Best Daysailers Under 20 Feet
Small daysailers can offer daytime rides that match an array of aesthetic sensibilities, budget caps, and requirements for portability, security, speed, and alternate propulsion.
August 30, 2017
The term daysailer is a tricky one, because any sailboat can head out of the harbor for a daytime sail, even those equipped to cruise overnight or for longer periods. Yet when your sailboat is shorter than 20 feet, you’ll usually find it’s easier to get underway, easier to handle under sail, and cheaper to buy and maintain. If that sounds like good value to you, take a look at our list of some of the best true daysailers we know of.
If you’re looking for an affordable, new, low-maintenance knockabout for teaching your kids to sail, the Marlow-Hunter 15 may be your best bet. With fiberglass construction and high freeboard, you can do a lot to this boat without capsizing, breaking it or falling out of it.
The 15’s self-bailing cockpit means that shipped water can find a fast exit, and the wide beam will keep her steady no matter what crazy jibes or crew-weight shifts happen along the way. Up to four can sail together and at the end of the day, you can store it on a trailer in your garage. Best of all, there’s no wood to varnish and Marlow-Hunter can get you out on the water with a new boat for right around $10K.
Catalina Yachts may be known for their larger cruising boats, but they build plenty of small ones, too. The Catalina 16.5 is a hand-laminated fiberglass sloop that’s one of their most versatile and can be purchased with a choice of centerboard (draws 5” with the board up) or a shoal-draft keel (4’5”). Buy the centerboard version if you need to store on a trailer; the lead-keel version has the stability to remain parked at the dock or on a mooring.
Like all boats built by Catalina, this 16’4” boat has a huge self-bailing cockpit. Forward, there’s stowage space and a waterproof hatch. Standard equipment includes hiking straps and a tiller extension, so you can get out on the side deck for good visibility forward and a bit of spray in your face. New boats are priced in the $10,000 range.
For exercise and adrenaline rush in a breeze, or just plain smooth sailing in lighter winds, the 13’ 10” Laser dinghy is a great choice for one or two adults. That’s assuming you’re OK with the fact that the fiberglass boat’s light weight and powerful sail makes it easy to capsize—as well as recover.
The Laser is raced as an international sailing class; competition ranges from Olympic sailing championships to simple club races. However, most of the 200,000 boats that have been built over the years are simply sailed for fun, in part because the 1969 design has a single sail, a two-part mast, daggerboard and kick-up rudder that make it relatively easy to store, transport and launch. Builder LaserPerformance sells new boats for less than $7K, and also offers different sized rigs and sails, plus spare parts. As you can imagine, used boats are also readily available.
Another long-lasting design with a great turn of speed and space for four on its trampoline is the Hobie 16 beach catamaran. More than 100,000 of these have been launched since 1969 when they made their debut in Southern California. The Hobie 16 is trailerable, can carry a crew of four, and weighs only 320 pounds.
The 16’s asymmetric fiberglass sandwich hulls have kick-up rudders, which means you can sail the boat all the way up onto the beach. The jib and main provide a sail area of 218 square feet. Equipped with a spinnaker, douse kit and trailer, the boat comes with plenty of high-speed gear for the money (roughly $12,000 new) and she’s a fun toy that your kids (and you) won’t tire of all summer.
The Hobie Cat Co. sells new boats and you’ll find both new and used for sale on boats.com.
For a smaller, simpler and more durable Hobie, try the 13-foot Hobie Wave. It’s a lower performance design but still plenty of fun. It’s fitted with a boomless mainsail and roto-molded hulls for about half the price of the fiberglass 16.
Designed by Jerry Montgomery in 2009, the Sage 17 is a stable little go-anywhere sloop.Solid no matter where you stand, the boat has a carbon-fiber deck, cabin roof, and transom, with balsa core in the horizontal deck areas. All of that is mated to a faux-lapstrake fiberglass hull made with vinylester resin. The result, according to her designer, is a 1,300-pound boat that is lighter and faster than his ‘70s design, the very popular Montgomery 17.
