Sailing Catamarans: A Comprehensive Guide

Many people would say that catamarans are rather unusual boats. They don’t carry classic lines, they bring their full beam all the way to the bow, and they handle differently from monohulls. All of that’s true but catamarans also have some huge advantages, especially when it comes to certain types of sailboats. We’ll examine each — as well as looking at the downsides of sailing catamarans — as we consider:

fountains pajot alegria 67 catamaran
Spending time on a sailing catamaran like this Fountaine Pajot Alegria 67 will certainly be a pleasure. Photo via Atlantic Cruising Yachts.

What Are Sailing Catamarans

Sailing catamarans are sailboats which have two hulls rather than one. There are also some sailboats out there with three hulls, but these are called trimarans. Beyond that there aren’t any additional defining factors. If a boat has two hulls and can be propelled via a sail, it counts as a sailing catamaran.

Different Types of Sailing Catamarans

The different varieties of sailing cats you’re likely to encounter include:

Beach Catamarans

hobie cat sailboat
Hobie made the beach cat famous. Photo by Hobie.

Beach catamarans are also commonly referred to as ‘beachcats.’ Getting wet is part of the fun when sailing on a beachcat, and these boats are known for their fast speeds and athletic sailing abilities. They can reach 20 knots, can be beached on the sand, and then re-launched through the surf.

These boats are relatively light for their size to make launching them on and off the beach easier. Often this is accomplished by designing the boat without a solid deck. Their rudders can be flipped up and removed from the water just before the boat is beached to avoid getting caught in the sand and breaking off. The hulls of a beachcat are sometimes also rigged with daggerboards, akin to removable keels, that slide down through the hulls. Most beach cats have sailing rigs that can disassemble for easy transportation, too.

Cruising Cats

lagoon 46 cruising sailboat
This Lagoon 46 will be an ideal cruising sailboat for many mariners. Photo via Marine Servicecenter.

If there’s any one type of sailboat for which catamarans are a hands-down winner, it’s cruisers. Three traits make catamarans ideal for cruising: their larger rectangular footprint and wide beam means there’s more living space inside; they’re relatively easy to sail; and their shallower draft means you can get into harbors and ports with limited depth. In fact, thanks to the reefs and shallows in some areas like the Caribbean, entire charter fleets of cruising sailboats are catamarans.

The catamaran design provides another advantage for cruisers that can be important when lots of people are aboard for an extended period of time: It increases privacy between the cabins on a boat, which is often poor at best. In monohulls the cabins share bulkheads through which sound can easily pass. But on a catamaran, the cabins are often far apart in the separate hulls.

High-Performance Catamarans

Technological advancements integrating hydrofoils means that performance catamarans can ‘fly’ above the water, allowing them to reach turbo-fast speeds of up to 60 knots. Hulls raised above the water mean reduce hydrodynamic drag as fluid airflow is redirected, creating high and low-pressure areas on opposite sides of the boat. A high-performance catamaran can sail between 1.2 to 1.5 times faster than wind speed, in the right weather conditions.

The foiling catamarans used in the America’s Cup are a testament to how innovative technology can transform the world of sports, and the growing popularity of sailing sports events such as America’s Cup and the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers has increased the demand for high-performance catamarans. Racing catamarans and trimarans are particularly popular in France, Australia, and New Zealand.

Sailing Catamaran Yachts

cruising catamaran
Does this Fountaine Pajot qualify as a yacht? Yes, we’d certainly say so. Photo via Atlantic Cruising Yachts.

Just when to call a boat a yacht is debatable, but there’s no doubt that some of the modern sailing catamarans reach well into yacht territory. Most are more or less cruisers of one sort or another, which carry all the comforts of home and then some. These tend to be quite opulent, and as you might expect, also quite pricey. If you’re looking at a sailing catamaran with a price tag measured by the millions, it’s probably time to call it a yacht.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Sailing Catamarans

Which catamaran traits are impactful on any particular boat depends to some degree on just which type of boat it is. When it comes to beach cats, for example, the amount of space available for a cabin is irrelevant. But in the case of a cruising cat, this is a critical feature. That said, we can list out the advantages of sailing cats as compared to monohulls as:

  • More interior volume per LOA (commonly expected to be about 1.25 the times of an equivalent length monohull).
  • More belowdecks privacy in separate cabins.
  • Enhanced stability both at anchor and underway.
  • Reduced heeling under sail.
  • Reduced draft, and the elimination of the need for a full keel.
seawing 1190 illustration
Thanks to the additional stability of the catamaran design, large, deep keels aren’t needed on catamarans. Graphic via Denison Yachting.

