach and walk to shore. but it also means that running aground is less likely to happen.

Compared to a heavyweight deep keel the average 40 ft catamaran only draw between 3-4.5 ft, this makes it possible for the catamaran to get into places where monohulls cant, such as safe spots for storms, shallow water canals and also lets it pass over Bahamian sandbanks(which tend to change places every time there’s is a storm).

This shallow drafts also makes it possible to do quick repairs utilizing the high tide to the beach the cat only to start fixing it when its low tide comes and water flows away.

Reefs are sometimes hard to see!

4. Catamarans are easier to handle in port

The things we have discussed above, lightweight, no keel, and wide beam leads to some huge benefits when it comes to maneuvering the cat in a marina.

One of the main concerns when boating, and I think I share this with almost everybody out there, is pulling in to port, the stress of the winds coming from one side pushing you towards one side, comprising a risk of hitting another boat.

From the other side, you have the current making the boat impossible to steer unless you go faster than you feel comfortable with, add to that the people on the dock watching you and your crew to see if they can get the laughter of the day.

On a catamaran that’s a different thing, since it has such a wide beam and usually one engine in every hull it has the ability to turn on the spot without the need of any forward speed. try that on a monohull!

This is revolutionizing in my world, it takes away a lot of the speed and time pressure of docking which reduces stress since now you can basically stop the boat, look where you want to go, spin the boat around and head that direction.

This is done by the two engines operating autonomously, you can make one go forward and one go backward giving you incredible maneuverability.

Would you like to know more about what differentieates a monohull from as catamaran? click here
You might have crossed the Atlantic, but everybody’s toughest memories are from marinas 🙂

Final thoughts

Like everything else in life, there are pros and cons, but when it comes to which boat is easiest to sail, I would say that the catamaran wins all the important battles, of course, there are different opinions and different needs.

For me enjoying the cruise on aa stable platfrorm while not having to be nervous about docking is very oimprtant, you might have defferent criterias for what is imprtant and your klist might look differetn.

I hope I have presented a somewhat balanced discussion of the advantages and disadvantages

Gabo

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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