It’s peculiar how a powered catamaran so rarely seems to figure in the thought processes of the average British recreational boater. And when it does, it is remarkable how quickly it tends to fall from the shortlist, as rapier-like monohulls nudge their way ever more tellingly toward the pleasure receptors of the brain. By comparison, twin hulls begin to look like an unnecessary luxury. Not only do they cost more to make (and to buy), but they also tend to bring together extra technical complication with looks that can be rather pug-like and blunt-headed.
And yet catamarans are very often used for commercial, military and race purposes - and in these fields, imperatives of genuine importance like efficiency, performance, safety and cost-effectiveness are always at the heart of the decision making process. So what is it about catamarans that makes them such worthy boats?
In order for a sporting monohull to be effective, its hull needs to be relatively narrow in the beam and tapered at the bow - and that inevitably limits internal space. But with two hulls, this is not an issue. They can be spaced relatively wide and carry that same spacing all the way to the bow, because there is no requirement to taper the point of entry so radically in pursuit of a softer ride. The result of this design freedom is often a platform that is not just much larger than that of an equivalent monohull but also much more useably proportioned. On a well-organised cat, you get a vast acreage of deck in the form of a fairly uniform rectangle, with not a wasteful, space-sapping curve in sight.
Unparalleled softness of ride
A good catamaran enjoys another major benefit for the family boater in the form of ride softness. Because there is no specific requirement for the hull to ‘contain’ the internal space, it is able to operate with a far finer point of entry than a monohull, and to generate adequate ‘lift’ without the need for the broad aft planing surfaces used by conventional sports boats.
In addition, the ‘tunnel’ section (between the hulls and beneath the deck) also helps channel and compress the air to aid in the softening of impacts as the boat comes down from a crest. The combined effect of these features is often a radical reduction in the ‘slamming’ to which the average fast monohull driver is well accustomed - and all this is far more than just theory. Drive a twin-hulled leisure boat from the likes of Hysucat, Powercat or Thaicat and you won’t believe how soft riding a day of fast powerboating can be.
Easy at low speeds
As implied above, the hulls on a catamaran are much finer than those of a monohull, which means they generate far less resistance when moving through the water. One happy benefit of this is that at low speeds, when a monohull wastes lots of energy in the generation of a hump at the bow and a wake at the stern, a cat tends to run very efficiently, with excellent directional stability and very little wash.
Furthermore, while a monohull tends to require the movement of water over its surfaces to increase its stability, a catamaran enjoys a huge amount of lateral stability even at a standstill. The positioning of the hulls means that the buoyancy is located at the widest extremes of the deck, so even a heavy passenger can move about with a fishing rod or a rope without causing any undue heeling of the boat.
And then we come to another key issue - that of manoeuvrability. It is a sad truth that a great many monohull owners in the UK are discouraged from operating their boats as often as they would like by the difficulty of manoeuvering it in the confines of a marina. And yet with twin hulls and a pair of independently operable engines, it is child’s play to spin a cat on the spot or to hold station against combinations of wind and tide that might cause even an experienced monohull driver a few difficulties.
Reassuring at high speeds
When the speeds increase, getting onto the plane and staying there requires significantly less fuel with twin hulls and with that famous softness of ride, sea keeping is also often a very strong trait. Not for nothing do we see commercial operators choosing the likes of Cheetah cats for jobs like harbour patrol and offshore fishing work.
It is true, however, that the handling of a fast cat can feel rather odd to a helmsman more accustomed to a monohull. They often turn very flat with none of that reassuring heel into the corner we are conditioned to expect. And some can even generate a slight heel toward the outside of the arc, but once you get used to the handling mannerisms of the specific craft, there is plenty more to enjoy about the behaviour of a cat than to criticise.
And while you’re out there enjoying yourself, it’s good to know that a catamaran brings with it the safety benefits associated with two engines. But to make sure you get the best from a twin-engined cat, you need to ensure that, not only are the two units independently operable, but that they use entirely independent systems, including fuel and batteries. This way, even complete failure in one engine should still see you driving safely back to harbour to remedy the problem.
Lots of modern variety
The spread of powered cats available to the UK buyer is much more varied than it once was. It goes from rapid, playful little craft from the likes of Zego, Thundercat and C-Fury, through to the heavier, more practical midrange cats of the RIBcat, Powercat, Thaicat, Motorcat and hydrofoil-assisted Hysucat stables. And for jobs that demand larger, more rugged offshore craft, the likes of Cheetah and BW Seacat are well able to provide the boats to suit.
Power catamarans: a summary
There is no doubt that a well-built twin-hulled powerboat with two genuinely independent propulsion systems makes a great family craft. Yes, it can sometimes look a bit iffy and make trailering more awkward - and its on-water handling, with the flat transition through a turn, can leave the monohull fan a little disconcerted at first. But with more space, a softer ride, greater stability, easier manoeuvrability and lower running costs, it is impossible to ignore their merits. See our pick of the best power multihulls.