A RESOURCE GUIDE TO ALL THINGS RELATED
TO SAILBOAT CRUISING
- What to consider when selecting a sailboat
- What to consider when trying to select a cruising
- What you need to get educated about before
CRUISING BOATS - Some boats are made for cruising,
some boats are not. Pick the right boat for your cruising
The first step necessary before getting in the world of cruising
is selecting a boat. There are a variety of questions that
need to be answered before you can begin to home in on the
right vessel. Simply put, there is no one boat that is perfect
for cruising in general. Different boats for different people.
If by chance you already own a boat and wish to learn about
other aspects of cruising, please skip this section.
Where do you plan to go cruising?
- What are the amenities that you will need for your
selected cruising location?
- What safety equipment and boat design features will
you need for your cruising locations?
Depending on where you plan to go cruising, you may want
to consider different types of boats. To begin with, certain
locations will require specific amenities. One fundamental
consideration is temperature. Not all boats are ventilated
equally. If you plan to do some cruising in warm locations
such as the Caribbean, you will want to consider ventilation.
How many hatches and ports can be opened on the boat? Will
an on-deck dinghy limit your ability to open the main hatches?
In addition, some people simply cannot live without air conditioning
above a certain temperature. Although many sailors consider
AC to be death, if you need it to be comfortable, keep that
On the flip side of the coin, many people cruise in cold
climates, or late enough into the season that things get a
little chilly. Do you like to maximize the length of the sailing
season? If that is the case, you need to consider how you
will stay warm. Some boats have heat, some do not. Although
rare, some boats even have a tiny fireplace that burns briquets.
No matter how you do it, after coming in from a damp and cold
day of sailing, you need some way to warm up. Hot chocolate
just won't cut it sometimes.
The other aspect of the boat to consider with regard to the
temperature is the deck and cockpit layout. If you plan on
cruising in the Caribbean, are you going to want to put up
a full biminy to protect you from the sun? Some cockpits will
lend themselves to this and others will not. If you plan on
encountering temperature extremes in either direction, hot
or cold, you will want to take some time to consider the overal
cockpit and deck layout for general exposure to the elements.
Will you be heavily exposed to the weather even with a dodger
in place? Does the boat have a low enough freeboard and short
enough length that you will constantly be taking spray from
waves in the face at the wheel? How often will you need to
go on deck to tend to lines or other tackle other tasks? Is
there a way for you to get out of the sun?
Moving on to other amentities that may be dictated by where
you want to cruise, there are several key systems on a boat
that will certainly effect your cruising lifestyle. The first
is the icebox. Many boats (particularly older boats and smaller
boats) still use iceboxes for refrigeration. If that is the
case, you will need to buy ice blocks at least once a week.
This could be a problem if you plan on sailing more off the
grid, or if you plan on making longer passages such as across
an ocean. A refrigerator on the other hand usually requires
running the engine once a day (electrical generally isn't
sufficient), which cuts into fuel consumption and creates
unwanted noise. The second major item to consider is your
electrical needs. Will you require a significant amount of
juice to keep all of your electronics, lights, appliances,
autopilot (a big one if you use it a lot), etc. going? If
so, you may need a generator, of perhaps some form of solar
energy collection such as a wind generator or solar panel.
The third major item to consider is water. Generally water
tanks are large enough to accomodate sailors for a lengthy
period of time. However, if you waste a lot of water with
showers, dishes, etc. you may go through the water faster
than you think. Going to a dock just for water is a hassle,
and sometimes it is difficult to trust the water source. Consider
your potential water use, and if you are concerned, you might
want to consider a water maker.
Moving on to issues pertaining to safety equipment and boat
design, there are some important things to consider before
purchasing your boat. One of the most basic design elements
to consider is the draught of the boat. If you plan on trying
to poke around small coves, inlets, and islands, a shallow
draught will simply get you into more locations. It may seem
silly, but pulling out a chart and taking a look at likely
cruising areas will give you some information. Staying on
the topic of hull shape, if you plan on cruising anywhere
near ice, you must have a hull that is strong enough to handle
collisions will small ice (some people actually reinforce
hulls with extra fiberglass and/or add frontal crash bulkheads).
