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Selecting The Right Boat

Matching The Trawler To The Dream

As the trawler community has evolved and expanded over the past decade, the choices in boats have exploded beyond traditional boundaries. As a result, many prospective buyers struggle with the buying decision, finding it difficult to select the right boat. We've spent countless hours at boat shows and events helping sort out this process for the pleasure boat consumer, as so many want some direction and assistance in matching their boat to their dream. To make matters worse, the word "trawler" has long since been abandoned as the proper name for today's cruising powerboats. The distinction of a real trawler as it relates to today's boat choices is difficult at best and only seems to propagate the confusion. So let's begin by looking at the four basic hull shapes that embody the vessels in today's trawler community.

Hull Shapes

Planing hulls are relatively new to our cruising fleet, yet they offer benefits that make them ideal choices for some people. These hulls ride on top of the water beyond hull speed, offering high speed and performance that is relatively efficient. The planing hull is a great choice for those with limited time for cruising. In fact, many dealers find new buyers are able to make extended cruises in short order, getting to the cruising grounds quickly and then slowing down to smell the roses. These people would otherwise not have the time to cruise at all, so this makes lots of sense. The downside of this hull shape is that fuel consumption is considerable, and the boats offer limited range. The planing hull is also not very comfortable or easily handled in rough weather; the boat must be slowed down and often becomes squirrelly as a result. And the somewhat limited storage and tank capacities tend to keep things simple. The next hull shape to consider is the semi–displacement hull form. The semi–displacement hull shape has flat sections aft and a bow that lifts for higher speed, allowing operation over a wide range of performance. This hull is efficient at displacement speeds, yet it offers a higher speed potential if desired. The semi–displacement hull is a good compromise of hull features, offering good storage and sufficient tankage for extended cruising and a proven record as a liveaboard cruiser. The disadvantages of the semi–displacement hull are that it is not as stable in rough seas as a true displacement boat, and handling can also be difficult in following seas (the generally flat stern is a big target for waves coming from astern). And any boat of this type is not very fuel efficient when it is run beyond displacement speeds. The vast majority of trawlers and cruising motorboats out there are semi–displacement boats, and their popularity is well justified. The full displacement hull shape travels through the water and is by far the most traditionally seaworthy shape for a cruising powerboat. It is most comfortable at sea and at anchor, has good fuel economy, and goes the distance with long range. Its superior storage and fuel and water tankage allows for great living aboard and extended cruising, especially when there is no schedule to follow. Its disadvantages are that it is the slowest hull shape, often along the order of 7—8 knots. The seaworthy shape is prone to rolling in a seaway, so some form of stabilization is usually fitted for crew comfort. The full displacement hull also has the deepest draft, although most builders try to keep this from being excessive to allow cruising in paradise grounds lacking deep water. The power catamaran is the latest hull shape to come into our market, and it's unusual enough to warrant its own category. Displacement cats have a wide performance envelope, often using a small diesel engine in each hull to reach respectable cruising speed with good fuel economy. Power cats have generally shallow draft and offer form stability due to the wide footprint of widely spaced hulls. However, unlike their sailing counterparts, there is no sail rig to contend with and they are not as beamy, so you don't face the dockage issues that you do with a sailing cat. The downside of a catamaran is its inability to carry much weight, as all aspects of its performance suffer when the boat is loaded too heavily. These craft work best when they are kept light, and only the larger power cats can handle the full–time liveaboard accommodations and storage that many couples require.

