We tend to ask a lot of coastal cruisers. They must be handy enough to be easy to manoeuvre in tight spaces in harbour, sufficiently spacious to put guests up for a weekend or longer, and capable of looking after the crew in inclement weather at sea.
In one sense, when coastal cruising you will always be within relatively short windows in terms of weather forecasts. Therefore, ultimate sea keeping ability does not need to be a factor, providing you steer clear of the big waves generated in areas of tide races and overfalls in heavy weather. Nevertheless, a boat that will make good progress to windward, or in which you feel confident in 25 knot of wind will often be advantageous. Such a boat will increase the range of conditions in which it’s sensible to sail, so reducing the number of days in the season that are blown off. Equally, if you don’t like sailing to windward, a boat that sails efficiently will reduce the amount of time you spend on the wind.
Against that, a boat with moderate or shallow draught (see 5 of the best shoal-draught fin-keeled yachts) will open up more options in terms of places to visit and reduce waiting time to transit shallow harbour entrances or marina cills. Here’s a selection of boats that make good coastal cruisers, many of which are also suitable for longer passages.
The later models from this British boat builder embodied the features that made Moody one of the biggest brands in the UK market, while also providing better sailing performance. The 336 is a spacious design, although with an aft cockpit rather than the brand’s more usual centre cockpit. The quarter cabin arrangement is different to most, with the double bunk located under the cockpit and therefore more standing, lounging and storage space than might otherwise be expected. There’s also a large saloon, very good galley and navigation station and decent-sized forecabin.
Beneteau First 35 and 345
If you want an inexpensive boat that’s quick under sail, has almost flawless handing and provides three cabins, these French designs from the 1980s are certainly worth considering. It was initially launched as the Beneteau First 35 in 1980, before being restyled and upgraded as the 345 five years later. The newer model has a more sophisticated interior with a much higher standard of finish, along with large deck hatches providing what were then trend-setting amounts of natural light below decks. The 345 was also available in a two cabin layout, with a more spacious aft heads compartment and significantly larger forecabin. It was also sold in both deep and shoal draft versions. Between the two designs almost 1,000 boats were built.
As with other Bavarias, this model from the early 2000s offers an impressive volume of accommodation relative to its overall length. The two-cabin layout has been arranged so that no part of the interior needed to be compromised to squeeze in additional cabins or other features. The saloon feels surprisingly spacious, thanks in part to the generous 3.4m beam, and there’s a proper chart table and a large L-shaped galley. Both cabins are of a good size, particularly the forecabin, which has a useful standing area and good stowage. Interior woodwork is of a high standard, although the finish is a little darker than that of many newer yachts.
The bulb keel helps to confer good stability under sail, while the fractional rig gives potential for good control of mainsail shape, although the deck gear arrangement is not as slick as that found on more performance oriented models. There was a choice of both shoal and deep keels and 19hp or 29hp engine options. The boat below is currently for sale on Yachtworld.
In many ways this 29-footer is a lovely size for coastal cruising – small enough to slip easily into the tightest of gaps in a marina, yet large enough to make sensible speed on passage, give a feeling of security at sea and provide civilised two-cabin accommodation. The 295 is easy to sail, with light loads in the deck gear, which means you you’re more likely to spend a greater proportion of your time enjoying the sailing, rather than under power either because there’s not enough wind, or it’s on the nose. While there are boats with more space, particularly in the forecabin, few offer the 295’s appealing blend of easy fun, refined handling and good speed under sail.
Hunter Channel 265
This model from the mid 1990s was ahead of its time in many ways. Designer David Thomas has long been seen as being ahead of the curve and the chined hull of this model pre-dates the fashion that is now well established for both cruising and performance yachts by more than a decade.
Generous beam that’s carried well aft, plus a healthy ballast ratio, help to provide excellent stability, even in very strong winds. Yet this is also a model that provides considerably more space than the 25ft hull length suggests. Accommodation includes a surprisingly good separate quarter cabin, a chart table, a well-executed small galley and an aft heads compartment. The saloon is open plan to the forepeak, with two good settee berths around a central table, plus two occasional berths forward. The design was revamped in the late 1990s, with later versions renamed the Hunter Channel 27.
Westerly Seahawk 34/35
This centre cockpit design, along with its subsequent variants, including the Oceanquest 35, offers a huge amount of accommodation within its overall length. The layout, with a cabin at each end of the boat offers more privacy than with aft cockpit designs. The aft cabin is particularly spacious, with the later 35ft versions having a peninsula double bed and lots of stowage, while all models benefit from a spacious saloon and excellent galley.
On deck the centre cockpit lifts you further above the water than a conventional aft cockpit, which provides a drier ride at the expense of more motion. The hull shape has the potential to offer a surprising turn of speed, although the aft cockpit Falcon 34 based on the same hull is quicker overall.
The boat photographed above is currently for sale on Yachtworld.
Further reading on coastal cruising
For more boats ideal for exploring the UK's coast, estuaries and rivers, see Choosing a yacht: bilge keels vs fin keels and 8 of the best UK estuaries for cruising.