Catamarans: The ABCs of Multihull Boats

  • Activities: Overnight Cruising, Racing, Fishing, Day Sailing, Liveaboards
  • Length Range: 25 – 160 ft.
  • Average price: $607,000
  • 2-12 cabins

Whether you’re shopping for a new fishing boat, a sailing cruiser, or anything in-between, you’ll come across catamarans. Two brains are better than one, but are two hulls better than one? The persistent monohulls versus multihulls debate continues, while a strong catamaran market indicates that many boat owners opt for multihull boat designs. The reputation that catamarans have for providing exceptionally safe, smooth-riding boats is one of the many reasons they are so popular for sportfishing and offshore yachting. In fact, there are a wealth of catamarans available for different purposes. This guide will walk through the basics of catamaran boats to help you understand your options if you’re in the market for a vessel like this, or if you’re new to boats and just learning boat terminology and design.

Catamarans come in all shapes, sizes, and designs. Photos via Atlantic Cruising Yachts, Galati Yacht Sales, Spellman Marine, and Chesapeake Nautical Cruises.

What is a Catamaran?

Some people think of any multihull boat as a catamaran, but in strict terms a catamaran is a boat with two hulls. A boat with one hull is a monohull and a boat with three hulls is a trimaran. Pontoon boats can be either catamarans or trimarans (sometimes called tri-toons), but can be differentiated from most other multihulls in that their hulls, or pontoons, are appendages attached to a deck (as opposed to the hulls and the structure bridging them being molded in one piece). There are catamarans with all different sorts of propulsion systems, designs, and sizes.

Catamarans are not only popular with offshore anglers for their smooth ride, but are also a popular choice among avid leisure cruisers and ocean going long-distance cruisers, thanks to their comfort, interior spaciousness and overall performance. Certain catamarans, particularly foiling sailing catamarans, are used in professional sailboat racing and are among the fastest sailing vessels in the world. Generally though, catamarans have been globetrotting blue water cruisers for years now. Electric catamarans have also become increasingly popular in recent years with builders like Silent Yachts and Alva Yachts on the cutting edge of the quickly emerging electric boat market.

Is A Catamaran Right For You?

Whether a catamaran is suitable for you depends on personal needs and the natural environment you tend to do your boating in. To determine which type of catamaran boat is right for you, we’ve simplified the most popular choices into four basic categories that encompass the most popular types of catamarans.

Sailing Catamarans

The Seawind 1600 PASSAGEMAKER sailing catamaran is made for serious offshore passage-making in mind. The wider hulls create more buoyancy and load-bearing capacity. Image credit Seawind.

A sailing catamaran harnesses the power of the wind for its primary energy source, making it by far the most environmentally friendly boat type. Some sailing boats may include motors, but generally speaking, sailing catamarans only use the auxiliary engines when absolutely necessary (i.e. in ports and marinas, or in an emergency). For couples or families looking to explore local waters, a sailing catamaran is an excellent way of discovering ‘off the beaten path’ locations that can only be accessed by boat.

Sailing catamarans are a popular choice in bareboat charters and for long-distance cruising because they have ample onboard living space and sailing them can be relatively intuitive. Another popular feature on many sailing catamarans is a fabric deck, or a “trampoline,” spanning the hulls forward of a rigid main deck, an ideal place to bask in the sunshine.

See sailing catamaran boats for sale on Boat Trader.

Learn all about sailing cats in detail, in Sailing Catamarans: a Comprehensive Guide.

Power Catamarans

invincible 40 powercat
Relatively large fishing Powercats like this Invincible 40 have become very popular in recent years. Photo via Intrinsic Yacht and Ship.

Power catamarans, otherwise referred to as ‘powercats,’ usually have multiple engines and do not typically have a mast or sails (although there are some models of power cats that could be considered “motorsailers” that may blur the line here). There are many varieties of powercats on the water, but power catamarans are a particularly popular choice for offshore and near coastal fishing in areas that may experience rough sea states and challenging conditions. Due to their two-hull design they offer increased stability in terms of side-to-side motion, or rolling, which is common in large swells. Most modern high-speed powercats also compress air between the hulls, creating a pneumatic cushion of sorts that cushions wave impact and reduces pounding in rough seas. In fact, vessels like the Freeman 42 catamaran and Invincible’s 35 Power Cat are considered among the world’s most capable rough sea center console sport fishing boats. Watch Invicible’s 35 Power Cat video here:

See power catamaran boats for sale on Boat Trader.

Learn all about power catamarans in detail, in Power Catamarans: A Comprehensive Guide.

Electric Catamarans

A rendering of the environmentally-friendly Sunreef 40 Open. Image credit: Sunreef/Denison Yachting

Boat owners are increasingly seeking environmentally friendly experiences, and the electric catamaran market has grown significantly over the past few years as boaters have become more environmentally conscious and seriously consider eco-credentials as part of their boat buying process. Brands offer hybrid and electric propulsion and/or harness the sun’s power by using solar panels on the boat’s roof, which converts solar energy and is commonly used to power onboard appliances. Furthermore, the absence of an internal combustion engine means that boat owners can enjoy silent cruising and enhances a passenger’s connection with the natural environment.

See electric catamaran boats for sale on Boat Trader.

