Originally Posted by a64pilot
I doubt you will find any "production" boat having an un-seaworthy design.
Above a certain size, any cruising boat made will be reasonably capable of sailing in most places and most conditions, so most people really can really just buy whatever they like without worrying too much about seaworthiness.
Which doesn't mean that they are all equal, however, which would be a big, fat, logical fallacy. There is a wide range of strength and seaworthiness available on the market starting from "pretty good, and plenty good enough for most purposes" all the way to "extremely strong and designed for extreme conditions", and everything in between.
is not always a reliable guide, or even brand of boat. For example, Jeanneaus built up through the early 2000's are really strongly built, with heavy scantlings and hull layup
, and do not have hull liners
-- they are stick-built like high end boats and are really solid. Although they are inexpensive mass produced boats (and on top of that, they sail really well -- great boats and incredible value for the money). And Hallberg Rassy
, a legendary high end marque, have been, for the last 15 years or so, value- and weight-engineering their hulls just like mass production yards, and have overdone it in some cases, with some structural failures and even a lawsuit as a result.
If you want a more seaworthy boat than average, then you just have to educate yourself on the desirable qualities and check it out yourself. And obviously, as someone pointed out, a good survey
. In my opinion, the most important positive qualities of cruising boat in terms of seaworthiness are:
1. Robust hull layup
and scantlings. Layups have gotten thinner and lighter in recent years (not just in mass produced boats) in most boats. Light is really good -- it's cheaper and makes for a faster and better sailing boat. But how far can you take that? Judge for yourself whether, in any particular case, this has been taken too far or not. I have recently seen some photos of mass produced boats which came to grief which seemed to have only 10mm or 12mm or fiberglass
in the bows. A heavier layup reduces the risks that something happens to breach the hull, but the tradeoff is cost and weight, which will slow down the boat. You have to decide for yourself where the sweet spot is for your own planned use of the boat. An overly thin, single-skin hull (see about coring, below) will not only be prone to being breached, but can also flex in a way which is called "oil-canning".
2. Fully cored hull. Some people (like our own Minaret) hate this, but fully cored hulls are stronger, actually much stronger than single
skin hulls, for the same weight. A fully cored hull will not oil-can. The tradeoff (there's always a tradeoff) is the much higher cost to build a boat with a fully cored hull and with reliable measures against water
intrusion -- vacuum infusion, etc.
3. Robust bulkheads and hull-deck joint. I won't get into the controversy about whether bonding with something like Plexus is good enough or not (my own opinion, for whatever little it may be worth, is that it's probably ok if there is sufficient tabbing, but honest men
can disagree), but in any case, the bulkheads should be robust enough in themselves and should have plenty of tabbing to provide adequate surface area for the attachment to the hull, however that attachment is made. If the bulkheads are also through-bolted, then that's the gold standard, but this is rare and probably not cost effective. If bulkheads are inadequate or poorly attached with inadequate tabbing, and if on top of that you have an overly thin single-skin hull prone to oil-canning, then you have what could be a dangerous situation, since the oil-canning of the hull can break the bulkheads out, and the boat can lose its structural integrity in heavy weather
. I don't think that this is a significant risk on any regular production boat sold in the last couple of decades, but I know at least one real case -- that guy who circumnavigated the Americas solo and nonstop via the Northwest Passage
and Cape Horn (crazy trip!) a few years ago. I can't remember what kind of boat it was, but it was falling apart by the time he arrived.
4. Robust chainplates, stem fitting, etc. This is a real test of a good boat. Even the poorest boat you can buy today is probably adequate in this regard, but there is a huge range on the market, and many sailors may prefer boats which are better provided here. There are real cases of boats whose stem fittings ripped out and let the rig fall down, so maybe not every boat on the market is completely adequate in this regard. Beware of chainplates which are glassed in so that you can't inspect them -- chainplates are notoriously subject to crevice corrosion
and need regular inspections. And chainplates are only as strong as what they are attached to -- pay attention to how they are tied into the structure of the boat. I have seen forestay chainplates which were just attached to decks. Adequate in average conditions, but better practice is to tie it in with adequately massive bolts to an adequately massive stem structure, which is itself tied into the main structure of the boat. There are big differences between boats, even boats of the same price
level, in how well this is done.
5. Watertight bulkheads. I don't like the idea of a boat with a lightly built, single-skin hull, with thin layup in the bow sections, and not even a watertight bulkhead in the bow. That doesn't mean that such boats are actually dangerous, but many sailors will prefer not to have the whole hull volume exposed to flooding due to breach at the stem from a minor collision
-- a classic case of a remote
risk but with catastrophic consequences. I think serious cruising boats should have watertight bulkheads at the stern, as well, but this is very rare (my own boat doesn't have it). Only a very few really hard-core cruising boats (Amels, Sundeer) have multiple
watertight bulkheads, but it's a quality I personally find very desirable -- bravo to those makers.
