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Recommendations for Choosing the Type of Boat

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When choosing the type of boat, many factors are taken into account. This is the purpose (fishing, cruising, water sports). Size and power (sail, motor, oar) are also important. It is necessary to take into account the budget (purchase, maintenance, storage).

Resale value and market demand – weighing these factors against your preferences and priorities can help you choose the right type of boat for your needs.

Your boat should be designed and selected for the type of activity you will be engaged, and the speed required. Keep these two requirements in mind whenever you look at a boat or when you have a discussion with friends who are knowledgeable.

In general, there are three types of boats:

  • an open boat with no accommodations which may be used for fishing or water skiing;
  • a semi-enclosed boat with minimum accommodations for two people;
  • and a fully enclosed cruising hull for living aboard for a short period or permanently.

See Figures 1, 2, and 3.

Boat image
Fig. 1 An open boat with head

Each of these three types may be designed with engines for any desired speed. All of the boat types may be used just for the enjoyment of being on the water in any cruising area.

Cruising boat diagram
Fig. 2 A cruising boat with berths and head

Visualize the trips you will make and how much time you will be on the water. How many people will you be taking with you? Will you need sleeping and cooking facilities for overnight trips? Thorough planning before you How to Buy the Best Boat? Essential Tipsbuy a boat will insure purchasing the hull that will fill your needs and fit within your budget. Of course, a larger boat will provide more of the personal comforts, but it will be more expensive to buy and operate.

Boat design
Fig. 3 A semi-enclosed boat for overnight trips

Sailboats are an entirely separate area of design and have slow, displacement speed hulls favored by those who have a large amount of time to enjoy the quiet magic of sailing. Exceptions to this are the small sailboats that do not have ballast and are able to proceed at high speeds when the wind is aft of the beam. See Figure 4.

Types of sailboats
Fig. 4 High speed sailboats

Small, open, sailboats that do not have ballast require great care to prevent capsizing and it is only the skill of the crew that keeps them sailing at optimum speed and in the upright mode. For this reason, these open sailboats should only be used in protected waters.

One advantage of the small sailboat without ballast is it can be moved on a trailer to different sailing areas and provides a great deal of enjoyment. Your car probably has a towing weight limit and most states limit the width of a load on a trailer to eight feet. Be sure to keep these limits in mind when you plan to use a trailer. Of course, the mast and boom must be removed before placing the hull on the trailer.

Depending on the length of the sailboat, those with ballast may be fitted with an interior for long distance cruising and they are definitely the boats of choice for ocean crossings. Conversely, if you like to race sailboats, either in a class or with a handicap rating fleet, you may want to select the type of sailboat that fits in with your local group activities. The selection of a rig type for a sailboat is a matter of personal preference, but remember one mast is less expensive than two. For this reason, most sailboats are sloop rigged. For long distance cruising, some owners prefer a ketch rig as they can just furl the mainsail when the wind increases and proceed at optimum speed with a reasonable angle of heel.

Specific Boat Use

You may want to consider the following activities to help in your selection of a boat:

  • Fishing in protected waters.
  • High speed trips for ocean fishing.
  • SCUBA diving.
  • Water skiing.
  • Day trips and swimming.
  • Living aboard.
  • Offshore cruising (Power & Sail).
  • Protected water cruising.

There are many personal considerations that enter into boat selection. A thirty-foot boat may sell for sixty to one-hundred thousand dollars depending on engines and optional equipment. A forty-foot hull may be twice that amount. Primarily, you have to decide what your budget will allow, and cost is often the deciding factor in determining the size of the boat. Boat cost is discussed in a later chapter. You should decide where you are going to keep your boat and what additional monthly charges will be necessary. If a dock is in a shallow waterway, a deep draft boat may be out of the question. Deep keel, ballasted sailboats are often restricted to deep waterways with no bridges to slow access to the ocean.

The following will briefly describe boats for the above-mentioned uses. A fishing boat for protected waters is usually a small, open boat with the helm located in the center (center console) or at the bow so most of the deck area is open to walk around during the process of boarding a fish. If you are going well offshore to fish at the edge of the continental shelf, you will want a very different hull. In the ocean, the boat will usually have some portion of the forward half fully enclosed and watertight so water blown aboard will be deflected and the boat will not be swamped with sea water. Twin engines may be necessary to make the trip shorter and allow more time for fishing.

The deep «V» (high deadrise) powerboat is probably best suited for travel in the rough water usually encountered when offshore fishing. The unusual word «deadrise» may require some explanation. When looking at the stem of a powerboat hull, the bottom, on both sides of the centerline, may be flat (zero deadrise) or have an angle to the horizontal. This angle to the horizontal is called deadrise and may be eight to twelve degrees in average hulls. When the angle is over twelve degrees, there is high deadrise which is best suited to rough water operation.