In addition, the shape of the keel and rudder should be such
that it minimizes chances of the rudder being broken from
ice. On to safety equipment, this topic mainly comes down
to whether you plan to do offshore cruising or not. While
there is a whole boat-load of safety gear that you will need
if you plan to go offshore, that is largely independant of
the boat itself. However, you will want to be sure the boat
has a full array of updated electronics including radar if
you want to go offshore. In addition, consider the freeboard
of the boat. Many modern boats have excessive freeboard to
enable more substantial accomodations below deck. These boats
can be dangerous offshore as they limit the ability to recover
someone who has fallen overboard. In addition, the righting
moment of these high boats may actually be above the waterline,
which makes their chances of righting themselves in a knockdown
Finally, one of the easy to overlook aspects of the boat
design is the cockpit and deck layout with regard to offshore
safety and comfort. It is tempting to assume that all boats
will have similar layouts for the lines, etc., but that would
be a false assumption. Layouts can vary dramatically. A couple
of things to consider include: How many lines run all the
way back to the cockpit? It is very handy in a storm if the
reefing lines come back into the cockpit instead of forcing
you to go on deck. Does the cockpit layout protect you from
the elements but still allow for ample movement? Is the cockpit/companionway
designed in such a way so as to minimize problems if you take
a wave over the stern? In summary, make sure the cockpit is
well thought out and don't assume it to be so. You should
literally sit in the cockpit and go through all the various
activities to discern the ease with which they can be performed.
What level of luxury do you desire in your sailboat?
When it comes to luxury and build quality, there is a large
gap between manufacturers. It is very important to determine
the level of luxury that is acceptable to you, because it
can be one of the biggest factors in the price of the boat.
On one end of the spectrum you have mass produced boats offering
little customization and trimmed mostly in fiberglass and
plastic. On the opposite end of the spectrum you have a fully
custom built boat that is not only designed to your specifications,
but trimmed in mohaganny, teak, etc. Of course there is everything
in between as well. There are two factors to consider when
it comes to choosing what level of luxury is right for you;
initial cost and maintenance. The initial cost portion of
the equation is of course easy to quantify and plan around.
Maintenance is perhaps a slightly more nuanced buying decision.
With luxury comes not just added maintenance cost in the future,
but also added hassle and potential liabilites. More complex
systems on a boat, often translate into a higher risk of having
some sort of breakdown. If you plan to be cruising far from
home, finding parts for those high-end systems can be difficult
or impossible. In addition, all wood (particularly topside
wood) requires regular maintenance. To properly care for varnished
wood on deck it usually requires a fresh coat of two of varnish
every year. However, perhaps the most dificult to care for
wood on a boat is a teak deck. Regular oiling is required
to keep them from going silvery gray, and almost nobody can
keep up with it fully.
How many people will you be cruising with and what level
of comfort will be acceptable?
The number of people onboard a boat can dramatically affect
the comfort level. There are probably 3 types of groups that
typically go cruising: couples, families of 4 or 5, and groups
of friends ranging typcially from 4-8. You need to decide
what your typical cruising size will be and what you want
your max cruising size to be for the occasional weekend with
friends or family aboard. After you have solved the size part
of the equation, you must determine the duration of the cruising
that you intend to do, as this will play a large role in the
comfort equation. Since this article is about cruising, we
will assume a minimum cruise length of at least a weekend.
If you are really trying to stretch a budget, and you only
intend to go on weekend cruises, a couple can get away with
a glorified day-sailor (as long as it has bunks). However,
you probably won't get too many friends looking to go cruising
with you, which can put a damper on the fun for some people.
If you are looking to do a decent amount of longer cruising
with 4 people or more, there are a number of factors to consider
that will impact your comfort level. Headroom is the first
thing to consider. Can you stand up completely in the cabin?
