What Size Sailboat Can One Person Handle?

What Size Sailboat Can One Person Handle? | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

June 15, 2022

Getting the right size of boat for your sailing adventures will significantly impact your sense of security and safety, comfort, and your activities aboard the boat, especially if you're planning to embark on solo sailing. It's, therefore, of great importance to get it right from the start as it will save you time, disposal expenses, and determine whether or not you can sail solo.

Whether you're an introverted loner who loves going it alone or love the unique challenges that solo sailing presents, one of the most important questions that you've probably been asking yourself is; how big a sailboat can one person handle? In most cases, solo sailing will mean that you assume all the roles: bow-person, skipper, engineer, navigator, dial trimmer, and chef. Under such a scenario, the main intention is to make these roles as simple as possible for you and this calls for the right sized sailboat.

So how big a sailboat can one person handle? Well, a sailboat measuring between 35 and 45 feet (10.5 - 14 meters) with a draft of about 2 meters, plenty of sail area, easy reefing, and well-working assistive equipment can be ideal for one person to handle. The boat shouldn't be over 9 tons as things can get a little tricky and out of hand if the boat exceeds this weight. In essence, the boat should have automated systems that work properly including a properly working electric windlass that makes hauling an anchor as simple as possible.

In this article, we'll look at some of the reasons why sailboat measuring between 35 and 45 feet can be perfectly handled by one person.


Table of contents

Why 35 to 45 Feet?

Generally speaking, vessels that measure between 35 and 45 feet normally steer well and have a good sea-keeping ability. They usually have assisting self-steering arrangements, tolerable sailing speed, and good storage capabilities. Better still, such sailboats can be designed in such a way that a single person may perform all the sailing tasks completely unassisted.

Below the decks, these sailboats generally offer comfortable seagoing sleeping berths for one person, as well as additional space for the occasional guest. That's not all; the galleys are usually very workable and safe even for continuous use. The navigation station is independent, comfortable, and large enough so that you can lay the charts out flat and permanently. You also have additional storage that is perfect for additional charts.

One of the most overlooked factors when considering the ideal boat that can be perfectly handled by one person is the storage capability. If you're planning to sail single-handedly to far-flung areas, the boat should have a hoard of equipment. The boat should have fuel storage, a dinghy, oars, secondary chains, life jackets, anchor rods, EPIRBS, storm equipment, engine spares, additional batters, and many more. There should also be enough storage to accommodate food and water provisions for at least two months. With that in mind, 35-45 feet long sailboat should have enough storage space to accommodate everything that you need to sail perfectly, safely, and single-handedly.

Other Factors to Consider

While your physical strength, fitness, experience, determination, and nautical skills can impact the size of a sailboat that you can single-handedly handle with confidence, these are just a few definitive factors. As such, the size of the boat's sails will play a critical role. It doesn't matter how fit or strong you are, it's almost impossible to perfectly handle sails that measure 300-400 square feet on your own, and these are more common on vessels measuring 50-60 feet.

This is exactly why you shouldn't go for a sailboat that exceeds 46 feet if you're planning to sail single-handedly. You should refrain from going for a larger sailboat as it can be far trickier to dock in a crowded marina if you're sailing single-handedly. If anything, a boat measuring 35-45 feet will allow you to see around. It's also maneuverable, especially when anchoring and docking. You should also keep in mind that boats measuring 35-45 feet are generally designed with engine props, keels, and electric bow thrusters that can make a huge difference in the handling and maneuverability of such boats.

Here are a few factors to consider when looking at the size of a sailboat that you can handle on your own.

The anchor - Any sailor will tell you that it's always advisable to go out there on the water with an anchor that's large and strong enough to hold the sailboat safely in case there's a storm. But because you want a sailboat that you can handle on your own, you should ask yourself; can you raise the boat's anchor back to the deck with the help of a winch or another person? This should help you determine the size of a sailboat that you can handle alone.

Configuration of the Sailboat - This pretty much revolves around the maneuverability of the boat. Simply put, the sailboat should be designed in a way that you can single-handedly maneuver it to a dock even when strong winds are blowing. You should also be able to get a line from the sailboat to the dock without losing control of the boat.