. Higher spec rigging
adds weight aloft, makes the boat more expensive and slower. You have to decide yourself how much cost and speed you're willing to trade
for more robustness. I don't think any boat sold by any serious maker has rigging so underspecified that it is prone to fall apart, but my own preference is to err on the side of its being a little heavier.
7. Hatches, ports
, windows. Oysters and Moodys use the very same crap Lewmar
plastic hatches and ports
as the cheapest Benes and Bavs, so you actually have very little choice here. I don't know about American boats. A seaworthy boat should have hatches and ports which don't leak and can withstand tons of green water without breaking. They should be well installed, too.
8. Deck hardware
. Some makers save money
with light deck
hardware, attached in a non-robust manner. It's good enough for 95% of all sailors and situations, but what about the other 5%? Only you can decide whether it is worthwhile to spend the money to buy a boat with stronger than average deck hardware. For most people, it is not worth it, probably. Like the case with chainplates, deck fittings are only as strong as what they are attached to. So having good backing plates
is cold comfort if the deck layup is so thin that a cleat under stress can rip a whole section of deck out.
9. Hull liners. One of the most powerful tools for efficient mass production of cruising boats, drastically reducing the labor input required to build a boat, and drastically reducing the cost of the fitout. But hull liners often make wiring
, chain plates and other structural elements, and in some cases even through-hulls inaccessible. It makes a big refit
so expensive that the boat essentially becomes disposable. If you buy newish and sell on in a few years -- a reasonable approach when the boat is very inexpensive to begin with -- this might not bother you so much. It would really bother me, however, hence my own willingness to spend even quite a lot more money to have a stick-built boat. You have to decide for yourself which tradeoff to make here. I guess that this is not strictly a seaworthiness issue, although inaccessability of a pipe or fitting which is leaking could be.
10. High aspect appendages. High aspect spade rudders and high aspect, thin, bulb keels, offer dramatically improved hydrodynamic qualities, which make a boat sail much better. At the same time, they are dramatically more prone to damage, because the high aspect ratio increases the lever arm and makes it harder to attach the appendage in a robust manner. It's a straighforward tradeoff between sailing qualities and robustness -- only you can decide what the sweet spot is. Spending more money can ameliorate the tradeoff somewhat, because more expensive marques may spend more money on more robust bearings, flanges, and keel
stubs. But you still have to choose how far to go with this. Most long-distance cruisers, including me, prefer less high aspect, and more robust appendages than cruiser-racers have, trading off some sailing quality for extra strength, but would not go as far as a long keel
or full skeg rudder
11. Quality of attachment of appendages. There are some particular boat models
with records of problems with their rudders or keels. Note I said models
, not makers.
Certain inexpensive mass production yards tend to have the worst reputations here, but it is unfair to assume that all models of a given maker have problems, just because one model had something underengineered or underbuilt and so problematic. Even Swan had a plague of failed spade rudders, when they first starting using them, but that by no means means that all Swans are prone to rudders falling off. You should do your research
and avoid models
of boats with records of failures of keels or rudders.
drainage. Many modern boats, including many high end boats, have poor cockpit
drainage, which is a very bad thing when you are battling tough conditions. My own boat is terrible in this regard.
of the bilge
pumps. One drawback of boats with efficient, modern underbodies with low wetted surface is that they have very shallow bilges, which means that water from a leak has no where to go. Another tradeoff, about which everyone has to make his own decision. I've never seen a boat delivered new with adequate bilge pumps -- always an upgrade issue.
14. Stability. Forget the old fashioned "capsize screening ratio" and ballast ratio metrics -- just not relevant to modern designs. But AVS is relevant and tells you a lot about stability. As far as I know, there is not any modern cruising boat made which is dangerously unstable -- stability is just not an inherent problem for boats with ballasted keels. But a sailor who wants to sail in all conditions might think twice about the most extreme modern designs with very flat bottoms and chines which are highly dependent on form stability. Have a look at the stability curves, and AVS, to be sure you're not getting into something which will have less stability than you would like.
15. Size. All other things being equal, a boat becomes dramatically more seaworthy as it gets bigger. One of the secrets to modern boat design is that the typical cruising boat, which was 32' a few decades ago, is now over 40', and thus can be much lighter and more cheaply made without any loss of seaworthiness, compared to the old 32' tanks
. As a bonus, the typical 40-odd foot inexpensive cruising boat of today will sail rings around the typical 32-footer of yore. This is a win-win situation. So many sailors might rationally choose a 50' mass production boat over say a 38' high end boat of the same cost, and get far better accomodation and incomparably more speed for the same money, with no loss of seaworthiness (and maybe even a net gain of seaworthiness).
16. Robust attachment of tanks
, batteries, other heavy things. Most boats are never rolled, so this is never tested. If you plan to venture out far from shore, perhaps in higher latitudes, the risk of getting rolled increases, and these questions can suddenly become a matter of life and death.
I could go on, but that's enough to think about, I guess. All of these things, like everything having to do with boats, are tradeoffs, about which everyone has to make his own choices. There is no such thing as a perfect boat, much less a perfect boat for all sailors.