How We Chose the Best Liveaboard Catamaran

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close up of anchored Lagoon 380 catamaran

When we began our preparation to shop for a cruising catamaran, it was eye-opening. We didn’t have many clues as to what to look for. We did know that we needed to research (a lot) and rely on others’ knowledge and experience.

Throughout our six-month process of buying a sailing catamaran, we listened and learned. We also figured out which advice to take to heart.

Here are the five important things to look for and take into account when choosing the best liveaboard catamaran.


1. What Size Catamaran Do You Need?

The most common advice we found was to buy the smallest sailing cat we could comfortably live aboard. Here are a few tips for deciding on your catamaran’s length.

  • The smaller the boat, the less boat to maneuver, dock and maintain. As new boat owners, this didn’t go unnoticed. We would pay for any gluttonous purchase later with more sweat, tears, and cash.
  • The layout of the saloon and galley can play a part in how big a boat feels. Getting inside different catamarans, whether at a boat show or by other means, will give you more knowledge of the layout you prefer.
  • Sailing on a catamaran generally becomes more comfortable as the boat gets larger. If you are planning to do a lot of offshore sailing, things like bridge deck clearance, beam-to-length ratio, and other performance indicators will become drastically more of a priority when purchasing your boat.
  • Another significant factor at play for us was the ceiling height on the boat. At 6’3, Ross could step on a boat and know almost immediately if it was a contender. (Ceiling height can vary in different models and isn’t always correlated with the length or size of the boat.)
Sunnyside crew demonstrating the height in a catamaran cabin

Ross still has to watch his head, but he’s getting better at subconsciously ducking.

WHAT WORKED FOR US: As a two human, one feline family, that was planning to do mostly coastal cruising, the ideal catamaran length for us turned out to be in the 37-39 foot range for most production cat lines.

2. The Fixer-Upper Catamaran Sailboat

Learning the ins and outs of our first boat, including learning to sail a catamaran was already overwhelming. Considering also needing to fix a lot of major working parts, made my eyes cross. Even with almost everything in working order, we would have our hands full.

Replacing rigging right away? No, thank you.

Sunnyside crew inspecting the main sail on a Leopard 38

We found other sailors with experience agreed, at least for our first boat. Yes, we’d miss out on the attractive cost savings. But we would be able to spend our precious time getting to know the boat, its systems, and this new lifestyle.

WHAT WORKED FOR US: There will always be things that need to be fixed when you buy a boat. We found a catamaran that needed minor repairs, but was overall ready to set sail.

3. What Systems Do You Need Onboard?

At first, we found ourselves looking for a catamaran with all the systems (we thought) we needed. Insert watermaker, generator, A/C, etc., here.

There is a wide range of what is said you “need” on a boat. Every sailor is different. Some people live without refrigeration; some consider a washing machine essential.

Lagoon 380 under sail with Sunnyside captain on the bow

The only way to know what sacrifices and trade-offs you’re willing to make is to live the sailing life. Cruise the way you plan to in the future, and see what works. Then you can start answering questions.

How frugal do you want to be with water? How conservative with energy? How do you want to handle the heat?

Changing your mindset to buy a boat capable of living off the grid, but without all the bells and whistles is a good option. When you start cruising more remotely, you can decide if you want the convenience of a watermaker, more solar, or a generator for backup power.

WHAT WORKED FOR US: We decided on the most important system to us – solar, and went from there. We found that getting started cruising, we could live without a lot of the conveniences we thought we needed. In the meantime, we were able to enjoy not having an overabundance of systems to learn and maintain.

4. Owners’ Version Catamaran

Whether you choose a charter version or an owners’ version catamaran will have a big impact on the boat’s layout and price.

What is an owners’ version catamaran? This desirable catamaran layout has three cabins instead of four cabins (referred to as a charter version). Meaning, there is a spacious bathroom (head) in the place of the fourth cabin in the owners’ hull.

Layout of a Lagoon 380

These puppies are a little scarce and come at a premium, but it’s one a lot of folks are willing to pay, including us.

In one hull, the forward cabin is replaced by an expanded bathroom. This allows for a more open layout and storage space. On catamarans under 40 feet, the 2-cabin, 1-bath hulls can be especially tight.

WHAT WORKED FOR US: This was our most inflexible condition. If we were going to live in this tiny floating home, we wanted to better maximize the hull’s limited space. A larger bathroom, a more open layout in the hull, and more storage space would let us do that.

Also, I can’t imagine the fiasco of Ross trying to shower in a wet bath where you shower with the toilet. I would most likely end up living with a very smelly guy! Lucky for my nose, with a little patience and persistence, we were able to find our three-cabin home.


5. Choosing a Catamaran Manufacturer

One of the big questions I find future cruisers have is what is the best cruising catamaran. There are a ton of opinions out there about what catamaran to purchase. Remember, the answer will depend on your cruising style and budget.

How much offshore cruising do you want to do? Will you be sailing single-handed? Balancing your needs and your budget will be a big piece of the process.

Production Sailing Catamarans

A lot of people ask if we were looking for a Lagoon catamaran when we were shopping. The truth is, we didn’t know what we wanted, so we looked at as many boats as we could. We found purchasing a highly produced boat was going to make our lives easier as new sailors.

Sailboats are not cars. They are made on-demand. For a lot of models, there might be 100 (or fewer) boats made. However, catamaran manufacturers such as Lagoon, Leopard, and Fountaine Pajot, may design and produce quite a few more.

Lagoon 380 with the jib out

Our Lagoon 380 is hull number 322, which was a lot when it was built in 2005. I saw in a Facebook group recently the tally is creeping up on 900.

Whoa, that’s a lot of boats. Or, as I like to call them, my newfound friends we can inquire on how to fix this or how to get to that. From forums and Facebook groups to people we meet, there’s someone that’s already done what we are trying to do on our model boat.

WHAT WORKED FOR US: For us rookies, access to more information and the comfort to know a certain model production boat had been tested could save us oodles of time and money. Ultimately, the Lagoon 380 layout and availablity of a boat that ticked all our other boxes made this the right choice for us.

Buying a Liveaboard Catamaran

Buying a catamaran came with a lot of hard decisions because let’s face it, it’s a lot of money for something you keep putting money into. Things like how you want to cruise, how long you want to cruise, and other circumstances will help you decide what catamaran is best for you.

sailboat crew watching the sunset from the dock

Ultimately, we sought to make the best decision we could given our knowledge, personal preferences, market climate, and many other factors.

Our Lagoon might not be the biggest or fastest boat out there. But so far, Sunnyside has been the right boat for us. She got us out cruising and living this lifestyle, which makes her the best we could ask for.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: 5 Important Tips to Remember When Buying a Catamaran

For more about our Lagoon 380 catamaran, check out the link below.


Want more tips on how to get started cruising on a boat?

For more on finding the right boat, the cost of cruising, and learning how to live on the water, view our complete guide.


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