In general, boating is an excellent pastime, but there are many things to consider before heading out and getting a boat. It’s important to ensure to get a boat that you are happy with and fits your needs, and one of the biggest debates in the boating community is whether catamarans or monohulls are best. But is there a clear winner, and what are the biggest differences?
Catamarans differ from monohulls in some very significant ways; Cats are more stable, faster, offer more space, and have two hulls. Monohulls offer heeling, faster steering response, less noise from water slapping, are cheaper to buy and maintain and have one hull.
Today we will be getting into the details you want to know regarding the differences and pros & cons between catamarans vs. monohulls. There are key aspects of each to be aware of before making an informed purchasing decision, and so if you would like to learn more, we encourage you to stick around and read further.
Why Is It Important To Choose a Boat Carefully?
If you’ve ever shopped around for a boat, it’s no secret that they are large investments. And unless you are particularly wealthy, it will be a large expense where you want to get the most for your money. Buyer’s remorse is never a good thing, and avoiding it before you spend your hard-earned money is very important.
Boats come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and not all will have the features you are looking for. Are you looking for something where you can hang out on the waters with friends and family – possibly with kids involved? Then stability and room are likely going to be your priority. On the other hand, if you prioritize the sailing aspect of boating, then getting something designed to be nimble in the waters is something to consider.
There is more to boating than simply saying “a boat’s a boat,” and the comparison between catamarans and monohulls brings this point home.
What Are Catamarans?
Catamarans, commonly referred to as “cats” for short, feature two hulls separated by a bridge deck rather than one central hull that most boats have. The hull is the body of a ship and is specifically designed to allow the boat to float rather than sink. Additionally, while some boats are more stable than others, the goal is always to ensure that the hull is as balanced as possible within reason (nimbler boats will generally be easier to rock).
Stability is the number one thing cats are known for; the two hulls ensure that it is nearly impossible to flip them over because they are spaced out over a large distance (aka wide beam). Think of it as standing with your legs far apart vs. tightly together, the physics word similarly with boats.
They also feel the most like standing on land since they are not prone to rocking back and forth, making them ideal for people prone to seasickness or who just want a stable platform for cooking activities.
- Unrivaled stability. As we stated above, the biggest thing cats have going for them is that they are almost impossible to flip over, and they don’t rock back and forth as much as monohull boats. If you are on still waters, it can feel as if you are on land which is beneficial for people who aren’t used to walking and standing on a boat that is constantly shifting around.
- More space. Due to how wide catamarans are, they are generally more spacious than the comparable monohull. This means more room for gear and people. If you plan to party on a boat, then a cat is likely going to be your best option.
- More privacy. A cat will have a different layout from a monohull, and these layouts typically feature more separation between the main living space and the cabins. If you plan to spend a lot of time on the boat with others, having the option of privacy may be an important feature. It’s always best to judge each boats’ layout if you value privacy, however.
- They Stay Level. This goes back to the stability of cats. A catamaran will heel only 5 to 10 degrees, which is a lot less than a monohull boat. This makes it easier to do certain activities such as cooking, and it provides a more comfortable experience for all onboard overall. A cat is the perfect type of boat for socializing with others.
- They are fast. While a monohull is elegant, a cat will usually have a higher top speed(want to understand sailboat speed?). The reason for this is because they don’t have a heavy keel weighing them down. If you are the type you enjoy fast sailing, a catamaran will be right up your alley!
- Safety. Cats are hard to sink and capsize; it would take extreme weather and waves to defeat a catamaran. Because of this, they are regarded as one of the safest boats. In addition, it is rare for someone to be tossed overboard while on a cat due to the stability benefits. If you value the member’s safety onboard your boat, a cat won’t let you down. When do catamarans capsize?
- Shallow water cruising. Catamarans have low draft keels, which allows them to cruise in shallow waters. Additionally, you are less likely to misjudge a body of water being deep enough since chances are you’ll just pass above the reef or rock without ever noticing.
- Bridge deck view. Because cat decks are high up, you can get a better view of your surroundings. A higher deck’s advantage is that it allows for better sightseeing, and it can be viewed as a safety feature.
- Different sailing experience. The stability of a cat is also seen as a downside from some people. Many sailing enthusiasts feel that sailing a cat is like sailing a houseboat, while monohulls offer the “true” sailing experience. If you are after exhilarating (or at least heeling) sailing, then a monohull may be better for you.
- They take up more space. Cats may have a lot of space, but they also take up a lot of space, which leads them to be more difficult to dock in certain areas, and in many instances, you may not be able to dock exactly where you want. Also, they often cost more money to dock simply due to their size.
- Noisy to sail upwind. Due to some cats having a low bridge deck clearance, waves can smack up against its underside and emit a very noticeable water slapping sound. This can get annoying when you are trying to enjoy a quiet sailing session. If you want to learn more, read this!
- Less feedback when turning. Due to their stability and overall wideness, you won’t get as much feedback from the wheel as you would a monohull. This means you will need to be more vigilant if you find yourself in rough waters and high winds. Some people also feel like there is a lag while steering a catamaran.
- More expensive. Besides higher docking fees, cats sometimes cost more upfront, catamaran vs monohull costs is a complex topic. When is a catamaran cheaper than a monohull?
What Are Monohulls?
As the name suggests, monohull boats have one hull. This design is likely what you think of when you think of what a boat is. You might be wondering why most boats aren’t catamarans given their stability advantages, and the answer to that is responsiveness, size, nimbleness, and sailing experience.
One advantage with a monohull boat is that it can slice through water like butter mitigating noise at higher speeds. Additionally, they are cheaper to produce (generally speaking) overall, making them even more attractive for both manufacturers and consumers.
Many would also argue that monohulls are aesthetically pleasing. Think of the best looking Yachts and speedboats you’ve ever seen – they are highly likely to be monohulls.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves; there are plenty of differences and pros & cons between cats and monohulls, and stacking them up together is the easiest way to make an informed decision on which one is best for you.
- Quiet sailing. Because of how monohulls are shaped, they don’t suffer from water slapping against a flat hull. They cut through the water, which allows for a quieter sailing experience overall. If you hate repetitive, annoying sounds, you might want to look into a monohull for this reason.
- More exhilarating sailing experience. This is the main argument from people who are fans of monohull boats. You can heel in them, and they are more responsive when steering. You’ll also “feel” the waters more as the boat gets sloshed around. If you are looking for that heeling motion a monohull or a trimaran is probably what you should get. In addition, monohulls are easier to tack.
- Aesthetics. This is subjective, but more people seem to prefer the aesthetics of monohull boats. A good looking monohull is simply gorgeous and sleek looking. I love the look of cats, but I do believe most people fancy the mono!
- Dock in more places. Monohulls are smaller, which means they can dock almost anywhere without special accommodation. Additionally, they can maneuver through tighter spaces. Even though shallow water can sometimes be the enemy of a monohull boat, you’ll likely feel like you aren’t as limited as a catamaran.
- Less expensive. A furnished out monohull boat is usually going to be less expensive than a cat. If you want amenities such as sleeping quarters and cooking tools, you’ll save money using a monohull.
- Small quarters. Any area you go to inside of a monohull is going to be smaller than the cat equivalent. So while monohulls are cheaper, you are receiving less space; you will need to look for a bigger monohull if you want living quarters that are closer to a cat.
- Ventilation. Monohulls aren’t as good at ventilating as a cat. Things can get quite toasty on a warm day, which isn’t ideal if you are sleeping in your boat. You can use fans, or AC to help mitigate this issue, however.
- Stability. Monohulls rock a lot more easily than a cat, which can be disorienting to people not used to being on a boat. Additionally, it makes certain activities such as cooking harder than they should be. Not to mention it can be downright uncomfortable for some people. Some monohulls are more stable than others, but their nature generally means they won’t be as stable as a cat. This is one of the main reasons I’m switching to a cat!
- Lower sitting. Because the below deck areas sit below the waterline, it can make some feel like they are living in a hole. If you are claustrophobic, then this may be an issue for you. Some people like this aspect of monohulls since they feel hidden and secure, but it’s not for everybody.
- Safety. This is a big one to keep in mind. The hull on a monohull boat is simply the bottom of the boat. Unlike cats, which have holes on each side with the deck and below deck portions being in the monohulls don’t have protection against sinking due to a puncture. If there is a hole made on the hull, water will come in, and the boat will sink. This, however, is only a tiny fraction of what should be considered when discussing sailboat design safety. Why do catamarans capsize?
Also, it’s more likely to be tossed overboard if you are on particularly wavy waters and fall the wrong way. We’re not saying there is a high chance of this happening, but it is possible. Remember to wear a life jacket when on deck, such as this Self-inflatable I used in the Bahamas.
Who Should Buy a Catamaran?
Consider if you value the thrill of heeling or comfort. Putting together the pros and cons of cats, the conclusion can be made that they are better for people who want more of a “houseboat” experience. They are larger, more stable, and offer a superior deck view since they sit high. This is not true of all catamarans, the more performance-oriented boats are a true adventure to sail!
Additionally, If you enjoy passing other boats or just like to get to your destination quicker, you’ll enjoy the speed advantage of a catboat. You’ll also have more peace of mind that you are much more protected against punctures and sinking than a monohull.
In short, if you value a more “homey” experience and aren’t too fond of your boat rocking when you are trying to walk and cook. Additionally, if you are prone to seasickness, you will have an easier time with a cat.
If you are looking for a more “involved” sailing experience, you might be disappointed with a catamaran since it can feel as though you are gliding along in a boathouse. But if that is your thing, then a catamaran is for you.
Who Should Buy a Monohull?
Monohulls are the more traditional of the two choices and are still preferred by many boat people—the main reason being that the whole “boating experience” is more pronounced with monohulls. You’ll feel the waters more, and you get to do fun stuff, such as healing. You will also be closer to the water since sections are much lower than they are in a cat.
Furthermore, these boats are usually the less expensive option.
You won’t get any of that annoying water slapping noise prominent with cats when the waters start getting rough.
Last but not least, monohulls (by popular vote) generally look better, and so if you want to stand out in a good way and show off your expensive investment, getting a monohull is going to be your best bet.
Overall, if you love connecting with the waters and want to feel like you are on a boat, a monohull will be more for you. Cats are great, but some traditionalists say “monohulls are the sailor’s boat”.
Want More Insight?
If you would like more insight on this topic, we recommend checking out this debate between two sailors on catamarans vs monohulls. You’ll receive two points of view regarding various factors regarding speed, fuel, etc. There is a reason why there are so many back and forth arguments in the boating community on this topic and exploring both points of view may help you make an informed decision based on what matters to you.
There are compelling reasons to go with one or the other boat styles. Cats will offer a more relaxed experience with their stability, spaciousness, and higher view. They are also extremely hard to sink due to the small draft. If you are prone to seasickness or just simply hate it when a boat rocks, then getting a catamaran is going to be the right call for you.
On the other hand, if you are looking for a more heeling experience, then a monohull is the best choice.