While sailing the Bahamas I lived on a 35ft monohull sailboat, this was an exciting time of my life but once I stepped on my first catamaran I knew “this is the way it’s supposed to be done”. After that, I have fallen in love with the space and speed of liveaboard catamaran,s so today I want to show you some of the best out there.
The best liveaboard catamaran sailboats include Manta 42, Dolphin Ocema 42, Bali 4.5, Privilege 435, Fountaine Pajot Saba 50, Voyage 580, and Lagoon 620. These catamarans offer plenty of space, load-carrying capability, and are very comfortable to live aboard.
This article is based on a poll I did with over 300 catamaran owners and sailors where I asked what catamaran liveaboard they appreciated the most and why. This data was later combined with my own experinces to give you this guide.
This guide offers a starting point for your research into what catamaran you should get, today we will discuss:
- Best catamarans to live aboard: seaworthiness and liveability
- Important questions to ask yourself before shifting to a liveaboard lifestyle
- Pros and cons of living aboard
- Factors to consider when choosing a liveaboard cat
Are you a beginner with catamarans and don’t really know what models are good for beginners? Check this out!
There are rarely more than a handful of Mantas on the market at any given time, this is due to the high demand, sailors love this brand and the Manta 42 is definitely not an exception. Only 127 sailing vessels were ever produced before Manta closed shop in 2008.
Manta 42 was selected as the Boat of the year in 2001 and has since attracted a good number of sailors seeking to jump on board because of its liveability and affordability, this dedication has also led to a comparatively strong online community, where owners share their experiences and tips&tricks.
The Manta 42 is one of the few really good bluewater capable boats under $300k. If the $300k pricetag is still to high, then here’s a list of the best cats under $200k.
The Manta 42 is set up with almost all controls at the cockpit, this allows for single-handed sailing if either part of the crew gets sick or you just want to spend some time alone out at sea.
Safety-wise, the cockpit has been made big and is well protected from the winds and spray that will kick up. A well-built cockpit that protects its crew is very important since crew fatigue is one of the greatest threats to the safety of a boat.
I could write about its construction features such as honeycombed reinforcement at stress points, but there’s really no need since the manta already has a fancy track record of sailing around the world that gives more value than just raw numbers.
This specific model boasts spacious accommodation in which five people can comfortably sleep. In the port (left) hull is the owner’s suite fitted with modern facilities. It has a shower cubicle, a marine toilet (aka head), mirror, headroom, bookcases, and companionway pantry storage.
The owner’s suite/cabin also features a queen-size bed and a settee.
On the starboard(right) hull of this 42-foot cat is a VIP stateroom with a double berth in the aft and a guest stateroom with a queen-size bed in the forward. The guest cabins feature a shared bathroom, shower, swanstone sink, and marine toilet.
The galley (kitchen compartment) is inviting, with large counter space, drawers, and an integral trash bin. It also features a force ten propane four-burner stove and a large swanstone sink. The storage space here is adequate, with cabinets fitted above and below the galley.
The saloon (general living space) is fitted with a modern décor featuring an L-shaped settee, an adjustable dining table, a TV locker cabinet, and two ottomans. It is also fitted with AC heat units to create a comfortable living environment.
Dolphin Ocema 42
Dolphin Ocema 42 offers a good balance between performance and great cruising. It is designed and built in Brazil with a foam core for reduced weight throughout.
Finding information on this model is quite hard, there aren’t many around, and once they hit the market they are sold fairly quickly, except for the custom builds which always seem to take somewhat longer to sell.
Some Ocema 42s are fitted with daggerboards to enhance upwind performance, while others, unfortunately, have the bad reputation of being too heavily loaded once fully setup up for liveaboard cruising, hence impairing performance.
This is usually fixed by removing the big water tanks and rather using a water maker, together with removing the Genset (adding solar panels preferably) it seems to be enough to shed sufficient weight to get back to good sailing performance.
Ocema 42 is also an excellent liveaboard catamaran option that offers a large saloon with a kitchen fitted in its port hull. The kitchen features a fridge, freezer, sink, a four-burner stove, and storage drawers.
Its interiors are made of laminated wood combined with fiberglass and epoxy to give a more defined look.
It has four cabins with four berths and two heads. Also, it has two complete bathrooms with a hot water system and electric toilets.
Additionally, this catamaran has plenty of storage space offered by its louvered lockers. Dolphin Ocema 42 also boasts a well-fitted air conditioning system for increased comfort.
