Sailing a Catamaran: Everything You Need To Know

General Info

Sailing Catamarans have evolved from the small boats that you see in races on the shoreline into large ocean-going cruisers capable of carrying dozens of people.

Catamarans have become increasingly popular because they are faster, more stable and can carry more loads than their monohull counterparts.

Catamarans have a lower risk of keeling over or capsizing in strong winds; they give a more comfortable ride, whether they are in shallow waters, deep sea or at anchor.

Today, you get to know about three distinct types of catamarans, their pros/cons and some of the techniques required to maneuver them.

Pros and Cons of Catamarans

Pros:

·        Stability – The two hulls give more stability as opposed to a single hull. Think of this as you would an outrigger canoe, which is more stable than the monohull canoe thanks to the outrigger float.

·        Great for children and the elderly – the added stability makes it more comfortable for children and elderly people who may have a hard time keeping their feet steady on a monohull, especially when it leans over.

·        Sea-sickness – people who suffer from sea sickness prefer the stability of catamarans.

·        Space – the large width of catamarans gives more space over the width of the boat. This is especially great for cruising catamarans, since it means more space to stretch and relax,or store items. The space also allows for more privacy, especially if you have-children who sleep in the cabins way across from the main suite.

·        Access – Catamarans, especially the lagoon catamaran have a shallow draft and can therefore go through shallow waters that the monohull cannot. This means anchoring closer to the beach and enjoying time in a lovely lagoon.

·        Raised or fly bridge helms –Monohulls cannot raise their cockpit very high, since it would destabilize the craft. Catamarans don’t have stability issues and the bridge can be lifted high above the main deck. This gives better visibility in the cockpit.

·        Since the main saloon, cockpit and galley can be on an upper deck, catamarans offer better use of the main-deck, giving you a better sailing experience than a monohull.

Cons:

·        Bridge deck noise – Since the bridge deck is stretched across the tow hulls, when the catamaran runs into high waves, there is a lot of slapping noise as the waves hit the bottom of the deck. Reducing the sail stops the slapping, but it also means that you compromise on speed.

·        Uncertain response – The wheel of a catamaran is not as responsive as that of a monohull. When in rough seas and high winds, you must be extremely vigilant and know when to reduce the sails. The last thing you want is to surf down a wave at incredible speed, bury the short bow into the wave at the bottom and end up pitching rolling.

·        Docking space – The wide width of catamarans means that they take up more dock space than their monohull counterparts. This may double the costs of docking your craft.

·        Sailing close to the wind – a catamaran does not allow for sailing close to the wind as much as a monohull. However, a work-around is to sail on reach. Catamarans sail faster in the reaching position.

·        Tacking control – A catamaranis much lighter than a monohull, and this means that they slow down faster.This makes it more difficult to tack a catamaran as opposed to tacking a monohull.

·        Charter costs – even with the same amount of space and equipment, chartering a catamaran is much more expensive than chartering a monohull.

 

Having looked at pros and cons of a catamaran,it’s time to look at how you handle different types of catamarans:

Different types of catamarans and how to handle them

 

1)   Small, mini or sports catamarans

sailing a catamaran

These are also called recreational catamarans and have a load or an average 6 people, depending on the size. Some of them are designed to be operated by a single person; you probably have seen them racing across your beach waters on hot sunny weekends.

The sports catamarans have a trampoline running across the two hulls, and these serve as a bridging structure for people to cross from one hull to the other without falling in the water.

They are small enough to be landed and launched from a beach, rather than a dock. They have a rotating mast and full-length battens attached to the mainsail.

Those created for sporting have a trapeze which allows a person to hike out and act as a counterbalance capsizing forces when sailing in strong winds. Single-person sports catamarans can easily liftoff one hull and keep running on a single hull for added speed.

How to sail a sports or small catamaran

Most small, mini or sports catamarans have inflatable hulls, rather than solid ones. There are those what have solid hulls, with can be assembled and disassembled easily for convenient transportation.

The first thing that you must learn is how to assemble and disassemble the catamaran, or how to inflate and deflate the inflatable version.

When you are out in the water, you must sit opposite the direction of the wind. The wind must always blow from your back.This technique counters the foes of the wind on the catamaran’s sail, so it does not capsize.  This lesson can be advanced further as shown below.

One of the exciting sailing features of mini catamarans is that they can lift off one hull and ride on the other. This technique is called heeling and requires careful training on how to hike out and counter the weight of wind forces on the light, small catamarans.

You also need to know how to turn quickly;one of the best features of the catamaran is that it can turn on a dime.  This requires quickly swinging the sail across and shifting your body from one side of the sail to the other. The technique requires a lot of practice in order to perform it perfectly. If you're just beginning, stick to the slow turning techniques before moving to the fast turn.

As with all practical sailing lessons, you need to know what to do should the catamaran capsize. Yes, although catamarans are more stable than monohulls, they are still prone to capsizing.

