How Fast Do Catamarans Go?

How Fast Do Catamarans Go? | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

August 30, 2022

Catamarans are known for their speed, and some vessels are fast enough to break world sailing speed records.

Catamarans can go between 15 and 30 knots, with the fastest achieving speeds well in excess of 60 knots. Sailing catamarans are sometimes twice as fast as monohulls and cut through the water with greater efficiency.

In this article, we’ll cover how fast catamarans can go based on factors such as size, sail area, and design category. Additionally, we’ll compare catamaran speeds to monohulls and trimarans and cover the reasons why multi-hull sailboats blow monohulls out of the water.

We sourced the information used in this article from sailing guides and hull speed calculations. Additionally, we sourced information directly from the manufacturers of common catamarans.


Table of contents

Catamaran Speed by Type

Catamaran design can be split into different categories. After all, different vessels are designed for different tasks, as speed isn’t always the most important design consideration.

The fastest type of catamaran is the ultralight racing catamaran. These vessels have extremely narrow hulls and a remarkable planing ability. They’re designed to pierce waves and often achieve speeds in excess of 45 knots or greater, depending on conditions.

The second fastest catamaran variety is the sport catamaran. Sport catamarans often include a fairly good level of creature comforts in the cabin. They’re technically hybrid designs, because they are envisioned as a combination between a racer and a cruiser. Sport catamarans can achieve 30 knots or greater.

Cruising catamarans are designed primarily for safety and comfort. They’re often used for long offshore passages, where speed is important, but comfort is king. Despite their accommodations, cruising catamarans can still achieve a respectable 15 to 20 knots of speed—sometimes 50% faster than similarly-equipped monohulls.

Why are Catamarans So Fast?

Catamarans are remarkable vessels that can achieve amazing speeds. As a result of their unconventional design, typical calculations for hull speed (such as those used for monohulls) don’t always apply.

But what makes catamarans so much faster than equivalent monohulls? The first and most obvious speedy design element are the hulls themselves.

Catamarans don’t have a deep keel or a centerboard. This is because the second hull acts as a stabilizing device, and it helps the vessel track straight. The lack of a keel reduces weight (and equally important). It also reduces drag.

Additionally, catamarans behave in strange ways while underway. The hulls have a tendency to rise out of the water further the faster they go. This further reduces drag and makes it easier for the vessel’s speed to climb once it starts to move.

One additional characteristic is how the vessel’s sails point relative to the wind. Catamarans keep their sails perpendicular to the wind, which allows them to harness energy more efficiently. This is because, at a perpendicular angle, less wind energy is lost by spillage over the edge of the sails.

Are Catamarans Faster than Monohulls?

Yes, catamarans are typically faster than monohulls. They’re also a lot more stable, as their spaced-out hulls provide better motion comfort in rough seas. Catamaran hulls are narrower than monohulls, which also reduces drag and increases speed.

Catamaran vs. Monohull Speeds

We know that catamarans are faster than monohulls in most situations. But how much faster are they? Here’s a table of hull speeds for monohulls, which is a useful reference when comparing speed. Hull speed isn’t the absolute fastest that a boat can go, but it’s a good practical estimate for understanding the hydrodynamic limitations of single-hull designs.

Hull speed calculations for catamarans are more complicated. This is because catamarans have a greater length-to-beam ratio. And due to their narrow hulls and open center, they aren’t affected by the same hydrodynamic drag forces that monohulls are limited by.

For example, a 55-foot monohull sailboat with a waterline length has a hull speed of 9.4 knots or 10.9 mph. Its actual speed could exceed that in the right conditions, but rarely by more than a few knots.

Compare that to an efficient 51-foot catamaran, which can easily achieve speeds in excess of 20 knots in reasonable winds. That’s more than double the hull speed of a monohull with a similar waterline length and proves that catamarans operate under a completely different set of rules.