You should also make sure that you can reef, lower, smother, and work with the sails in all kinds of weather without any assistance.

Hardware - Another important factor to consider when looking for the right size of a sailboat that you can handle alone is the hardware. Many equipment manufacturers now offer affordable hardware that can be used by lone sailors at the highest levels. For example, there are canting keels and roller furling headsails that are generally used in short-handed racing and these technologies have filtered into the mainstream.

There are also robust and reliable sailing handling systems such as electric winches, top-down spinnaker furlers, code zeros that can be of great help if you want to sail single-handedly, especially for offshore adventures. You can also go for reliable autopilots that are interfaced with wind instruments to enhance your safety and navigation. You can also use releasable inner forestay designed with hanks to make your headsail reef a lot easier. The boat should have enough reefs and the seat should have a comfortable cushion to make long hours of sailing more enjoyable.

Safety and communication - Sailing single-handedly always requires that you take your safety into serious consideration. You do not have a crew that will help you when there's a mishap so there's always an increased risk. For this reason, your safety and communication should be paramount if you're looking for a sailboat that you can handle alone. Some of the most important things to have in place include stout webbing straps that run from bow to stern and should be clipped into the tether on your harness. These are some of the safety devices that you should use even when the weather is very calm. You should also have an appropriate life jacket and wear it at all times.

That's not all; you should have a perfect sail and communication plan that you can share with a trusted contact on land. Of course, this should include your sailing route and projected timeline. You should have satellite phones and Wi-Fi onboard the boat, as well as other reliable communication devices. You should also have an extra battery. More importantly, you should attend safety as sea courses as this will enhance your skills of staying safe in case there's a mishap when sailing single-handedly.

Going Smaller than 35-45 Feet

As we noted earlier, a sailboat measuring between 35 and 45 feet is the sailing sweet spot if you want to sail single-handedly. This is because such sailboats do offer almost everything that you need to sail without any assistance. However, you may decide to go smaller but this would mean that the storage capabilities go against you.

In most cases, a sailboat measuring about 25 feet long would mean that you lose about 4 tons of storage space as well as the overall weight. This would mean that the boat is much lighter and this might affect your speed. Remember, the longer the boat, the faster the speed and this is essential for seagoing passages. On the other hand, a shorter boat will be slower and this means that you'll have to carry more food and water if you're going for offshore adventures.

As such, the volume of accommodation required may overwhelm a smaller vessel and this can make the operation of such a boat quite challenging. Other areas such as the navigation and galley table may be cramped and this can compromise the way you operate the boat. Worst still, the possibility of having a friend or a loved one join you aboard the boat is nearly impossible since there may be not enough accommodation for the two of you.

Another notable disadvantage of going smaller is the violent motion that it endures when sailing. This can be stressful and very likely to cause seasickness and this is something that you don't want when sailing single-handedly.

Going Larger than 35-45 Feet

If you're not on a limited budget, then you may choose to go for a sailboat that is larger than 35-45 feet. Larger sailboats are more speed and will always deliver sea-kind motion. You also have ample storage and accommodation for friends and family. But even with these advantages, the fundamental weakness of a larger sailboat is that it's almost impossible for one person to perfectly handle it. In other words, it's impossible to perfectly handle, maintain, and manage all facets of sailing a larger vessel. In fact, it can be even challenging or two people to handle it.

In essence, handling a larger vessel single-handedly can be brutal, to say the least. You may have lots of equipment but you'll still require more manpower to have them working appropriately.

To this end, it's easy to see why sailboats measuring 35-45 feet are the best for solo sailing. Smaller vessels might be ideal for the weekends but they are slower and do not have enough storage and accommodation space for offshore sailing. Almost similarly larger vessels (46 feet and above) are faster, beautiful, and spacious, but handling them on your own is almost impossible. So if you're looking for a sailboat that you can perfectly handle on your own, go for a vessel measuring between 35 and 45 feet long.

What Size Sailboat Can One Person Handle?
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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