What Is The Sleeping Quarters on a Sailboat Called?

What Is The Sleeping Quarters on a Sailboat Called? | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Jacob Collier

August 30, 2022

Sailing trips may last for days or weeks – so where do sailors sleep when they're on a sailboat? And what are the sleeping quarters on a sailboat called?

The sleeping quarters on a sailboat are traditionally known as a "berth" or "bunk," where you can get some shut-eye while out on a sailing trip. There are different kinds of berths, each with its own distinct style. These are settee berths, V berths, and pilot berths. 

While sailboats have cabins with sleeping quarters, it is important to know how you can make the most of it while sleeping during a sailing trip. Sleeping on a rocking sailboat isn't the easiest thing in the world, so along with knowing more about the sleeping quarters in a sailboat, you should also know some tips and tricks that will help you fall asleep (and stay asleep).

We've spent many a night sleeping in a sailboat, and as experienced, long-distance sailors ourselves, who better to ask about tips on safety while sleeping on a sailboat, as well as how to sleep comfortably on a sailboat? So, without further ado, let's dive straight into it.


Table of contents

Sailboat Sleeping Quarters

Even on a sailing boat, the importance of getting a good night's sleep cannot be denied. Back in the day, all sailors had was a hammock that they strung up in the bow to sleep. Sailing boats have come a long way, and today's boaters enjoy comfy cabins where they can get a good night's rest during long sailing trips.

All blue water sailing sailboats include some form of sleeping accommodation. These differ significantly across boats and even models. That being said, a flat surface of an open cockpit with a sleeping bag stretched out for overnight anchoring is the most basic sleeping configuration available aboard sailboats.

However, a majority of cruising sailboats, on the other hand, feature enclosed cabins. The bow of the smallest cabin sailboats has a V-berth, which is a triangular bed that may sleep one or two people comfortably. Many others include extra sleeping arrangements, such as a bed beneath the cockpit that can be accessed from the cabin.

On yachts 25 to 35 feet long, under-cockpit beds are typical. They are partially covered but open at one end to the cabin. Other ships include central sleeping spaces and places that may be converted from eating or sitting to sleeping. Sleeping arrangements on older yachts are substantially more basic.

Pole berths, which were simply canvas cots strung up between two iron poles, were commonly employed on vessels with limited cabin room and low cabin height. These berths are safe in bad weather and easily fold out of the way.

Types of Berths

It goes without saying that a sailboat will be short on space, which means sleeping bunks need to be built to fit the overall design of the sailboat.

Settee Berth

This is one of the more common types of sleeping bunks found in smaller yachts. It has seats that run down either side of the cabin. In between these two rows, you'll find a table. The seats can usually be used as beds as well.


A bed is frequently seen at the very forward end of a yacht's hull. This bed is fundamentally triangular due to the form of the hull, yet usually has a notch (that is cut out in the shape of a triangle) in the center of the aft end, separating it into two independent beds and giving it a V shape – that's where it gets the name from.

A removable board and cushion may normally be used to fill in this gap, making it more like a double bed. In the United Kingdom, the phrase "V-berth" is not often used; instead, the cabin as a whole (the forepeak) is commonly used.

Pilot Berth

The pilot berth gets its unique name because these bunks are so small and uncomfortable that nobody slept in them except for the pilot (i.e., the captain). The pilot berth is a narrow berth that is high up on the side of the cabin. This bunk is normally behind and above the back of the settee and right up under the deck.

Sleeping in a Sailboat

Even though boatbuilders are gradually improving their bedding, most bunks are still little more than a slab of foam rubber on a plywood platform. This may suffice for a weekend sail, but the old foam slab is plain inadequate for anything more. Even though we won't be able to bring our mattress from home on the boat, there is yet hope.

Newer materials and boat bedding firms can help us bring the comforts of home to our boats. Indeed, there are so many options that choosing the correct bedding for your needs might be difficult. The best place to sleep is in the main cabin, in a berth that's aligned with the boat's direction on the "downhill" (downwind/leeward) side, and keep your head as close as possible to the center of lateral resistance as possible.

Spring mattresses, which may be custom manufactured to fit the size and form of your boat, are preferred by some. Because these mattresses are thicker than foam mattresses, you'll need plenty of room above them if you're considering using them to help you get some shut-eye. Another concern is the corrosion of the springs. However, we have never found this to be an issue, and upgrading to stainless steel is rarely a worthwhile investment.

Keep in mind that spring mattresses do not fold or flex like foam mattresses, so getting them onto the boat may be a challenge. You may, however, get spring mattresses with hinges. These are also useful if you're looking to store these mattresses beneath a berth. There are a lot of small used boats with 27" to 33" with two cabins, such as the Kirie Elite 32'', which has a V-berth, the main cabin, and a double berth in the aft.  

When it comes to sleeping, if your cabin is adequately dehumidified, you will have a better night's sleep. That's because mold and mildew can not only make it difficult to fall asleep, but it can also pose a major health risk if left untreated. This is the reason why it is strongly advised to have a marine dehumidifier container near your bunk.

Sleeping on Auto-Pilot

So, why not just switch on autopilot to enjoy some comfortable sleep while solo sailing? Mostly because it would need a significant increase in electricity. When you want to recharge the battery, how often do you want to run the engine? You might be able to get some more solar cells on board, but it's not ideal. You'll be far better off learning to manage the convenience of autopilot and putting yourself to the genuine test.

Nobody admires a single-handed sailor who relies too much on their autopilot. Besides, since ocean winds don't change as much as land winds, you'll probably find it rather easy to catch a wind stream and ride it for as long as you like. You should practice rigging a few ropes to keep your sails in place, so you don't get blown off course.

What Is The Sleeping Quarters on a Sailboat Called?
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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