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Best Blue Water Sailboats Under 40 Feet

19th jan 2023 by samantha wilson.

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What is a blue water sailboat?

What to look for when choosing a cruising sailboat under 40 feet, what are the advantages of small blue water sailboats, what are the disadvantages of small sailboats.

  • Best blue water sailboat models under 40 Feet

The term blue water sailboat doesn’t refer to a specific style of boat in the same way that a ketch or schooner does. In fact, a blue water sailboat could be either of those and many more. But when we talk about blue water sailboats, they have shared characteristics that make them suitable for, you guessed it, blue water sailing. Making long, open sea voyages such as crossing the oceans requires a boat that is solidly-built and can tackle heavy seas and inclement weather conditions. Blue water sailboats are able to be self-sufficient and lived on for extended periods of time, and to offer safety and comfort.

In a previous guide we looked at the different types of sailboats , focusing on identifying them by their hull type, rigging and uses. In general, smaller blue water sailboats under 40 feet tend to be cutters , sloops or ketches . Catamarans and trimarans too are becoming increasingly popular as long cruising vessels, although these tend to be larger than 40 feet. In fact, while there are manufacturers producing some excellent, sturdy and compact blue water sailboats under 40 feet, they tend to be a minority and most ‘small’ sailboats designed for long-range cruising are usually above 50 feet. 

blue water sailing

So what other characteristics should you be looking for in a small ocean sailboat? 

Construction:

The material of the hull is probably the most crucial aspect, as it needs to be solidly built and able to withstand harsh seas as well as any collisions with floating objects. Hulls made from steel, strong fiberglass or carbon fiber tend to be the most popular. With a brand new sailboat you can be assured of a sound hull, however when buying a used sailboat under 40 feet the most important aspect is to ensure that the hull is strong and durable. 

The type of keel also makes a big difference, as deep V hulls with an encapsulated keel will make your boat less likely to capsize or lose its keel. Keel sailboats under 40 feet with skeg-hung rudders are considered the best small sailboats for open ocean cruising. While in the past it tended to only be monohull boats which were used for blue water sailing, there are now several manufacturers offering catamarans and trimarans which are strong enough to cross oceans. 

While the rig itself doesn’t necessarily denote whether a sailboat is more blue water worthy, it needs to be able to be manned by the number of crew on board as well as less crew if anyone is injured. The most important aspect is to think of the manageability of the rig. 

Ocean-going sailboats tend to have small cockpits to keep water out. While traditionally they used to have an aft cockpit there are more center cockpit blue water sailboats around these days. They need to have good drainage as well as offering the helmsman easy reach of the headsail, staysail and mainsail sheets.

Self-steering:

Whether you’re sailing solo or with a small crew, having the ability to set an auto-pilot is an important characteristic of a blue water boat. From tiredness to accidents or illness, there might come a time when you need to set the autopilot when under power or windvane when under sail. 

A compact cabin, galley and head with plenty of handholds and safe storage are vital to spending long stretches of time at sea. There needs to be enough space to ensure you are able to be self-sufficient for long periods of time. This includes everything from provisions to safety equipment , power systems, water makers, fuel storage and two anchors. 

Ability to heave-to:

The act of heaving-to involves pointing the bow into the wind and fixing the helm and sail positions. This essentially stops the boat in the water and is a hugely important maneuver during storms to prevent capsizing and allows the crew to take shelter inside. Some sailboats are more able to perform this than others. 

Having a way to communicate an emergency is vital, and your blue water sailboat should have a satellite phone and radio installed. A radio will allow you to connect with passing vessels, while the satellite phone is your only means of true contact with land. On deck, safety is paramount, and additions such as granny bars by the mast, safety rails and of course a harness mean you’ll be staying on board in lively conditions. 

Ability to Store or Make Water:

Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink is not a phrase any sailor wants to utter. So it’s imperative that your sailboat has enough storage capacity for long voyages, as well as the ability to make fresh water for drinking and washing in. Consider that two people on a three week voyage will require around 50 gallons of fresh water (allowing for a 20% contingency). Space – and weight considerations - is always a premium on small sailboats, so you need to make sure there are enough water tanks. You’ll also want a water maker which are powered by motors and generators. AC water makers can produce around 20 gallons a day, while DC water makers which use a lot less power, produce around 12 gallons of water a day.

