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What makes a good cruising boat?

Cruising Boat

What makes a good cruising boat?

While I have written a lot about various aspects of boating, I have not put pen to paper on what I think makes a good cruising boat. Boat cruising is one of the many ways people use their boats.  Some like to fish, others like to entertain and still more enjoy watersports. Of course you can combine as many activities as you want which is what makes boating so fun and growing so fast.  You may disagree on what makes a good cruising boat and that’s a good place to start.

As I have written in past blogs, getting the best boat for you and your family depends entirely on knowing how you want to use it. A cruising boat does not need to be large. There are a number of late model and brand new boats that have a good amount of room for a couple or small family. These boats are trailerable so you can bring them to your favorite destination.  

So what makes a good cruising boat? To successfully cruise, a boat needs the following things.  The boat needs to provide a comfortable enclosed sleeping area for those on board. An enclosed stand up head with a shower, either as a wet head or a stall and a place to cook meals including a sink, refrigeration and cooking. These are the basic necessities.  How comprehensive they are is usually a function of boat size.  Size will also impact the range and how comfortable the boat is in waves. A 24 footer for example can offer a double bed forward, a small but usable head and a neat galley. I recently did a virtual walk through of the Cutwater 24, which is a great pocket cruiser. In that video, we also discussed the 30 foot Cutwater and what is gained by adding 6 more feet in length. In addition to the room afforded by the additional size, there is more space for storage, more room around the beds. Often the head is larger and in the case of the Beneteau GT-32, comes with a separate stall shower. With additional size, the boat will carry more fuel allowing you to cruise further and refuel less often.

In our case we started with a 31 foot boat, our SeaRay 310. That boat had plenty of space for four people to sleep, a head with a wet head and a galley that allowed us to prepare decent meals. We also carried a gas grill which is highly recommended. That boat, with its twin Mercruiser gas inboards and had a  range of about 170 miles with its two hundred gallons of gas with a ten percent reserve. This size boat for some like us was our first boat but for others is a nice step up from the 24 foot size.  We bought used so our money went pretty far.  New vs used is also part of the choice.

After seven years we wanted more space so we moved up to a 42 foot boat, the Sea Ray 400 Sedan Bridge. What comes with the additional 10 feet is privacy. In the smaller size vessels, sleeping is pretty open and you have a curtain at best to separate accommodations. That is fine with a family but if your plans include friends, sleeping privacy is often desired. The 42 foot boat gave us two separate staterooms with sod doors and two separate heads with stall showers. We gained storage room for food and 350 gallons of fuel. That combined with the more efficient diesel engines, increased our range to almost 300 miles without refueling.

Another consideration in what makes a good cruising boat is the ability to carry a dinghy. Having a dinghy along can be very useful sometimes. If you anchor out or pick up a mooring, the ability to get back and forth to shore without calling the launch is very convenient. For a smaller twenty four foot boat a dinghy is less practical.This size boat can often anchor close to shore and if outboard powered, draw very little water with the engine lifted up. Starting at about thirty feet, a dinghy can be carried on the transom.There are a number of ways to carry a dinghy which have been covered in previous posts. One thing to point out is that outboard powered cruising boats usually cannot carry a dinghy. Cutwater makes a rig to lift the dinghy up and over the motors but in most cases, a dinghy just won’t fit. We carry a 8’ 2” dinghy now and are moving to a 9’ 8” dinghy this season on arm davits.

This brings us to the choice of power for a cruising boat. Generally, a cruising boat should favor efficiency over outright speed. The ability to travel far without breaking the bank with fuel cost is a positive attribute. A point often unaware is that no matter how much power you have and how fast on paper your boat can go, the ocean is unforgiving when it comes to how boats interact with a seaway at speed. While some boats perform better than others, cruising through 3-5 foot waves at 20 knots is not uncomfortable. Double that speed or more and the ride can be a bone jarring white knuckle affair for boat and passengers alike.  Rember, the idea is to go cruising, not to get there as fast as you can. Your car can outrun any boat you can imagine, that’s not the point of cruising.  

New boats today in this country are predominantly outboard powered. Interestingly enough, overseas, diesel power is more common in boats as small as 26 feet in the form of sterndrives. The fuel efficiency of diesel engines is a significant advantage. That’s not to say that outboards are inefficient. Today’s outboards are marvels of technology and are clean, quiet and can be efficient depending on the horsepower. A single engine twenty four foot boat with a 250hp outboard will achieve better than 1.5 miles per gallon while offering good speed to get you to your destination. Twin outboards on larger boats offer the same type of efficiency on boats up to 36 feet. For a cruising application, triple, quad and quint outboard motor setups, while offering high speed will consume fuel at a rate that will make them poor cruising choices. When you start approaching forty feet in length, diesel should be your go to power. 

It’s also worth pointing out that along with not being able to carry a dinghy, outboard powered boats are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to easy access from astern. Many cruising destinations require boats to dock, stern to the wharf. In that situation where the dock is fixed and not floating, exiting past a pair of large outboards via a ladder can be quite trying. I have seen people try to get from the dock to their boat stepping on the outboards and it often does not end well.  

Buying a boat for cruising opens so many destinations up for fun with family and friends. By taking into consideration the issues we have raised will help you buy the right boat for you.

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