Cruising catamarans have been around for decades, but early models—often plywood and fiberglass vessels built by their owners from plans and kits, kept the boats on the fringes of mainstream sailing. That all changed, though, as big roomy cats were discovered by sailors who went off to charter in the Caribbean, where the multihulls proved their worth as comfortable liveaboard and party boats.
Today’s bluewater catamarans roam the globe, carrying families to exotic destinations across the Pacific and beyond. Just as with their monohull cousins, there is no best catamaran. Instead there is a wide variety of designs, ranging from small catamarans that offer the ease of maintenance a couple might enjoy to performance catamarans capable of easily knocking off 250-mile days. Today, the best catamaran brands offer a range of size models and layouts that can be optimized for an owner sailing with family and friends, or for the charter market, where there’s a demand for four, five and even six cabins worth of accommodations.
The most prolific catamaran manufacturers are in France and South Africa where yards include both large-run production builders and niche companies building fewer than 10 boats a year.
The best cruising catamarans offer good load-carrying ability and respectable performance. As with any sailboat, a modern catamaran’s design is a result of compromises. Daggerboards or keels? Galley up or galley down? Spacious owner’s cabin or extra bunks? There are lots of options to choose from—and that’s what makes looking at these sailboats fun!
Here, then is an eclectic A to Z list of some of the best catamarans that have helped shaped the evolution of how we live and sail on two hulls.
Now built in Argentina as a full-fledged, bluewater catamaran and cruiser that can be safely operated by a shorthanded couple or family crew, the Antares 44i features a fully covered cockpit with a quartet of big, standard solar panels recessed within the hardtop, one example of a yacht capable of long-range passagemaking.
Almost 30 years ago, yacht designer Chris White revolutionized catamaran design with the first in his series of Atlantic cats, the primary feature of which was the innovative mid-ship sailing cockpit forward of the main cabin. The smallest in the Atlantic line, the 42 remains White’s most popular design ever.
Fountaine-Pajot has built so many outstanding cruising catamarans that it’s difficult to narrow down any single boat, but we’ve always been fans of the good-looking, well-thought-out Bahia 46. At 46 feet, the boat is large enough for offshore forays and has plenty of volume; with its simple but powerful sail plan, it’s also an excellent performer.
Beginning around 1996, the French builder Catana was one of the first companies to manufacture fully found cruising cats for private ownership, and this Christophe Barreau design, which enjoyed a nearly 10-year production run from 1997-2006, was emblematic of this first generation of safe, fun, long-legged offshore voyagers.
Click here to see more cats from Catana.
When it comes to speed, light boats are fast ones. And if you wish to save weight, that means exotic modern materials like carbon. Catana now infuses the laminates of their entire production line with carbon fiber, and for this list, we’ve chosen the Catana 50 Carbon, one of the zippiest cats now crossing oceans.
Click here to read about a couple’s charter aboard a Catana 50.
Pioneering catamaran sailor, builder and designer Tony Smith launched the first of his 33-foot Gemini 105M’s (10.5 meters = 33′) in 1993, and soon after found a ready and willing stream of sailors enamored of the boat’s compact size, affordable price tag, and such innovations as the nifty lifting rudder and transom steps.
Click here to read about the Gemini Legacy 35.
Built between 2000-2005, the Gunboat 62 firmly established the Gunboat brand: go-anywhere cats that applied race-boat technology to a world-cruising platform. Hull no. 1, Tribe, was built for company founder Peter Johnstone, who then spent a year-and-a-half cruising with his family, smiling all the way.
French builder Henri Wauquiez is best known for his long career building monohulls, but the Kronos 45 cat, which he launched in 1992, was ahead of her time. Classic lines, the aft “targa bar” over the cockpit, the louvered coach roof windows, even the distinctive stripes on her hull: the Kronos 45 remains timeless.
No roundup of cruising cats would be complete without several Lagoon entries, and the best of that impressive bunch might well be the Lagoon 380. Originally launched in 1999, and revered for its combination of quality, volume and performance, with over 740 boats built the 380 is still going strong.
Launched five years after the breakthrough 380, the Lagoon 440 was an evolutionary design that featured a raised flybridge helm station, a unique “gullwing” configuration below the bridge deck, expanded windows in the hull and much more. With 400 boats built in a 6-year production run, the 440 was an unqualified success.
How big can a production cat, still operable by a short-handed crew, really be? The builders at Lagoon discovered that 62-feet hit a sweet spot in the marketplace, and have sold over 70 boats since its introduction in 2010. The centerpiece of this design is the sensational steering station atop the flybridge, with expansive views of the sea and sky.
