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Old 24-01-2022, 13:10   #1
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Center Cockpits: pros and cons

Previously, on my first post ever here, I put up a thread asking for people's opinions about Old vs. New sailboat designs. . It was great that so many people responded, and I learned a lot from that.

So, with that happy experience fresh in mind, I've decided to post a few more threads, to seek the opinions and hard-earned experience of the board denizens on specific features of boats I wonder about.

The first feature up for discussion: the center cockpit.

Growing up in Michigan in the 1960s and 70s these were extremely rare, and I don't remember seeing any growing up at any of the many docks we visited while sailing and motoring in Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.

As a result they have always seemed a bit exotic or weird to me.

In fact (perhaps like others) the first center cockpit yacht I remember noticing was the one used as a prop by the Sonny Crockett character on Miami Vice. There was no internet back then, so I just sort of wondered about it's odd shape, without knowing anything else about it.



As it turns out there were several boats used in different seasons, but they settled out on an Endevour 42 for the last several. Here's a link to one that was for sale, and here's a picture of the boat which shows off the layout:



When I started visiting this site and a few others like it I got a lot more exposure to center cockpits, particularly the Hallberg-Rassy models which seems to have many fans. Here is a current-production 50-foot one from their web site:



Oddly, I've still never even set foot on one, but I have seen them at dockside in the intervening years. So, here are my not-very well informed ideas about them:
PROS:
  • drier, with much less chance of waves rolling into the cockpit
  • safety in big seas, less likey to end up overboard
  • enhances the size of the aft stateroom
  • commanding view in all directions
CONS:
  • not so good for swimming as a rear cockpit with fold-down transom
  • reduces the size of the main cabin
  • not as elegant looking as most rear cockpits, almost like a pilothouse
  • not as good a position to view the sails from
  • weird: unlike every boat you've ever sailed on

I'm suspecting that there are more advantages, or the importance of some of them is more pronounced than I understand.

I notice that there seem to be some very dedicated fans of the design. I also notice that even the most committed builders of center cockpit yachts, like Hallberg-Rassy, tend to also build traditional rear-cockpit layout boats too (often of the same basic boat). So, not everyone is sold on them.

Please help educate me on the pros and cons of center-cockpits, and particularly those of you who own them: why did you decide on the less common layout when buying your boat?
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Old 24-01-2022, 13:26   #2
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Re: Center Cockpits: pros and cons

There was one center-cockpit boat that captivated me when first released, and (at the risk of posting this in the wrong sub-forum) it was the original Corsair F-27 folding trimaran. I was living in the San Francisco bay area, and their were suddenly these weird trimarans everywhere. The center cockpit was about the least unusual thing about that boat, so I didn't think about it much until recently.



Still, I remember thinking when the little-brother boat, the 24' one came out, that it was much prettier with its open transom (although also clearly a daysailer, not so much a pocket cruiser)

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Old 24-01-2022, 13:38   #3
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Re: Center Cockpits: pros and cons

I wouldn't say it reduces the size of the main cabin. Depending on the layout you can end up with a very large full beam rear cabin.

Since you mentioned HR 50 here is the deckplan as an example.



You do tend to end up with these linear passageway style galleys. Not universal but it is common to accommodate the engine bay which is now pushed forward. You aren't going to get those spacious floating condo style salon layouts like on most modern boats.

Some would say that is a good thing although space sells right now.
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Old 24-01-2022, 13:57   #4
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Re: Center Cockpits: pros and cons

Thanks! Those are interesting insights. I noticed in your signature file that you have a very beautiful and classic looking boat yourself, the Tayana 37. Did you consider any center-cockpit sailboats when you were shopping?

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Old 24-01-2022, 13:59   #5
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Re: Center Cockpits: pros and cons

A possible 'pro' is their allowing a large double berth cabin aft. This could turn into a 'con' if the noise of waves hitting the aft quarters & transom keep you awake. There may be some debate about dryness. Forward areas on a boat are usually wetter, though the height of the center cockpit above the water, along with built-up coamings and dodgers, might mitigate that some. There's usually more spray, which is why they have the coamings and dodgers. The added height also adds to the sense of motion...like getting seasick from being up the mast. Imagine getting catapulted by the motion, rather than actually being safer. High coamings can make it more difficult to get out of the cockpit to attend to docklines, fenders, or other issues that crop up. The 'commanding view' to leeward is cut off by the jib even more than from an aft-cockpit boat. As noted, getting out of the cockpit to look behind the jib can be difficult. This is not safe. Besides not having easy access to the swim ladder a center-cockpit also means added steps to get up out of the main cabin each time. The added steps to the cockpit sole also lift occupants up into the range of the boom. To make it safer, booms are then rigged higher, raising the CE of the sail so that the boat heels more easily...which adds to the sense of motion. Everything on a boat is a compromise. Your boat, you decide.
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Old 24-01-2022, 14:48   #6
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Re: Center Cockpits: pros and cons

At one time, I was quite married to the center cockpit feature.