Good Navigation Systems:

Ok, we’re going to say how important navigation systems are on your boat, and that’s true, but in fact you don’t want to reply on electronic navigation systems alone if you’re out in the middle of the deep blue. Having paper charts on board (in digital format preferably to save on space in a small boat) and knowing how to navigate using them is imperative. 

small sailing yacht

There are thousands of models of liveaboard sailboats under 40 feet on the market, but certainly not all of them are suitable for crossing oceans. We’ve seen the general characteristics of what to look for when choosing a blue water sailboat, but what are the pros and cons of a smaller boat versus a larger model?

Affordability:

Smaller tends to mean cheaper and so affordability is a major factor when buying a blue water sailboat . Whether you’re in the market for a new or used blue water sailboat under 40 feet, there are some excellent deals to be found. It means that long-held dream of sailing across the world can happen now, rather than saving for years. The other bonus is that smaller, simpler pocket cruisers will be cheaper and easier to maintain. 

Easier to Sail:

The simpler the rig and the less systems on board the easier the boat will be to sail (and to care for). You’ll need a smaller crew meaning cruising boats under 40 feet tend to be popular with couples and solo sailors. 

Less Spacious:

It goes without saying that smaller boats have less space. While manufacturers are finding ever-more ingenious ways to equip small sailboats with everything their larger counterparts have – and there are some clever ways you can maximize storage space in a boat – realistically space will be at a premium, meaning the number of crew and the amount of comforts you can have on board will need to be minimal.

They Tend to be Slower:

As a general rule, the smaller the sailboat, the slower it will be. While this isn’t always a bad thing if you’re in no hurry to get anywhere, it’s worth considering that out-running bad weather can be trickier in a small boat. 

Less comfortable:

A smaller boat can make for a less comfortable ride, especially in bigger seas. 

Best blue water sailboat models under 40 Feet

If you’re in the market for a cruising sailboat under 40 feet the options can seem dizzying. With so many to choose from it’s hard to know where to start. There are thousands of excellent used boats on the market, with reputations for reliability, safety, comfort and build. Here however we’re going to take a look at some of the manufacturers making the best bluewater sailboats in 2023 . With a solid reputation and excellent craftsmanship, they make a good place to start your search. 

Beneteau’s Oceanis 40, Oceanis 38.1 and Oceanis 34.1.

Beneteau’s reputation shines through in this smaller range of ocean-going yachts. At the top end of the under-40 foot range is the Oceanis 40 , with a hull designed by Marc Lombard and a huge amount of deck and interior space for its size. The Oceanis 38.1 offers surprising comfort and speed, with the ability to be sailed with a small crew, while the smallest in the range is the Oceanis 34.1 pocket cruiser, with cleverly designed spaces and a modern hull design. 

Beneteau sailboats for sale

blue water sailboat beneteau

Photo credit: Beneteau

Jeanneau’s Sun Odyssey 349 and Sun Odyssey 380:

For over 60 years Jeanneau has been crafting motor and sailboats which push the boundaries and the Sun Odyssey range is the perfect example of that. The Sun Odyssey 349 and Sun Odyssey 380 are the smallest in the range, offering high performance sailing you would expect of a much larger model. With an iconic inverted bow, huge interior spaces and fine-tuned handling, they are popular models for long distance cruising. 

Jeanneau sailboats for sale

blue water sailboats jeanneau

Photo credit: Jeanneau 

Hallberg-Rassy 340, 372, 40 and 40C:

The range of Swedish-built Hallberg-Rassy small blue water yachts is one of the most impressive of any manufacturer. Boasting four yachts under 40 feet, they put their nine decades of expertise into both center cockpit and aft cockpit ocean-going cruisers and have the awards to show for it. From the Hallberg-Rassy 340 , which manages to pack everything you could need in a long-range cruiser into an ultra-compact package, to the award-winning 372 which manages to be even faster than the already fast Hallberg-Rassy 40 . They offer incredible handling, expansive oak interiors, generous cockpits and modern rigs.  