The Bali company is owned by the Catana Group, famous for building some of the best-performing bluewater catamarans out there. Although there is a cooperation between the two brands there are not a lot of similarities, this boat is perfectly adapted to coastal and charter rather than hardcore offshore sailing.
The “open layout” with flybdrigde and high boom doesn’t really do well with offshore passagemaking, this is worth discussing in further detail.
The Bali 4.5 Open has a flybridge just like many motorboats, but since this is a sailboat that means the boom needs to be moved upwards to accommodate the heightened position of the cockpit.
This is of course not all bad, it’s perfect for visibility and docking, but horrible for bad weather since it is unprotected. It is also worth mentioning that this reduces sail area and moves the center of effort up, which impacts performance negatively.
Another interesting feature is that the engines can only be controlled from the flybridge.
Together with the self-tacking jib the Bali 4.5 is a great boat as long as you use it in the way it’s made for, coastal sailing.
This series of Bail 4.5 catamarans is well designed to meet the needs of liveaboards. It has modern interiors and easy-to-clean surfaces.
Its starboard features a side-by-side refrigerator with an efficient ice maker for a more homely feeling. Additionally, its port houses a galley fitted with an ENO cooktop and a separate oven at eye level for easier and more convenient cooking. It also has a double sink, a large countertop, and ample storage space.
There is a lot of electronics on this boat but the solar system is only on 400w (a microwave owen is 1000w) so be prepared to run the genset.
Most interior items are touch screen controlled, including the modern water maker and the Genset.
Along the port hull of this 45-foot cat is the owner’s cabin. It features an oversized shower, a wide berth, plenty of hanging and storage space, and a separate head, sofa, and desk.
The owner’s cabin has a privacy door that separates it from the rest of the cat.
On the other hand, the starboard hull has two cabins, a shared shower, and two heads. This catamaran boat boasts of its efficient lighting, storage, and ventilation, making it more accommodating.
Not only is the Bali 4.5 one of the best to look at, but it is probably one of the top five to live aboard.
Something all too common on “condomarans” is a bridge deck clearance that is too small (this is the distance between the water and the underside of the boat, between the hulls). Insufficient clearance will increase something called bridge deck slamming, when water bashes into the bridge deck and not only creates awful noises but also puts some extra tear and wear on the boat and crew.
The bridge deck clearance on this privilege is probably one of the highest in its class.
The performance under sail of a privilege 435 is nothing to write home about, but the buildquality might be, this cat is known for its high level craftmanship and sturdy structure making it a safe and easy to handle cat during ocean crossings.
According to a sailor that circumnavigated without any light-wind sails, this boat can average about 8kts over long ocean crossings. Spending some dollars on a spinnaker and you’ll probably add a knot or two.
Compared to its French sisters and brothers (lagoon, FP, etc) you will have to pay a little more.
If interior design and perfect finish is your fetish, then this is probably the boat for you, It comes with meticulous details that make this boat stand out among other catamarans.
Which I must admit isn’t always a hard competition to win compared to the many shaky interiors in the business.
Privilege 435 boasts a lavish interior décor that you can customize as per your tastes and preferences. It has a spacious galley with modern kitchen equipment such as an espresso coffee machine, toaster, bread maker, and yogurt maker. Additionally, it has a gas stove with three gas burners and a double stainless-steel sink.
For increased accommodation, it has four cabins, four bathrooms, two heads, and three showers. The cabins have four queen size beds and one double bed. It also has a washing machine for your laundry.
The lighting, ventilation, and storage are ample in this catamaran.
Fountaine Pajot Saba 50
When it comes to being safe at sea, longer is most often safer. This means that when designing a boat as long as 50ft you can get away with some design decisions that would have been devastating on a 35 -40ft boat. Such as the flybridge and up top helm position, as we discussed with the Bali 4.5 this is not how you would design a boat for performance or safety. But considering its size, this is less of an issue than it is for its smaller competitor the Bali 4.5.
The Saba 50 comes as a result of the experiences that FP had with its little sister the Salina 48. The goal was to make the Salina 48 more comfortable while still maintaining performance. Something that the magazine multihulls world would agree that they did.
“A new model fulfilling the wishes of yachtsmen looking for comfort, as much on deck as below. However, performance has not been neglected, and that’s even better!“Multihulls World Magazine Test Saba 50
The Saba 50 employs stub keels instead of daggerboards, this has its advantages of being easier to operate and therefore less chance of breaking something or making a wrong call when to lower or raise them. But with the disadvantages of not being able to go as close to the wind and possibly lose some downwind speed due to drag.