Offshore cruising across oceans usually calls for a ballasted sailboat with auxiliary engine power, but some nigged, trawler type yachts make long passages. These powerboats must have a large fuel capacity and usually choose the time of year with relatively calm waters. Recently, there have been some endurance races across oceans for both sailboats and powerboats. These demonstrations of strong hulls and a stronger crew have involved both monohulls and multihulls. Much can be learned from these efforts, but the average boat owner should not copy the itinerary.

Coastwise cruising, protected water cruising, and living aboard may be accomplished in either sailboats or powerboats over thirty feet with a comfortable interior and a well-built hull. There are many types of boats on the market that can be used for cruising, and your selection might well be based on the number of berths you require and the extent of the cooking facilities.

If you plan SCUBA diving, the aft deck of the boat you select should have a transom platform (swim platform) or a sloped ramp to provide easy access to the water. Secure storage for air bottles, regulators and wet suits must be installed. The forward half of the hull usually contains the helm, seating, galley and head. If you go diving for a few hours, a small, open boat can be used. Otherwise, the size of the boat determines the accommodations provided.

Water skiing is a specialized spoil that requires a small, 35-knot, open boat with a very strong towing post at the stem. The helm is forward with an aft facing seat for an observer who keeps an eye on the person skiing. A few manufacturers produce a very special boat just for this sport and for the competition events held in various parts of the USA.

A small, open boat may be used for most activities in protected waters. The semi-enclosed hull is also fine for general boating, but lacks the facilities for living aboard. These two boat types are the most popular and are produced in large numbers by the many manufacturers. A fully enclosed cruising boat can be used for many purposes but is generally not used for high-speed trips and water skiing.


One of the unusual hull shapes in boating is the multihull that was developed to improve both comfort and speed. Actually, multihulls originated with the South Pacific islanders for both rowing and sailing. They hollowed out logs to form the maim hull and used smaller logs as outriggers to keep the main hull from tipping over. Small tree trunks with vine lashings were used athwart ships to hold the main hull and outriggers apart.

The catamaran is essentially two slender and identical hulls held together by two or more cross connecting beams. One or more decks may be constructed on these beams with extensive accommodations. Sailing catamarans may have centerboards and ballast but they are usually unballasted. The slender hulls result in minimum forward resistance and the wide spacing affords minimum rolling. Usually the beam of the catamaran is half the overall length of the boat.

In day sailing and racing catamarans, the ratio of sail area to total boat weight is very high and high speeds can be expected, especially when the wind direction is aft of the beam. These light weight catamarans usually have hulls that are too narrow for accommodations, but cruising cats can have wider hull beam to enclose all the normal cruising amenities. Since the two hulls are separated, there is maximum privacy for the berthing areas. See Figure 5.

Catamaran profile diagram
Fig. 5 Profiles for a 56 foot and a 29 foot catamaran

The primary advantage of the catamaran is the resistance to rolling and the wide beam available to spread out the arrangement. This great advantage has been put to excellent use with passenger femes all over the world. There is no doubt catamarans will be used in greater numbers in the future. One of the few negative aspects of catamarans is the excellent property of wide beam becomes a detriment when looking for docking space at a marina. They usually have to dock at the outboard end of a pier with boats that are much longer.

Trimarans are essentially an outgrowth of the Polynesian proa, with the exception that two outboard hulls are used. These hulls limit the heel angle and are too narrow for good storage. The center hull is similar to a monohull and has all the accommodations. Usually there is no pilot house over the connecting beams, and thus the trimaran has fewer accommodations than the catamaran. Both types of multihulls can be used for powerboats or sailboats and clever design results in fine boats.

Consider a Used Boat

The market is usually flooded with used boats and there may be some good choices for those on a limited budget. As with any used product, the condition is most important in order to avoid any costly repairs. When you have located a used boat to fill your needs, it is imperative to have a professional surveyor inspect the boat both in and out of the water. From this report you can obtain estimates of the cost to put the boat in top condition. The engine is probably the most costly item on the boat, and the most important. It is money well spent to have a qualified mechanic run the engine and tell you what must be repaired for long term operation.

This professional advice is very necessary before buying a used hull, and tells you about the condition of the particular hull. In addition, it is very informative to inquire of other owners about their problems with the make of boat. Boat brokers and boatyard managers are always a good source of information. Used boats may be located through friends, the newspaper, boating magazines, boat yards and boat brokers.