Hallberg-Rassy sailboats for sale

blue water sailboats hallberg rassy

Photo credit: Hallberg-Rassy

SeaWind Catamarans’ 1160, 1190 and 1260:

It’s uncommon to find blue water catamarans under 40 feet, but SeaWind has crafted no less than three compact, sturdy cats that can cross oceans in safety and comfort. With huge interior spaces across its double beam, you get much more living space than you would in a monohull of the same size, as well as robust seaworthiness, great sailability and all at an attractive price. 

Seawind sailboats for sale

blue water sailboat seawind

Photo credit: SeaWind  

Written By: Samantha Wilson

Samantha Wilson has spent her entire life on and around boats, from tiny sailing dinghies all the way up to superyachts. She writes for many boating and yachting publications, top charter agencies, and some of the largest travel businesses in the industry, combining her knowledge and passion of boating, travel and writing to create topical, useful and engaging content.

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Best Center Cockpit Sailboats

HYLAS 44

PETERSON 44

Chris Riley

Spaciousness and privacy below the deck are among the things that draw many boaters to center cockpit sailboats . With some of the models having roomy owner cabins and elaborate ergonomics, these boats continue to attract an enthusiastic following, especially by those who seek after sailing vessels for overnight cruising and day sailing.

Owning these sailboats require some huge investments, as you’ll need to pay top dollar for even the more affordable models. Prices can range from around $19,000 on the modest side to a whopping $2 million or even more for models with cutting-edge designs. For this reason, it is best to go through a few reviews before taking the plunge.

We’ve reviewed some of the best center cockpit sailboats with modern designs that guarantee complete comfort and will give you value for every dollar spent.

Check out the listings for Hylas 44 .

This elegant cruiser is perfect for a group as it offers excellent cruising accommodation for a small family or two couples. The 45-foot 5-inches Hylas 44 German Frers design is an offshore center cockpit cruiser famous for her great build quality, sleek look, and low profile. With a superb accommodating layout, easy driven hull, and smooth motion, this cruiser glides with great stability on the water.

The center cockpit features a very spacious owner’s stateroom with a private head compartment, shower, toilet, sink, and vanity. The cabin is well lighted with adequate ventilation and ample shelf. There is enough storage room for extra drawer and locker just in case sailors wish to spend extended periods onboard.

The galley or cook areas is to starboard and is tastefully equipped with a Grunert freezer and refrigerator, stove with an oven, and double stainless steel kitchen sinks on the centerline. It also includes a pressure H & C water system and more than enough storage space for dry goods and dishes. The galley has adequate ventilation and lighting that allows meals to be prepared easily both at anchor and during motion.

There is a large and comfortable dinette to port in the main saloon, including a settee to starboard. The guest cabin features a settee to starboard, an offset double berth to port, an overhead hatch for ventilation and light, a hanging locker, and a private head compartment with shower, toilet, sink, and vanity.

All these features and many more make the Hylas 44 one of the best center cockpit sailboats any sailor would want to own.

  • LOA: 45 ft 5 in
  • Hull Material: Fiberglass
  • Fuel Type: Diesel
  • Engine Type: Inboard
  • Power: 55 HP

Check out current listings for Tayana 64 .

If you have deep pockets and scouting the market for the best center cockpit sailboats, you probably should take a look at the Robb Ladd-designed Tayana 64. For decades, Tayana has established itself as a trusted name in building superior sailboats, and this model lives up to that reputation.

This modern cruiser is handsomely built with a sleek profile, curved deck-salon windows, and a bright, open interior that showcases its exquisiteness. But her true beauty is in her perfect combination of full power and effortless handling. She is a 64 feet sailboat with an 18-foot long beam, featuring a powerful hull and easy sail plan.

Below the decks offers one-of-a-kind accommodation with high-quality furnishings and attention details that is unmatched in many sailboats in this category. The beautiful layout maximizes the 18-foot beam to provide comfortable accommodation for a small group of up to three couples, plus additional crew quarters.