My first and second boat were center cockpit. At 38' LOA.....my first boat, in my opinion, is that this is too small for a center cockpit. Again, my personal opinion, is that you need at least 45' to successfully implement a center cockpit.

My second boat was 42', though the center cockpit was more manageable, I had a companionway entrance at the front and rear of the cockpit, but rarely used the rear one, though it was nice to to open to allow a breeze back there. I still think 45' is the minimum.

A center cockpit tends to get wet, as it so much closer to bow and like other posters have mentioned, it is generally quite high. Typically centered near the aft-middle of the boat, it eats up prime boat real estate.

An aft cabin is nice, probably the nicest feature of any center cockpit boat, but keeping this cabin cool is an issue. The rest of the boat gets kinda chopped up.

Center cockpit boats typically have little (if any) locker space in the cockpit.

Switching gears, my last boat has the open aft cockpit so favored by the French. At first I thought this concept was nuts, but I have come to love this concept. Hands down, it is my preference now. An aft cockpit gives you oodles of under the cockpit storage space, plus being at the tail end of the boat, is drier.

It's different strokes for different folks....for sure...but having spend equal time on both aft and center cockpit boats, my preference these days is for an aft cockpit. I could probably list dozens more things that either bothered me or things I liked, but my preference is definitely slanted aft.
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Old 24-01-2022, 15:02   #7
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Re: Center Cockpits: pros and cons

I've posted this thought before: devoting ~ 1/3 of the internal volume of the boat to a cabin where you spend the dark hours unconscious is a poor choice IMO. Despite what was posted upthread, a larger aft cabin must reduce the available volume for the saloon, which is where one spends their awake hours (if below decks-). Further, the galley in the passageway is a lousy solution for me. As the primary cook on our boat, I'd feel quite isolated stuck in one of those dungeons!

If your plans include having non-family guests often the relative privacy of an isolated aft cabin can be attractive, but for the typical cruising couple it seems unnecessary to me. And for those who think they will have lots of guests... well, you may be surprised how few of your friends will actually come to visit once you get very far away. The realities of visiting a distant yacht (especially with Covid) are more difficult that anticipated, and ambition fades!

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Old 24-01-2022, 19:09   #8
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Re: Center Cockpits: pros and cons

I suppose, (maybe,) that once you get to a "big" boat of more modern design a center cockpit can be made to at least give the illusion of having a lower/sleeker appearance.
On those boats the cockpit isn't really a "center" at all, it becomes a "3/4 aft" cockpit.
On smaller more conventional designs it looks out-of-place, at least to me.
Having sailed on both a Westsail 42, and a 43, there is no doubt in my mind which one I'd want to take across the pond, it would be the aft cockpit 43.
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Old 24-01-2022, 19:10   #9
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Re: Center Cockpits: pros and cons

As PSK125 notes there are added steps to get in to and out of the cockpit. That doesn't sound like a big deal but when it comes to getting supplies/provisions etc in to the boat it is actually a real pain. It's amazing too just how often you need to attend to things outside the cockpit too, sails, and rigging etc whilst underway. Also the extra steps mean falls and slips are more likely.
And whilst gunk holing, wet suits, fishing and diving gear too.

In respect to the aft cabin. Another option is to have a rear companionway to the aft cabin. My boat has this, although rather than a big double bed there are two quarter berths in the aft, plus a big locker and the steering/rudder system.

A positive is that the mainsheet traveller sits outside and behind the cockpit rather than intersecting it.

It was interesting to read the need for a dodger. I agree. I've sailed a Ganley 34 centre cockpit without dodger and it sure was wet wet wet. And also rather unpleasant too as there was nowhere to shelter from the wind.
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Old 24-01-2022, 23:32   #10
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Re: Center Cockpits: pros and cons

Having cruised for years on a Gulfstar 50 cc and a Jeanneau 49 ds, I have to go with the Jeanneau's HUGE aft cockpit with it's easy access swim step for our multiple swims and dingy boardings. The Gulfstar had only a 6' long cockpit, where we spend most of our time.
Sure the aft cabin is nice, but the forepeak has way better ventilation. Hands down aft cockpit is way more useful in the tropics. But in high latitudes, cc's may have an advantage as you may spend more time in the huge aft cabin.
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Old 24-01-2022, 23:46   #11
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Re: Center Cockpits: pros and cons

Having owned a South Coast 36 for a few years, it seems to me that the argument come s down to whether you want a comfortable, private aft cabin. Others have stated various cons, let me add another. You are sleeping above the hydraulic ram and the prop - probably un braked
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Old 25-01-2022, 06:00   #12
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Re: Center Cockpits: pros and cons

To me centre cockpits work from 45 foot up. They are far too cramped below that. In the med , CCs make everything more awkward.
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Old 25-01-2022, 06:39   #13
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Re: Center Cockpits: pros and cons

