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Old 01-03-2019, 06:05   #1
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Center Cockpit Sailboat Safety

I often read that a center cockpit sailboat is a safer sailboat for the pilot. After giving some thought, I was wondering if there was any data to support this.

Although I was not able to find any data to support center cockpit vs aft cockpit and safety, I did find a list of pros and cons for each position (I have added my thoughts to the list in bold):

The Good Points of a centre cockpit in a 35-37 foot boat.
1) Usually a bigger aft cabin with better headroom than the equivalent aft cockpit boat.
2) Main-sheet is usually on a traveller right behind the helm, and easily controlled by the helmsman.
3) The helmsman is closer to the beam of the boat, and this can make it easier coming alongside whilst short handed.
4) Most centre cockpit boats were from good makers including Moody and Halberg Rassy, and even the volume builders centre cockpit boats were often a cut above the same makers aft cockpit models. For example the 38 and 40 foot Bavaria Ocean boats always appeared to be better specified than the cheaper aft cockpit boats of the same size.
5) If the boat is in a squall there would be more handholds for the pilot as the cockpit is more snug

1) Small Cockpit, if you have a full crew.
2) In the smaller sizes the saloon or the forward cabin (or both) tend to be cramped.
3) Not so easy if you moor stern to.
4) The steering is necessarily remote, and if cable connected it can be stiff and lacking in feedback.
5) The high cockpit sole results in reduced forward visibility, and is more likely to induce seasickness because of the greater arc of any rolling motion.
6) Partly because of the small saloon some centre cockpit boats are a bit gloomy below decks, and seem to have less light and ventilation than equivalent aft cockpit models.
7) In this size range some older designs have no internal access between aft cabin and saloon.
8) A tendency to get wetter in bad weather
9) You have to turn 360 degrees to see your entire boat instead of keeping eyes ahead.

Read more at Centre vs aft cockpit: pros & cons?

What are you thoughts?

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Old 01-03-2019, 07:12   #2
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Re: Center Cockpit Sailboat Safety

I really like a CC for other reasons, namely the aft cabin.
However in my opinion just from what I have seen, it seems to really make a CC “work” it needs to be a bigger boat than 40’ as a CC seems to eat space especially in the Salon and cockpit. There is of course only so much space, make one thing bigger it has to come from other areas.
Of course that is an opinion.

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Old 01-03-2019, 07:32   #3
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Re: Center Cockpit Sailboat Safety

I agree with A64. I have never seen a CC with respectable space in both the cockpit and below decks that was less than 46-47 feet. On those, it's a decent arrangement however and worth careful consideration for a full-time live aboard.

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Old 01-03-2019, 07:52   #4
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Re: Center Cockpit Sailboat Safety

Agree with a64 as well – have had a CC in a fat 42, and it worked okay, especially at anchor or at the dock – but for my purposes aft is nicer (for me), and the CC seemed to elevate me about a foot or so higher than otherwise to allow space below for the walk-through, So I suspect the motion was more lively – maybe the old Dickersons were the way to go – to heck with a walk-through, design around the cockpit…
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Old 01-03-2019, 10:05   #5
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Re: Center Cockpit Sailboat Safety

I am currently restoring a 73 Coronado 35'.

This CC is the first I have had the pleasure of working on. The tub was left standing for quite a few years, other than the usual amount of rot, rust and neglect that you would expect, I have grown to rather like this mis-understood creature.

While the amount of headroom in the aft cabin is great, the saloon is a def cramped. This is due to the companionway stairs dropping right in the middle of the saloon. There is no real area for entertaining guests of more than 4 total persons.

This would be a great live-aboard bachlorpad,(once the usual creature comforts are installed, i.e., hot water, toilet, shower, fridge, etc.)