Click here to see more cats from Lagoon.
With an unmatched pedigree – designed by premier multihull naval architects Gino Morelli and Pete Melvin, built by the prestigious Robertson & Caine boatyard in South Africa, and commissioned by chartering giant The Moorings – the Leopard 40 was, perhaps unsurprisingly, Cruising World’s Import Boat of the Year in 2005.
Based on the famous French racing cat Charente-Maritime, the Louisiane 37, designed by Joubert/Nivelt and launched by builder Fountaine-Pajot in 1983, was a light, fast liveaboard cruiser with full accommodations that represented a radical departure from the hefty British cats that preceded it.
Maine Cat 30
One of the more versatile and clever cats ever created, the central feature of the cool Maine Cat 30 is the open bridge deck/living room sandwiched between the hulls and canopied by a rigid, permanent hard top (the comfortable accommodations/ staterooms are stationed in the hulls). Ideal for a winter in the Bahamas but with the ability to sail offshore, it’s a boat for all seasons and reasons.
Built in Florida and beloved by the owners of the over 120 boats built during the company’s existence from 1993 to 2009, the Manta Catamarans range included 38-, 40- and 44-foot cats. For this exercise, however, we’re heralding the original Manta 42, which won the Best Value Overall prize in CW’s 2001 Boat of the Year contest.
Moorings 4800/Leopard 48
Another Leopard/Moorings collaboration built by the wizards at Robertson & Caine (though this boat was designed by fellow South African Alex Simonis), the Leopard 48 was another CW Boat of the Year winner with all the contemporary bells and whistles: forward cockpit, flybridge helm station and solid hardtop dodger, just to name a few.
The Best Multihull Under 45 Feet: So said the CW judging panel in the 2013 Boat of the Year competition, regarding the Nautitech 441. But what makes this versatile platform so intriguing are the different helm set-ups. The 441 employs a single wheel, to starboard, ideal for solo sailors, while the 442 has a pair of helm stations aft.
Click here to see more Nautitech Catamarans.
A state-of-the-art all-oceans cat that exemplifies how far multihull design has come, the 59-foot Outremer 5X was a winner on both sides of the Atlantic, taking top honors in the European Boat of the Year competition in 2013, and following up as the Best Full-Size Multihull in CW’s contest a year later.
Click here to see more cats from Outremer.
St. Francis 50
The flagship of the proud St. Francis line – built in South Africa since 1990 to designs by local legends Lavranos Marine Design – the St. Francis 50 is another “luxury cat” that shares much in common with an earlier 48-foot sister-ship, but packs even more payload into its roomier lines.
Click here to read more about the St. Francis 50
Founded by Aussie surfer and sailor Richard Ward in 1982, the 33-foot Seawind 1000 is easily the most popular cruising cat ever built in Australia (the company has since moved its manufacturing and management operations to Vietnam). Roomy and airy, these cats dot the coastline of eastern Oz.
If the Seawind 1000 was a minimalist approach to cruising cats, the 38-foot Seawind 1160 is the flip side of the coin, a full-fledged long-range voyager. Among the reasons it was named CW’s Most Innovative boat for 2007 is the unique “tri-folding” door that stashes overhead to open up the saloon and cockpit into a spacious living area.
Click here to read more about the Seawind 1160.
Every sailboat is a compromise, and in the case of the Sunsail 384 (also sold privately as the Leopard 38) that’s a good thing, because designers Morrelli & Melvin and builder Robertson and Caine got the balance just right with this relatively small catamaran. With four cabins, the 384 can carry the same size bareboat charter crowd as her larger siblings, but does so with a decided bounce in her step. Named CW’s Import Boat of the Year in 2010, you can gauge the success of the design by the grins on the crew as they barrel down Sir Francis Drake channel in the British Virgin Islands.
The French design office of Berret Racoupeau drafted the lines of Fountaine-Pajot’s new flagship, introduced in 2013, a magnificent world-girdling voyaging catamaran. Like other giant cats launched in recent years, the boat features a sensational upper deck with all sail controls, helm and lounging stations.
Click here to see more images of the Victoria 67.
No list of influential multihulls would be complete without the work of James Wharram, and while Tangaroa wasn’t a production cat by any means, it showcases the British designer’s respect for ancient Polynesian craft. Wharram sailed this 23-foot-6-inch “double-hulled canoe” across the Atlantic in the 1950s, and sold countless plans for similar boats for decades afterwards.