How To Choose a Bluewater Sailboat

How To Choose a Bluewater Sailboat | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

August 30, 2022

Bluewater sailboats are a one of a kind engineering accomplishment. These boats are quite a bit different than your typical sailing boat or other marine vessels.

Every boat falls into a special category, but what separates one bluewater sailboat from another? How do you choose a bluewater sailboat that is right for you?

You would need to strongly consider reliability, dependable navigation systems, structural features, and harsh weather readiness. The size of the sailboat is not as important compared to basic survival needs when deciding on one sailboat from another.

The best bluewater sailboats are the ones where you can be the most comfortable regardless of the situation. Your experience sailing will play a factor too, as these boats are not your typical cruisers.

According to the latest sailboat data and statistics, you would need a sailboat with a comfort ratio between 30 and 40. In addition, you want one that has a ballast ratio between 35 and 45 percent so that it can withstand rough waters.


Table of contents

What Features Do I Need for a Bluewater Sailboat?

More than a handful of features for a bluewater sailboat are going to need to be investigated before you purchase one. Keep in mind that you should treat the process similar to car buying, as you would not buy a vehicle without checking the history, test driving it, and a proper inspection.

With the advances made on newer bluewater sailboats, you might find more accessories than you need. In some cases, finding an older model could prove to be your best bet with just the basics.

Consider the Hull Before Commitment

No matter how many times you try to plan for trips around the weather, you will eventually be caught in mother nature’s wrath. If you enjoy being close to the dock or coast, you have the opportunity to get out of harm’s way.

As for deep water adventurers, you have nowhere to go in the event of strong storms. You will have to take what is coming as calmly as possible and need a boat that can withstand the pressure.

You also have to consider how many people are going to be onboard. Will you have enough for a crew to help you on deck, or are you looking for a boat that can handle a bit more with less help?

A boat that has a fin and spade underneath is going to be quite vulnerable if it hits debris. That is why boats that have skegs and protection from a full keel are attractive for long term success.

In addition to keels, boats that have longer keels typically have easier sections and not as volatile to harsh changes in wind or sea. In this situation, the helm is a lot more powerful.

If you are second guessing whether the boat can fit your needs in extreme conditions, it might not be the right one for you. This is why you have to narrow down your sailing goals before you attempt to buy or travel the world in one.

The Definition of Comfort

When choosing a bluewater sailboat, everyone wants the most comfortable boat they can find. It is common for people to want the fancy dining area, the double bed near the stern, or even the relaxing luxury chairs.

If you spend most of your time tied up at the dock for long stays, this might not apply to you. But if you are trying to enjoy all of these comfort features at sea, you will likely have a difficult time trying to eat your dinner once the sea comes alive.

Stepping on board any boat at a show is a nice way to check out a large quantity of bluewater boats at a given time. Then again, it is difficult to see how all of the luxury features apply in real time at sea.

You will have to have some imagination for how trips are going to go at sea and if the luxury items are going to matter in that time frame. Depending on where you plan on spending most of your time, the luxury items may not make up the difference.

Location of the Cockpit

An important decision that most boaters often overlook is the location of the cockpit. A coaming is cool for sitting on a nice summer day, but the primary use is for keeping water out of the cockpit.

An ideal location for the cockpit would be towards the stern of a boat. This way it is more center, lower down, and overall safer during rougher conditions.

Since this location is further from the action up front, it has less motion and is a good place to ride out stronger waves. In most cases, this option is still better even though it can still have some flooding on the lower side of a knockdown.

A lot of cockpits are designed to work magically when tied to a dock, but this is a much different story at sea. If you cannot put both feet on each side of the cockpit, then you need to look for a way to brace yourself in the event of rough seas.

You will be spending a lot of time around this particular area of the boat. It makes perfect sense that you want to find the best of both worlds for comfort and support.

If there is not anything to safely secure onto or prevent from being thrown about, you might want to consider a different bluewater sailboat. The area might be lovely to spend the moonlight in, but it could turn into a horrifying experience during tough conditions.

Weigh Your Options for Rigs and Sail Plans

In today’s bluewater sailboats, you will likely find these cruisers equipped with cutters. Some people still desire in-mast furling, which is a bit of a hot topic for most sailors that have experienced the use of both.

In-mast furling has its advantages, such as quick release of the mast both in and out. However, in the event of a jam, you will be stuck with whatever it was able to provide for both putting it away or taking it out.

As for furlong booms or slab-reefing systems, these are a lot less of a headache. You can typically work these from the cockpit with a single line reefing to handle the main with ease.

When searching for just a standard production boat, you would likely want to avoid genoas that are rated to 135 percent or larger. You will definitely be reefing a lot with this cut, so the 110 percent option would be more ideal.

To put this in perspective, you should go for the cut if there is one on your boat. Using genoas are great for light wind, but you do not want to be caught in a storm with one and trying to quickly put it back up.

Do Not Overlook Your Ground Tackle

Whether you have your boat anchored at the marina for casual use or have it for months at a time, you should definitely consider upgrading your ground tackle. For casual weekenders, this might not apply if you take the boat out every once and while.

Most ground tackles that come with bluewater boats are not the best out there. For anyone wanting to seriously travel the deep water, you are going to need stronger anchors.

For sailboats around 40 feet long, it would be ideal to have a little over 200 feet worth of ⅜ inch chain in addition to an anchor weighing roughly 55 pounds. In addition, you want a heavy-duty windlass to support the chain and boat securely.

