Are Catamarans Safer than Monohulls?

Are Catamarans Safer than Monohulls? | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Jacob Collier

June 15, 2022

When we talk about boat safety, we often hear a common question: “Are catamarans safer than monohulls?” This is quite a contentious debate.

On the one hand, it is a fact that if a catamaran capsizes, it will remain upside down. Doesn’t this fact prove that catamarans are not that safe?

The truth is that catamarans are one of the safest types of boats around. Catamaran does not have ballast which makes it virtually unsinkable. Meanwhile, a monohull sailboat has a 5000-pound lead keel that is constantly trying to drag it down to the depths of the ocean.

In my opinion, the upsides of catamarans far outweigh its downsides. Catamarans come with a boatload of benefits, including better stability, more buoyancy, better maneuverability, and safer anchorage near the shore. This means less crew fatigue, improving your ability to handle the boat safely. Hence, the catamaran is often recommended for novice sailors.

I have done extensive sailing and have also lived aboard both monohulls and catamarans over the past 15 years. Both catamarans and monohulls come with their share of good and bad, but in our honest opinion, the downsides of the catamarans are minute compared to their benefits. Let us take a look at the various factors that determine the safety of riding on a monohull sailboat or catamaran.


Table of contents

Hull Design of the Catamaran and the Monohull

The catamaran is a flexible, multi-hulled boat that has two engines. These are situated about 20 feet apart which allows manufacturers to skip designing in a bow thruster. Because of its broad design, the catamaran has a shallow draft which allows it to navigate into places a monohull sailboat can’t easily go.

Monohulls, on the other hand, do not have two hulls. This allows the vessels to make faster and tighter turns and maneuver into tight spaces and narrow water inlets easily.

More Spacious Living Space

A monohull boat’s areas are typically smaller than a catamaran’s because of the vessel’s design. Typically, a 50-foot sailboat would only be able to accommodate what a 40-foot catamaran easily can. Typically, a catamaran offers a more spacious room to move in the cockpit, galley, and saloon area than a similar-sized monohull. Catamarans also have bigger cabins as well, with even the smallest vessel offering stand-up headroom. They also offer more ease when it comes to separating living spaces which means they lend more privacy to the occupants. This can be very beneficial if you are living abroad with children.

The biggest advantage of a catamaran is that most living spaces are on the same level above the waterline, while on a monohull, only the cockpit is above the waterline. This means that the catamaran offers excellent airflow and ventilation, which can be very beneficial for claustrophobic people.

People who are big on scuba diving and sunbathing will find that spreading their equipment on deck on a catamaran is easier than doing so on a monohull. Many cats are equipped with a four-cabin layout, which you can see more often with charter companies. Some catamarans come with three cabins, one of which is so big that it can be used for entertaining guests.

Better Buoyancy

Catamarans have a very buoyant design that makes it almost impossible to sink or flip over. Catamarans sit shallowly in the water because they do not have artificial ballast or large keels. Some people would expect that the vessel would roll right over due to its low ballast in high wind or wave conditions. However, when the side hulls are strung together, they balance each other perfectly. In addition, their larger width offers more balance than a monohull vessel.

In some cases, catamaran manufacturers also add more buoyant material such as foam, which can make the vessel next-to-impossible to sink.

Monohull vessels, on the other hand, can handle themselves very well offshore provided they have a low and balanced center of gravity and good displacement that allows them to stay upright in case of violent waves and winds. Most monohull vessel designers can achieve this by creating a very deep keel with heavy ballast, both in the cabin and keel. This allows them to sit quite low in the water and offers increased stability.

However, this design only works well until something throws the monohull off-balance, like water in the cabin.

Very Robust and Durable Design

Bluewater catamarans are extremely durable and made of a very rigid and sound structure. Since catamarans frequently make ocean journeys, they need to understand the tremendous rigors of the ocean. As a result, they are made of much stronger materials than monohulls and are reinforced in essential areas.

People who don’t know how catamarans are constructed believe that a boat can be split in half by a powerful wave since its two hulls are connected by a strip of fiberglass. However, that is not true. Catamarans are engineered with a very strong and thoughtful design that is designed to withstand rough conditions.

There have been cases of catamarans breaking into two but they are extremely rare and it only happens when the construction itself is flawed or amateur. In fact, catamarans split into two pieces much more rarely than monohulls sink. Moreover, the conditions of monohulls' sailboats sinking are much less hazardous than catamarans breaking.

More Flood-Proof

The very design of catamarans allows them to benefit from another safety feature. Catamarans have a compartmentalized design with a center cockpit that is located high above the waterline. This design means that the vessel needs to be swamped much more than a monohull to endanger it.

For example, if the catamaran develops a small leak in its hull, it has to be repaired quickly. However, it will not endanger the survival of the boat as much as the same leak in a monohull — since a monohull only has one hull.

Moreover, the majority of the catamaran’s usable space is located in the center, which is above the waterline and cannot be flooded from the hull immediately. This is the main reason why catamarans are so sink-resistant.

