choose your boat
making the right choice
choosing a sailing yacht
get the most from your yacht
monohull or multihull?
a cat or a tri?
cruising catamarans

a cat or a tri?
Kevin Jeffrey

Once you've made the decision that your cruising boat will be a multihull, the next step is to determine how many hulls it should have. Most prospective multihull buyers have a subconscious preference for catamarans or trimarans, but often this bias reflects a lack of experience or serious investigation of the other type of boat. My wife, for instance, instinctively prefers catamarans, yet it's fair to say she's never been cruising on a modern trimaran, or for that matter that she knows anyone who has owned one. I feel you should keep an open mind in your search for the ideal multihull. Although your instincts may well be accurate, initial preferences can change after careful reflection and some hands-on research.

Most multihull buyers have a subconscious preference for cats or tris.

Catamarans are by far the most prevalent cruising multihull, for many good reasons which we'll discuss shortly. They are also the most widely available as a charter yacht. This means that most sailors new to multihulls get their first taste on a cat—and first impressions, especially those on a well-appointed charter yacht, can be lasting. Most of the cruising trimarans on the market are in fact trailerable sport cruisers—easily transported boats that can serve as racer, cruiser, or some combination of the two. While catamarans seem to be the cruising multihull of choice, trimarans have some distinct advantages that make them well worth consideration. Let's compare catamarans and trimarans using various cruising considerations.

Accommodations and Storage Ability   By far the most impressive characteristic of a cruising catamaran is the amazing amount of space on board for the overall length of the boat. The wide beam on most catamarans allows for truly outstanding cockpits, foredecks, living and sleeping accommodations, galleys, heads, and storage spaces.


Sleeping accommodations are superb. On our 26-foot cruising cat we had two double aft cabins with permanently made-up berths and a salon seating area that converted to a queen-size berth. While there are many different layouts, cats in the 34 to 38-foot range typically have staterooms in three of the four corners of the boat and a large head in the other corner. Longer cats, many of which are set up for chartering, can easily have four double staterooms and four heads. Versions outfitted for private ownership often have one entire hull dedicated as the owner's stateroom, with two additional staterooms in the other hull.

The galley and living areas on a cruising cat can also be quite astonishing. This is mainly due to the fact that the main salon on a cat is level with the cockpit, affording panoramic views and the ability to interact easily with people in the cockpit. The galley on a cat can be down in a hull or up in the main salon area, and either option allows for a spacious, well-equipped food handling area.

Deck and storage space on most cruising multihulls make for easy living.

Catamarans not only have more physical storage space, but they generally have a greater load-carrying ability for a given length of boat. The interior layout and accommodations on most modern trimarans are similar to those found on monohulls. There are a few trimaran designs with solid wing decks where the interior accommodations (usually in the form of berths) extend out toward the amas. These designs are the exception, however, and tend to be of an older vintage.

Sailing Performance and Safety   In general, trimarans have better sailing performance for the size of boat than catamarans, especially cats with fixed low-aspect ratio keels rather than daggerboards. Trimarans with one or two daggerboards or a centerboard usually have a better ability to tack and to go to windward, and are generally faster for the same length of boat. For those who like to experience a variety of cruising grounds, but don't have the time or desire to make long passages, a sport trimaran may be a good choice. And it's been said that sport trimarans inherently have that ultimate design characteristic for speed enhancement, trailerability, which allows them to go at highway speeds.

Large, light, and airy interiors set multis off in a class by themselves.

Trimarans, and to a lesser extent catamarans, are often given a bad rap concerning safety. This is almost exclusively due to two factors:

  1. The majority of trimarans out sailing are sport models whose skippers often push the safety envelope in search of higher performance.

  2. The widely publicized mishaps concerning high-speed ocean racing tris, and to a lesser extent cats.

Whether cat or tri, true cruising multihulls are a whole different breed with impressive safety records. Safety on multihulls, as with all sailboats, is related to knowing when to shorten sail and how to handle the boat in heavy weather.

Initial Cost and Resale   The initial cost of multihulls is higher than monohulls of equivalent length, with catamarans generally higher in cost per foot than trimarans. The high initial cost keeps many would-be multihull sailors out of the new boat market. Used boats can be a good option for those on a modest budget, but since the resale value of multihulls is excellent, you'll need to do some searching to find a true bargain.

Maintenance and Ongoing Costs   Catamarans have two main hulls to maintain, while trimarans have one main hull and much smaller outer hulls called amas. Cats also tend to have two engines (one in each hull) and, therefore, twice the mechanical maintenance.

Sport trimarans have the edge when it comes to docking, storage, and transportation, since they fold to roughly the beam of a monohull and their trailerability allows for easy storage and road transport. When comparing non-trailerable tris and cats, they both cost quite a bit more than monohulls for dockage, storage, and transportation by road or ship because of their wide beam.

Trailerable sport tris offer great performance—right up to 65 mph!

Making the Decision   The choice between catamaran and trimaran comes down to personal preference and finding the best boat for your needs. For thoroughbred performance and the potential for trailerability, take a look at the trimarans on the market. Many catamaran designs also offer superb performance, and a few designs such as the Aquillon 26 and F-25 are trailerable. Most other catamarans on the market offer a nice blend of performance and the opportunity for incredibly comfortable cruising. Remain flexible and you're sure to find your ideal cruising multihull.