Here's a video of sailing a small catamaran:

A small catamaran can be righted when the crew is in the water, by simply pushing down on one hull to bring the mainsail to the surface of the water, and then pulling down on the other hull to lift the sail and bring the catamaran to an upright position.

A large catamaran will require a lot more effort, involving standing on the centerboard and pulling on the jib sheet. He then leans back to bring the upper hull around the lower one and pushes it towards the water. The other crew member pushes on the lower hull helping in bringing the catamaran to an upright position.

A mini catamaran, especially one with inflatable hulls can easily be righted by a single person.

It is important that you keep the trim of the catamaran stable and close to the horizontal. The low weight of catamarans makes them sensitive to changes in fore and aft trim.

All crew members and helmsman should stay close to the middle of the catamaran to keep the trim steady.

2)  Racing Catamarans

On New Year’s Eve 2000, on the shores of Barcelona, Spain, an event started that would popularize the sport of racing catamarans.“The Race” was an event in which Racing Catamarans set of from Barcelona to race around the globe.

catamaran sailing
credit

The race attracted a lot of attention since the prize money was high and a lot of prestige was to be gained by the winning craft.

The event saw the introduction of customized racing catamarans, equipped with top-notch navigation and control systems, and with sails that would propel them at unprecedented speeds.

Four new Racing catamarans and two modified ones set off to see which would be the champion. The 35.5 meter-long Club Medwon the race, having gone around the globe in 62 days at an average clip of 18 knots.

Suffice it to say that racing catamarans soon became a sport that many enjoyed and new races have cropped up ever since.

How to sail racing catamarans

Basic techniques in sail racing catamarans are similar to those of monohulls. However, there are advanced techniques that need a lot of skill and manpower.

One of these is what is known as the“Slingshot”. This is the fastest maneuver used in racing catamarans, and is performed at speeds between 4 and 8 knots above any other maneuver.

This technique will take you through what is known as the “Power Zone”, where the effective wind power is at its strongest.Depending on the type of catamaran and the wind speed, you will be at an angle that is 90 to 100 degrees off the true wind direction.

If you are below the power zone you'd power by heeling off the craft and bearing away. If you are above the power zone, you heel the craft by heading up.

The slingshot allows you to heel the boat and quickly turn on one hull, making it easy to get ahead of your opponent during the turn.

Speed and safety

This is especially important when maneuvering racing catamaran. Catamarans have very little bow-space as opposed to monohull racing crafts. A catamaran will feel like it is riding safely one moment and then run into trouble in the next, without any warning.

The skipper and crew must be able to “read”the vessel and know when the speed is too high and may cause a serious accident.

Catamarans can nose-dive and roll very easily if the bow gets caught in the waves at high speed. When executing heeling maneuvers, a sudden gust can easily tip the boat over.

Safety on a catamaran requires a trade off of speed from time to time.

3)      Cruising Catamarans

Many people ask, “What is the best catamaran for ocean sailing?” The answer to this question is the cruising catamaran. These are catamarans that have a full cabin and are built like a traditional monohull, but have the striking two-hull configuration.

These are used to ferry people across continents safely because they are more stable than their monohull counterparts. A cruising catamaran should be of at least 40 feet in length.

sailing a catamaran

Cruising catamarans with sails require a higher skill set from the crew as opposed to motorized ones, which can easily be controlled from the cockpit. However, today's cruising catamarans also come with two engines, one on each hull, to assist the sails in handling and maneuvering.They also have two rudders, one on each hull to aid in steering the craft with ease.

Cruising catamarans cross vast expanses of water faster than monohulls and that is why people prefer them when travelling for long distances on the ocean.

How to sail a cruising catamaran

The cruising catamaran is handled just like the monohull version. Maneuvers such as heeling cannot be done on these vessels, which are designed for comfort for the passengers; it would be very hard to enjoy a cup of tea when on a catamaran that is heeling at a precarious degree, right?

If any heeling is to be performed, it should be between 10 to 12 degrees, which is unnoticeable when out at sea.

In conclusion

Catamarans are exciting boats, whether you're handling a mini catamaran, a racing catamaran of a large cruising catamaran. There are added advantages of catamarans as opposed to their monohull counterparts. They have been advanced to blend the two together,resulting in what it known as a Trimaran, but that is a topic for another day.

All-in-all, you get faster speeds on a catamaran, but you also compromise a lot on the control of the craft. The challenge when sailing a catamaran is knowing when to speed up and when to slowdown. The conditions that can be safely maneuvered by a monohull, while out at sea, can easily topple a catamaran.

Get to know everything that you can about sailing a catamaran and ensure that you are always safe when sailing on one.

You may want to ensure you have your safety knowledge up to standard when going on your next trip. Our article on fire safety is very important in the unfortunate event of a boat fire.

Safe sailing everybody!

Tony Nderi

Tony is a creative writer and has contributed many articles to the DeepSailing community blog.You can learn more about this site in the about  us page. We set this up for a community of sailing lovers all over the world. If you'd like to send us your photos or stories, we'd love to hear from you and share it with our community. Just use our contact form and we'll get back to you.

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