6 Main Types of Cruiser Boats

6 Main Types of Cruiser Boats
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There are many types of cruisers to choose from if buying, or to admire and study the design. The term “cruiser” covers a wide range of boats, from the smallest trailer-sailers and production cruisers, to the dedicated long distance cruisers that can take the crew across oceans.

With the development of large, production-line boat-builders, many yachts today look very similar. A typical modern cruiser has a Bermudan rig and a fin keel, usually with a freestanding rudder (called a spade rudder) or a rudder that is mounted on a skeg. This configuration originated with racing yachts, and it is highly efficient, especially upwind. For cruising, however, it is not necessary to stick with this conventional approach. Many other rig and keel configurations are available.

Nothing is guaranteed to excite passions as much as a discussion among cruising sailors of the relative merits of the various design types. Proponents of traditional design maintain that only a long keel (opposite) is a suitable choice for an offshore cruiser, and some argue that this should be combined with a gaff rig for best results. The fact is that traditional cruising yachts were developed to suit the materials their builders had available. Before you can realistically assess the merits or otherwise of different types of cruising boat, it is necessary to get as much cruising experience as possible, preferably in a wide range of boat types.

Types of cruiser boats:

Traditional Cruisers

The term “traditional cruiser” usually means that the yacht is of a heavy displacement type. It could be gaff or Bermudan rigged, and will have a long keel. Compared to a similar sized ketch, a yawl’s mizzen mast is set further aft and its mizzen sail is smaller. An older boat may be wooden, and the more recent types are built out of fiberglass or steel. Older designs are typically narrower, and often deeper, than modern cruisers.

The yawl was originally developed as a rig for commercial fishing boats, and the rig was particularly popular with single-handed sailors. This was largely due to the remarkable ability of a yawl to be trimmed to follow a compass course accurately despite minor wind shifts. Modern self-steering and navigation aids have made this less important, and the yawl has generally fallen out of favor.

Traditional Yawl iamge
Traditional Yawl

Production Cruisers

Production cruisers have Bermudan-sloop rigs and fin keels, often with skeg-hung rudders.

Most modern production cruisers are built of fiberglass and are designed with moderate displacements. Lighter designs with a long waterline and short overhangs are popular. A few are designed for shallow-water sailing and are fitted with bilge keels or centerboards.

Bavaria Cruiser 40-FT (12-M) image
Bavaria Cruiser 40-FT (12-M)


A modern cruiser-racer combines fast, efficient cruising with good maneuverability and speed suitable for racing. These designs are much lighter than a pure cruising yacht. They have efficient Bermudan sloop rigs, and are likely to have shorter overhangs, larger rigs, and more efficient keels and rudders than cruisers.

Cruiser-racer image

Long-Distance Cruisers

For sailors looking for a long-distance, live-aboard cruiser, there is limited choice, as most production yachts are not designed or built for this role. Steel, gaff-rigged Wylo 11 epitomizes an ideal, simple, and reliable go-anywhere voyaging yacht. It provides generous accommodation and has larger hatches than most cruisers of its size.

Steel Wylo yacht image
Steel Wylo yacht


Trailer-sailers offer the advantage of being small enough to be moved on the road on a dedicated road trailer. This opens up new cruising areas without the need to sail the boat on long passages to get there.

Most trailer-sailers have a lifting centerboard or daggerboard, usually weighted for stability, to allow them to fit on the trailer. Due to the limitations of trailer capacity, towing vehicle size and weight, as well as highway width limitations, most trailer sailboats are limited in size to about 22 to 26 ft (6.71 to 7.92 m) in length. One of the other advantages of trailer sailers is that they can be kept in garages and thus save mooring fees.

Trailer-sailer image


Most cruising multihulls are catamarans rather than the trimaran configuration, which is more popular for racing. Multihulls offer speed (provided they are kept light), the ability to dry out easily, and upright sailing. Catamarans also have a lot of space on deck and in the accommodation down below.

Frequently referred to by their shorter nickname of “cats,” they consist of two hulls connected by two beams and a trampoline to allow the crew to move from side to side. Catamarans come in a variety of sizes and shapes to suit all ages, sizes, and skill levels. There are many types of catamaran on the market, and three main types are: Hobie, Dart 16 and Nacra 17.

The Hobie range of catamarans is intended for fast, fun sailing, but there are also good racing fleets in many parts of the world. Hobies have asymmetric hulls without centerboards or daggerboards.

The Dart 16 and its larger brother the Dart 18 are excellent boats for fast sailing and competitive racing, and are extremely popular with catamaran sailors. The Dart uses symmetrical hulls with skegs.

The Nacra 17 is the Olympic catamaran class and is a challenging, high-performance boat. It has Z-foil daggerboards, which resist leeway and allow the boat to achieve full foiling performance.

Catamaran image

If you plan on buying a cruisier, the attributes you require in a cruising yacht will depend on both your personal preferences and the type of cruising you intend to do. If you expect to do mainly weekend cruising with the occasional week or two-week cruising vacation, you will be well served by many production cruisers that are optimized for day sailing with nights spent in a marina berth, with the ability to undertake the occasional offshore passage. If, however, your plans include some serious offshore cruising, with passages lasting a number of days, or perhaps an ocean crossing, you will have to look for different attributes.

One debate that will never end regards the relative merits of monohull and multihull configurations for a cruising yacht. The debate will rage forever, but it is worth trying both types, perhaps on chartered vacation sails, to make up your mind. Almost as much as the multihull debate, the choice of rig also excites the passions of longdistance cruisers. Although the Bermudan sloop rig is almost universal on production cruisers, this has as much to do with ease of building and production economics as the particular merits of the rig for long-distance cruising. Again, it is worth trying to get some experience sailing with different rigs if possible.

traditional yawl

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