This is one of the never-ending questions out there, catamarans vs. monohulls (also known by some just as sailboats). The discussions are wild and are many times really hard to follow unless you’re already a vivid sailor. By then, you probably already have your own opinion on what the differences are.
In this post, I’m trying to take a little more pragmatic approach to describe the 9 most important differences that I think you should know about.
1. Catamarans have two hulls and sailboats or monohulls have one
This is the most apparent thing that strikes you when you look at the two boats next to each other, one has two hulls, and the other has only one. Mono, as you might know, means one (1). not does this only mean two hulls. It also means you need something that connects these hulls, making the boat look a little bit like a manta ray, or is that only me?
2. Monohulls will rock from side to side
Catamarans don’t heel (leaning to its side in boat language). Therefore, they offer a very different sailing experience, which is more stable and usually more comfortable; this also applies when staying at anchor. The catamaran will move around with the wind, always staying flat, while the sailboat will rock from side to side and might even get you seasick.
This is especially noticeable when the wind is opposing the waves, making the boat have the wind pushing it from one side and the waves banging it from the other side. This makes for a very uncomfortable anchorage on a monohull. Basically, you are the iron, and the wind and wave are your hammer and anvil, not a perfect place to be.
3. Catamarans offer much more space for the same length
For the same length of boat, let’s say 40ft you’re getting a lot more space on a catamaran. This is due to the two hulls, but also the big deck that attaches the hulls. There will also be even more space on the outside of the boat, both fore and aft of the mast. In between the bows, you will have either a solid deck or trampolines(more on what that is here), which will greatly increase the space.
4. Catamarans make horrible noises while sailing upwind
The distance between the water surface and the deck’s underside is called bridge deck clearance; if it is not big enough, even small waves will start smashing into the underside.
This repeated cycle of waves hitting the boat does induce not only great noise but also a lot of vibrations and discomfort to the crew.
This problem is something that just doesn’t exist on monohulls (only one hull) and also is a strong argument from those who prefer monohulls.
The noise might not be a big deal when traveling coastal waters for a few hours a day, but consider going days at end straight into the wind hear that banging noise, ad a little motion sickness, and you will pretty soon wishing you were on a monohull 🙂
5. Monohulls are slower than Catamarans
At least that is the short answer, this applies if we only compare the length of the boat, but if we compare the total length in the water, it’s a different story(more info on that in another post). Much of this speed comes from the decreased drag, bigger sails, and a catamaran’s lesser weight.
6. Catamarans offer less handling feedback
One big benefit of having a boat that heels is that it’s a great way to get feedback on whether or not the boat is overpowered. Since a catamaran stays flat, it is harder for a new captain to understand when to reef.
This could be a safety issue for those transitioning from monohulls to catamarans, which I believe is the most common way people acquire a catamaran.
7. Monohulls are harder to dock
For a monohull to turn, it needs enough water passing around the rudder; for enough water to pass around the rudder, the boat needs to be moving. So this means once you stop your boat, you can’t turn, the only thing that moves you are the wind and the current. This is the tricky part with a monohull, the timing needs to be perfect, or you’ll either go too fast and hit the dock, or you’ll go too slow and drift away.
On a catamaran, that’s different, you see; now you have two engines, much like a battle tank, you can now make a 360 turn on the spot. This means you can do a full stop, put one engine in forward and one in reverse, making the boat spin on its axis. That’s great! I wish my car would do that.
8. Catamarans are more fuel-efficient
Saying a catamaran is fuel-efficient is like saying your ford F150 truck is fuel-efficient. But, in comparison to its one-hull brother, it’s true, this really needs a lot more explanation for it to be a fair comparison, but only considering the lengths of the boat, the catamaran will consume less fuel.
This is mostly a consequence of the less drag a catamaran has since the weight is distributed on a greater area.
9. Catamarans offer more comfort
Since catamarans have more space and don’t heel as much, they offer a more comfortable experience. One beautiful aspect of having a big deck is that you can hang out in the trampolines; they are basically two big hammocks, and since hammocks already are great, putting them on a boat makes them awesome.
And since it doesn’t heel you can also freely move around on the boat without spilling your drink or being in risk of falling overboard. This also means that going inside to cook is a treat since you don’t have to cook while trying not to fall over.
Looks and other factors
All in all, catamarans are great, but so are monohulls; there are also many other factors that I haven’t mentioned yet; these are mainly factors of the heart.
Many people feel that it isn’t real sailing if it isn’t done like it was in the good old days, heeling over and all. And to some extent, I can totally agree on that, but on the other hand, enjoying those two trampolines while on a sunny weather cruise down the bay is something I can’t forget.
And also the looks, catamarans look great; I think they look and almost move like those manta rays you can see down in the Bahamas. On the other hand, there is not much cooler than seeing a solid old monohull dig deep into the waves and go almost straight into the wind; what a feeling!
What do you think?