The interior layout of the stateroom features everything you would expect from a high-performance and exquisite sailboat. It includes a double berth outboard that comes with a head and separate stall shower. A second stateroom is located adjacent to the starboard and is furnished with upper and lower berths.

The third stateroom is equally well-furnished with high-quality fixtures, solid teak doors, beautiful satin varnish, and dovetail drawers just like it is throughout the entire sailboat. Access to the extremely spacious owner’s aft stateroom is through the walkthrough galley.

The fully functional walkthrough galley is on the port side. It features a microwave oven, freshwater foot pump, LPG solenoid switch panel, refrigerator and freezer, three burner stove with broiler and oven, centerline double stainless single, and lots more.

The Tayana 64 is indeed the ultimate ocean cruising sailboat!

  • Power: 160 HP

See current listings for Peterson 44 .

Doug Peterson, together with Jack Kelly, brought to life the latter’s dream boat with an underbody designed for excellent movement on the water. What started originally as a 10-boat project ended up as a few hundred sailboats as the model was well received. Today, there are over 200 hulls with the design cruising the oceans. Little wonder it listed among the best center cockpit sailboats.

The model’s interior layout has a classic two-cabin and two-head design. This Peterson 44 features two private staterooms equipped with exquisite king-sized V berths that offer amazing comfort. It also includes two heads with showers plus cute vanity counters. The cabins feature one double bunk and one single bunk.

The galley features a deep freezer, a large refrigerator, a gimbaled propane stove with an oven, microwave, and double sinks.

For navigation, the Peterson 44 center cockpit sailboat has a modern GPS radar autopilot, an SSP radio, and wind-vane steering.

  • Power: 62 HP

MORGAN 44

Click here to see Morgan 44 listings .

While center cockpits boats can offer you great comfort below the decks, having one with a spacious aft deck to accommodate deck chairs is a huge plus. At 44 feet 2 inches, the Morgan 44 doesn’t just give sailors the beautiful experience of cruising in a high-performance sailboat; it also allows them to bask and enjoy the breathtaking view of the sunset across the ocean after a fun-filled day of sailing.

But let’s talk about the main attraction found below the decks, and the reason this boat takes its place among the best center cockpit sailboats. Cruisers, as well as liveaboards, will appreciate the enhanced privacy provided by the well-separated sleeping areas in the stateroom aft.

And for added comfort, there is an onboard generator that powers the air conditioning system, as well as the watermaker. So, there’s no need to worry if you plan on cruising in tropical waters or warm regions.

The center cockpit has a master suite with two forward suites. The master suite features a queen centerline master berth, ensuite head with head, tub, and shower. It is also tastefully furnished with double hanging drawers and lockers for “His” and “Hers,” with a vanity make-up station.

Each of the forward suites comes with a comfortable double V-berth with a private head door. A pull-out shower faucet, including hanging lockers and drawers, adorn the cabin.

The galley is considerably spacious and lighted enough to allow the cook to prepare meals both underway and while docking. The galley features a top-loading freezer, a refrigerator, stainless steel faucet, a range with an oven, and other useful cooking equipment.

Overall, this beautiful Morgan 44 sailboat gives you the best bang for your buck. Besides, it is affordable considering all the features and powerful specs of the cruiser.

  • LOA: 44 ft 2 in
  • Power: 76 HP

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About Chris

Outdoors, I’m in my element, especially in the water. I know the importance of being geared up for anything. I do the deep digital dive, researching gear, boats and knowhow and love keeping my readership at the helm of their passions.

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7 best aft cockpit / aft stateroom sailboats.

It is often confusing when talking about center cockpit sailboats when certain models come along into discussion. When I talk about center cockpit yachts, I mean yachts with full width aft staterooms. The assumption is that these two features: a full width aft stateroom and a center cockpit deck mold go hand in hand. But there is a rare class of yachts that mess up this simplified categorization of sailboats. While all center cockpits have aft staterooms, some aft cockpits have full width aft staterooms. There are serious trade-offs including low headroom and a likely lack of overhead hatches. Here is a list of some of the most well known models with this arrangement.