Wave Piercing

One aspect of catamaran design that makes them superior speeders is their ability to pierce waves. Specially designed catamarans have minimal buoyancy at the bow, which allows them to slice through waves instead of going over them.

This increases the speed at which catamarans can cover the distance. Think about it—a boat going over a wave has to use more energy to reach the same destination, as the height of the wave almost makes the distance further.

It’s like walking over a hill or on flat ground—you’ll take more steps walking up and down the hill than in a straight flat line. Wave piercing catamarans enjoy better stability, and they ‘take the flat road’ to a greater extent than monohulls.

Do Catamarans Plane?

Planing is when a boat’s hull rises out of the water due to hydrodynamic lift. This increases speed and efficiency, as there’s less drag but sufficient contact for stability. It also reduces rolling, as the bow only contacts the taller portions of the waves.

Catamarans have planing characteristics, but they generally don’t plane as dramatically as powerboats. This is still worth noting, as catamarans are specifically designed to use the phenomenon of hydrodynamic lift to gain speed and efficiency.

You’ll visibly notice a catamaran’s hull rising out of the water as it increases in speed. Compare that to a displacement monohull design (such as a classical cruising sailboat with a deep keel), which won’t rise out of the water in any significant way.

Are Catamarans Faster than Trimarans?

A trimaran is a catamaran with an additional hull in the center. Trimarans are usually less common than catamarans, but they have some of the same design benefits as other multi-hull sailboats.

At first glance, it would seem logical that trimarans are slower than catamarans. After all, they have an extra hull in the center, which likely increases weight and drag. However, there are more important factors at play here.

Trimarans are almost universally faster than catamarans. This has to do with weight distribution. Trimarans center their weight over the middle hull, using the outer hulls primarily for stability. This allows them to reap the benefits of a catamaran while increasing the efficiency of the wind power it captures.

Fastest Catamarans

Catamarans are popular for racing. There are several world records held by catamarans and numerous production boats with especially impressive speed-to-size ratios. Here are a few of the fastest racing and production catamarans ever built.

Fastest Sailboat Ever—Vestas Sailrocket 2

The Vestas Sailrocket is a specialized racing boat designed only for speed. This incredible vessel is actually the fastest sailboat ever built—and no wonder it’s a catamaran. A monohull simply can’t achieve record-breaking speeds when put head-to-head with a lightweight multi-hull.

The vessel, which earned the world sailboat speed record in 2012, has a modest 150 to 235 square feet of sail. Nonetheless, it managed to achieve a remarkable top speed of 65.45 knots in only 25 knots of wind. That’s about 72 miles per hour—in a sailboat.

Soon, a team of Swiss engineers will release their own version designed to beat the 65-knot speed record. Their vessel, which is a hydrofoil, will attempt to hit an incredible target speed of about 80 knots.

Outremer Catamarans

But what about production catamarans? How do they stack up, and how fast can they go? French boat builder Outremer Catamarans builds some of the fastest production catamarans ever built. These are not specialty racing boats—in fact, they’re average-sized cruising catamarans.

Let’s use the larger Outremer 51 as an example. This high-end cruising cat is known for its almost outrageous speed capabilities. In ideal conditions, owners of the Outremer 51 have reported speeds exceeding 20 knots for extended periods.

That’s a production catamaran with speeds that rival 20th-century warships. With such a fast boat, the world’s oceans start to appear a lot smaller. Plus, the genius design of the Outremer 51 allows it to be crewed by just two people.

But how do Outremer catamarans achieve such high speeds? The secret is in precise engineering and hull design, along with a sail plan that’s perfectly catered to the vessel. The hulls are sleek and narrow and designed to cut through the water with minimal drag.

From the bow, the Outremer 51 hulls look paper-thin. They increase in width gradually, which eliminates areas of sudden drag. These narrow hulls evenly distribute the vessel’s 21,825-lb displacement. Its low-buoyancy bows reduce drag and blast through waves instead of riding over them.

How Fast Do Catamarans Go?
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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