CATAMARAN VS MONOHULL, THE FINAL MATCH
Catamaran or monohull: Which is better?
This is one of the most frequently asked questions from my students, so I feel it is now time for the final match.
I believe there are two different approaches to answer such a question—one is emotional, and the other technical.
Let’s briefly mention the emotional answers…
Peter, an RYA professional colleague of mine, once told me that after many years of monohull sailing he had reached a conclusion. He decided one of his biggest desires was to sit comfortably (and flat) on a deck chair while sailing! Okay, no objection here if you want to have a floating living room on the sea 😉
Personally, if I am not heeling over at least 25 degrees with the water continually washing the toe rails for me—it’s not sailing
Now let’s move on to talking about that more serious, technical stuff!
BUDGET: WINNER MONOHULL
– Buying Cost: Definitely a monohull. As far as initial buying costs go, monohull takes the win here. Think about it—a catamaran has two of everything! Though it is worth noting that catamarans tend to have a greater resale value.
– Marina Fee:Monohull again, you will likely pay double for that cat.
– Maintenance Cost: This varies from boat to boat, and from propulsion system to system. There are some variables you can typically count on. Catamarans have a second engine or motor. This helps them navigate their roomier bulk, but two engines are immediately double the maintenance/parts that can fail at sea. Plus, the on average approximate 40% more wetted surface area (even with less subsurface area) between similar length vessels means more paint—and often a costlier haul out.
– Fuel Cost: Split; Catamarans have reduced surface area on the water, making them technically more fuel-efficient. In light winds they can even get away with only using one of their two engines. However, in heavier winds the monohull has less resistance leading to better fuel efficiency.
COMFORT: WINNER CATAMARAN
I must give this one to the catamaran. Why? Large saloon, terrace-like cockpit, more cabins, you name it! (Living room on the sea anyone?)
FUN WINNER MONOHULL
Just trust me on this one. And refer to the “emotional” answer above.
SAILING WINNER MONOHULL
– Sail Trimming: Both handle well, if differently, in the wind. As I said above, a monohull will heel over exhilarating. A catamaran rides flatter. You’ll trim each differently, but with a small learning curve the differences will be simply preferential. The last word though, is that you often feel the wind and water a little less precisely on the helm of a catamaran. This translates to feeling like the vessel reacts more slowly to any change in sail, and that can disguise your need to reef if you catch a stiff wind.
– Speed: Like above, both boats have their pros and cons for speed. A catamaran is for sure faster than a monohull when heading downwind, but they tack much slower and are inefficient at upwind sailing. A cruising catamaran versus a close-hauled monohull will usually get left behind when sailing windward. A monohull is designed to work smoothly with the elements and may provide a better ride at high speed than a cat—no pounding or slapping.
BOAT HANDLING: TIE
– Manuvering in the Marina:No clear winner here, we’ll call it a tie. With its two engines and shallow draft, catamarans can go where monohulls can’t. Yet, with its narrower build, the monohull can take sharper turns and fit in tighter spaces.
– Anchoring: Again, the options are about equal. It’s true that a catamaran, having no keel and ballast, will allow you more anchoring possibilities close to shore. But, a catamaran also has much more windage (air resistance). At anchorage they tend to misbehave—have you ever heard the expression “bob?”
While a catamaran is unsinkable, a monohull boasts a much better “self-righting” skill. As a matter of fact, a monohull after a capsize can possibly return in an upright condition due to the keel advantage. Catamarans do not, they stay upside down. The larger surface area helps keep a catamaran upright much in the same way a keel does, but that doesn’t help once capsized.
Still confused? Don’t worry about it too much. Sailing is a “diverse” world, there should be no factions. At the end of the day, monohull lovers or catamaran fanatics, we share the same passion—and hopefully the same respect—for the sea. Even if we prefer sailing it by different means.
For beginners, I suggest you have a go as a crew member on both types of boat. Once you have experience playing skipper of both worlds, you can decide your own winner. If you want to share your experiences with either catamaran or monohull, please feel free to provide your comments on this post.