Bunk space is perhaps the second factor to consider. On many
boats, if you must use the bunk setup in the main cabin it
means putting the bunk together each morning and taking it
apart during the day to have a usable cabin. Bunks like this
can get tiresome unless they are used primarily for getting
an extra couple people on the boat for a weekend. The galley
is another factor to consider. Many boats share space between
the galley and the navigation station. There is nothing wrong
with this, but it is significantly more comfortable to have
separate space if you can afford it. Finally, the number of
heads is a factor to consider. If you have a lot of people
(4 or 5) using a single head for a long period of time, it
can get pretty ripe in the head. It is difficult to keep things
clean and drying towels can be a problem. Having two heads
is a significant step up in terms of cruising comfort.
How many miles do you expect to cover in a day?
This is perhaps one factor that is greatly overlooked by
people when they are looking to purchase a boat. All boats
move slowly when compared to cars, but modern technology has
enabled a significant gap in typical boat speed to develop
between boats of identical length. What many people don't
realize, is that one or even two knots of boat speed can make
a real difference in your cruising. Perhaps the biggest difference
can be for people who have several good destinations around
them that are about a days sail away. Upon careful investigation
you may find that the boat speed of one boat makes it a really
long day to try to reach a particular destination. Whereas
the typical boatspeed of another boat may make it easy to
make port in time to have dinner. Since the reality is that
most boats spend most of their time in their home ports, this
could be a real difference to those people who like to make
shorter trips. Boatspeed can of course make a real difference
in longer trips as well. On a one week trip to a destination
a couple days away, a faster boat might mean one extra day
of cruising and one less day of offshore sailing. If you plan
on crossing oceans, a slower boat can make a journey significantly
more daunting due to estimated journey length alone. At the
end of the day, it is very important to consider the imortance
covering ground is to your planned cruising adventures.
There are a number of things that affect boat speed, and
almost all of them involve tradeoffs. Waterline and boat size
are perhaps the biggest factors. Larger sailboats will usually
go faster, but the waterline will also play a significant
role. If you prefer the long overhangs of a classic sailboat,
be prepared to go slower. Hull shape will also dictate typical
sailing speeds. A full keel with a nice v to the shape will
handle ice well and provide a smoother ride in choppy waves,
but a flat bottomed fin keel will let you cover a lot more
ground. Draught is another big factor. Many boats are offered
with 2 different draughts available. The deeper draught is
always faster, but limits the harbors you might be able to
fit into. Weight is of course one more factor that greatly
affects boat speed. The luxury associated with lavish wood
interiors adds a lot of weight to a boat. Finally, the size
and shape of the rig will play a large role in your top speed.
A short mast with small sails is easy for a beginner to handle,
but you won't be making it very far on your sailing journeys.
CRUISING LOCATIONS - Cruising can be done from the
frigid waters of Alaska to the sunny Carribean. Explore cruising
What do you like to do on vacation?
There are perhaps 2 key elements of cruising, that while
seemingly obvious, can be overlooked by those who seek the
perfect cruising experience. The first aspect of cruising
is sailing. Perhaps overlooked as an element, for some, actual
sailing time is the most important element of cruising. The
second aspect of cruising is of course the destination. It
is important to determine which elements are important to
you in order to design the most fulfilling cruising experience.
For many people, exploring coastal towns, having dinner onboard
in a quiet harbor at sunset, and swimming off the boat are
the most enjoyable aspects of cruising. If you think you fit
into this category then you will certainly want to design
a cruise that has minimal distance goals in an area that has
closely spaced attractions. If there isn't a destination close-by
that fits the bill, you may even want to consider hiring someone
to deliver your boat to a location that does fit the description.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, for those that really
prefer to be out on the water actively sailing, planning a
trip around favorable wind directions and including some real
distance to cover will be important. Open water with plenty
of leeway will provide the greatest chance of getting in some
beautiful sailing without being forced to beat upwind or even
motor if the weather isn't cooperating. Trips that require
fairly precise navigation around ostacles, or trips requiring
specific stop-overs at closely spaced destinations will always
limit the amount of sailing that actually gets done. Tight
navigation and wind that is never exactly where it should
be will leave these highly correographed trips heavy on motoring
and shy on sailing.
