When you are looking for the right type of sailboat, you must navigate the bewildering array of choices that awaits any sailor. There are millions of options to consider, so we will start with the very basic shape of the sailboat: the hull. Besides the size of the boat, there are several different hull types to consider. You will find the basics below, along with some helpful information so you can choose which sailboat hull type will work best for you.
Monohulls refer to boats with, as the name suggests, just one hull. These are the kinds of sailboats you will see most often — and in general are the easiest to learn on if you are a beginning sailor — but even in this category there are some choices to be made.
Most sailboats do not have flat bottoms, as this shape is not suited for ocean sailing even with their centerboard, daggerboard, or keel. Some small boats, used for beginners or racing, have flat bottoms, but they are not used for sailing over an extensive period of time. An example of this type of sailboat is the Optimist, which is one of the most popular sailing dinghies in the world.
This is the typical shape of a monohull sailboat, with rounded sides sloping down to either a V-type point or the fixed keel. There are a variety of options with regards to width and length, as well as the angles of the hull's curvature. If you are looking for a monohull sailboat for reasons other than small dinghy sailing, this is the type for you.
Multihulls refer to boats with — you guessed it! — more than one hull. Though many types of multihulls exist worldwide, and they have been in use since ancient times, this section will focus on the two modern forms of multihulled boats that you are most likely to encounter.
A catamaran is a sailboat with two pontoon hulls with a mast in the center. Connected by a net, or fiberglass structure, they are fast moving and lightweight.
Trimarans have three hulls, generally in the shape of a larger central hull with two smaller hulls to port and starboard. Trimarans are not as fast as catamarans, but their three-hull construction makes them much more stable and less likely to capsize.
Catamarans and trimarans have their origin in the South Pacific, so the terms used to refer to their unique parts originate in these languages. If you are looking at a trimaran or catamaran, you may see the terms ama and aka. Ama refers to the smaller hulls — on a trimaran, those two that are connected to the main hull. The aka is the part of the frame that connects the ama to the hull.
Monohull or Multihull Sailboat
Now that you know about the different hull types available, the question is which one should you choose?
In general, monohull sailboats are better suited for a greater range of uses because they come in a near-infinite variety. Catamarans and trimarans are good options for certain specific boaters. Some of the reasons you may choose to purchase or charter a catamaran or trimaran include:
- Speed. Thanks to their aero- and hydrodynamic shape, certain types of catamarans are the fastest sailboats on the market. The America’s Cup boats of 2013 are a testament to just how fast this multihull can go.
- Draft. Catamarans and trimarans both have significant advantages over similarly sized monohulls when it comes to their draft.
- Accessibility. Small catamarans are able, and often designed, to be launched from a beach. Since they do not have a single keel, they will stay upright and not lean over on to the sand like a monohull would in the same position.
With these advantages in mind, it is important to note that multihulls have unique disadvantages as well.
- Tacking speed. Because of their wider-spread shape, catamarans and trimarans are often more difficult to tack.
- Pitch-pole capsizing. Catamarans and trimarans can both carry more sail than monohulls, but they are more likely to “pitch-pole,” which is when the bow(s) of the boat drive down into the water and the boat is capsized end over end. In addition, they are much harder than monohulls to right once capsized.
There are, of course, other aspects of hull choice which you may want to consider. For instance, does the type of sailing you want to do require a planing or displacement hull?
With all these specifics in mind, you have some of the basic ideas of what type of sailboat hull is best for your personal needs. Remember that there is no right answer — there is only the hull type that best fits your home waters and what you will be using the boat for. There are many more considerations that go into choosing a boat, but these are the very basics and should help you with your choice. Happy sailing!