Although this is the case, in theory, the saba 50 design team seems to have found a good balance, and the cat performs better than expected upwind:
“…but here was a large—and I mean large—cruising cat doing 6 to 9 knots with the wind ahead of the beam.”Sailmagazine.com Test Saba 50
Fountaine Pajot Saba 50 boasts extensive liveability and comfort. It can carry an almost infinite amount of people during a day sail but can only accommodate approximately 10-night occupants in its either 4 or 6 cabin layout.
It offers plenty of space on the cockpit seattees, the large transom seat, between the sun pads on the bow and the flybridge lounge. People can relax here without feeling crowded.
The catamaran comes in two versions, the Maestro and the Quintet.
The maestro model features 1 private suite with an exclusive bathroom, and three guest cabins, each with its bathrooms as well. So if having a separate wash area for your guest is high on your list of priorities, well then this boat won’t let you down.
On the other hand, the Quintet version offers 5 double cabins one skipper’s cabin, and 6 bathrooms (I am still unsure of what I think of this love for bathrooms everywhere). This boat is aimed at the charter market hence the skipper’s cabin.
This catamaran also boasts luxurious interiors with four large cabins, four heads, and four double berths. Its dinette is on the cockpit’s far end, while the saloon features only a lounging settee.
The galley has a microwave, oven, gas burner, and freshwater maker, among other basic kitchen essentials.
The better-than-average performance, exceptional liveability, and comfort derived from this cat make it a highly-priced piece in the sailing market.
One sometimes forgotten aspect of bluewater sailing is the ease with which things can be fixed. I am talking about access to engines, the difficulty of finding parts, and how complex the various systems are. No matter what adventure you are on, the possibility to repair or maintain in far-out places is essential.
This is where the Voyage 580 excels:
“Voyage has kept this [Model] as mechanically and electrically simple as possible.”Cruising World Boat Resource Guide
It is also worth mentioning that the 580 stems from the smaller Voyage 440, a boat that won the Cruising Worlds “Boat of The Year” award in 2002. Not only did voyage keep what was good with the 440, but they also innovated and actually made an even better boat according to the Multihulls World test.
Correctly outfitted and with a knowledgeable crew this boat will get you anywhere you want to go!
Voyage 580 catamarans are huge with a lot of living space and are also pricey, you will have to pay +$600k to get yourself an older model. They boast luxuriously designed interiors using premium modern materials.
A voyage 580 catamaran has a spacious galley fitted with modern kitchen facilities. The kitchenette has a full-sized fridge, a large induction cooktop, a deep freezer, a freshwater maker, and two electric ovens.
Its saloon is cozy, inviting, and accommodating, with ample lighting and air conditioning. It is a perfect space to relax, read, or watch a movie. The dining area is also well prepared with glossy seats that can accommodate 8-10 guests in a single sitting.
For accommodation, it has two spacious cabins, four heads, and three double berths.
The L620 is created by the famous naval designer Van Peteghem Lauriot Prévost, or VPLP for short, this is worth mentioning since the company has won more awards than any other designer studio in the catamaran industry.
At 62ft this cat is so big that the criteria for seaworthiness start to shift, at this size most weather is safe as long as you have powerful enough engines to get you out of a bad situation in case your primary motor, the sails, for some reason stop functioning.
A sailboat of this size also requires a somewhat different skilled sailor to safely be sailed.
Even though this cat has the option of dual helm stations it can still be very hard to dock a boat with the windage of a small suburb. Especially if the wind picks up.
At this size it is probably only a handful of people that can single-handedly sail this beast, most would need a crew of at least three. And according to a study I did a while back, 46% answered that anything larger than 40ft and it becomes difficult to solo (you can find the post here).
Lagoon 620 (or the powerboat version 630) is another highly appreciated liveaboard catamaran. Although it is pricey (~USD 2 000 000), this large catamaran offers exceptional liveability, comfortability, and convenience. It is highly accommodative, featuring four suites, a galley, and a large saloon.
And per a conversation with a sailor of the 620, the interior finish is much better than what is usually found on smaller/cheaper Lagoon boats.
Its port side hull is a fully equipped modern kitchen followed by a suite containing two bunk beds, a complete bathroom, and some cupboards. The bow is another suite with a raised double bed, ample storage space, and a complete bathroom.
Again, on the starboard side is another suite with a raised double bed, a complete bathroom, and a storage area. The fourth cabin is the owner’s suite located at the stern. It has a comfortable double bed, closets, a sofa, a private area, and a complete bathroom. Generally, this cat has four cabins, four bathrooms, four heads, three double baths, and two single berths.