Luxury Catamaran Yachts

silver yachts silver cat
The 72′ aluminum Silver Yachts Silver Cat is among a unique set of catamarans designed to provide exclusive luxury. Photo via Denison Yachting.

In a class all their own, luxury catamaran yachts are popular for their extensive interior accommodations, stability, and relative fuel efficiency as compared to monohull yachts. Since these yachts are so expensive, obviously this is a relatively small segment of the catamaran market. But it’s still an important one, particularly because most of these larger cats are custom built and can be set up with the floorplan and décor to fit your personal taste.

The Advantages Of Owning A Catamaran

Spacious Living Onboard

As we’ve mentioned, catamarans are popular because they are incredibly spacious inside in comparison with a monohull. A catamaran beam spans the entire length of the craft without curving into a pointed bow, unlike a monohull. As a rule of thumb, a catamaran has something like 1.25 times the room of a monohull by length. Therefore a 40-foot catamaran sometimes has the same internal space as a 50-foot monohull. Additionally, cabins in the separate hulls provide total privacy since the cabins in different hulls are located far apart. The living space onboard catamarans is also bright and airy because most of it is elevated, as opposed to being down in the belly of the boat.

A Shallower Draft

The term “draft” in regards to a vessel refers to how deep in the water the lowest point of the hull sits, thus determining how shallow she can go. Every boat has a minimum depth it’s able to pass through without running aground. Catamarans tend to have a shallower draft than monohulls (especially when it comes to sailboats since since they don’t have a keel or centerboard sticking down out of the hull), which is particularly suited to use in shallower waters. Among tropical destinations where there are coral reefs, a shallow draft is highly valued.

Less Drag = Better Fuel Efficiency

The pair of narrow catamaran hulls tend to experience less drag or resistance than a single wide monohull, often resulting in greater fuel economy overall for power cats and better performance for a sailing cat.

Improved Seakeeping

Catamarans tend to be quite seaworthy. The knife-like hulls split waves more easily than a spoon-like monohull, and as we mentioned earlier, most modern powercats that go fast enough to plane will compress air between the hulls, creating a cushion of air that reduces wave impact. Their enhanced stability is also much appreciated in heavy seas. When it comes to sailing catamarans, however, we should note that although a catamaran is much harder to flip over from side to side than a monohull, sailing cats are not self-righting. Once they are capsized, they tend to stay that way until an external force is used to right them. Then again, it takes a lot to flip a catamaran.

Living On A Catamaran Yacht

Above: The Vagabond family, relaxing in their catamaran home. Image credit: The Vagabond family.

The “Sailing La Vagabond” family made living on a catamaran cool. However, living on a boat is not for the fainthearted. Before you decide to make the leap to live on a catamaran, bear in mind that many marinas have long waitlists for a liveaboard slip, and some don’t allow liveaboards at all. Still, for those who decide to leave land behind catamaran are a popular choice because the living areas are so spacious.


What Is The World’s Fastest Catamaran?

SailGP’s F50 wing sailed catamaran is the first sailing catamaran to hit a top speed of 50 knots in a race. When it comes to powercats this becomes a loaded question, because many of the high speed racing cats incorporate design traits such as hydrofoils or tunnels, and it’s reasonable to argue over whether they should really be called powercats or not in the first place. That said, many racing cats have exceeded the 100 knot mark and several modern fishing powercats can exceed 70 knots.

How Does The Length Of A Catamaran Impact Its Seaworthiness?

A longer length overall (LOA) gives you a longer waterline that will help combat big swells, towering seas and high winds better than a smaller one. Additionally, the heavier the boat is the more resistant it will be to being tossed about by wind and choppy seas, and longer boats tend to have more heft. As a general rule of thumb, in this regard bigger is usually better.

Do Catamarans Flip Easily?

Catamarans are considered very stable from side to side, and therefore they do not generally capsize (or flip over) very easily under normal operation. However, high performance sailing catamarans, and high-performance catamaran powerboats can occasionally flip end-over-end, due to the extremely high speeds they can achieve. This happens when air gets under the boat and lifts the hull up off the water. Windy conditions and a rough sea state can increase the risk of this occurring. That is why competitive sailors and professional powerboat racers must be highly skilled captains who are able to make quick judgements and have laser-fast reflexes, similar to fighter pilots.

Large luxury cruising catamarans are generally much heaver than performance catamarans, and do not travel at such high speeds, thus nearly eliminating the risk of that type of flipping. The overall stability of a catamaran is mostly due to the large beam (width) and distributed weight, along with great buoyancy and hydrodynamics. Under normal circumstances in calm waters and during casual recreational sailing onboard a large catamaran, capsizing the boat is highly unlikely.

Above: This video shows a high-performance catamaran powerboat flipping at a boat race. Luckily no one was injured during this scary crash and both drivers were reported to be fine. This is an example of how wind and waves can combine to funnel air under a catamaran hull at high speeds, leading to head-to-head flip overs. Video by Cox Group.

Are Catamarans Good For Long Distance Cruising?

Larger catamarans are commonly used to perform successful circumnavigations and ocean crossings, and have been proven to be safe and comfortable cruising platforms. Thanks to the enhanced living quarters and high efficiency, many long distance cruisers opt for catamarans.

This article was last updated in April of 2022.