Steering, trimming, eating, fishing, reading, relaxing... When the weather's right, almost everything worth doing aboard a yacht takes place in the cockpit. So it makes perfect sense to judge a yacht by its cockpit – and here are four of the very finest.
Beneteau Oceanis 48 (and sister models)
The Oceanis 48 is the middle sister in the new Beneteau line that includes models from 31 to 60 feet. This Finot-Conq design features a push-button electric transom that drops down, transforming the aft bench seat into an extended playground. With the transom down, the cockpit opens up with a clean flow from the companionway, past the dual helms, all the way aft and into the water. It will work well for anyone donning dive gear or stepping aboard from a dock and it also makes boarding from a dinghy easy.
Sheet boxes are built into the coaming at each wheel to keep line clutter contained. There is a centreline drop-leaf table with built-in, self-draining ice boxes that also hold the swivel mount for a Simrad multi-function display, which may be turned toward either of the helms. This is a cockpit that will be comfortable at anchor and workable under sail, especially if you add electric primary winches and an electric halyard winch on the cabintop.
Like its sisters, the Beneteau 48 has a large arch that serves as the attachment point for the dodger and lifts the mainsheet up and out of the way of cockpit traffic, while still providing the enhanced control of end-boom sheeting. There is no traveller, since the mainsheet connects directly to the arch.
Check out the latest big Beneteau creation: CNB 76 review: small superyacht.
Hylas is known for its premier ocean-going semi-custom cruising boats, and examples can be found just about anywhere in the world. Whether passage-making or gunkholing, cruisers practically live in their cockpits, so a good design is imperative. Here, Hylas improved on the already very popular 54-foot model by adding two feet to the overall design—and it’s all in the cockpit.
The cockpit on this Hylas 56 was extended 24 inches fore and aft and its beam was increased by eight inches. This allowed Hylas to install a cockpit table that accommodates six guests; the previous drop-down folding table only sat four for dining. A large binnacle serves as the electronics pod, and additional wind instruments may be installed over the companionway, which makes them easy to read even at night.
Since this is a centre-cockpit vessel, a well-designed full enclosure can be crafted to make the cockpit into another “room” aboard, which is most welcome when living aboard and cruising climates in the four corners of the world.
See also: 8 great centre cockpit cruising yachts.
Beneteau Sense 50
When the Sense 50 by Beneteau was introduced, they coined a brand new expression to describe its cockpit: monomaran. That’s a monohull with a cockpit so wide, it feels like you’re on a catamaran.
The yacht design group of Berret-Racoupeau tossed out any preconceived notions of what a cruising monohull should be and started fresh, somehow succeeding in making the Sense 50 look both imposing and inviting. It’s a massive platform with a 49ft LOA and nearly 16ft wide, a dimension that is carried well aft. This width is what allowed the construction of an almost catamaran-like cockpit, with an easy entry off a broad swim platform and only one step up to the twin wheels. Visibility forward from the helm stations is excellent, and there’s plenty of room for sailing instruments to one side and a chartplotter on the other.
The seats behind each helm station lift up and out to open up the entire transom, creating an inviting terrace. A U-shaped settee is to starboard, with a table that can be either folded and lowered to a cocktail table; made into a sunpad; or used as an outdoor berth for two. To port is a straight bench that lifts to reveal a large stowage space, which can also be an optional bunk for children or crew.
Two electric primary winches are within easy reach of the wheels. Farther forward, but also on the cockpit coaming, are two more winches with rope clutches to control the reefing lines and halyards. Built-in sheet boxes provide line stowage and the arch over the companionway secures the mainsheet, allowing for efficient end-boom sheeting. When integrated with a small white dodger, the arch is hardly noticeable and blends nicely into the lines of the boat.
The cockpit sole lifts up to reveal access to all the machinery, allowing easy maintenance. This was done to keep all the noise-making equipment well away from the living areas. Instead of hatch boards, an optional electric lift brings up the companionway door to any level so the “doorway” can be as open or closed as conditions dictate.
If you can’t picture yourself as a cat owner but love the outdoor space multihulls provide, the Sense 50 may be the best of both worlds.
For an interesting comparison, see: Grand Soleil 50 review: new composite structure
It’s easier to get a large cockpit on a large boat, but on the opposite end of the big cruising boat spectrum is the sporty Catalina 275. This yacht builds a clever cockpit into much less space. Designer Gerry Douglas has always understood the importance of a sizeable cockpit, and he paid extra attention to it on the smallest boat in the 5 Series fleet.
Boarding from a dinghy is easy at the open transom. where a folding ladder also provides access directly to/from the water. The cushions are designed for the seats as well as the aft deck, so you can sit atop the sides for a better view of the headsail. The cushions even overlap and cover the centre traveler track, so you can stretch out in comfort when lounging in the cockpit.
The mainsheet traveller divides the cockpit and is easy to manage when racing. It also integrates two swivelling cup holders. When perpendicular to the traveler Douglas jokes they’re in cruising mode, and when tucked neatly next to the traveler and out of the way, they’re in racing mode.
The Catalina 275 has tiller steering and with a tiller extension, it’s nice to steer while seated on the coaming, out of the way of the swing of the long tiller. High cabin trunk bulkheads provide plenty of back support for anyone lounging at the forward end.
For more sporty yachts with big open cockpits, see: J/11S review: do more with less.