These boats were never on my radar, and now I'm becoming a big fan of CC's.Once I finish the rebuild, I will post photos.
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Old 01-03-2019, 10:24   #6
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Re: Center Cockpit Sailboat Safety

For the record, all of my boats are aft cockpits, but I like both. One advantage of a center cockpit is when you are sailing as a couple and to a lesser extent on an extended cruise with others. The aft cockpit provides separation; an area to escape from being on top of each other. The center cockpit provides more of a separation than does an aft cockpit.

The small cockpit is a bit of a disadvantage if you are spending a fair amount of time at the dock or having friends visit. Often an aft cockpit provides an area to gather and relax, especially if you have a good dodger, Bimini and side curtains. It makes for a little easier time to load provisions, get on and off the boat etc.

I like both but it depends upon how you are using the vessel. What works well in one situation may not work well in another.
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Old 01-03-2019, 10:28   #7
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Re: Center Cockpit Sailboat Safety

FWIW, I think the inherent safety of any boat depends on much bigger issues than whether it is aft or centre cockpit. I've had my (1981 Westerly Conway Mk III) 36 ft centre cockpit long fin keel ketch for 20 years now & no plans to change it. I like the privacy of my aft cabin & loo, which means I can shut the door & get no complaints about my snoring, & the saloon & cockpit work fine with a maximum crew of say 5 altogether. Its big enough - you just work around each other...
Westerly did do an aft cockpit sloop version of the boat but the CC ketch version way outsold that many times over back in the 70s & 80s. Fashions change.
The walk through is actually a stoop through which works well for me at 6ft tall, & keeps the cockpit that bit lower. The motion is fine - you do have to watch out for spray coming over the spray hood but fortunately that doesnt happen too often.
The wheel steering is Whitlock rods going through 4 gearboxes to get back aft & is White Fish Authority approved, for trawlers - very robust. It used to be heavy but just needed stripping & greasing - its fine now. The autopilot is integral & very strong.
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Old 01-03-2019, 10:29   #8
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Re: Center Cockpit Sailboat Safety

I have a 42 center cockpit, Pearson 422. In the past have had Morgan OI36 and Lohi 34 center cockpits. Made long passages in sometimes nasty weather in the 34 and 36 and saw no safety issues vs an aft cockpit in the same conditions.

Only the 42 is a walk through. I lived for extended periods on the 34 and 36 and really didn't mind at all up and over to reach the aft cabin. Since I always had a bimini or boom tent even in a rain we stayed dry.

All three had cockpits large enough for 4-6 people and room to stretch out and sleep (thought not at the same time).

I love having the private aft cabin. One thing I really love; I always have a bed that is a bed ready to sleep in, not a storage room or a convertible dinette.
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Old 01-03-2019, 10:48   #9
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Re: Center Cockpit Sailboat Safety

We are very happy with our CC for many reasons. Dry ride, large aft cabin, main sheet & traveler at end of boom is stronger, plenty of room in saloon for 6 crew, large engine room with good access on one side thru double doors instead of buried under companionway, good view from higher center position. Yes, I have to duck my head thru the passage to aft cabin, keep watch on the stern while backing and turning in tight spots, saloon is small for a 39 footer, so is cockpit, I can’t comment on stern tie issues as we rarely do that here. The saloon has good headroom and very cozy but has small portlights that are high up which limits the view even while standing. This design is very strong works well for off shore conditions as opposed to large plexiglass windows that can blow out. Overall, this CC boat works well for us. It’s a 2001 Hallberg Rassy 39
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Old 01-03-2019, 11:35   #10
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Re: Center Cockpit Sailboat Safety

I can only speak to my experience. I admired and coveted center cockpit cruisers for many years and chartered a couple in the Virgin Islands many years ago. Never encountered any adverse weather though. But when we decided it was finally time to go cruising we were old and after lifetimes of being out in the sun our dermatologist said " you can't do that". So we decided on a pilothouse to allow us to avoid as much sun as possible. When we bashed back from Mexico to California we did it in the company of two full keel,center cockpit boats. We waited a bit too long to head North and were in terrible headwinds and seas for 60 hours. We listened on the radio to the other boats as they recounted having their cockpits full to the top with sea water that found it's way below in torrents. Our aft cockpit was wet with rain, but never filled with sea water. We were dry inside most of the time, only going out to adjust this that or the other thing. One boat was put on the market immediately on arrival in San Francisco, but the owner was older than us and I think was bashing back to go ashore anyway. That's all folks, off topic a bit.
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Old 01-03-2019, 11:56   #11
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Re: Center Cockpit Sailboat Safety

