When planning a sailboat charter holiday, one of the first steps is to decide on the type of sailboat that is best suited to the charterer's needs and to the sailing itinerary. The choice usually falls between the monohull sailboat and the multihull catamaran. Monohulls are more common and better at delivering the thrills and excitement of a sailing adventure, but catamarans have a number of advantages in terms of performance and safety that simply cannot be overlooked. In the end, the final decision will depend on personal preference, the needs of the group, the budget and charter boat availability.
Traditional sailing boats are monohulls, relying on ballast to provide stability. The ballast, which is usually around 30% of the weight of the boat, makes monohulls significantly heavier, slower and less maneuverable than catamarans, which rely on the geometry of the hulls for stability and offer better handling, acceleration, wind precision and overall performance.
The main advantage of catamarans is that they are virtually unsinkable. Level sailing makes it easy to keep everyone aboard in bad weather, while large cockpits provide additional shelter.
Speed is another factor that contributes to safety because higher speeds make it considerably easier to escape bad weather before it hits. Catamarans are typically 25-30% faster than traditional monohulls of the same length, often approaching racing speeds of a traditional sailboat. They can reach high speeds quickly and are light enough to sail at half the wind speed. However, multihull sailboats must be kept light to reach fast speeds, as their performance is sensitive to loading. If a catamaran flips over – which can only happen in extremely rough weather—unlike a traditional boat, it will not sink. Instead, it will serve as a large raft that is very easy for the rescue crew to spot.
Catamarans are light speeds ahead of monohulls when it comes to maneuverability and performance. Their light weight and twin engines provide skippers with enormous control in almost any situation. These boats are also very fuel-efficient and, in light winds, one engine is enough to propel them forward. Since their stability comes from the extra hulls and the beam, catamarans do not need ballast or a big keel. As a result, they are substantially lighter than monohulls and can be anchored in shallow waters. This allows sailors to explore a greater number of destinations that would be tricky to visit on a traditional sailboat. With a catamaran, they can coast right up to the shore to enjoy a fun day out on a secluded beach.
Catamarans are a lot more comfortable on a cruising holiday, providing enough stability to ensure that passengers do not have to move around at an angle and brace themselves, which is often the case with monohulls. Most catamarans have a separated flybridge, which means that the skipper is isolated from other passengers and they, in turn, get maximum privacy. Seasickness is mostly a non-issue on catamarans.
Catamarans also offer a lot of space, both on the deck and in living quarters. Normally the living space on a catamaran is equal to that on a traditional sailboat 10 or more feet larger. Cockpits are also larger, while the deck space is typically more than twice the size that of a monohull, with much larger areas for sunbathing. All the extra space is very comfortable, both at sea and at anchor, allowing for a number of activities that make the long days between anchorages go by faster. Most of the newer catamarans have raised or flybridge helms, providing excellent visibility and panoramic views.
Reefing, or folding the edge of a sail to reduce its area in strong winds and rough weather, requires special attention on catamarans. These boats do not heel much, making it difficult to tell when they are overpowered, and sailors must keep an eye on the leeward hull to see how much it is being pushed into the water and if the boat is carrying too much sail.
Monohulls have several specific advantages that may tip the odds in their favour. They are much easier and cheaper to dock because they take up half the space of a multihull. They are far easier to skipper than catamarans, which require an advanced skill set and a keen intuition, especially when tacking, anchoring and sailing upwind. Monohulls are also usually cheaper to charter than catamarans of the same length.
Traditional sailboats deliver a real feeling of sailing and are usually picked by those looking for a pure sailing experience. Catamarans are by far the more comfortable option for families travelling with children or seniors who are not quite steady on their feet. However, because they do not heel, multihulls do not convey the sailing experience or give the skipper the same amount of feedback as monohulls. Monohulls move through the water effortlessly, without the slapping and pounding sounds that catamarans sometimes produce in heavier seas. While sailing flat, as one does on a catamaran, has many indisputable advantages, the exhilaration of cruising on a monohull is hard to match.