Monohull owners often love to pick on powercats, with the most common beef about catamarans being that they “look funny.” Well okay, we’ll give you that. They do look a bit unusual — as does an A-10 Warthog, though few aviators would dare to argue over that plane’s effectiveness. And once you get over a powercat’s unusual appearance, go for a sea trial, and experience the shockingly smooth ride of a well-designed power catamaran, there’s a strong chance you’ll become a believer. Short of a sea trial, however, we can still do a deep-dive into the world of powercats.
What are Power Catamarans
Power catamarans are boats with two hulls which are powered by motors as opposed to sails. (If you’re interested in sailing catamarans, you can learn all about them in Sailing Catamarans: A Comprehensive Guide). Some might argue that pontoon boats are powercats, but these consist of “hulls” (the pontoons) which are bolted or otherwise affixed to a deck. On a true powercat, the hulls and the bridge between them are one single solid structure.
Different Types of Power Catamarans
Power catamarans come in all different sizes and types, ranging from 15-foot skiffs to 150-foot mega-yachts. And if there’s a genre of boat being built, you can pretty much bet there will be a power catamaran version of it being build somewhere, by one someone. That said, there are far fewer powercats than monohulls on the market. Whichever type of boat you’re looking for, your choices will likely be rather limited. Some of the major powercat types with good availability include:
Center Console Fishing Boat Power Catamarans
One of the most popular — if not the most popular — type of power catamaran in today’s market is the center console fishing boat. Most range from 22 to 40 feet and are powered with twin, or sometimes even quadruple, outboards. These boats are very fast, very seaworthy, and are rigged to the teeth for all sorts of fishing. They’re a top choice of offshore anglers who may run for hours at a time in all sorts of conditions to reach the hotspots.
Dual Console Runabouts
Dual console runabouts make a good compromise between fishing boat and family boat, so they’re favored by boaters who may go angling one weekend and take the kids water skiing the next. There are fewer of these on the market than center consoles, however, and as a rule they tend to be a bit smaller in size. Dual console powercats are usually powered with twin outboards and often have fairly good fishing accouterments along with crowd-pleasers like a stereo system, ski-tow pylons, and lots of comfy seating.
High Performance Powercats
Several high performance boat builders utilize the cat design, which out-performs monohulls of equivalent size and power on a regular basis. Due to the extreme speeds some of these boats run at, however, high performance power catamarans can be dangerous to operate without training and/or an extensive background in operating them. For this reason, there are relatively few on the market at any given time.
Cruising Power Catamarans
The power catamaran design has grown more popular for use as a cruiser in recent years, in no small part because of the extra interior room and privacy it delivers as compared to a monohull. Many of the modern powercat cruisers can offer the ability to cruise for tremendous distances in extreme comfort, and since people often vacation on chartered boats for weeks at a time, many of the large charter fleets have begun to offer power catamarans. In some ways these boats have evolved to fill the niche that trawlers used to dominate.
There are some truly huge powercats out there which are more properly called yachts as opposed to boats. In fact, there are even some stretching beyond the 100-foot mark. These are just as opulent — and just as expensive — as one would guess, but in many ways the powercat design shines as a boat grows larger.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Power Catamarans
While there are many advantages and disadvantages to power catamarans, we need to point out that blanket statements about cats, or any type of boat design for that matter, always needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Some models display specific traits more or less than others, some don’t enjoy (or suffer from) a different set of characteristics, and design and build quality will also have huge impacts on just how these advantages and disadvantages do or no not manifest themselves. Bearing that in mind, as a general rule of thumb power catamaran advantages include:
- A smoother ride through rough seas than a monohull. Most planing powercats compress air between the two hulls, which cushions the impact when meeting waves at high speed. Non-planing cats often benefit from having two knife-like hulls cutting through the water, as opposed to a single much wider, spoon-like monohull.
- Enhanced static stability. Cats spread their weight across a wider area and it takes larger waves to get them rocking and rolling. Even on many small models a person can walk from one side of the boat to the other without knocking the boat off balance.
- Improved efficiency. Many powercats require fewer total horsepower to reach the same speed as a monohull of equivalent length and weight.
- Increased deck and/or cabin space. Since powercats generally carry their beam all the way to the very bow of the boat (while monohulls taper to a point) they can have a lot more room. Many people say that a cat usually has around 1.25 times the square footage of a monohull the same length.
- Enhanced maneuverability. Cats have their engines spaced wide apart, so opposing the engines allows you to spin the boat in its own length and make micro-adjustments to the boat’s position.
