Ask a group of people with experience of ocean cruising what makes a suitable boat for the purpose and you’re liable to get a number of emphatic yet often contradictory answers. The reason for such inconsistent answers is quite straightforward – an ocean cruiser must satisfy many apparently conflicting requirements. Therefore the final choice when it comes to buying a boat, will depend on each owner’s priorities, as well as the size of their budget.

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Choosing an ocean cruising yacht

When choosing an ocean cruising yacht, It’s important that the boat you choose fits your budget in terms of initial cost and upkeep.

However, there are a number of facets it’s possible to find broad agreement on. Firstly it should be a boat that is supremely seaworthy and able to take rough weather in its stride. A high angle of vanishing stability is important in this context, especially for smaller boats, although resistance to capsize by wave action increases exponentially with the size of a vessel, so this is not so important for larger craft.

Most owners and crews of ocean cruising vessels also spend long periods in port or at anchor, which requires a different set of qualities of a boat. This is the point at which opinions vary, depending on individuals’ priorities – some opt for a fine sailing boat that will maximise the fun aspect while on passage, while others prefer to maximise their creature comforts in port, and there’s a whole spectrum in between.

Equally, there are people who value a relatively simple boat, with the minimum of complex systems, which minimises the considerable amount of time – and money – an ocean cruising crew needs to spend on maintenance.

Ocean cruising - stability

For smaller boats ultimate stability becomes more important.

Determining your budget

This is one of the most important factors of all in choosing a boat. For long-term sailing there’s only one way to approach this – you must be ultra-conservative. No one has ever got a boat ready for long-distance sailing for a fraction of their planned budget, but there are plenty of people that have spent double the amount originally envisaged, or more.

Equipping a boat for ocean cruising, even to the most basic of standards, can be enormously expensive and many owners find their original fitting out budget is exceeded by a third or more. Therefore craft that have already been specified, or refitted, with this in mind can be a real bargain – with the premium on the purchase price compared to a similar boat with a lower standard of equipment often a small fraction of the cost of the equipment fitted. However this only applies if the equipment is reasonably recent and well maintained.

How complex a boat?

This is a key factor that will often guide the rest of the decision making process. There are many people who attempt to take all their home conveniences afloat, only to find that a boat with a plethora of complex systems is one that requires a huge amount of maintenance. There’s a very real risk that, when other owners are sipping cold drinks in a local bar on a remote Pacific island, you could be the one making endless phone calls, trying to arrange for parts to be flown in from halfway around the world.

Ocean cruiser

Suitable ocean cruisers come in many shapes and sizes.

Potentially, the one exception to this is for people that buy a boat from a relatively small number of boat builders that sell as strongly on the aftersales package as on the boat itself such that in effect you’re buying into a very established support network.

What size of boat?

Again, there are people with all sizes of boat that will happily do their utmost to convince you their boat is exactly the right size, too big or too small, almost irrespective of what size their boat actually is. There’s a sense in which asking what makes the perfect cruiser is akin to asking a group of people what constitutes the perfect house, or the best car – you’ll get a huge range of different answers, only some of which will be valid for your circumstances.

Your budget will be one determining factor in this respect – there are many ways in which the cost of running a boat, particularly maintenance and replacement of sails, rigging, engine and so on rises exponentially as the boat gets larger.

New or second-hand?

Don’t succumb to the notion that buying a new yacht will guarantee an unbroken spell of reliability in the way that we’ve come to expect with a new car. Boats are built on a very small scale and there are very few new boats launched that don’t have a snagging list that may take several months to work through, especially when the boat is fitted out with all the kit needed for long-term cruising.

The best builders and dealers recognise this and smooth the way forward, but it's revealing that some of the most experienced people in the charter business reckon their most reliable boats are in their second or third season. On the other hand, buying an older boat will get you a lot more for your money, with potentially money spare for an initial refit and to spend on any repairs needed while you are away.

Making a decision

Given all the conflicting evidence, how does anyone choose the right boat for long-distance voyaging? The answer is that every boat is a compromise and the solution is to find the right one that fits your budget and preferences in terms of sailing performance. It’s therefore a personal decision informed by your own motivations in terms of space vs ease of handling and sailing performance; simplicity vs luxury conveniences; and what comfortably fits your budget.

Practical experience shows that a very wide variety of craft can successfully fulfil the role, with some owners spending only a four figure sum on the purchase of their boat, while there are plenty of others that spend 100 times as much. However, there’s no guarantee that the owner of the more expensive vessel will spend less time attending to maintenance and repair issues.


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.