The catamaran boats above are just a glimpse of what the sailing market has to offer concerning liveaboard catamarans. Depending on your budget and your needs, you may get a new or used catamaran. Most used catamarans are still in good working conditions and are more affordable if you have a tight budget.
Interested in a cat under $200k? Here is my list of the 12 best!
What To Consider Before Moving Aboard
Before shifting from your spacious apartment to a catamaran, here are a few questions you need to ask yourself:
Will It Be Cheaper to Live on a Boat Than on Land?
Living on a catamaran can be cheaper depending on its size, price, and additional costs. You’ll likely save on rent, water, gas, and electricity as you will not be lighting, heating, or cooling a big apartment room.
However, your maintenance costs are likely to rise. You will also incur additional expenses such as slip fees, insurance, and boat mortgage fee.
How much does it actually cost to maintain a catamaran?
Therefore, don’t just assume that you will save by moving aboard. Do the maths, and make your decision based on facts.
To help you figure out the costs of moving aboard I have written this post: Is it cheaper to live on a boat than on land?
Will Life Be Simpler?
Simplicity here depends on how your typical day or week looks. By living aboard, you may need to go grocery shopping frequently due to insufficient storage space. You may also need to rush to the post office to get your deliveries more often. This means plenty of back-and-forth movements.
If you want a simpler life aboard, it is advisable to run your typical day through your mind first. By doing this, you will be able to find solutions to the wanting issues.
If you plan on doing your maintenance, then life will not be easier from that perspective;
“Sailing in the Caribbean as a liveaboard; one thing that really surprised me was how incredibly much time I would have to spend on maintenance and repairs! “
What About the Storage Space on a Catamaran?
Although some cats are large, their storage space does not equate to that of most apartments. Be prepared to forego some items such as kitchen equipment, utensils, and clothes. The kitchen space, lockers, cupboards, and wardrobes will be much smaller. Therefore, you’ll need to declutter and move in with only the essentials.
If it doesn’t serve at least two purposes, don’t bring it along!Life/boat lesson learned
What About Comfort and Connectivity?
You can tailor the interiors of your cat to suit your taste and preferences. Your cat should be dry, well ventilated, and have adequate lighting and air conditioning for increased comfort.
For connectivity, you can install a satellite receiver for TV or internet access. You do not want to be cut off from your family and friends when aboard. Choosing a satellite reception instead of the usual mobile phone network allows you to stay updated no matter where in the world you are!
I really like the Google Fi plan (mobile network) for connectivity near land (link here), it’s easy, works almost all over the planet, and is reasonably cheap. Whilst in the middle of nowhere I use the Garmin Inreach mini(satellite, Amazon link here) to send emails and get weather, it’s a good device but nothing fancy.
Will It Be Safe and Secure To Live Aboard?
Safety and security will depend on the marina. The security in most marinas is usually really good although, as always, it’s good to be a little streetsmart and lock your vessel when you leave.
For safety, be sure to install fire extinguishers, carbon monoxide, and smoke detector alarms. You can also install gas and propane sniffers. If you live with kids and pets, check the above deck space to ensure it’s safe for them.
Since a cat is basically a floating apartment you can install the same type of security that you would on land, cameras, etc.
Can I Move Aboard My Boat if I Have a Slip?
A slip (a boat parking space enclosed by three sides) is not enough to guarantee life aboard. For most marinas, you’ll need to submit an application for you to move aboard. Most of them have long waiting lists, while others don’t allow life aboard. Ensure you understand the needs of your target marina before commencing your plans.
Most often you are allowed to stay a night or two, but long-term stay is frowned upon.
I have compiled a few lists of liveaboard friendly marinas depending on where you are:
Pros of Living Aboard a Catamaran
Below are some of the advantages you get by living on a catamaran.
- Economical: Life on a catamaran can be cheaper than the skyrocketing housing prices in major cities. However, you shouldn’t base this only on the cat’s cost. It is important to consider other charges such as marina fees, insurance, state tax, and maintenance fees.
- Lifestyle: You get to experience a peaceful and exciting lifestyle away from crowded cities. Here you’ll get plenty of fresh air and a chance to explore the beautiful coastal or sea waters. If you need some solo time away from the daily hustles and bustles of life, this is the ideal lifestyle for you.