A used boat may be a very good selection for an owner who has time to work on the boat and who has good skills and tools. Trim pieces, shorted out electrical lamps, hull coverings, and plastic laminates are all within the capabilities of a patient handyperson. If the electronics are not working at the time the surveyor inspects the boat, it is probably best to subtract the replacement cost from the asking price. Modem electronic devices are fast becoming disposable products where it is less expensive to replace than repair. The cost of replacing various items in the boat is discussed in a later chapter.

Build a Boat from a Bare Hull

Another alternative to the purchase of a new boat is the purchase of a bare glass fiber hull which will require the building of a deck and the interior arrangement. This is a large project and should only be undertaken by a hard worker who is willing to devote at least one thousand hours to the completion of the boat. It is usually more expensive to engage a custom builder to build a boat or to finish a bare hull and costs can be reduced substantially if the owner does a large portion of the work.

Read also: Tips for Local and Online Advertising of Your Boat

It is sometimes difficult to find a bare hull, but they may be located by talking with boatyards, boat brokers, or designers. Powerboat hulls can usually be fitted out for any Comprehensive Collection of Common Sailboat Rig Types and Designstype of boat the owner may like, but the hull must be designed for the speeds you require. Powerboats should normally have a «V»-bottom as round bilge hulls are only efficient at low speeds. If a bare hull is under consideration, be sure to talk with other owners who have built from that particular hull so any problems may be avoided. See Figure 6.

Draft versus weight graph
Fig. 6 Boat draft depending on its weight

The seller of a bare hull should provide proof the laminate is entirely made from alternating layers of glass fiber mat and glass fiber woven roving. An all mat laminate is not adequate as the strength of a glass fiber hull is determined by the woven roving. The mat is composed of short strands of glass fiber loosely held in a delicate sheet. The mat is available in various weights but 1,5 ounces per square foot is the most common. Woven roving consists of long fibers woven into a coarse, heavy fabric. 19 ounces per square yard is a common weight.

Laminates for a boat hull should never be made with the chopped glass fibers and resin that are sprayed from a chopper gun. These short strands are inherently weak and are only suitable for nonstructural parts such as shower enclosures and decorative panels. A conventional spray gun may be used, however, to put resin on the glass fiber material that has been laid in a mold. After the material has been wet with resin, it is rolled with a stainless steel disc roller to remove any entrapped air bubbles that would certainly weaken the resulting laminate.

Author photo - Olga Nesvetailova
  1. Cruising World, Subscription Service Dept., P. O. Box 953, Farmingdale, NY 11737.
  2. Motor Boating & Sailing, P. O. Box 10075, Des Moines, IA 50350.
  3. Multi-hulls, 421 Hancock St., N. Quincy, MA 02171-9981.
  4. Nautical Quarterly, 373 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10016.
  5. Sail Magazine, P. O. Box 10210, Des Moines, IA 50336.
  6. Sailing, P. O. Box 248, Port Washington, WI 53704.
  7. Small Boat Journal, P. O. Box 400, Bennington, VT 05201.
  8. Soundings, Soundings Publications, Inc., Pratt Street, Essex, CT 06426.
  9. The Practical Sailor, Subscription Dept., P. O. Box 971, Farmingdale, NY 11737.
  10. Wooden Boat, Subscription Dept., P. O. Box 956, Farming-dale, NY 11737.
  11. Yacht Racing/Cruising, North American Building, 401 North Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19108.
  12. Yachting, P. O. Box 2704, Boulder, CO 80321.
  13. Beiser, Arthur. The Proper Yacht, 2nd ed. Camden, Maine: International Publishing Co., 1978.
  14. Chapman, Charles F. Piloting, Seamanship and Small Boat Handling, 56th ed. New York: Hearst Marine Books, 1983.
  15. Coles, Adlard. Heavy Weather Sailing, 3rd rev. ed. Clinton Corners, N.Y.: John De Graff, Inc., 1981.
  16. Pardey, Lin and Larry. Cruising in Seraffyn and Seraffyn’s Mediterranean Adventure (W. W. Norton, 1981).
  17. Roth, Hal. After 50 000 Miles (W. W. Norton, 1977) and Two Against Cape Horn (W. W. Norton, 1968).
  18. Royce, Patrick M. Royce’s Sailing Illustrated, 8th ed. Ventura, Calif.: Western Marine Enterprises, Inc., 1979.
  19. Kinney, Francis S. Skene’s Elements of Yacht Design, 8th ed. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1981.
  20. Street, Donald M., Jr. The Ocean Sailing Yacht, Vols. I and II. New York: W. W. Norton, 1973, 1978.


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