Of course, no boat is perfect. And yes, this is certainly true of sailing cats. Their common disadvantages include:

  • The need for wider (and potentially more expensive) slips.
  • Tacking is sometimes slower and more difficult.
  • Catamarans tend to cost more, since there’s more material costs and models large enough to have powerplants commonly require two engines.
  • Some people feel sailing cats look odd, and the market for them is smaller than for monohulls so reselling one can be more difficult than selling a monohull.

Sailing Catamaran Cost

When it comes to small beach cats, there isn’t any additional cost associated with catamarans versus monohulls. But larger cats do cost more than their single-hull brethren, and they also are commonly more expensive to own. Separate systems ranging from propulsion to electrical to plumbing generally exist in each hull, and while having redundant systems is advantageous from a safety standpoint, it also means there’s twice as much to maintain. Plus, whenever you motor the boat you’ll burn twice as much fuel. And on top of that, the wide beam carried by many cats means you’ll need to pay for a larger slip.

There are many builders who offer sailing catamarans, but only a few top-name production boat manufacturers that specialize in them.


bali 5.4 sailboat
The Bali 5.4 is ready for some serious cruising. Photo via Cruising Yachts.

Bali has a line of four sailing catamarans (as well as two powerboats) from 44 to 55 feet. They’re known for a few specific stand-out design elements, highlighted by a rigid (rather than trampoline) foredeck with a forward cockpit, and an upper deck flybridge. Together these traits create extra social areas which aren’t always found on other sailing catamarans.

See Bali sailing catamaran boats for sale on Boat Trader.

Fountaine Pajot

fountaine pajot elba 45 catamaran
The Fountaine Pajot Elba 45. From this view, it’s easy to see how all that beam greatly enhances living space. Photo via Atlantic Cruising Yachts.

Fountaine Pajot is one of the larger sailing catamaran builders around. With multiple facilities located in France, Fountaine Pajot utilizes some of the most advanced fiberglass boatbuilding techniques around such as resin infusion and CNC machining.

See Fountaine Pajot sailing catamaran boats for sale on Boat Trader.


hobie cat boats
Hobie made the original beach cat and is still building sailing catamarans today. Photo via Hobie.

Hobie made its name on the famous Hobie Cat beach cat, first launched way back in the 1960s. These boats are little more than a pair of hulls with a trampoline deck stretched between them and a mast for raising the sail, and for many people, this simplicity is part of the attraction. Today Hobie builds two rotomolded and one laminated fiberglass Hobie Cat models, as well as numerous paddle-craft.

See Hobie Cat sailing catamaran boats for sale on Boat Trader.

Lagoon Catamarans

lagoon 46 sailing
The Lagoon 46 underway – we wish we were there! Photo via Naos Yachts.

Lagoon is part of the Beneteau Group, the world’s largest boatbuilder. They build power catamarans as well as sailing cats, yet maintain a very large range that makes its way into yacht territory. The smallest Lagoon currently in production is 40 feet, but at the opposite end of the spectrum lies their rather massive flagship, the Lagoon Seventy 7.

See Lagoon sailing catamaran boats for sale on Boat Trader.

Leopard Catamarans

leopard boats
A used Leopard 39, the 40’s predecessor. Photo via Lattitude Yacht Brokerage.

South African builder Leopard has a line of 42, 45, and 50 foot sailing catamarans, as well as building powered catamarans. What they may be best known for, however, is having constructed fleets of charter sailing cats for some of the largest charter companies out there, including Sunsail and The Moorings.

See Leopard Catamarans sailing catamaran boats for sale on BoatTrader.

Seawind Catamarans

seawind 1160
A Seawind 1160 – happy days, indeed. Photo via Sail Away Catamarans Yacht Sales.

Seawind builds boats from 38 feet up to a 52-foot cruiser. Their emphasis is on performance, and their catamarans are designed with narrower hulls which may sacrifice a bit of interior volume, but enhance speed under sail. Seawind has been building since 1982, and in 2010 joined forces with trimaran builder Corsair Marine.

See Seawind sailing catamaran boats for sale on Boat Trader.

You think catamarans sound cool, but you’re prefer a powerboat to a sailboat? See Power Catamarans: A Complete Guide.