Increased Stability and Roll Safety

The best thing about catamarans is that they have almost no heeling and they do not roll at anchor. Catamarans can capsize but it is very rare that they do. When they do flip over, they cannot self-right themselves like monohulls that have a low center of gravity can do.

Having said that, catamarans cannot be knocked down as easily as monohulls. This is because the weight of the catamaran is distributed over a wider area and hence it delivers a much greater roller resistance.

Catamarans have excellent buoyancy in some of their parts and lesser buoyancy in other parts, which makes for excellent rolling resistance. This is the reason why catamarans can slice through waves rather than ride them like monohulls and risk rollovers.

If we are talking about windy conditions, it is not easy to push this vessel down. In fact, if you know how to sail properly, the wind can actually help it rise out of the water, even if they are at perpendicular angles. In addition, catamarans increase in speed as the winds rise, directing most of their energy forward.

On the other hand, monohulls have a higher risk of heeling with unexpected gusts of winds. This can be quite dangerous and uncomfortable and can lead to seasickness. Monohulls also handle winds differently than catamarans. At specific wide angles, high winds can cause a monohull to lean precariously on one of its sides. This can cause the water to flood over into the boat from the side and swamp it, which can make it heavier and in danger of sinking.

If you are a beginner or want to take your entire family out on a sail, catamarans are a safer option since they can offer you a safer and more comfortable sail. The best catamarans are ones in which you can entertain your guests without spilling a drop of coffee.

An Excellent Anchor Bridle Setup

Catamarans are equipped with a bridle that is attached to twin bows and the anchor chain, which gives it increased stability when it is at anchor. The monohull, on the other hand, has a single bow that acts as a sail and tends to sail at anchor during high wind conditions. Hence, it is liable to sail in one direction until the chain snatches it back and then sail in another direction in the same way. This can result in a risk of the anchor getting dislodged altogether.

On the other hand, the catamaran sits steady at anchor and does not veer into different directions as much. This means less danger of becoming adrift when you are offshore and asleep in the boat.

Safer Anchorage

Since catamarans have shallower drafts than monohulls, this offers them safer anchorage closer to shore. Most 40- to 50-foot catamarans can draw in waters as shallow as 3 or 4.5 feet which is something that monohull operators can only wish they can do. This is one of the best benefits of catamarans since they allow you to anchor them just a stone’s throw away from a beach without the fear of it running aground.

Because of its shallow draft, sailors can do emergency repairs easily and safely in shallow water. In fact, when the tide goes out, you can also do maintenance on its bottom conveniently. The catamaran can rest easily on its keel in the sand so it makes maintenance a breeze, even when you are in remote places.

Easy Maneuverability

Thanks to its widely spaced twin engines, catamarans are extremely navigable and it makes sailing much more precise than a monohull unless you have invested in a monohull with a bow thruster. Having two engines that are 20 feet apart means the catamaran does not need to have a bow thruster to maneuver and can do a complete 360-degree turn on its own. This is something that a monohull cannot do and has a bigger turning circle. They also have a shallow draft, which is the reason why they can be maneuvered closer to shore than a monohull.

Having said that, a monohull under sail is more maneuverable and can tack faster than catamarans. On the other hand, the maneuverability of a catamaran under engine in close quarters is much greater as compared to a monohull.

Improved Comfort and Safety

Comfort can be a huge benefit when you are out in the open sea, particularly when you are sailing with a skeleton crew. Catamarans are widely known for their stability. Because of the wider platform, the vessel does not roil with the current which can improve the overall comfort and health of the crew.

For new sailors who have not yet got their sea legs, this can be particularly advantageous since it allows them to walk steadily on a boat without tripping or heaven forbid, fall overboard because of a sudden swell. In addition, the chances of getting seasick on a catamaran are much less than on a monohull.

Catamarans have a spacious platform and offer you lovely open spaces where you can place a deck chair or a trampoline without being concerned with the rolling motion that monohulls exhibit in choppy waters. They remain stable at anchor even when waters are quite choppy.

That is not the case with monohulls. In some cases, I had to leave the dock even though I was not finished exploring the anchorage because of the rolling, uncomfortable and dangerous anchorage of my monohull. This forced me to go out into the sea and was very inconvenient since I was not done exploring my destination.

Reduced Crew Fatigue

Since a catamaran does not heel over, it offers more comfort when it is on water because the rocking motion is mostly fore and aft rather than side to side. One of the reasons why catamarans are fast becoming popular are because they track upright on all points of sail, which reduces crew fatigue and the subsequent seasickness.

Even though you may not be prone to motion sickness, you may feel seasick if you are fatigued, anxious, cold, and hungry, which all result in disorientation. This can be quite dangerous as it can lead to the crew making bad decisions during foul weather and these mistakes can be potentially fatal to the people aboard the vessel. Fortunately, the catamaran has a more stable platform, which means the crew will not become overworked and anxious struggling to control the vessel. This means a more alert and energetic crew.

In addition, other tasks like cooking and sleeping are also much easier on a catamaran than on a monohull. You can spend a lot of time on deck on a boat rather than being stuck below. It is also more comfortable to sleep on a vessel that doesn’t heel and attempt to roll you around your bunk.

