Family cruising yachts don’t need to break the bank, or be staid designs that are unresponsive and no fun to sail. With prices of older boats having declined significantly since the recession hit in 2008, there’s a bigger choice than ever before of desirable yachts that can be bought for the same kind of money as a new family car. The following is a selection of designs that are mostly proven to be capable of crossing oceans, but will also look after you closer to home.

Sigma 33

When first launched this one-design racer represented the state of the art in offshore racing yachts, however, it’s now seen as a very moderate design and an excellent fast cruiser that still has potential on the race course. While the Contessa 32 has been widely praised for being the smallest boat to complete the ill-fated 1979 Fastnet race, it’s less well documented that the prototype Sigma 33, which is only nine inches longer, also successfully completed the race.

Sigma 33 – family cruising yacht

A one-design racing yacht developed in the late 1970s that is now seen as a moderate, trustworthy offshore cruiser.

This is therefore a boat with established long-distance credentials that has since crossed many oceans, both in racing and cruising guises. As such it demonstrates that a safe family cruiser doesn’t need to be a boat that’s not rewarding to sail. On the downside, the traditional accommodation layout is small by today’s standards, although as one of the larger boats available for this budget it still represents a lot of boat for the money.

Moody 33

Those with a taste for a heavier and more staid design may well be attracted by this centre cockpit design from the early 1970s. While this layout has more recently fallen out of fashion on boats of this size, it has the advantage of providing a small, but entirely separate, haven that children can call their own.

Moody 33 – family cruiser

A centre cockpit cruiser with a completely separate stern cabin.

Mark 2 models, from 1976 onwards, had an improved accommodation layout in the main part of the boat, which fully separated the heads compartment, provided standing/changing space in the forecabin and enlarged the saloon. A later version, dubbed the Moody 333, integrated the aft cabin into the main accommodation by providing a walk though passageway at the side of the cockpit.

See for more on the Moody 33 and her successors.

Sadler 32

Built on the reputation of the Contessa 32, the Sadler is a later interpretation of a capable fast cruiser by the same designer. It solved many of the earlier design’s shortcomings, especially in terms of accommodation volume, yet retains excellent seakeeping abilities.

Sadler 32 – family cruiser

Designed to improve upon the Contessa 32, the Sadler 32 irons out a few of the issues with the previous design.

In particular there’s extra beam and freeboard compared to the Contessa. This translates to wider sidedecks, more saloon space and a bigger forecabin, plus extra headroom and a drier ride. On the other hand, waterline length is still relatively short compared to many alternative choices, which has a limiting effect on boat speed.

Beneteau First 305

Although first launched only six years after the Sadler 32 and Sigma 33, this French design from the mid-1980s is a much newer concept. It was one of the early wider transom designs that gave space for a decent size double quarter cabin, as well as a conveniently located heads compartment next to the companionway. There’s also a large galley, proper forward-facing chart table, a good size saloon and a decent berth in the forecabin.

Beneteau First 305 – family cruiser

Despite plenty of beam and generous accommodation below decks, the Beneteau First 305 is without a doubt, a performance cruiser.

However, it would be a mistake to assume that this accommodation makes it a boat without a decent turn of speed. It was designed at the outset as a performance cruiser and won’t disappoint in this respect. Another French model from a similar era that offers similar accommodation and good sailing qualities is the Rob Humphreys designed Gib’Sea 312.

Westerly Fulmar

This 32-footer designed by Ed Dubois in the early 1980s is considered by many to be one of the finest boats Westerly produced. Although the company largely had a reputation for producing conservative designs with spacious accommodation, the Fulmar benefited from a tweakable fractional rig allied to a well balanced and slippery hull shape.

Westerly Fulmar – family cruiser

Excellent layout and stowage down below, but the Westerly Fulmar lacks the quarter cabin of the Beneteau 305.

When the model was new it quickly became a favourite among sea schools that operated year round in all weathers. As a result, in expert hands the Fulmar developed a reputation for being able to handle a full gale with ease.

The accommodation has more volume than both the Sigma and the Sadler, with a notably better forecabin and heads arrangements. There’s also a significant amount of stowage – better than on many later designs – although the Fulmar doesn’t have the benefit of the more modern quarter cabin arrangement of the First 305 or Gib’Sea 312.

Those who are looking for a boat with a quarter cabin can consider the later 27ft Westerly Merlin. While the overall accommodation volume is smaller than the of the Fulmar and there’s less stowage space, the layout may be preferred by many.


This high speed trimaran may appear to be an odd boat to recommend as a family cruiser, however it has a number of advantages that should not automatically be ignored. It will satisfy the most speed-hungry youngster, while also providing ample deck space for those who simply prefer to soak up the sun. The boat can also be towed behind a large car, which opens up the possibility of summer holidays in a range of different locations, whether that’s the South of France, the Baltic or western Scotland.

F28 - family cruiser

The F28 (pictured) or the earlier F27 trimarans are fast and light, making them trailerable, although the accommodation is limited.

The downside of course is limited accommodation – but realistically many boats are often used as glorified day sailers, with occasional nights spent on board only in good weather. If that’s the case, then the accommodation may well be adequate and there’s even space to put a tent on each of the trampolines to give teenagers their own sleeping areas.

For a longer cruise with adequate planning it’s rarely necessary to spend every night on board the boat. It’s therefore possible to plan around a mix of staying on board in good weather and in decent hotels when that’s a more attractive option. Pictured is the slightly later F28.

For more cruising yacht choices, see: 5 great lifting keel cruising yachts or 8 of the best bilge-keel sailing yachts.

Written by: Rupert Holmes
Rupert Holmes has more than 70,000 miles of offshore cruising and racing experience, in waters ranging from the North Sea to the Southern Ocean and Cape Horn. He writes about all aspects of boat ownership and marine travel, including destinations, seamanship and maintenance, as well as undertaking regular new boat and gear tests. He currently sails around 5,000 miles per year and in the past couple of seasons has cruised from the UK to the Azores, as well as winning his class in the 2014 two-handed Round Britain and Ireland Race. He also owns two yachts, one based in the Mediterranean and the other in the UK.