How to sail a catamaran? Our catamaran sailing tips

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Curious to understand and know more about how to sail a catamaran?

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In the next ten minutes you will learn everything you need to know about:

  • sailing catamarans,
  • when and why to choose a catamaran charter for sailing and
  • what kind of experience can you expect when sailing with a catamaran.

Let's start from the beginning (If you missed our article about sailing fundamentals, we suggest you read first the post How to sail for beginners).


What is a catamaran? (History of catamarans)

In the second half of the 20th century catamarans were developed for sports and recreational purposes. Catamarans design is based on a raft with two logs and bridged by planks that was used in the Indonesian archipelago early that time.

First catamarans were up to 70 feet long, originally paddled by many men, used for visiting places, military needs in wars and exploration.
Longer voyages are possible after the sails have been added.

Modern catamarans, as we know them today, are faster, more spacious, offer more comfort, and are better ventilated than the first ones. The whole living area is above the water. To summarize, modern catamarans look a lot like a floating villa that offers advanced sailing performances.

Catamaran sailing nin waters


Sailing catamarans basics

A catamaran is basically a sailboat with two hulls, two engines and (mostly) two sails (mainsail and genoa). These two hulls are connected by a bridge deck with a large saloon and cockpit on it.

Bedrooms are located in the hulls, each bedroom has its own private restroom.

Cockpit and saloon are usually connected with sliding doors, when opened we get large space used for the saloon & galley, and for navigating.

Larger catamarans have one extra level, known as the flybridge. Flybridge is usually equipped with all needed navigation instruments, steering wheel and extra sun platform.

Most of the people are usually familiar with small catamarans "Hobie cat": a catamaran made for fun sailing and hobbies on calmer waters; on the beaches and lakes. But there are many other models, much bigger and more luxurious.

A cruising catamaran is a boat based on the same principle but with larger hulls equipped with cabins and restrooms. On the bridge, between large hulls is a closed structure, used for a galley, salon and living area.

Catamarans are much more spacious and more stable than a sailing boat. Because of their two hulls they do not heel so much while sailing, movement around the boat is much easier, that is why people often consider catamarans easier to sail than monohulls. This is the main reason why are catamaran charters becoming a better option than sailboat rentals for many.

Two engines, one in each hull, make maneuvering with a catamarana piece of cake”.

For people looking for sailing or living on the water with maximum comfort, or for maximum relaxation while chartering, a catamaran is probably the best choice.

For a full and detailed comparison of multihull and sailing boat read our article monohull vs catamaran.


Advantages of sailing with catamarans

Catamarans are very safe, comfortable and ideal for longer trips.

The catamaran offers large living space and a lot of privacy for everybody onboard, which makes the time spent on the catamaran very relaxing.

As already mentioned, thanks to their two engines and two rudders catamarans are easy to maneuver in the harbors and bays.

They are very stable in a bay. With a little bit of wave action, you can see the masts of the keel sailboats going back and forth. A catamaran remains stable.

They also do not tilt while sailing, making it very comfortable to stay, cook, read, sleep, etc.

Enjoying comfortable sailing without heeling, with a lot of privacy is only attainable while sailing with catamarans. Living and sleeping spaces are well separated, from the cockpit and saloon you have an excellent panoramic view. For mentioned reasons catamarans are also the best choice when you want to yacht charter with skipper while still having maximum privacy. On the other hand, if you are interested in crewed yacht charter, we are sorry to inform you, that we offer this option only for specific motor yachts at the moment.

In bad weather, you can still sit inside the salon, above the water, with lots of light and a 360-degree view all around. On top of that, you can also steer from the inside in bad weather.

Due to the width of the catamaran, you can have a large dinghy with a powerful engine, which can be hoisted in a very simple way.

Saloon layout on a catamaran, which is placed above the water, is hard to beat when staying on the anchor in a calm bay.

Due to its limited / short draft, you can anchor a catamarans in almost any bay since their low drafts make it possible to get closer to shore than with a monohull.

 If you have not read yet check out also our article about most common sailing knots (with pictures).


More advantages and benefits of sailing with a catamaran:

  • Since no heeling sailing a catamaran comes with less seasickness

  • The higher helm station on a flybridge,
  • More storage space,
  • Bridge deck clearance...


Sailing and maneuvering a catamaran

In essence, to sail with a catamaran we need the same sailing skills as any sailing boat. But you will find that maneuvering a catamaran is much easier.Catamaran can sail close to the wind as an average keel sailing yacht.