All these things prevent the crew from spending extra energy simply staying upright and onboard during a long journey. The crew on a catamaran will be well-rested and be able to make good decisions with sound judgment in case an emergency arises.

More Storage Space for Safety Equipment

Since catamarans are more spacious and have more flat and open spaces than a yacht or monohull sailboat of the same size, they can store a large amount of onboard safety equipment, particularly one that is essential for your safety, including modern covered life rafts.

A monohull of the same size, on the other hand, does not have as much open space to store large pieces of equipment and most sailors will have to make do with small life rafts and a small number of emergency supplies in case they hit bad weather. A catamaran, however, can safely store all the safety equipment that is stored in much larger monohulls.

More Speed

When it comes to safety on the water, speed is an essential aspect. A catamaran has good speed and seafaring abilities. A monohull of the same length is heavier but has better displacement and technically better sea-keeping capabilities. Now consider that a thunderstorm is upon you and you need to make haste getting back to shore.

Catamarans are lighter than monohulls and hence are much faster than monohulls. The majority of catamarans can sail at half the speed of the wind if they are at the right angle. However, they do not tack as quickly as monohull boats and can be quite inefficient upwind. On the other hand, they can reach high speeds very quickly and can arrive at the dock in a timely and quick manner, safe from the storm.

If a storm is impending and you are on a monohull, it can go at an average speed of six to eight knots, which is considerably slower than a cruising catamaran that can reach about 15 knots — approximately, double the speed of the monohull. This means that there is a big chance it may still be out to sea when the storm hits. Hence, speed can mean safety in many situations.

Pro Tip: Keep in mind that it is not always wise to try to beat the weather. It is much smarter to stay at a safe location, if you can.

Better Fuel Efficiency

Fuel efficiency is also a safety element to take into account. If you are wondering which type of vessel is more fuel-efficient between a catamaran and a monohull, the answer is a catamaran.

Since these vessels have virtually no ballast, a reduced wet hull surface, and a shallow draft, they are more fuel-efficient, even when they are traveling faster than monohulls. If there is only a light wind on the seas, a catamaran can make use of one engine to propel the boat forward.

A fuel-efficient design also means that the vessel will not be in danger of running out of fuel before it reaches the docks.

However, keep in mind that catamarans are fuel-efficient in good weather. If the weather is close to stormy, the monohull is a more efficient vessel and can likely save more fuel cost.

Great for Winter Sailing

Catamarans are actually safer vessels to sail in the winter season than monohull boats. This is because cruising catamarans are equipped with enclosed cockpit spaces that provide protection from the elements. Catamaran sailors can safely pilot these vessels from inside these cockpits, allowing them to remain safe and dry. In addition, since cruising catamarans come with premium features, these vessels have automated sails and winches which allow you excellent control from the cockpit. This means you do not have to get a single hair wet.

This makes the vessel a great option if you plan to brave the cold winter seas. However, it is also just as great when it comes to providing protection from the tropical rains.

More Difficult to Flood in Bad Weather

Catamarans are excellent vessels to be in when you hit rough patches in the sea, especially if you are in a large boat with more displacement. However, in catamarans, draft and displacement aren’t the most essential factors when it comes to evaluating the safety, unlike in monohull sailboats.

Catamarans are more difficult to flood than sailboats. This is because their unique design creates a channel in between their hulls that relieves water pressure and reduces the likelihood of a swell flipping the vessel over or pushing it deep under.

In addition, catamarans are also known for their excellent ability to withstand high winds. Although a monohull sailboat of the same size may be just as seaworthy and strong, its crew will be struggling to keep it steady and afloat during a storm.

Hence, this vessel is excellent if a new sailor wants to increase his confidence. However, some catamaran sailors are also guilty of having an overinflated ego and underestimating the dangers of sea storms because a squall that can scare the daylights out of a monohull crew may not even rouse the passengers from sleep in a catamaran.

What is the Safest Type of Catamaran Design?

The safest type of catamaran is a cruising catamaran which is often preferred for ocean crossing. These vessels are equipped with design elements and the safety features that are a level above than regular catamarans. This includes watertight hatches and positive buoyancy material like foam.

In addition, cruising catamarans also have reinforced cockpit windows that are designed to withstand the force of crashing waves. They also come with systems like radios, navigation lights, and bilge pumps which are some of the most crucial elements if you want to go on an offshore voyage.

As you can see, these are the reasons why these vessels are recommended to novice sailors. They may not be the easiest boats to sail, but they can handle extreme conditions very well and offer better stability, which do wonders for improving crew confidence.

Are Catamarans Safer than Monohulls?
Jacob Collier

Jacob Collier

Born into a family of sailing enthusiasts, words like “ballast” and “jibing” were often a part of dinner conversations. These days Jacob sails a Hallberg-Rassy 44, having covered almost 6000 NM. While he’s made several voyages, his favorite one is the trip from California to Hawaii as it was his first fully independent voyage.

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