Choosing The Right Boat

Selecting The Right Cruising 

What is the best cruising sailboat?  There are lots of ways to answer the question.  Probably, the answer which bugs me the most is, "we can't tell you because everyone has to make that decision for themselves".  People who give you that answer were confused about the question.  

The question never was, "please choose my boat for me, please, please, please."  The question is "why is the boat you have the best cruising sailboat?"  

We say 'the boat you have' because as long as a sailor has a boat, he is sure to tell you it is the best.  Why did he choose it?  That is what we want to know.  From there, we can figure out how WRONG he is in his selection, and how we can avoid the mistakes he made.  Perhaps that is why no sailor wants to honestly answer the question!

Here is my thinking on what boat to buy and why.

From Matt, Sailnet: Good day to all:

I'm looking for opinions from all who have some knowledge in the differences between a "coastal cruiser" and a "bluewater cruiser"...Common sense tells me that a good bluewater boat will have a beefier standing rig, a heavier displacement, probably a stiffer hull, maybe a few more layers of glass as well, sails would be heavier as well and have extra reef points. What else would I be missing? Can a sturdy quality build coastal boat be refitted for ocean travel?

Thanks to all that respond. I'd be happy to email with anyone with more to say than can be included here.

Matt Walkabout

Sailing Dog

Some of the primary differences between a bluewater boat and a coastal cruiser are that bluewater boats will have:

1) A kindlier Boat motion—narrower beam, softer bilge curves
2) More stowage and tankage
3) More Handholds—usually narrower interior
4) Generally have a smaller cockpit
5) Generally have heavier rigging
6) Deeper reef points, and often heavier sails

and so on... 


Among other things, I like wide, clear side decks, uncluttered by deck-piercing shrouds and stanchions. I like the security of raised bulwarks and tall 30 inch lifelines. I like the chainplates horizontally through-bolted into the hull, and stanchions similarly horizontally bolted to the raised bulwarks (both for strength and resistance to water intrusion). Also, there should be space for a junk-filled milk crate on the coachroof (just kidding on that one):


A blue water boat is a lot of different things to different people. Almost anything can be found sailing offshore and a lot of the boats doing trips are not what is considered offshore capable by the common definition. I think the most important thing is the skipper. A skilled skipper will survive with a marginal or even poor boat while an incompetent skipper will sink even a great boat. So my pat answer to a question like this is to say that if you need to ask the question you are not ready for offshore sailing.

Read as much as you can and sail on as many boats as you can to get some background. After a while you will start asking more pointed questions and start forming a game plan for both tactics and route planning that will usually narrow it down for you. You will get to a point where you, not everybody else, are comfortable with a style and you will know how she handles under all conditions and then you are ready to pick a boat.
Good luck and all the best,

Robert Gainer


"This is the kind of a question that would require a book to answer properly.

For the most part, race boats are optimized to perform better than the racing rating rule under which it is intended to race. This has a lot of implications. Under some rules (IMS and IRC for example) race boats are optimized to be fast and easy to handle across a wide range of conditions, producing great all around boats, but in the worst cases (International, Universal, CCA and IOR rules for example), the shape of the hulls, and design of the rig are greatly distorted to beat the shortcomings and loopholes in the rule, producing boats that become obsolete as race boats, and to a great extent as cruising boats as well, once the rule becomes history. 

A well made coastal cruiser should be more expensive than a dedicated offshore distance cruising boat, because it needs to be more complex and actually needs more sophisticated engineering and construction than most people will accept in a dedicated offshore boat

I a general sense, all boats are a compromise and with experience you learn which compromises make sense for your own needs and budget. Most times the difference between an optimized race boat, coastal cruiser and a dedicated offshore cruising boat is found in the collection of subtle choices that make a boat biased toward one use or the other. A well designed and constructed coastal cruiser will often make a reasonable offshore cruising boat and club level racer, while traditional dedicated offshore cruising boats usually make very poor racers or coastal cruisers. 

Coastal cruisers generally benefit from better performance than offshore boats and do not have as stringent a requirement for a robust structure as and offshore boat. As a result coastal cruisers greatly benefit from lighter construction using modern materials and methods. Redundancy and self-sufficiency is less of a requirement. Fully lined interiors and other conveniences are often the norm on cruisers.


It is all great advice.  However, I take a different approach to the entire discussion.

How Much Can You Spend?

First, the worst kind of cruising sailboat you can have is the one you can never afford.  Dreams are great, but if you want to turn your dreams into reality, then you must get real with what you can spend.


Yes, spend.  I say this, because you are either going to buy the boat back with insurance or you are going to put the boat at risk 24/7.  Any boat can sink at the dock, and any sailor can have the nightmare of bad days when he loses steerage and she floats on a reef before towboat comes to the rescue.  Most people end up with something to sell at the end of the trip and others lose it all.  Best bet, be prepared to lose it all.

The ideal cruising boat is a boat you can afford to buy.

Do you plan on crossing oceans?

Second, where do you plan to cruise?  You can spend a lifetime in the Caribbean island hopping and never need the off-shore capabilities of a blue water boat or the speed of a racer.  It is the flat tire example exaggerated 10 times.

My dad showed up to work on time for 40 years.  He got up early, left early and he was always ready for the flat tire he was sure would pass one day on his way to work.  As far as I know, in all of that time, my dad never had a flat tire.  He sure spent a lot of time getting up early so he could leave early so he could get to work early.

Why spend the extra money on a blue water yacht, living in cramped conditions, paying the extra maintenance a blue water yacht entails, if you never plan to be out of sight of land?

On the other hand, if you plan to sail to Antarctica then you better get a boat that is up to the task.  Fiberglass boats don't do well with ice. Many steel and aluminum boats don't either.  If you are planning extended open ocean sailing and you can't afford the equipment to go, the best boat is the one in your dreams.  If you can't go in relative safety, don't go at all.


Most blue water boats have deep drafts.  Some cruising areas are very shallow.  You can take a Hallberg Rassey, for example, to the Caribbean. After spending big bucks on this proven blue water cruiser, you can also wave hi to the guy with the inexpensive coastal cruiser who got the best spot in the anchorage.  

Models To Consider

Here are some models to consider.

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