The disadvantage (only while sailing upwind) is that the drift is much bigger due to the lack of a deep keel.

With half and strong winds, a catamaran is faster (and certainly more comfortable).

The helmsman on the catamaran can do all sailing maneuvers single-handedly since all necessary lines are redirected to the helm, in case he needs more help he can rely on the autopilot for support.

Monohulls are a bit harder to sail since they heel much more than catamarans, and they offer less space and comfort in the cockpit. This is why sailing on a heeling boat is more challenging.

Catamarans however, do not heel. Because of their extra stability and room, you can easily move around the boat. That is why catamaran boats are considered “easier” to sail.

The main difference with a monohull is that a catamaran has TWO hulls, with two engines and two rudders. The engines and rudders on a catamaran are far apart from each other, which makes maneuvering very easy (especially in narrow spaces like inside the marina) - much easier than maneuvering a single-engine monohull.


Additional tips for maneuvering a catamaran:

  • If you want to go forward in a straight line, you need to put both engines forward and center the steering wheel.
  • To go back in a straight line - you need to switch both engines to the reverse and leave the steering wheel in the center.
  • When you need to steer to the starboard - the port engine has to be in the forward position, starboard engine in the back position and wheel centered or to starboard.
  • When you want to steer to the port - the starboard engine has to be in the forward position, the port engine has to be in the back position and steering wheel centered or to port.

Catamaran sailing


Catamaran safety

Because a catamaran has two independent hulls, the chance of sinking completely is very small. If there is damage or a leak to one hull, the other hull will float.

A catamaran can not lose a keel either and will not capsize easily. But if it capsizes, it will not get right. A capsized catamaran will also float.

Additional benefit of catamarans is that many important navigation systems relevant for onboard safety are duplicated.

With a broken engine, a rope or a net in the propeller, you can still sail and steer with the second engine. If one rudder is defective, you can steer with the other rudder and you can still steer with the engines.

Because a catamaran does not tilt while sailing, there is also much less risk of falling. The gangways are very wide, without obstacles, making it very safe to walk around the boat.


Disadvantages of catamaran

If you compare a catamaran with a cabin sailing yacht with the same available space, a catamaran is more expensive to purchase.

Moorings will be more expensive in the marinas because they take the place of two boats. This is why it is always good to book catamaran on early booking or last minute charter discounts.

In certain areas, it can also be more difficult to find a berth, because double space must be available. You can compensate for those costs by anchoring a bit more.

A keel sailing yacht is slim, sporty, sleek, sexy and that cannot be always said for a catamaran, but modern catamarans look great too.

Detailed cost to charter a catamaran yacht.


Additional tips for sailing catamarans

Catamarans have large hull areas and very low draft, that is the reason why while exposed to wind a sailing catamaran can drift off easily.

Same thing while anchoring, if you have wind blowing from the side, anchoring maneuver should be performed as swiftly as possible.

While maneuvering in narrow spaces, the best is to use the power of the engines only, rather than the steering wheel. When maneuvering it’s best to work only with the throttle control, while doing that you need to turn (and keep) the steering wheel to the center (twelve o’clock).

When making the boat a turn you need to approach fast, letting the jib luff (head to wind) so the wind can push the bow around.

Maneuvering while sailing on a monohull (with deep keel) is more challenging. In strong winds the boat will heel, which will make most tasks more difficult to manage.

Catamaran anchoring secrets:

  • Before you start anchoring, make sure that your boat has completely stopped. Catamarans need much more time to slow down than a monohull because a catamaran has shorter keel and less resistance to the water than a monohull.
  • Always keep the boat straight into the wind by using the engines, never let the boat go sideways.
  • When you feel you have set the anchor, back the boat straight with both engines.
  • Keep the boat into the wind as you're setting the snubber with the bridle that all catamarans are equipped with.
  • If you are using a mooring ball, you need to set a bridle. Never clear the ball line only on one hull.


Tips to maximize your performance while sailing a catamaran

When you charter a catamaran, don't always expect high multihull`s speed. Catamarans are underpowered compared to high-performance sailing boats. But you will still get a satisfying performance out of even the most basic catamaran when applying some simple sail-trim techniques.

Some of these are unique to catamarans while others are similar to the ones used with monohulls.

Catamarans can`t sail upwind
as well as monohulls, if the sea is choppy while you are sailing on a smaller catamaran, like a 38ft. the yawing will be difficult. This is why most of the catamarans simply motoring upwind. For upwind sailing you need to bear off a couple of degrees to alleviate the movement.