- Social life and community: Depending on the marina and area you live in, you meet and interact with like-minded people. You also get an opportunity to create social networks with a larger community of liveaboards. Additionally, you get to share ideas and learn more from your newly created community. This idea of community life is what draws many sailors to live aboard.
- Connecting with nature: Living aboard a catamaran gives you a chance to connect with nature. You wake up to beautiful views of the water and the peaceful hummings of sea birds. You also view the sunset from the comfort of your cat as you enjoy the calm sea breeze. If you are a nature lover, you’ll enjoy this special connection with nature.
- Adventure: Living on a catamaran means you are a step closer to plenty of adventurous days. You have the opportunity to explore the waters anytime you feel like it. You get to learn a new skill and make discoveries with each passing day.
Cons of Living on a Catamaran
Living aboard has several setbacks, which include:
- High maintenance costs: Unlike standard brick and mortar houses, catamaran boats are prone to damage by water, weather, and microorganisms. They are likely to corrode and rust, which calls for regular maintenance. The maintenance costs of a catamaran may be high compared to those of a standard apartment.
- Safety: Some marinas and anchorages are not safe enough. Additionally, others are filled with dirty water and littered with waste materials. As a result, they are not pleasing to live in.
- Practicalities: The space within most catamarans is limited. The limitations mean you’ll have to adjust your way of doing things such as disposing of waste and cooking to fit into your new lifestyle. Not everyone can fit into this lifestyle. If for you, the advantages of living aboard a catamaran outweigh the drawbacks, then you’re well placed to start your life aboard.
With that, let’s look at the factors to consider in choosing the best catamaran boat to live on.
Features of the Best Liveaboard Catamaran
Here are the factors you should look for when getting a liveaboard cat:
- Space: Although the living space in catamarans is limited compared to that of an apartment, it should be enough to accommodate your needs. Your ideal cat’s space will depend on the projected number of people. It should be enough for everyone aboard without feeling congested or crowded. Having your own space is very important in the long run.
- Standing headroom: Standing headroom refers to the space available for you to stand in a cabin. Although some sailors live in cats without a standing headroom, it is not good for their general well-being. You don’t always want to crouch or crawl during your stay aboard. Sooner or later, your back will start experiencing problems. To avoid such health issues, get a cat with a standing headroom of at least 5-feet 10-inch (5’10”).
- Electric lighting: Although the use of kerosene lamps has basically disappeared, except for the enhancing cozy-factor. Consider getting a cat with LED lighting for reliability and low maintenance. Most modern sailing cats have solar panels for an efficient electric power supply.
- Ventilation: Your liveaboard boat should be adequately ventilated. It should have openings to let in fresh air without necessitating you to open the main hatch.
- 120VAC: Since electricity is vital when living aboard, your cat should have a reliable power source. Consider one with a 120VAC (or 230v for Europeans) where you can charge your phone, computer, and other electronic devices. Unless you’re getting a very old cat this is standard.
- Toilet and plumbing: Sanitation is extra necessary when living aboard, therefore when looking for a cat, get one with a well-fitted head (toilet) and an efficient plumbing system for safe waste disposal. It should encompass a holding tank so that you can use the head when parked in a marina.
- Kitchen facilities: Most cats have a galley but make sure it fits your needs, maybe you love to cook, and therefore you have special preferences for the setup.
When I’m looking to buy something as expensive as a cat I create a Need vs Nice spreadsheet where I track all the most important factors to make sure I don’t miss something, if you want to access this sheet all you need to do is either send me an email or sign up for the newsletter.
Interested in sailing characteristics and catamaran stability? Read this!
Here are Some of My Favorite Catamaran Cruising Resources
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you found it helpful as you hopefully start your sailing adventures. Here are some resources that I use as a sailor that I hope you’ll also find helpful. These are affiliate links, so if you do decide to use any of them, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the exact things that I use and recommend to everyone, even my own family.
Books: For getting started, I really like Cruising catamarans made easy. It is actually a textbook from the American sailing association it is used to get a cruising catamaran certification. there are some other great books and you can find my complete list here.
Communication: Being out on adventures, whether it be sailing or climbing mountains, good communications are essential to being safe. I recommend two things Google fi (incredibly simple cellular data all over the world) and Garmin inreach mini (for text and voice in remote areas without cell coverage)
Sailing courses: Online sailing courses are great for beginners starting out their sailing career, it’s an efficient way of learning the basics of navigation, throttle controls, and maritime safety. I suggest starting with two free courses from NauticEd.
To see all my most up-to-date recommendations, check out this resource that I made for you!