The Sage 17 sells with a loose-footed main and a working jib that sheets inside the lifelines, but can also carry outboard genoa tracks for optional, larger headsails. There’s a 400-pound lead keel and a 120-pound centerboard and a kick-up rudder that won’t leave you stranded when sailing in skinny water. The draft is 1’9” with appendages up and 3’11” when down. Below, there’s a V-berth and sitting headroom, plus a range of cruising options that include a great day-sailing feature, a portable MSD. Pricing is in the $25K range.
Here’s something completely different—a boat that bills itself as the “Swiss Army Knife of Boats” because you can sail it or row it. With traditional styling, the NorseBoat 17.5 is a performance boat whether human or wind-powered that features two rowing stations and lots of room to stow stuff.
The mast and sails are an option, although it would hard to daysail without them. New boats are offered with sailplans featuring a fully battened mainsail set either on an unusual curved gaff or a rigid headboard. The mast is free-standing and made of carbon fiber, and you can also set the optional furling headsail from the sprit. For maximum ease of use, you can trailer the boat and store it in your garage.
The NorseBoat 17.5 sells for about $20,000. It has a fiberglass hull with a lot of sheer (to make it easier to row) and an optional varnished ash cockpit. You can also have a hand-crafted wooden tiller, 90-inch spruce oars and seats that you may find on a sculling boat. So if there’s wind you can sail and when you feel the need to exercise, you can row it in a nice straight line all up and down your lake, river or bay.
If this style of boat appeals, you might enjoy 7 Ultimate Camping Cruisers: Back to Basics Boating.
Built in China, the FarEast 18 is a 19-foot Simonis Voogd design that emphasizes high speed with low maintenance at a relatively modest price. It carries a square-top fully battened mainsail and a sprit-flown asymmetrical spinnaker. A kick in the pants for buoy racing, this daysailer can compete with six crew, but will also sleep three below if you decide to stay out overnight.
The boat features a contemporary bulb keel with carbon structure, vacuum-infused foils, a vacuum-infused fiberglass/foam-core hull, and a contemporary bulb keel that combine to deliver plenty of punch at any point of sail. Best of all, the FarEast 18 can be rigged and launched by one person. And with a displacement under 1,500 pounds, you can trailer this high-tech sailboat easily. With the rudder off and the keel retracted, the boat will float in only one foot of water. If you’d like to read more about it, see the Fareast 18 review on our UK sister-site.
If you want a classic beauty with up-to-date performance, look at the Paine 14, named for its well-known designer, Chuck Paine, and styled purposely after the century-old Herreshoff 12 1/2, e. The Paine 14 is scaled down—about 10 percent smaller in all dimensions—and lighter. With a modern fin keel and spade rudder, she’ll sail faster and be more agile, yet she maintains stability with a lead-ballast keel close to half her overall weight.
Built of cold-molded wood/WEST epoxy, the Paine 14 looks like a boat your dad might’ve sailed as a kid. With varnished gunnels and transom, this boat has old-time appeal. But Paine gave her modern features including a carbon mast and a new way to attach sails so the boat is ready to sail in minutes. The Paine 14 may be rigged with either a gaff or Marconi rig and can be trailered behind a standard car.
On the other hand, maybe you find your eyes straying to the original Herreshoff 12 ½, which was designed by Cap’n Nat Herreshoff in 1914 and remains one of the most beautiful daysailing classics on the water. The 1,500-pound gaff-rigged sloop is 15’8” long (12’6” on the waterline) and extremely stable thanks to its beam and full lead keel. The H Class Association can fill you in on the rest.
Most sailors learned to sail in a daysailer, and this article’s author has a soft spot for the Lido 14 because that’s what she learned to sail on. In fact, my first outing on a Lido 14 included an impromptu swim as we turtled the boat (i.e. when the mast is pointing the wrong way). We then had to swim and pull the boat to shore to bail it out.
The small boat has seating for six but can be singlehanded and even raced short-handed. Two hundred boats were ordered the first year the model was launched, and 40 years later, approximately 6,300 Lido 14s had been built. Today, although new boats are no longer available, you can easily find used boats for sale, a very active owner’s association and lots of one-design racing in different parts of the country.
To expand your search for daysailers and bargain sailboats, we recommend reading Best Daysailers, 20 Feet and Up and 10 New Bargain Sailboats: Best Value Buys. You can also do a wide search of daysailer listings from sailing dinghies on up.