Catamarans are all about going off the wind. The efficient point of sail is between 120% and 150%. In this way you should sail at about 50% of the true wind speed. Needless to say, on these occasions, you will be faster than many monohulls!

Jibing is the same as for monohull... but tacking is different and can be frustrating.


How to efficiently tack on a catamaran:

  • Get enough boat speed before tacking, without it, you will simply not be able not tack.
  • Bring the main sail in close - tack the boat smoothly through the wind but decisively, without losing too much speed.
  • In order to help the bows to turn better through the wind, you can let the jib get backwinded before releasing it to the other tack.
  • When you get the bows on the other side of the wind, bear off a little more than necessary, until you get your full original speed back.
  • Get back on course, once you get your original speed back.

Sailing a catamaran in heavy weather

Catamarans are exceptionally safe offshore; the modern catamaran has plenty of buoyancy and exceptional roll inertia. That is why catamarans are almost impossible to capsize.

Cruising catamarans can be split into two categories:

  1. Charter / cruising catamarans: Built for the charter market, featured with shallow-draft and integrated fixed keels, small rudders, high flybridges, masts located forward onboard, short "cut" bows and heavier displacements. Even in ideal flat-water conditions, these boats will struggle with windward sailing, they usually sail close-hauled at 55-60 degree true wind angles (TWA).
  2. High-performance cruising catamarans: have efficient daggerboards or centerboards, deeper rudders and less displacement. Without problems sail windward at a 45-50 degree TWA in all conditions. To remain safe in all sailing conditions special attention has to be given to sail selection. For safe sailing you should focus on higher speeds, lower loads and balance.

Catamaran sailing


Final words

To summarize, whether you decide to sail a monohull or a catamaran, on both occasions you will enjoy sailing. Whether it’s on an ocean passage or a charter in the Mediterranean, it is important to have a good crew for the occasion, that is fun and enjoyable company on board.

You will easily get used to a difference in sailing style. Just get used to the fact that your drink isn’t going to spill, and your things won't be flying around, while you are sailing on a catamaran.

Some of you love the motion of a sailboat. Catamarans offer totally different kinds of motions. They can be faster with more stability and less seasickness on board. This is why guests with the whole family, kids or older persons on board, who may not be quite steady on their feet, prefer to rent a catamaran. To get most out of your sailing vacation with the youngest read also our tips on sailing with kids or baby.

Same goes for things in your possession on board. Since catamarans are more stable, less things will be falling on the floor or flying around. Catamarans remain relatively steady even in the rolliest anchorage.

Stability at the anchorage will also secure a better night’s sleep, meaning the whole crew will be rested and less cranky the morning after.


Main reasons our catamaran charter guests love and choose catamarans for their sailing vacation:

  • Some clients choose a catamaran because they want to have a luxurious and spacious boat.
  • Other clients want a boat which is not too big but can accommodate many people.
  • Sometimes two families want to spend a vacation together but still want to have their privacy in bedrooms and restrooms.
  • Some just want to spend a vacation at sea but on a boat that is more stable on the water without too much tilting.
  • While others clients will choose a catamaran charter because it has two engines and simply use it as a motoryacht charter without the use of sails at all.

When choosing the right boat for your next sailing holiday it is important to choose in accordance with the area where you want to sail and the experience you want while on board.

If you have any additional questions about sailing a catamaran or which catamaran to choose for your next vacation on the sea, get in touch.


Catamaran sailing


About author

How to sail a catamaran?
Paško Klisović
Rick H. Netherlands sailed on
Rick H. | Netherlands - Charter
Rick H. | Netherlands - Charter

Last week we rented the Sportski Vuk (Grand Soleil 37R). I would like to share that we really enjoyed sailing the boat.
The boat was in a good condition and the service of the crew was great. Kike responded very promptly on our questions while sailing.

See you again!

Grand Soleil 37R, 20.-27.08.2022.
François S. France sailed on
François S. | France - Charter
François S. | France - Charter
Hi Sandra, Hi Ratko, Hi everybody from NCP Charter,

We thank you a lot for this very nice sailing trip we made with Dufour 460 - "Get Lucky" from Sibenik around the astonishing Adriatic islands.
We have been very impressed by the quality of your organisation, and will keep preciously the memory of your kindness: please continue to do so!

If any of you come to France, keep our contact: we live in "Manche", where sailing is an other story, beautifull too...

Best regards, François ("bucket man"), Marion, Bastien, Emeline
Dufour 460, 20.-27.08.2022.

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