Key Questions

But there is much more to consider when looking for that ideal boat, and following are some questions that help define the parameters of the process. Answering the questions honestly and thoughtfully will lead to success in this effort, helping to develop specifications that define the right boat for you. The first question: How many people will be aboard on your cruise? If you are simply a couple, with only occasional guests, your accommodations needs will be quite different from those of a family with several children, or couples traveling regularly with guests, each needing a separate stateroom. Depending on where you come out on this question, the solution may be as simple as a boat with a single, comfortable stateroom, rather than the floating virtual hotel that many feel is necessary. (In fact, many couples initially think they will be cruising with guests, but later find they rarely have them aboard. They make friends who have their own boats, and ultimately decide they don't need such a large boat.) The next question is a difficult one for many would-be passagemakers: Where do you really intend to go cruising? Exploring the Bahamas and the U.S. East Coast is a hugely different deal than an extended Caribbean exploration of South America, and the Great Circle Route (the circumnavigation of the U.S. East Coast) has a set of requirements dissimilar to those required for bluewater travel oceans away. Too many people confuse the dream with what is a realistic assessment of their plans. It might be nice to know that your boat can go to Tahiti, but if you never get out of sight of land, perhaps that boat would not be the best choice for coastal and inland cruising. The third question is: How long do you plan to be away? If you envision seasonal, vacation cruises, you'll be looking for a different cruising capability than a couple planning full–time retirement and living aboard for years into the future. Again, this is a question where you must realistically assess your situation, including that of your spouse. What is your real budget? The answer to that question is critical, as too many people put off cruising because they've talked themselves into a boat that is overly capable for the job at hand, and which they simply cannot afford. There are many boats out there to fit almost any budget, so one can always find a suitable boat and go cruising now, rather than put it off indefinitely. As obvious as this seems, I see it all the time, and it is a real stumbling block for many couples. The answers to these four questions will help bring you closer to developing some ideas of what you need in a boat, and give you enough perspective to go to a boat show and see what is available. So, with that in mind, let's look more closely at some other details that may be helpful. All finish–and–appointment issues aside, the basic layout of one boat will work better for some than others. The traditional separation of cabins, for example, where the aft cabin puts owners at the opposite end of the boat from those in a forward stateroom in the bow, works to maintain some level of privacy. But for a couple who rarely have guests, it means going up and down steps to move around the boat. As a result, many find the "Europa" style layout, where the accommodations are on one level, works well when it is just the two of you. Guest staterooms are right next to owner cabins, and privacy is but an illusion on this type of boat. But if guests are not aboard, such a layout is superb, and the guest cabin is very often turned into the ship's office, complete with computer, printer, and file storage. (Living on a boat is very different once you shove off, and some layout details that may not be obvious at the dock can drive you nuts once your cruise begins. For that reason, chartering a similar style boat is often an excellent way to see how it works for you.) Another key issue for many people is deciding what kind of style you embrace. Do you wait for perfect weather, or do you go no matter what? Will you anchor out most of the time or stay at a marina? Do you tend to move around or stay in one place during a cruise? Knowing your style will help refine your comfort levels and dictate what kind of boat might work best. Subtle design elements will support one style over another, so it helps to know your style before discussing a particular boat with a dealer. The long–debated steel trawler versus composite catamaran comes to mind here. Both can work, but the comparison is akin to a football player versus a ballet dancer, or a hockey player versus a fencing master. Can you see the difference?

Details, Details

Along with layout choices, another area that is almost more crucial for happy cruising than the boat itself is a careful review of the boat's systems and their accessibility. I always recommend reviewing major systems for single points of failure—points where, if they fail, the system no longer works. A surveyor can often assist with this evaluation, but only if he or she is charged with this specific task. Locating and resolving single points of failure in the fuel system, electrical system, and all major components of any boat are keys to owning a vessel that remains operational. Developing system redundancy in critical systems, having the spares aboard to make repairs, having the knowledge and tools to repair equipment, and regularly performing all scheduled maintenance are all important to successful cruising. Take the time to make this happen, and I guarantee you will have a better time out on the water. Other points to consider include making sure there are sufficient handholds inside and out, usable by all members of the crew. Are there sturdy side-deck lifelines or handrails? Look for steps instead of ladders, which are more dog/child friendly and ease the burden of carrying groceries, dive gear, and provisions aboard. Are there boarding gates and doors that handle varying dock and tidal situations? You must have the ability to get on and off the boat without outside assistance, or you are looking at the wrong boat. In terms of convenience, how can you store, launch, and retrieve the dinghy? Is there storage for deck gear, fenders, and lines? Does the boat offer dedicated dining space, or will you be forced into saloon seating with plates balanced on knees? Does the helm station have proper visibility; is there room for necessary electronics, and seating for crew near the helm while under way? Are there sufficient opening ports for ventilation in different conditions? Are there adequate attachment points for fenders along the side decks? (Sounds like a silly question, I know, but you will be surprised how often there are not.) Does the boat have a sturdy rubrail? If not, keep looking, as it is not a serious cruising boat. Is the engine room space accessible, with enough physical space for you to do routine checks and maintenance without taking the boat apart? Are pumps, relays, and switches accessible? The same goes for the main engine, the generator, and the fuel system.

Who Moved My Cheese?

The last important point to hold close to your heart is the acknowledgement that this is, after all, a boat. And, sometimes, you'll have to redefine the dream that led you to this particular craft. Ageing parents, a changing portfolio and world economy, and family or medical issues all impact the initial plan. And it is OK to redefine the dream when this happens. It is just as OK to change the boat if it no longer fits your plan. I see this all the time, and the most successful cruisers somehow maintain a balance of all of life's elements while enjoying the pleasure of boating. But the most important thing I offer is that you can go cruising on any boat. Just think it through, find a boat that fits your needs, and go cruising. The worst thing you can do is rob yourself of the joys of cruising while dreaming of an adventure never to happen, on a boat that is out of reach. Just do it!