Once you have designed a cruise that fits the type of cruising
that you prefer, the destination itself is easy. Most people
are limited by practical considerations such as work or boat
size to an area that is reasonably close to their home port.
If this is the case, work with what you have to design cruises
that cater to your preferred lifestyle. However, if your boat
is big enough and you have a bit more freedom with your time,
all you really need to consider is where you like to go on
vacation. Lovers of sandy beaches and relaxed sailing should
find themselves in tropical destinations and people who love
adventure, or exotic destinations will find themselves crossing
oceans or sailing to destinations more guided by cultural
In terms of specific locations, most sailboat cruisers love
the seemingly endless possibilities offered by cruising grounds
rich with islands and ports. The freedom and excitement of
anchoring next to and exploring your own little island for
the day is hard to compete with. For this reason, destinations
such as Maine, the Pacific Northwest of North America, Sweden,
the Caribbean, and Polynesia are true favorites among sailors.
In each case, seemingly unending choices of destination and
the ability to explore are supremely seductive. For more information
on Maine and Sweden, please follow the links below:
The Maine Coast - The ultimate cruising destination in
the United States
Sweden - The best cruising ground in the world?
SAILBOAT CRUISING EDUCATION - Make sure you are well
prepared to ensure a happy cruising experience.
Like it or not, sailing is generally not a casual sport requiring
little attention to detail or planning. To have a safe and
enjoyable cruising experience, sailors must be fully educated
with regard to their boat and their destination.
The captain of a sailboat has a responsibility to the everyone
on board including themselves to be fully educated on all
safety related aspects of cruising. Safety begins with the
physical boat itself. First and foremost, all of the systems
on board must be properly maintained. Engines and generators
must be serviced at their designated intervals (it is important
to keep track of engine hours for this reason). Furthmore,
the captain should understand how to perform some basic engine
repair/diagnostic tasks. Particularly if offshore passages
are planned, being caught without a functioning engine is
a serious liability. It is recommended that captains take
a basic course on engine repair and maintenance before heading
out to sea.
Navigation is another category that requires a significant
amount of knowledge and education. Modern GPS navigation and
charplotting systems have taken a lot of the work out of navigating,
but there is much more to navigating than just knowing where
you are. Understanding tides, currents, navigational markers,
chart markings, inter-vessel communication, radar tuning/use,
basic sailing rules, etc. are all extremely important. If
you aren't fully up to speed on all of these areas of interest,
it is again recommended that you take a course and spend some
time learning from more experienced friends aboard their boats.
First-aid is perhaps an unpleasant thing to plan for, but
certainly necessary when heading out to sea or to any remote
location. Purchasing a first-aid kit from a local drugstore
is not sufficient. To be minimally prepared, one needs to
carry a variety of medication and "tools" in order
to handle unforeseen medical emergencies. For many offshore
races, a first-aid class is required before becoming certified
to make the trip. These are great classes to attend, even
if you do not plan on participating in the offshore race.
Being prepared for emergencies onboard the boat is yet another
area requiring education when trying to ready oneself for
cruising. The most basic scenario one must be prepared for
is a man overboard situation. Understanding how to maneuver
the boat, and how to physically pull someone from the water
is absolutely critical. It is recommended that cruisers either
purchase a lifesling (specifically designed to pull a person
out of the water) or rig their own "lifesling" to
handle the same task. Many people do not realize how difficult
it is to get someone out of the water if they go overboard,
and countless sailors have lost their lives on the side of
a boat that could not get them back on board. Once a procedure
has been established for a man overboard situation, it must
be practiced in a controlled environment. The next emergency
preparedness task to be educated for is abandoning ship. Even
a short passage could put a cruiser in danger if their ship
went down and they were unprepared. It is generally necessary
to have an a liferaft aboard, along with an abandon-ship bag
that contains essentials and can be grabbed in a hurry, and
at least one EPIRB to notify the coast guard of your location.
Hopefully this article has provided some insight
into the basics of cruising!