I think that the terms 'offshore' and 'coastal' get bandied about quite freely without any real thought about what the differences are. A well made coastal cruiser should be more expensive than a dedicated offshore distance cruising boat because it needs to be more complex and actually needs more sophisticated engineering and construction than most people will accept in a dedicated offshore boat.
In a general sense, all boats are a compromise and with experience you learn which compromises make sense for your own needs and budget
. Most times the difference between an optimized coastal cruiser and a dedicated offshore cruising boat is found in the collection of often subtle choices that make a boat biased toward one use or the other. A well designed and constructed coastal will often make a reasonable offshore cruising boat, while dedicated offshore cruising boats make very poor coastal cruisers.
When I think of a coastal cruiser vs. a dedicated offshore boat, there are a number attributes that I look for:
On a coastal cruiser there should be good wide berths, with enough seaberths for at least half of the crew for that night run back to make work the next day. An offshore cruiser is often handled by a smaller crew and so fewer berths and fewer seaberths are necessary. The berths on an offshore boat should be narrower and have leeboards or lee cloths. On both I am looking for a well-equipped galley
but the galley
needs to be larger on a coastal cruiser so that there is adequate space to prepare meals
for a larger crew or a raft-up. Refrigeration
is less important on a coastal cruiser although the case can be made for no refrigeration
if you are going offshore.
A comfortable cockpit
for lounging is very important on a coastal cruiser. It should be larger than an offshore boat to accommodate a larger number of people which is OK since pooping is less likely to occur doing coastal work.
for offshore boats need to be simple and very robust, coastal cruisers need to be able to quickly adapt to changing conditions. Greater purchase
, lower friction hardware
, easy to reach cockpit-lead control lines, all make for quicker and easier adjustments to the changes in wind
speed and angle that occur with greater frequency. There is a big difference in the gear needed when ‘we’ll tack tomorrow or the next day vs. auto-tacking or short tacking up a creek.
Offshore boats need to be heavier. They carry more stuff, period. The traditional rule
of thumb was that an offshore boat needs to weigh somewhere between 2 1/2 and 5 long tons per person. A coastal cruiser can get by with less weight per crew person but generally is cruised by a larger crew. The problem that I have is that most offshore sailors and many coastal cruisers seem to start out looking for a certain length boat and then screen
out the boats that are lighter than the displacement
that they think that they need. This results in offshore boats and some coastal cruisers that are generally comparatively heavy for their length. There is a big price paid in motion comfort, difficulty of handling, performance and seaworthiness when too much weight is crammed into a short sailing length.
I suggest that a better way to go is to start with the displacement that makes sense for your needs and then look for a longer boat with that displacement. That will generally result in a boat that is more seaworthy
, easier on the crew to sail, have a more comfortable motion, have a greater carrying capacity, have more room on board, and be faster as well. Since purchase
, and maintenance
costs are generally proportional to the displacement of the boat the longer boat of the same displacement will often have similar maintenance
costs. Since sail area is displacement and drag dependent, the longer boat of an equal displacement will often have an easier to handle sail plan as well.
-Keel and Rudder
I would say unequivocally that for coastal cruising a fin keel
is the right way to go here. The greater speed, lesser leeway, higher stability and ability to stand to an efficient sail plan, greater maneuverability and superior windward performance of a fin keel
with spade rudder
(either skeg or post hung) are invaluable for coastal work. Besides fin keels/bulb keels are much easier to un-stick in a grounding. In shallower venues a daggerboard with a bulb or a keel/centerboard is also a good way to go.
There is a less obvious choice when it comes to the keel and rudder type for offshore cruising. Many people prefer long or full keels for offshore work but to a great extent this is an anachronistic thinking that emerges from recollections of early fin-keelers. Properly engineered and designed, a fin keel can be a better choice for offshore work. There is the rub. Few fin keelers in the size and price range that you are considering are engineered and designed for dedicated offshore cruising.
Good ground tackle and rode-handling gear is important for both types but all-chain rodes and massive hurricane
proof anchors are not generally required for coastal cruising.
At least on the US East Coast
, (where I sail and so am most familiar with) light air performance and the ability to change gears is important for a coastal cruiser. It means more sailing time vs. motoring time and the ability to adjust to the 'if you don't like the weather
, wait a minute' which is typical of East Coast
or Great Lakes
sailing. If you are going to gunkhole under sail, maneuverability is important. Windward and off wind
performance is also important.
With all of that in mind I would suggest that a fractional sloop
rig with a generous standing sail plan, non- or minimally overlapping jibs, and an easy to use backstay adjuster
is ideal. This combination is easy to tack and trim and change gears on. I would want two-line slab reefing for quick, on the fly, reefing. I would want an easy to deploy spinnaker
I think that speed is especially important to coastal cruising. To me speed relates to range and range relates to more diverse opportunities. To explain, with speed comes a greater range that is comfortable to sail in a given day. In the sailing venues that I have typically sailed in, being able to sail farther in a day means a lot more places that can be reached under sail without flogging the crew or running the engine
. When coastal cruising speed also relates to being able to duck in somewhere when things get dicey.
Good ventilation is very critical to both types. Operable ports
, hatches, dorades are very important. While offshore, small openings are structurally a good idea, for coastal work this is less of an issue.
-Visibility and a comfortable helm
Coastal boats are more likely to be hand steered in the more frequently changing conditions, and higher traffic found in coastal cruising and are more likely to have greater traffic to deal with as well. A comfortable helm
position and good visibility is critical. Offshore, protection of the crew becomes more important.
There is a perception that coastal cruisers so not need storage
. I disagree with that. Coastal cruisers need different kinds of storage than an offshore boat but not necessarily less storage. Good storage is needed to accommodate the larger crowds that are more likely to cruise
on a short trip. Good water and holding tankage is important because people use water more liberally inshore assuming a nearby fill up, but with a larger crew this takes a toll quickly. Holding tanks
are not needed offshore but they are being inspected with greater frequency in crowded harbors and there are few things worse than cruising with a full holding tank
and no way to empty it. Offshore boats generally need larger fuel tanks