  • Baltic 38 – The Swan split-off offers high quality construction and fast lines like on this 38-footer.
  • Beneteau Idylle 11.5 – Old school Beneteau before they went all the way to mass production.
  • C&C 37/40+ – The inspiration for this list with her spacious centerline queen aft. I should note that the earlier model C&C 44 was the prototype for the 37/40 and had a similar arrangement.
  • Hunter 40 Legend – Amazing value and performance, typical Hunter build issues.
  • Hylas 42 – Classic Swan style German Frers design.
  • Mason 44 – Comes in her original 43-foot version likewise with an aft stateroom.
  • Swan 46 – Low freeboard and athletic lines make this a spectacular racer / cruiser.

I have been struggling for a while to put together this list which according to to my records I first drafted on December 14, 2010. Please offer your suggestions in the comments below or any feedback on the current selection.

5 Replies to “7 Best Aft Cockpit / Aft Stateroom Sailboats”

Hi Richard,

As you have included boats up to 46 feet in length in this list you probably should include the C&C 44 as well. First produced in 1985, it was in ways the prototype for the later 37/40+, differing mostly by having a dedicated forward facing nav-station with seat and two heads where the 37/40 has just one larger one.

http://www.cncphotoalbum.com/brochures/44foot/44b1pg01.htm

http://sailboatdata.com/viewrecord.asp?class_id=2769

Ken H. C&C 37/40 Salazar – CAN 54955 Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia

Thanks Ken. I like the 37/40 design. I will add in a note about the C&C 44 in the corresponding bullet above.

You will get some arguments on this one, but the mid 1980’s Hunter 40 Legends had a decent aft centerline berth and didn’t sail all that bad either.

Good call Ken. I had a friend with a H40 Legend. He said she sailed great. Only complaint was leaking forward? RJ

Sent from my iPad

Hi Richard.  The Beneteau Idylle 11.5 is a great boat.  However, the aft cabin is not full width, probably more like 2/3 or 3/4 max.  It’s great for big guys like me for sleeping alone and might be OK for a couple if one is short enough or a couple of kids.  Aft cabin to port, aft head to starboard of the companionway and there is a huge cockpit locker aft of the head.  Excellent access to the engine.  It’s really a great boat.  Beneteau should have built at least 1,500 of them.

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A Practical Look at Sailboat Cockpit Design

Ps outlines what to look for when searching for a comfortable, functional cockpit..

center cockpit sailboats under 40 feet

Cockpit ergonomics involve more than a concern about coaming angles and comfortable seating. These are just two items on a long list of attributes that define the space where sailors spend most of their waking time.

At boat shows, the crowd can be divided into those that poke around on deck and those who head directly below. Brokers know the difference between racing sailors and cruisers and which end of the companionway ladder will seal the deal. Racers want performance and scrutinize the on-deck design features that make it all happen, while cruisers look below for the amenities of a house afloat. This stereotype may be too rigid, but from what we’ve seen at recent boat shows, cruisers need to take a closer look at the cockpit and get a feel for how a sailboat will handle underway, as well as serve as a home away from home.

There’s much more at stake than comfort for the crew. Cockpit design and layout drives many boat-handling tasks, ranging from steering and sail trimming to what goes on when its time to reef. Angles of view can even affect watchkeeping.

For example, a high center cockpit and a large overlapping genoa create a 90-degree-plus no see zone, and thats a big deal when it comes to collision avoidance. A large catamaran with a tall bridge-deck cabin can add an even larger no see zone, especially when running on autopilot with no one perched on the elevated helm seat.

In short, many cockpits are optimized for at-anchor enjoyment instead of underway usability. So part of the boat-shopping process should include careful scrutiny of how essential sailing and boat-handling tasks will be accomplished. For starters, note how much contortion it takes to really crank each winch, determine whether or not the line leads favor easy reefing, and check to see how well the cockpit shape contributes to keeping the crew from being washed overboard. These are essential attributes, and for some, they are more vital than galley counter material and the fabric that covers the cushions below.

Grand Prix racers have long favored wide open, low sided, no-transom cockpits that are more of an open deck than a protective trench. In heavy weather, these nothing-to-cling-to cockpits can become perilous. In 1997, during the Hong Kong to Osaka, Japan Race, Americas Cup trials veteran Makoto Namba was at the helm of Escape One when a 20-foot breaking sea washed him out the open transom of the 45-foot racer. In 2006, Dutch Volvo Ocean racer Hans Horrevoets was swept from the deck of ABN AMRO TWO and lost at sea. Closer to home, pro sailor Dan Cianci was tossed over the lifelines of the 50-foot ocean racer Snow Lion. The accident occurred at night, in heavy weather just off the Delaware River mouth. In each case, the cockpit design favored sail trim and line handling over heavy-weather safety considerations. Many ocean racers mitigate such design tradeoffs with careful use of harnesses, tethers, jack lines, and hard points for tether attachment.

Just the opposite design trend can be found in the deep cockpit and conventional closed transom of sailboats such as Ted Hoods 25-year-old design, American Promise. Dodge Morgan sailed the heavy-displacement 60-footer solo around the world. The big, double-head rigged sloop provided a great deal of crew protection and seakeeping ability during Morgans voyage. And for years after he donated the boat to the U.S. Naval Academy, midshipmen also learned to appreciate the cockpit layout-particularly during bad weather offshore.

PS Technical Editor Ralph Naranjo sailed that boat in a gale-strewn trans-Atlantic with an able crew and encountered a nasty 979-millibar low at about 45 degrees North latitude. According to the log, AP was reaching eastward at 9 knots under storm trysail and storm jib with green water routinely sweeping the deck. Seas had silenced the mini-M satphone by regularly immersing the dome shaped antenna in wave faces, eventually flooding the internal circuitry.

It was a rough passage, and little things taken for granted in smoother seas showed their true value. Features like the deep cockpit well, the heavy-duty, water-tight companionway doors, and the massive cockpit drains all proved their worth.

The flip side of the coin is that really bad weather encounters are a rare occurrence for most sailors. More often, 0- to 20-knot sailing conditions prevail. And our coastline is dotted with safe havens in which to hide from the elements. So one of the big challenges facing every designer and naval architect drawing lines for their next new boat is the question of exposure. Will owners use the boat as a dockside second home and be underway only in fair weather, or will they take the cruiser label to heart and leave land well astern? A close look at cockpit layouts will give you some indication of the boats intended use.

We prefer to evaluate cockpit ergonomics from both static and dynamic points of view. On some boats, these underway and at anchor evaluations lead to disparate conclusions. A cockpit that works well underway may be confining in port, or another vessel with a patio-size stern may be altogether dysfunctional at sea. It’s all an issue of trying to do two different jobs with one fixed set of dimensions and appendages. Buyers need to know what attributes they will make best use of.

For monohulls, coping with heel is the first big challenge, and wide-open space, whether its in the cockpit or main saloon, can be a tough challenge. The universal solution to carrying wide beam aft on cruising boats seems to be the ubiquitous cockpit table. It can be a handy centerline support, but it’s a tough addition to a seafaring cockpit in the minds of many traditional sailors. That said, production boatbuilders have gotten much better at making these centerline, folding-leaf tables sturdy enough for sea duty and effective as a handhold.

Dufour 445

Industry Trends

Over the last 50 years, mainstream production sailboat design has moved noticeably away from the racer/cruiser defined by Pearson, Tartan, C&C, Cal, Columbia, Ranger, Islander, Ericson, and others. The new boats are roomier with less emphasis on performance under sail. Racers now have their own genre of sailboat, and they are faster, better handling, and more capable than their predecessors. But whats most surprising is that many mainstream cruisers are anything but optimized for long-distance passages and long-term living aboard.

These boats feature convenience, style, and comfort, and the actual design objective in many cases is more focused on weekend cruising and an annual two-week summer harbor-hopping cruise. Easy sail-setting and large boat interiors in shorter waterline lengths prevail, and such trends influence the shape and layout of the cockpit. When it comes to ergonomics, the split between cruisers and racers is more apparent than ever, but theres also some real differentiation within the ranks of cruisers themselves.

In Practical Sailors recent scrutiny of cockpit designs at local boat shows, weve noted four emerging sailboat stereotypes. These include daysailers that feature few, if any, accommodations; racing boats brimming with performance-enhancing hardware; and ocean-going cruisers capable of extended passagemaking. The fourth grouping-larger than all the other three combined-are also labeled cruisers, but with less draft, less stability, and less versatile sail plans, they are more like an SUV designed more for the highway than off-roading in the backcountry.

Dufour 445 dodger

Sizing Up a Cockpit

The takeaway lesson for us was the importance of making sure that the cockpit of the boat you are about to buy is in keeping with the mission of the rest of the boat. If you are a serious club racer, the centerline table wont be a crew favorite. Those making a double-handed passage on a 40-footer will see a tight, narrow cockpit differently than when eight sail the same boat. So with complete belief in the old adage, different strokes for different folks, heres what we looked for when evaluating cockpit design. It can be used as a helpful buyers guide when you’re surveying your next boat.

Working the winches: All too often, winch location is an afterthought, and fine hardware is stuck on side coamings shaped more as a roof for the aft cabin than as a key component of sail trim. We always like to check sheet leads angles that lead lines to a particular winch and then mimic what cranking with a two-handed winch handle would be like. Look for 360-degree clearance with no knuckle-busting stanchions in the way. Be sure that the winch grinding works on either tack. Genoa sheeting may always put you on the leeward side of the cockpit, but runners and spinnaker guys will usually be worked on a windward winch.

Beneteau Sense 43

Sheets and halyards: One of testers major complaints was builders habit of running seldom-used halyard lines attached to roller-furling headsails and in-mast furling mainsails all the way aft to the cockpit. Doing so left lengthy line tails cluttering up the area under the dodger where reefing lines, the boom vang, and in some cases, the main sheet all arrived like too many trains in a station.

Theres no perfect mainsheet arrangement, but some are better than others, and the one you choose has a lot to do with how much attention you pay to the nuance of sail trim. The current vogue among serious racers involves 2-to-1 end-boom sheeting: an in-boom lead of the double-ended sheet returns aft via turning blocks near the mast and runs to winches on both sides of the boat (often referred to as Admirals Cup, or German mainsheet). Fast, no-load hand trimming is the upside, but in any breeze, theres good reason to quickly get the sheet on a winch drum. The sheet tail is shorter because of the low ratio (2-to-1) lead. One nuisance is that the sheet can end up bunched up on one side or the other.

Many cruisers prefer higher ratio, multi-part tackles for mainsheeting and may lead each end to a Harken-type adjustment system rather than using a winch. When fast tacking action is not in the cards, this is a user-friendly system.

Some cruisers incorporate mid-boom sheeting because it moves the tackle out of the cockpit than rather then because of how effectively it allows the mainsail to be trimmed. The shortened lever arm means the sheet needs a winch sooner than later. There is also more of a leech-flattening, vang-like effect to this type of sheeting, not the best feature for light-air efficiency.

The trend toward travelers roosting on over-cockpit arches, a longtime standard in Hunter Yachts and a recent adoption in some Beneteau lines, helps protect the crew from accidental jibe injuries and allows dodgers and biminis to flourish, but windows in these covers are essential, if a crew is to see whats happening whey they are pulling the strings.

eopard 39 cockpit

Anticipate the angles: Look at how things will change as heel increases and note where vulnerability lies. We recently ran into a crew who had lost an engine due to the shape of the cockpit. During the design phase, the location for an engine instrument recess was placed within easy reach of the person at the helm. In an upright trim-and even at 30 degrees of heel-all was well, but in a knock down when the cockpit began to flood, the engine instruments ended up in a low spot, and despite their sealed all-weather design, submerging them in saltwater had not been part of the engine manufacturers gameplan. The ensuing corrosion took out the panel and the alarm system, and a novice crew failed to notice the changes in sound and smell as a raw-water blockage in the cooling system went critical.

Those headed offshore need to pay special heed to the companionway and have a feel for what angle of heel sends water down an open hatch. Whats a surprise to many is that the first part of the hatch to reach the water may be the top rather than the lower portion of the companionway. Sticking in a washboard or two will help keep a breaking wave from sloshing below, but it may be of little use in a deep knockdown.

Getting in and out: One of the most important safety features of a good boat is the transitional path that leads a crew from the cockpit to the deck. Good engineering focuses on step heights, deck camber, handholds, and the quality of the nonskid surface. This transition in and out of the cockpit is one of the most repeated movements on the vessel. If a dodger, bimini, or Florida room compromises access, they become a hazard. Small, molded steps are of little help in a seaway.

There is no ideal cockpit that meets everyones preferences, and plenty of bad ideas still persist. No matter what your aims are as a sailor, some things deserve to take precedence. Ample space for entertaining friends for sundowners dockside is nice, but comfort underway, including ergonomic seats for sitting or napping, and secure places to steer and stand watch when the boat is heeled should be a higher priority.

Likewise, sight lines and sensible sheet arrangements should come before drink-holders. Next time you prowl the boat show, spend some time exploring the cockpit and comparing features. It is the hub of the boat.

Rating cockpit attributes is a worthwhile endeavor for a serious boat shopper. Start by rating component parts. It will allow you to more effectively compare and contrast one boat with another, according to your specific sailing plans and needs.

For example: Above, we have focused on seven key cockpit attributes and rated five new boats accordingly. Below is a brief explanation of each of the criteria selected. The result of the data table is not a winner-take-all report card. It’s a means of determining what has been emphasized in a specific cockpit design on a wide variety of very different vessels.

Rating for this attribute reflects both the location of a winch and the way in which crew members must bend, lean, or contort themselves while sheeting. We considered how efficiently a manual winch could be cranked and whether or not an electric winch could be safely operated while retaining a clear view of the sail being sheeted or hoisted.

This was not a look at the vessel’s steering hardware, rudder design, or feel of the tiller. It was more focused on helm location and how the person steering the boat could carry on the process comfortably for lengthy periods of time.

We consider the ability to quickly and efficiently reduce and add sail area to be a primary aspect of seamanship. Cockpit layouts teamed up with efficient well-chosen hardware can make or break this facet of cockpit ergonomics. Awkward winch placement, too many lines clustered together around a big bank of rope clutches, and attempting to place sheets, halyards, and reefing lines all in the helmsman’s lap with only one or two undersized winches usually lead to lower ratings.

Collision avoidance requires seeing what’s about to cause trouble well ahead of time, and anything shy of a 360-degree angle of view detracts from the process. We were concerned about view angles and obstructions ranging from dodgers, to deck-sweeping headsails, cabinhouse bulkheads, and other design features that limit the helmsperson’s field of vision. Aboard many multihulls, there’s a growing trend toward providing one perch that offers an all-around view. But when the vessel is operating on autopilot and no one is in the elevated helm seat, watchkeeping efforts are hampered.

When floating on an even keel, it’s easy to get in and out of most cockpits. However, a modest heel of 15 degrees can turn wide-open cockpits with awkward coamings and narrow sidedecks into a hazard. Getting around on a vessel in a seaway requires good nonskid, an abundance of ready handholds, and an unobstructed pathway in and out of the cockpit. Seats need to be usable underway, and the dodger, companionway, and bimini must work in concert.

Short Handing

Because most cruisers sail short-handed, we are always on the look out for features that make watchkeeping more user friendly. These include line leads and winch layouts that allow headsail trimming from the helm and may even offer the chance to tuck or shake a reef from the confine of the cockpit. Crew alone on deck also benefit from deeper-welled open space. Giving the short-handed crew protection from seeping seas and offering well-placed hardware goes a long way to ensure safe, efficient passagemaking.

Entertaining

At anchor and in port, the cockpit changes from an operations center to a backyard patio. Gone is the need for seakeeping attributes, and what counts is how well the area at the aft or center portion of the boat stacks up as a place for stationary fun. Tables that can serve dinner for six or drinks for 10 get high marks. Transoms that fold down, offering access to the sea, are also a current rage. It’s no surprise however, that many of the attributes that drive high scores for entertaining earn a lower grade at sea—the reason many designers and builders have spent time developing fold-up swim platforms and wellreinforced drop-leaf tables ready for sea duty.

VALUE GUIDE: Comparing Cockpit Design

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