What To Look For In A Cruising Sailboat

What To Look For In A Cruising Sailboat | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Jacob Collier

August 30, 2022

Sailboats come in all shapes and sizes, and with so many options to choose from, people often wonder what to look for in a cruising sailboat.

For starters, you should look for a cruising sailboat with a good light feel on the wheel. This means you won’t have to negotiate with the boat when it comes to maneuvering through choppy waters. The cruising sailboat should also have enough stability and space and a working toilet. 

As a rule of thumb, beginners are advised to always base their final decision on their home waters. For instance, Floridians tend to sway towards the boats with a centerboard, while those on the Pacific Northwest will look for a protected prop and stout rudder post to steer clear from floating logs. Similarly, for coastal cruisers of New England, a sailboat that doesn’t throw its hands up when it comes to navigating offshore conditions is a keeper.

Who better to tell you what to look for in a cruising sailboat than the experts (that’s us, by the way!). We’ve bought, sold, and sailed on different kinds of cruising sailboats in waters all over the world! Let’s not waste any more time and get right into it!


Table of contents

What to Look for in a Cruising Sailboat

Purchasing a sailboat is going to be a significant investment, after a home and a car. This is why you’ll want to get right the first time. Keeping that in mind, here’s what you need to know about what to look for in a cruising sailboat.

Safety First

We ain’t kidding. When you’re out at sea, there’s no 0800 number you can call to tow you back to safety. As a boater, you need to take your safety (and that of others with you) seriously, even if you’re the typical weekend cruiser. This means choosing a boat that comes with a certified ocean life raft and life jackets. Emergency positions indicating radio beacons or EPIRBs and the smaller personal locator beacons (PLBs) are life-saving devices that can increase the level of boating safety.

Also, for those of you who do not know, SOLAS is an acronym for Safety Of Life At Sea and is a set of international standards that were established within the IMO in 1914, right after the Titanic disaster. So, if you thought safety only meant a long-range radio, now you know better (although you’ll need the SSB radio too!). Before you load up the electronics on your new cruising sailboat, make sure it’s fitted with the safety gear.

Doing Your Business

Marine toilets tend to fail when least expected. This is where spares help, but it would be ideal to have a second head, mainly because having to repair one while you’re on the water is every boater’s nightmare.

Size Matters

Sure, you can cruise along nicely in a simple boat, but if you have the budget, then why not go for comfort as well. On sailboats, space means comfort. This is where you will need a spacious galley that will keep you and your passengers secure. More space means being able to store more supplies, which is essential if you plan on taking longer trips. A spacious galley will also mean that the pots and pans will stay off the cabin sole.

Speaking of cabins, having enough space to sleep comfortably is not too much to ask for, especially if you’re going for a modern sailboat. The ideal choice is having double berths in the stern or bow. In case you’re wondering what the berth should look like, then anything over 7 feet long with a decent lee cloth is seaworthy. More size also means more speed, so if you want to hit those extra knots, go for a larger boat.

Beware of External Teak

You may think it’s awfully nice to have fancy woodwork slapped across the boat’s face, but think again. Liberal joiner work and excessive exterior teak may be good to look at, but you will pay the price in terms of performance (not to mention, builders often use this method to squeeze more money out of inexperienced buyers – don’t be that guy!).

Besides, teak decks are the first red flag that new buyers should look for, mainly because teak radiates a ton of heat when cruising in the tropics, and after a decade or so at sea, they’re practically screaming for a replacement.

Today, you might as well buy another cruising sailboat for the price it takes to replace a teak deck.

The Engine

It goes without saying that you’re not going anywhere without a decent engine. If you’re picking a cruising sailboat up secondhand, you need to ask yourself the question, “Do I power the boat with a new engine or refurbish the existing one?” If you’re contemplating the same question, then one thing to consider is that the cost of repairing the existing engine will, in most cases, be equal to getting the boat fitted with a new engine.

Also, deciding to change the engine brand is also going to bump up its price, sometimes dramatically, depending on the brand you’re going with. You’ll also want to spare up; the last thing you want is a busted engine and having to get a component from some distant port. Besides, an engine that always starts is a joy to hear for any avid boater.

Refitting Costs

Sure, that 20-year-old boat you’re thinking of buying works now (as pointed out by its owner). However, after a decade or so in use, every cruising sailboat wants some TLC. This normally involves pulling the mast and upgrading the standing rigging. You will also need to get down and take apart the spar to look for cracks and corrosion, which every sailboat past her 20th birthday is sure to have.

While you’re at it, take a closer look at the sheaves and mast step, and replace the blocks if necessary. As a rule of thumb, it is wise to replace any heavy rigging or equipment, especially if you plan on spending many days or weeks out at sea because, well, you wouldn’t want to lose your mast offshore.

When getting a cruising sailboat, it is always best to look at every recent refit or upgrade with skepticism and conduct a thorough inspection of your own before you sign on the dotted line.

The Hull Design

While there are plenty of options out there, you’ll not only want to choose one that sails well to windward in waves but also has a comfortable motion while navigating through rough seas. As a pro tip, while it’s okay to stick with a hull with low windage in a strong breeze, you wouldn’t want too much spray in the cockpit either. A high load carrying capacity is also great for storing water, fuel, food and other equipment.

Other Factors

Of course, if you ask us, there’s no such thing as the “perfect cruising sailboat.” This means there are always other factors you must also consider when looking for a cruising sailboat. For instance, your location. For offshore use, an aft cockpit is always a nice touch. For dockside use, go for boats with center cockpits and inland double berths. Other things to consider are electric winches and jib furlers for your cruising sailboat (thank us later!)

What To Look For In A Cruising Sailboat
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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