We have a center cockpit and I have to agree with the advantages and disadvantages listed already. For us, we felt a CC was "safer" for our kids as we only have to tell them to stay inside the combing, and it contains our baby fairly well without worry. Another pro I would say is visibility, at the helm I'm high up and probably 12 feet closer to the front of the boat than an aft cockpit. I will admit I've tripped over the combing when trying to rush to the front, but aft cockpits have combings too. It is a pain to board.
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Old 25-01-2022, 06:51   #14
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Re: Center Cockpits: pros and cons

We sail the Caribbean, and love our Center Cockpit. We like having a front cabin for guests that has its own head and sleeping area completely separate from ours. We like the 360 degree view when we are sitting in the cockpit. Our aft deck has steps down to the water when open, and our wet dive gear stays there instead of going into the cockpit. At sunset we put chairs out on the aft deck to watch the sunset.on rough crossings we do need to put one side of our full enclosure up to stay dry, but that is only 1-2 times a year. When we were sailing Lake Superior we liked the full enclosure for warmth and freedom from bugs. It really is a personal preference, but we have owned both and for living aboard we like our 42CC
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Old 25-01-2022, 07:38   #15
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Re: Center Cockpits: pros and cons

My next boat is going to be a cat - a big cat - monos are oh so yesterday.

I've had my 3/4 cockpit Westerly Sealord for just under 28 years which suggest she may just suit me.

Aft cabin - aka' the Master's Stateroom' aka 'my squat' aka 'the place down the back where everything that doesn't have a home goes' has room for a nice big inner sprung custom made mattress and I don't have to pack up and put everything away each morning when I get up. I don't live there on passage but use it for sea stores.

The 'walk through' has standing headroom due to cunning use of cockpit coamings and is home to my electronic command center and my technical library. Beneath that is a seaberth under which live batteries, 240v charger and stuff.
The saloon area also accomodates the galley and chart table and the settees double as seaberths. The galley does not have to live in the walkthrough.
On deck - I am mystified by this spray issue. Even when working to windward the wind will be on the bow, not right ahead, and any spray will blow off down wind. Who sails to windward anyway?
The cockpit sole is as high as it needs to be to clear the top of the engine plus a bit. Maybe 6 or 9 inches higher than an equivalent aft cockpit. That means one extra step in the companionway - if you can't handle that maybe sailing is not for you.
Stowage in the cockpit?
Only one locker I'm afraid - I call it the 'garden shed'. On the stbd side opposite the walk through it has standing headroom and is home to the hot water tank, the FW pressure system, the fridge machinery, and the Eberspacher. That still leaves room for empty fuel bidones, patogonian shore lines, fenders, dock lines, and other stuff.

The designer - Ed Dubois - managed to achieve all this without 'wedding caking' her.

One of the best features is aft of the cockpit, that lovely open area with room to stow the dinghy - none of those fugly davit thingoes - or set up your dive kit, whatever.

I won't go into the things I don't like about aft cockpit. OK now that you ask.
One thing I could never live with is an aft cockpit canoe sterned boat under 40 foot.
If you want to see 'junk on the trunk' on a cruising boat that is where to look.

At th end of the day it all comes down to design.
My next boat is going to be a cat - a big cat - monos are oh so yesterday.

I've had my 3/4 cockpit Westerly Sealord for just under 28 years which suggest she may just suit me.

Aft cabin - aka' the Master's Stateroom' aka 'my squat' aka 'the place down the back where everything that doesn't have a home goes' has room for a nice big inner sprung custom made mattress and I don't have to pack up and put everything away each morning when I get up. I don't live there on passage but use it for sea stores.

The 'walk through' has standing headroom due to cunning use of cockpit coamings and is home to my electronic command center and my technical library. Beneath that is a seaberth under which live batteries, 240v charger and stuff.
The saloon area also accomodates the galley and chart table and the settees double as seaberths. The galley does not have to live in the walkthrough.
On deck - I am mystified by this spray issue. Even when working to windward the wind will be on the bow, not right ahead, and any spray will blow off down wind. Who sails to windward anyway?
The cockpit sole is as high as it needs to be to clear the top of the engine plus a bit. Maybe 6 or 9 inches higher than an equivalent aft cockpit. That means one extra step in the companionway - if you can't handle that maybe sailing is not for you.
Stowage in the cockpit?
Only one locker I'm afraid - I call it the 'garden shed'. On the stbd side opposite the walk through it has standing headroom and is home to the hot water tank, the FW pressure system, the fridge machinery, and the Eberspacher. That still leaves room for empty fuel bidones, patogonian shore lines, fenders, dock lines, and other stuff.

The designer - Ed Dubois - managed to achieve all this without 'wedding caking' her.

One of the best features is aft of the cockpit, that lovely open area with room to stow the dinghy - none of those fugly davit thingoes - or set up your dive kit, whatever.

I won't go into the things I don't like about aft cockpit. OK now that you ask.
One thing I could never live with is an aft cockpit canoe sterned boat under 40 foot.
If you want to see 'junk on the trunk' on a cruising boat that is where to look.

At th end of the day it all comes down to the individual design - some work some don't.
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