When you say sailboat, most people envision a lovely sloop with a tall mast and one hull (and if you don't know what a mast or a hull is, be sure to read Sailing Terms: Sailboat Types, Rigs, Uses and Definitions). But say charter, and most brochures show catamarans anchored at a tropical island. Both mono- and multi-hulls are available on charter. If you’re wondering which is better for you—a catamaran or monohull—note that there are always tradeoffs. Different boats will make sense based on your party size, your destination and your vacation goals.
Space and Protection Onboard
Conventional wisdom says that a catamaran has about 1.25 times the space of a monohull. In other words, a 40-foot cat should have the deck and interior space of a 50-foot monohull—so you can charter a shorter cat and still have plenty of room. It’s also the way the space is used that makes cats clear winners with large groups. Cats usually have big cockpits that become social hubs. Some cats even have flybridges, which adds to the lounge space on deck and you won’t get that on a monohull sailboat in charter. More importantly, most charter cats have hard Biminis so the cockpit is protected from rain and sun. This will make a happier crew in the tropics where you’re either doused in afternoon storms or baked to a crisp.
Cats also have more interior space with up to four cabins even in a vessel under 40 feet. These large cabins usually provide easier berth access and they have hull windows with opening port so you get better air and light even down in the staterooms. Also, on a cat the cabins are usually better separated so you’ll enjoy more privacy.
On the flip side, if you don’t need the space (for example, if you’re chartering just as a couple) a monohull will be both easier to manage short-handed and cheaper to charter—as you will find out below. Even small cats are big and so is their gear. Hoisting the mainsail on a cat without an electric winch can be a job for at least two big guys while most anyone can raise the main on a 40-foot monohull. The pressures on big sails can get intimidating and even dangerous so when sailing shorthanded, a monohull may be the better choice.
If your main focus is comfort, be sure to also check out The Most Comfortable Sailboat: 5 Sailing Catamarans to Consider.
A Different Motion on the Ocean
Some people love the motion of a monohull—the rhythmic swaying under sail. Others turn green, especially when the boat heels or they spend time below when the boat is on its ear. Cats have a different motion. The movement is faster and a bit jerky. Downwind with following or quartering seas, cats tend to waddle. But since cats don’t heel too much, they generally induce less seasickness. This is key if you’re chartering with friends and family who have delicate stomachs. The motion of a cat is also easier for kids and older folks who may not be steady on their feet and don’t do well walking on an angle. Chartering a cat opens up the opportunity to bring the whole family on vacation from toddlers to grandma.
You don’t need to be terribly vigilant stowing everything carefully on a cat. Inevitably, someone will forget to secure their camera, phone, or drink and on a monohull in a stiff breeze, items will go flying whereas on a cat, they’re more likely to stay put. For people who aren’t used to stowing provisions and gear mindfully, this will be a blessing.
Another advantage to cats is they stay relatively steady even in the roughest anchorage. Stability at rest equals dishes staying in place. A steady bed at night makes the whole family well rested (and less cranky) the next day.
On the other hand, cats slam. When heading upwind in a seaway, most cats tend to hobbyhorse and slam the bridge deck into head seas. Some models are better about this than others but they all do it to a degree. A monohull, on the other hand, will usually slice through waves more efficiently and even if you motorsail, a monohull will need less power (and therefore less fuel) to push through oncoming waves.
Pure Sailing Pleasure
If you’re chartering to get the most time on the water under sail, you may not be delighted with a cat. Yes, cats sail beautifully downwind or on a beam reach and they stay on their feet even in a blow, but cruising cats aren’t known for their snappy tacks (some tack like a shoebox) or their ability to make good progress when sailing close hauled.
Monohulls, on the other hand, tend to sail well even in the de-powered vessels that are offered by most charter companies. If you want to spend a day tacking to a distant island, you’ll make good headway and have fun doing so on one hull rather than two.
You generally don’t need to reef a cat as early as a monohull because cats stay comfortable in higher winds. That’s not to say you don’t reef, just that you can take a bit more breeze before needing to shorten sail.
Anchoring, docking and maneuvering a catamaran versus a monohull
If you’ll be chartering in deep waters, like in most places in Europe or around the West Coast of the U.S., then a monohull will be fine and a deep keel will track nicely under sail. But if you venture into the skinny waters of the Chesapeake, Caribbean or South Pacific, you may be glad to have a cat with its shallower draft. Cats can venture closer to shore and into bays that are off limits to deep draft monohulls and every foot below the waterline that you save, is more of the world to explore.
Docking is a toss up between one hull and two. Monohulls have the advantage in Med mooring situations where you back up to a dock. They simply require less space on a quay than cats that can be nearly twice as wide on the beam. This is particularly important in Greece and Croatia where Med moors are almost all that is available. But, when backing up into a tight space with a cross breeze, there’s nothing like a cat with its twin screws 20 feet apart to provide better control even at slow speeds. There’s no need for a bow thruster so you’ll look like a pro whether pulling up to a fuel dock, Med mooring on a crowded quay in full view of a café packed with tourists or even keeping station in a blow when getting the anchor down. Close quarters maneuvering is almost always easier with two engines so cats have it all over monohullls whether going forward or back.
Redundancy and Systems
Part of safety on the water is redundancy. In a belt-and-suspenders approach, a cat is better simply because it has natural systems backups. If a fresh water pump fails in one hull, you’ll have another to take a shower in the other (usually). If one engine fails, you have another. If one prop falls off, you have another.
Cats have more room so they often have more systems installed. Think: genset, watermaker, bigger house battery banks, and larger water tanks. This is not a hard and fast rule because new monohulls are coming into charter fully loaded with lots of gear; but typically, you’ll have more goodies on a cat and that adds comfort and convenience.
Availability and prices for catamarans and monohulls
Availability of monohulls versus catamarans varies by destination. In Europe, they still have more monohulls in charter because Europeans are purists and most learned on, and continue to be devotees of, single hull sailing. Also as mentioned above, there’s simply less room in European towns and marinas to dock the number of boats that are plying Mediterranean waters. However, in the Caribbean and South Pacific, cats dominate due to their warm-weather appeal and shallow drafts. Since there are few docks in these areas, it’s mostly moorings and anchoring so there’s very little Med mooring. Your choice of boat shape may be somewhat dictated by what is available where you plan to charter.
Another issue that will affect your choice is price. Cats are usually more expensive to both charter and feed. You’ll be running two engines and even if those diesels are smaller, you’ll usually use more fuel on a cat, which will impact your wallet at the end of the charter.
Most people learn to sail on a monohull. There are also more monohull owners than there are cat owners so people tend to go with what they know. If you’re new to chartering, have never driven a cat and are going with two or three people, a small monohull may be the better answer. Also, some people thing cats are weird or intimidating. They’re not. They’re just different and they’re worth a try on your next chartering vacation.
Finally, if you don’t want to sail at all and would rather zip around your chosen cruising grounds covering long distances, know that there are more powercats in charter than ever before. So if your family would rather get to the bar than hoist sails, forget the stick and try a powercat.
Catamaran or monohull? Your choice
There is no right or wrong way to charter and your needs may vary by destination and who you bring along. The good news is that today you have choices—power or sail, monohull or catamaran. And if you’re curious about one or the other, why not try it out on vacation? You may come back a convert.
Luckily, boats.com has plenty of catamarans and monohulls listed for sale so you can explore your choice style.