As the saying goes, “size matters”. Our cockpit is huge, the aft is easily accessible and we are dry in any weather. I think the criticisms of CC boats derives from trying to implement that design on a boat too small to cram everything together.
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Old 01-03-2019, 12:51   #12
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Re: Center Cockpit Sailboat Safety

Under 40' mid cockpit boats are fugly. The cockpits are wet, very wet especially in the unsanforized sizes. The aft cabin doesn't get the benefit of natural airflow through the boat and can be hot in warm weather. The need for an aft cabin is minimal unless you regularly take other people on overnight sails or a family. If you want self steering, a pendulum servo vane probably won't work. Depending on how the boat is rigged, the mainsheet is going to be aft, way aft of the wheel so you have a choice of steering or trimming the main.

For those who have a need, mid cockpit designs solve one problem but for me they are a waste of good space.
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Old 01-03-2019, 17:41   #13
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Re: Center Cockpit Sailboat Safety

I would add one more advantage to the CC: helm stability in choppy seas. On the Chesapeake we get some pretty steep waves, and the bow and stern can rise and fall so much you feel practically weightless. The center cockpit is the place to be in these conditions, at least on a '43.
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Old 01-03-2019, 19:01   #14
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Re: Center Cockpit Sailboat Safety

We have a Cheoy Lee 47 cc, I've previously had all aft cockpit boats.
There are pros and cons to both, I've been pooped in an aft cockpit but never in a cc.
The interior space and access is great in the cc, engine access I'd great, if aft cockpits not much.
Because the center of effort I'd higher in a cc the keel requires more lead, this adds to the already substantial weight if this boat, but it's s cruising boat, our canned goods probably weigh as much.
This one is s performance cruiser do it goes to wind well for a cruising boat, that said, some really big waves coming 45 degrees off the bow can splash you in the cockpit where they might not on the aft cockpit version of this model. Of course I've never been pooped in this one.
The boom is higher also, which requires standing stop the granny bars to attach the main halyard, but I can hang reefing rings from deck level.
With Jacklin need up either side of the cabin top it's actually easier to get from the cockpit yo the mast in adverse conditions.
I have a windvane steering gear attached to the stern do davits are out if the question but the 9 foot rib sits nicely on the stern deck.
I looked at a ton of cc boats for three years before buying this one and totally refitting it and agree that under 43 feet the compromises make them less attractive.
Our stern cabin is very nice, the v berth is very comfortable, we have full head room in the walk through. Private heads, etc, etc.
There a bit more motion when rolling in beam seas but less when going to wind or in following seas.
Sterring I'd not a big issue, the only difference I'd in the length of the cables, otherwise there's little difference. The main difference in "feel" is the design of the underbody and rudder also with the rig design. I didn't expect this boat with its modified fin keel and skeg hung rudder to have the type of feedback and performance my previous racer cruiser did, and it doesn't, but I am pleasantly surprised by it's speed and smooth ride. It also goes to wind better than a cruising boat should.
So pick wisely, you need to know what compromises you are willing to accept to get the tide you need. Like women, what you need is not always what want, a wise man knows the difference.
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Old 01-03-2019, 21:29   #15
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Re: Center Cockpit Sailboat Safety

Cc 46’ ketch here. Can’t say it’s safer or less safe than an aft cockpit.
Definitely drier though. A bit more friction in the helm. Visibility is excellent. Unbelievable space below. Engine room occupies the space below the cockpit. Access is great.
Passageway to aft stateroom.
It’s a great private place.

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