If the bluewater boat you are considering for purchase cannot handle a ¼ ton weight of these anchors and chains, then you do not need that boat. You are going to need backup chains and anchors in addition to a storm hook for a bad day.

Proper Navigation Systems

The first rule of thumb for anyone traveling at sea is the ability to navigate. If the Navy trains cadets how to navigate without state of the art equipment, maybe you should consider it too in the event that it stops working.

It would be wise to learn how to read tables, charts, maps, use a sextant, and have an accurate watch. If you can casually use these tools and know where you are going, then you are all set.

Paper charts are going to be the most important tool you can use besides your own navigation system. Electric charts are great for the most part, but there might be instances where they are not always perfect.

The only downsides to carrying the paper charts on your boat are the costs of these charts and the space to store them. If you could get your hands on rasters, which are digital images of paper charts with important notes, you could have the best of both worlds.

Keep in mind that the longer and further you plan to sail away from traditional areas, the more you are going to need the old methods of navigating. In times where we are heavily dependent on technology, it would be useful to rely on something else.

Deciding on a Water System and Refrigeration

A water system is going to apply to those that plan to be out at sea for long periods of time. The casual boaters that do not stay long likely will not benefit the same.

There are a couple of ways to go about this, with one being a large fresh water tank. You need to know how much fresh water you can carry with you at a time and how much you plan to use while at sea.

If you are looking at a smaller tank and think you are going to refill it often, you need to think about the places you might stop to fill up at. Some locations might not have the best sources when it comes to clean water or the safest environments.

If you are looking at a larger water tank on a boat, you might want to consider how much weight you are adding. These tanks are typically on a bigger boat, so you also have to consider navigating a larger vessel.

Another way to bypass these options is to use a water maker. Just like AC driven motors and generators for your boat, you can easily equip a water maker without using too much power.

In most scenarios, AC water makers can deliver roughly 20 gallons a day. For DC water makers, these use a lot less power and supply around 12 gallons of water a day.

As for your refrigerator, these have greatly improved over the years for their power consumption. Most draw around 80 amps per day and are more efficient than they used to be.

Equipped with Solar Panels or Other Energy Sources

As mentioned above, the amount of power you are consuming on your boat could make a difference at sea. If you begin to have issues with your generator, what are your next steps?

One way to combat this particular scenario is to equip your boat with solar panels. In some cases, bluewater sailboats are already equipped with solar panels to help offset energy consumption in certain areas.

In addition, there are some boats that can use wind power to supplement energy. These features surprisingly do not negatively impact overall performance and will help with conserving energy.

Who Are You Gonna Call?

In today’s internet of things, communications with people are instant and emergencies can be dealt with in real time. As for navigating on the sea, you have very limited support and next to nothing for internet.

If you are wanting to check the weather, emails, call your family, or watch a movie, you are out of luck unless you are willing to spend a lot of money to upgrade your system. As long as you have a satellite phone and radio, you can safely connect with other passing vessels or potentially contact for help if needed.

If the sailboat you are looking at does not have one of those in place, you could look to install your own. In that route, make sure you fully understand how to work the device so you are not left alone in an emergency.

Preparing for the worst is going to help you in times of need. Being without a proper form of communication could put you at a huge risk.

Should Sailing Experience Play a Factor in Choosing a Bluewater Sailboat?

Whether you are planning a weekend trip out to sea or trying to experience what the world’s waters are like in roughly two years, you might want to consider how much time at sea you have under your belt. If you went out for a week with your friends and that is all you have, you should look to gain more experience.

If you do not have a boat yet, but you know someone who does, consider learning from them and gaining experience first hand. This could be simple tasks such as working on the deck or how to properly anchor.

If you have absolutely no experience at all, it is best to seek the advice of someone that you trust in person. In fact, you may want to take a few trips out to sea in different ways like guided fishing trips or tours to get your feel for the water.

If you have limited or no experience on the water and want first hand experience with the help of someone else, you could look for that experience with something like safety sea courses. This way you can have someone help you in real time with man overboard procedures, how to deal with heavy weather, and even the right emergency equipment to use.

Depending on how much time you have before beginning your journey at sea, you could look to work on a sailboat. Working on someone else’s boat could help in a variety of useful ways in deciding on what bluewater sailboat is right for you and gain valuable knowledge from an experienced crew.

Which Bluewater Sailboat is Right for Me?

Finding the right bluewater sailboat is going to differ dramatically from one person to the next. However, most people will generally agree on similar features that each boat possesses.

A boat that is able to withstand strong storms and easier to navigate without the auto-pilot could be a start. Others might simply enjoy 15 knots and a calm sea breeze like you see in the pictures for advertisements.

Depending on the type of experience you are looking for is going to determine the type of bluewater sailboat you are going to use. No boat is going to cover everything from your objectives, so it is important to narrow down your main goal and go from there.

Having the right mindset for bluewater sailing is going to be key in your search in the perfect boat. These boats come in all shapes, sizes, capacities, and features.

If you do not want to miss out on luxury, there are plenty of options to consider with safety as a priority. If you are only wanting to go out on the weekends and when the weather is behaving, you have that option as well.

By narrowing down the differences between your sailing goals and what boat you need for those situations, the list of potential candidates is greatly reduced. Everyone has their own scenarios in mind, you just have to shop around and be willing to become a little adventurous.

How To Choose a Bluewater Sailboat
Daniel Wade

Daniel Wade

I've personally had thousands of questions about sailing and sailboats over the years. As I learn and experience sailing, and the community, I share the answers that work and make sense to me, here on Life of Sailing.

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