Catamaran or Monohull?

Catamaran or Monohull?  Irie under full sail in the Bahamas, where her shallow draft came in handy. Photo courtesy of S/V Cindy’s Island

Catamaran or monohull?

It’s a hot discussion amongst cruisers. Just like those other considerations: Sailboat or power boat? Water maker or not? Solar panels, wind generator, gas generator or all three? Around Cape Horn or through the Panama Canal? It’s all a matter of preference.

Boat owners will defend their choice and have many viable reasons why a catamaran is better than a monohull or vice versa. Of course, your own boat is the best one out there and you wouldn’t want anything else, right? Or is that a tad subjective?

My husband Mark and I used to own a 36-foot monohull. It was an Islander Freeport and we were located in San Francisco where we spent eight months getting her fixed up and ready to go cruising. She felt homey, had loads of storage space, decent water and fuel capacity, and we could stock up on food, drinks and dog food until we ran out of money. She was as dog friendly as a monohull could be, with three big steps down into the saloon, a flip down transom for easy dinghy access and life line netting. But, she heeled, as monohulls do, and rolled in less than flat anchorages. Everything had to be stowed securely before leaving port, getting to the engine under the floor boards was a pain, she was quite heavy and sluggish and with her long keel, had a hard time going in reverse. Three days into our big adventure south, we put her up for sale.

That brings us to the characteristics of a catamaran. They used to be very expensive and they still cost more than comparably sized monohulls, but the prices have dropped some and they are more available. They have become popular, especially the ones over 40-feet, which have more conveniences and larger tanks than their little sisters. I can’t speak for those comfy giants; we have a 35-foot Fountaine Pajot catamaran, which fits into the lower end cost and length wise. But we love her for obvious, and less obvious, reasons and she has been our floating home and transport towards adventure since June 2007.

Some of the better known advantages and attractions of a catamaran are its speed, light weight, shallow draft, spaciousness (cockpit, saloon and foredeck) and stability – or should I say ‘stableness’. No more heeling, indeed, and easier cooking and sleeping! The rumor goes that you can put a beer or a cocktail on the table and it won’t move … Which is true most of the time, especially at anchor, but a catamaran is not immune to big ocean waves or annoying wake. We do have a lot of space but, because of weight considerations, we can’t fill it all like on a monohull. Heavy cats – especially when the weight is forward in the bows (to be avoided) – are no fun to sail and might even become dangerous in heavy weather. But we can buy a lot of paper towels and potato chips!

Plenty of outside light enters the saloon and the separate rooms through the big windows, port holes and hatches. The two hulls offer the option for some privacy and alone time when required. Then there are two engines. Advantage or not? With twice the maintenance and the cost for parts, we still see our twin engines as a positive attribute. Maneuvering – especially while docking – is very easy and we always have another engine to compare it to when something breaks or doesn’t work properly. In emergencies, we could even get away using one engine. It’s good to have a ‘spare’.

What is better: a catamaran or a monohull? As with many things in life, I would not call one better than the other. I call them ‘different’. The choice is personal and depends on what people want in a boat and a cruising life. Another reasons we traded the monohull for a catamaran was our dogs. They could not get used to the heeling of the boat and were miserable. So we bought a cat to have happy dogs and some great years of cruising in the Caribbean on Irie followed. The fact that I am less seasick is an added bonus!

Liesbet Collaert is a freelance writer from Belgium. She and her American husband Mark have been cruising on Irie for almost six years. They recently left the Caribbean and are heading west for new adventures in the South Pacific. Visit her blog at:

Liesbet Collaert
Liesbet Collaert is a freelance writer. She and her husband Mark have been cruising on Irie for almost six years. They recently left the Caribbean and are heading west for new adventures in the South Pacific. Visit her blog at: