Sailboat or Catamaran? Here’s How to Decide

There is nothing as magical and mystical as sailing out onto the open sea. You’re in for a realm of a wonderful adventure, beautiful sights, and escaping into the unknown as you relax under the sun. Whether you’re planning a luxurious trip with your loved ones or an exciting, fast-paced adventure, one thing you need to consider is what type of boat to use.

Two popular boats are the sailboat and the catamaran. So how can you decide which one is right for you and the adventure you’re seeking? In deciding between a sailboat and catamaran, there are several considerations to keep in mind. A catamaran is easier to sail and will provide a more spacious and luxurious experience. The sailboat, on the other hand, is more immersed in the water and provides a more realistic and exciting experience.

It can be challenging knowing which boat is right for you. That is why we are going to run down all the basic information and differences between these two boats. Knowing the major differences between the two will help you make the right choice.

The Difference Between a Sailboat and a Catamaran

To the untrained eye, a sailboat and a catamaran might look fairly similar. Therefore, you might think that the overall ride and experience are also the same. However, sailboats and catamarans are profoundly different and offer completely different rides. That is why it is so important to get the facts on these models before gliding them into the water.

The Major Differences Between the Two

Catamarans have become increasingly more popular due to the fact that they have better overall buoyancy than a sailboat, which is also referred to as a monohull. What does that mean for the riders? Well, buoyancy equates to a smoother and more enjoyable ride, which is ideal for those who are seeking a more relaxed experience.

Catamarans are also known for their ease in maneuverability compared so a sailboat. This, again, is ideal for someone who is looking for a relaxed ride, as it is a lot easier to sail than a typical sailboat. This also makes the catamaran a better choice for a newcomer who isn’t confident in his sailing capabilities.

The double engine of a catamaran makes it easier to dock and is also capable of doing a 360-degree turn if needed. Why is this important? Well, anyone who has ever tried to dock a boat knows that it isn’t the simplest task. You will be glad to know that the catamaran can turn more easily and be docked quicker than a sailboat.

However, don’t let these characteristics sway you from ever wanting to try your hand at a sailboat. Sailboats provide a more realistic feeling, which ultimately equates to a more thrilling ride. Anyone who is looking for an adrenaline rush will find that gliding through the water and hanging off the sails is exactly what the doctor prescribed.

Does that mean that monohulls are all about the thrills and excitement? While that’s the main goal, there is still enough room to sit back and relax in the cabin or get a good tan while sunbathing. There is, though, significantly less room, which doesn’t make for quite a luxurious experience overall.

Boat Design

As we mentioned earlier, it can be hard to tell right off the bat what the major differences between a sailboat and a catamaran are. It may be slightly obvious that the catamaran is a bit bigger, but the actual construction is incredibly different.

Sailboats are designed with a single hull as well as a single engine. The one engine will typically combine with a bow thruster, which is located at the front of the boat. If you’re not sure what a bow thruster is, it is essentially this:

  • A bow thruster is another small, electric engine located at the front of the boat. The main purpose of the bow thruster is to enable the yacht to move sideways simply by pressing a button. This makes it easier for the skipper (or person who is driving the boat) to maneuver through tighter areas, thus making the boat more secure.

On the other hand, a catamaran is designed with two hulls and two engines. The major benefit of having two engines onboard is that if one engine fails, then the other engine can keep the boat moving and help make its way back to the docking station. This provides more ease of mind for the skipper as well as the riders, making for a more relaxed and confident ride.

Aside from giving the riders peace of mind, double engines also work to ensure that there is greater maneuverability in the water. With two engines, the skipper is able to rotate the boat in an incredible 360-degree motion. With that type of capability, the catamaran is able to maneuver through even tighter spaces, which makes docking a breeze.

Space Differences

When it comes to overall spaciousness, the catamaran beats the competition. In fact, this is one of the major reasons why people choose to go with the catamaran: for space it provides.

This means that even though the catamaran and the sailboat might appear to be the same size, the catamaran actually has a larger cabin and salon area, with more room for sunbathing and other outdoor activities.

A lot of catamarans will also offer a large-sized net area located on the bow of the boat. This net area is available for the riders to lay back and relax, which is ultimately an incredibly unique experience you won’t find on a sailboat. The net is ideal for soaking up the sun when anchored on your favorite, most beautiful bay.

A large cockpit area is another benefit of choosing a catamaran. This is because the massive amounts of space ensure you can do just about anything in the cockpit, like hosting a large family dinner or even setting up a party space to get wild for your birthday.

For anyone who is looking for a relaxed, comfortable, and spacious experience out on the sea, the catamaran will be the best choice. On the other hand, those who want more thrills and aren’t overly concerned about room for dinners and parties should consider the exciting monohull sailboat.

Comfort and Stability

Another great benefit of choosing a catamaran is the comfort and stability they provide. Think about it: since the Catamaran is designed with two parallel hulls rather than just one, there is far more stability all around the boat. This means you can take a walk around the yacht, make your favorite meals for the family, or shake up some drinks in the cabin without worrying about anything tipping over (including yourself).

One of the other features you will only find on (most) catamarans is the inclusion of a separate flybridge. What does this unique piece of equipment do? Well, it provides the riders with a shaded area where they can take a break from the heat of the sun while enjoying a drink and d’Oeuvres.

The flybridge also makes sure that there is privacy on the boat, which is something you won’t find in a smaller, less roomy, and comfortable sailboat.

Sailing Experience

The main reason why multihulls, otherwise known as catamarans, are so extensively popular is due to the fact that they offer such a comfortable and luxurious experience. This means that the riders are reaching maximum pleasure while vacationing out at sea. However, there doesn’t mean that there are not any downsides to this model.

The major downside to catamarans is that they can sometimes pound and slap in the water. To put it simply, this is an incredibly annoying sound that can almost sound like the boat is being beaten and battered by the ocean, ultimately breaking into pieces. While this is certainly not the case, it sure sounds like it; and that is something nobody wants to hear.

So why does the catamaran have this sensation while monohull sailboats do not? The slapping and pounding noise coming from the boat is due to the fact that the low bridge clearance gets hit by the water when the sea is bumpy, and the boat is heading upwind.

Sailboats are able to cut through bumpy seas with ease and can handle wins extremely well. This is due to the fact that they are more immersed in the water. Catamarans, on the other hand, glide over the water rather than sailing through it. This is why they tend to be more smooth overall, but can’t handle winds or lumpy seas as well.

Another thing to keep in mind is that catamarans have less of a heel while sailing. In fact, a catamaran will rarely ever heel more than 5 to 10 degrees before you need to reef the boat. What does this mean for the riders? A smoother sail.

A sailboat, on the other hand, can heel over 20 degrees. The riders will need to brace themselves in the cockpit, so they don’t go falling over to the side. This is especially true when you are outside on a sailboat, as you don’t want to fall completely off the boat when it begins to heel dramatically.

Which One is Faster?

You might think that because the monohull sailboat is less spacious and cuts through the water that it will be faster. Well, thank again. Catamarans are ultimately faster than their monohull sailboat counterparts. But why?

The answer is simple: The two hulls are less immersed in the water. This is beneficial for the simple fact that the hulls won’t have any chance of being ‘dragged’ in the sea. Together, the double hulls stabilize the boat and won’t be challenged by waters, even when they might are choppy.

Aside from being faster overall, the quickness seems to be even more noticeable when the catamaran is sailing downwind. This, again, is because the catamaran’s hulls are not immersed in the water and therefore have no pull when it comes to the water. Gliding downwind creates an even faster movement.

Does that mean that they are slower when cruising windward? Not at all! Although it won’t be as fast as going downwind, the catamaran still beats the sailboat in terms of speed.

Price Differences

When you narrow down the differences by pricing, the differences are subtle. In fact, if there is plenty of supply of both boats, then you can expect the price of a sailboat to be around the same price as a catamaran. But which one is generally more expensive?

Well, since the catamaran has two hulls rather than a single hull, they are naturally going to be sold at a higher cost. Even though the price may not be overly significant, catamarans will generally be pricier than a sailboat.

Aside from the cost of the boat, you must also consider how much it will cost to dock it. Since the catamaran requires more space than a sailboat, it will be more expensive to dock it in a marina. The prices may be even steeper when you’re trying to dock your boat during peak seasons when space is limited.

Overall Emotion Onboard

This might not seem like something to consider when describing the difference between a catamaran and a sailboat, but each comes with their own emotions. Everyone who decides to set sail is looking for some type of experience, and these boats have two very distinct different emotions attached to them.

A catamaran is going to give you the utmost pleasure and relaxation. If you’re looking to release some negative thoughts and emotions and regroup, then this is going to be the best boat.

On the other hand, riding in a sailboat will deliver an experience like you will never have again. There is something about whipping through the sea, feeling the wind blowing against your face, and hanging onto the heel that will give you a rush and exciting experience you will remember for years to come.

Is One Safer than the Other?

This is a loaded question, as someone who has plenty of experience sailing and riding on boats won’t have trouble with either type of boat. However, it is fair to say that catamarans are generally safer than sailboats. But why?

  • Less heel means less chances of getting hurt or falling off. With little to no chance of the boat heeling, you can ride without thinking about falling over and hurting yourself or ending up completely hauled off the yacht.
  • Double hulls provide stability. This makes it easy for the riders to walk around the boat, lay down and sunbathe, or enjoy a meal in the cockpit without anything negative happening.
  • Level sailing means less chances of tipping over. Sailboats can sometimes tip over in harsh weather conditions. The good thing about a catamaran is the double hulls, and level sailing capabilities keep everyone onboard and keeps the yacht from tipping over.
  • Catamarans will float no matter what. In the extremely rare instance where a catamaran flips over or something has broken the boat and you fear sinking, put your worries to rest as catamarans will always keep afloat whether they are upright or not. This is because catamarans have excessive buoyancy.

Choosing the Right Boat

Now that you know all of the major differences between a catamaran and a sailboat, the decision should be exponentially easier. Just keep these few things in mind when picking the boat that is right for you:

  • Are you looking for comfort and luxury, or thrills and experience? Remember that the catamaran is all about luxury and comfort. It’s great for families, especially those with kids, because of the stability. On the other hand, those seeking a pulse-racing experience should acquire a sailboat.
  • How much room do you need? If it is just you and your buddy looking for a great time, then you might consider a sailboat. Someone looking for a fun family outing or even planning to throw a party of some sort should look into the spacious, more comfortable, and roomy catamaran.
  • How good are your sailing abilities? Catamarans are great for beginners as they are far easier to sail and maneuver through the water. If you’re worried about your skill level, catamaran might be the best choice.
  • How much money are you looking to spend? While you don’t have to worry too much about pricing, you should know that catamarans will be a bit more expensive due to double hulls and space. This is also true while docking, as catamarans, will require more room.


Choosing between a catamaran and sailboat can be tricky if you don’t know all of the facts. The best things to keep in mind is that a catamaran is the yacht that will provide more overall luxury and space, while the sailboat will ensure bone-chilling, heart-racing thrills that will give you a story to talk about for the rest of your life.


I am the owner of sailoradvice. I live in Birmingham, UK and love to sail with my wife and three boys throughout the year.

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