We already mentioned that the biggest complaint about powercats is how they look, but some cats do display a number of traits that range from annoying to aggravating:
- Cats may lean outward as opposed to banking in when turning. This can catch people off guard, especially experienced boaters who are used to monohulls.
- Although stability is enhanced, the “righting moment” (when a boat rocks back to level after rolling from a wave) is also enhanced. This short righting moment, sometimes called a “snap roll,” may be so fast as to be uncomfortable.
- Building a powercat requires more time and more material, so they’re usually more expensive than monohulls of the same size.
- Some cats “sneeze,” by puffing mist out the front of the tunnel. When moving along at a fast rate of speed, the boat then passes through the mist and everyone aboard may get damp.
Power Catamaran Costs
You did notice that line about cost in the power catamaran disadvantages section, didn’t you? Shop around and you’ll find that yes, cats can be pricey. But just as important is understanding that some may cost more to run and maintain, too. This isn’t always true and other cats may actually cost less than a comparable monohull to own and maintain. It depends a great deal on the type of cat and what size powerplants it’s rigged with.
On smaller cats in the 20- to 26-foot size range, comparable costs normally go up because while a monohull can likely get by with a single engine, most cats are rigged with twins. That means twice as many oil changes, twice as many cables and linkages to maintain, and so on. Once you’re comparing a cat with a larger monohull that has twins, however, this difference evaporates. At least, it does until you get to even bigger boats. When large cabins with electrical systems and plumbing systems come into play, again cats can grow more expensive because many have completely redundant systems in each hull. That can be advantageous from a reliability standpoint, but in terms of maintenance, costs go up.
Power Choices in Power Catamarans
In the world of power catamarans under 40 feet, outboards rule. There are certainly exceptions but generally speaking the relatively small cats out there have either twin or (in the case of high-speed models) quadruple outboards. Once you get up over 40 feet inboard power systems become more common. There are also a few models that utilize pod drives, and in recent years a few electric-powered catamarans have popped up in the marketplace.
Most Popular Power Catamarans
While there are over 80 builders listed under power catamarans in Boat Trader’s database, most are small and many are legacy brands that are no longer built. Today, the when you go looking for a cat you’re most likely to see:
Aquila builds a very large range of cruising power cats as well as one center console and one cuddy cabin boat, ranging from 28 to 70 feet. Aquilas are built at Sino Eagle’s million-square-foot facility in Hangzhou City, China, and the company is partnered with MarineMax Vacations (among other charter outfits) and currently has built over 100 boats to serve in charter fleets.
See Aquila power catamaran boats for sale on Boat Trader.
This French builder has both power and sailing catamaran lines. Their power fleet includes four models from 36 to 67 feet, all of which are cruisers. A bit unusual in the power cat world, the larger boats in Fountaine Pajot line are powered with Volvo Penta’s IPS pod drive propulsion system.
See Fountaine Pajot power catamaran boats for sale on Boat Trader.
Freeman builds high-tech, high-end offshore fishing center consoles designed to offer high speed performance and as smooth a ride in rough seas as possible. Many of their larger models sport quadruple outboards, some can hit speeds in excess of 70 mph, and others even 80 mph. The model range includes four boats from 34 to 47 feet, all powered by outboards and all featuring twin-stepped hull designs.
See Freeman Boatworks power catamaran boats for sale on Boat Trader.
This Florida builder is one of the few in today’s marketplace that builds a wide range of both monohull and power catamaran boats. All are fishing-oriented, and all except for one (a pilot house model), are center consoles. The range goes from 33 to 46 feet and all of the Invincibles are outboard-powered. Navel architecture for the line was done by the noted design team Morrelli and Melvin, which resulted in patented semi-asymmetrical hullforms that are extremely fast (often in excess of 70 mph) and smooth in heavy seas.
See Invincible power catamaran boats for sale on Boat Trader.
Twin Vee boats builds a line of powercats from 24 to 40 feet, which is dominated by center consoles but also includes one dual console in the mix. The company used to produce a large volume of smaller cats including 17 and 19 footers that operated with a single outboard, which today can be found only on the used boat market.
See Twin Vee power catamaran boats for sale on Boat Trader.
Located in Tarboro, North Carolina, World Cat is one of the largest production builders of powercats and offers a lineup of outboard-powered boats from 23 to 40 feet. The mix of models is wider than most, including center consoles, dual consoles, and a sun deck version, and the company claims its 400DC-X is the largest production-built dual console model ever to hit the market.
See World Cat power catamaran boats for sale on Boat Trader.
Ready to get serious about choosing a power catamaran of your own? Check out our top picks for the best catamarans around.