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Catamaran Sailing Techniques Part 7: should the worst happen – with Nigel Irens

  • Belinda Bird
  • October 1, 2015

Capsize is very unlikely in most modern catamarans, but should the worst happen it is as well to be prepared, says Nigel Irens

cruising catamaran capsize

Photo: David Harding

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The first thing to say is that as a general rule floating home-type catamarans are, in principle, less likely to be at risk than those designed with performance in mind.

That said, before making such a sweeping statement it’s important to mention that the level of risk involved is much more about the skill and experience of the skipper than about the qualities of the boat on which he or she goes to sea.

Over the years buyers of catamarans have tended to go more and more for the model with enhanced accommodation space (and de facto diminished performance). The bottom line is that in sailing on most ‘charter spec’ catamarans you’d have to be trying hard to win a bet to bring about a capsize.

Building catamarans down to a budget often seems to result in under-sizing of deck gear so that powering up the rig is not really possible. This really is not intended as a criticism – just a reflection on the real-life economics of this market.

If these factors combine make such a catamaran very hard to capsize then this could surely be perceived as a positive result.

Once the discussion turns from the prevention of capsize to the reality of it information and advice is not readily available. There are two different areas that need to be addressed.

The first is about actually surviving the incident in the short term. The second assumes you have managed to do that and is about surviving life on an upturned boat while summoning some help as soon as possible.

Rule one is that if you are on the inside of the boat you should immediately get away from the bridgedeck and head for one or other of the hulls as fast as possible. That’s easier said than done because you’ll be disorientated – especially if it’s dark outside and any lights inside won’t last long.

At the very least if sailing in challenging conditions (especially on a performance boat) it makes sense to bed down between watches in a hull rather than in the central saloon.

Not likely in a cruising cat!

Not likely in a cruising cat!

The reasoning is that the boat is unlikely to be supported by the roof for very long when inverted and as she settles down in the water the bridgedeck will soon be close to the water, making an exit attempt risky – especially if there are warps washing around the cockpit.

Stay below if possible

As the hulls themselves are by definition watertight the boat will be buoyant enough to float with (at worst) the threshold of the companionways into the hulls at the surface.

It’s important not to rush for the escape hatch (fitted to the inboard side of each hull) because, although it provides a useful source of light, opening it will let some of the air that’s supporting the boat out of the hull, causing it to float lower in the water.

It is probably best to wait and take stock of the situation – together with anyone else who is in the same hull – and maybe wait for daylight if the capsize has happened at night. Try to find out if others are outside – or perhaps in the other hull.

If, on balance, the decision is taken to leave the hull then it is important to make a plan that results in the hatch being open for as short a time as possible.

Catamaran escape hatch

Catamaran escape hatch

Clearly if the level of seawater inside the hull is high it is not going to provide a suitable environment for survival while waiting for assistance, so exit is the only option. If on the other hand it is only knee deep then the hull may be the place to stay.

Once again good planning for the worst before going to sea is the way to go and there is plenty of information available about that.

Discussion and planning

As part of the preparation for these dire circumstances it is important to have had a frank discussion about this whole scenario with the supplier of the boat. Has anyone ever capsized this particular design before, and what was learned from that?

Comparing the relative dangers of being at sea in a catamaran that could capsize with those of being in a monohull that could sink has always been a source of lively debate.

The truth is that there are now (and there have always been) risks in going to sea in any vessel. Our best hope in minimising that risk is to face the subject full-on and become as well informed as possible.

Man overboard

While discussing safety issues in the context of catamaran sailing we should take a brief look at that other seafarer’s nightmare – losing a man overboard.

All the normal recovery procedures apply to a catamaran with regard to the all-important location of the casualty, but there are some important differences in the way the approach is made for the recovery.

Because of the high windage of a catamaran and relatively small amount of lateral resistance under the water you can assume that, as you slow the boat down to attempt the pick-up, you’ll make a huge amount of leeway. As a result if you approach to windward of the casualty there is a real danger that the casualty’s legs will be carried under the leeward hull – with a real risk of serious injury from the propeller.

Because of high windage it can be a problem approaching a casualty in the water

Because of high windage it can be a problem approaching a casualty in the water

To be absolutely safe from this peril just keep to leeward of the casualty. Of course this means that, despite you best efforts, you could pass too far to leeward and won’t be able to get a line to them.

A good way to avoid this problem is to motor at maybe two to three knots across the wind trailing a long line behind the boat (from the leeward stern). You should aim to pass at least 10m to windward of the casualty – which should be easy to judge because you have enough speed to have good steerage way.

Because the casualty will need to hang onto this line it should be easy in the hands – a 14-16mm 8 plait nylon mooring line or similar would be ideal.

When the casualty is directly to leeward of you turn sharply downwind, making a 180° turn that leaves you passing safely to leeward. Slow down at this point, being careful not actually to go astern and risk getting the line around the leeward propeller.

If all goes well the bight of the rope will now be encircling the casualty and at some point he or she will be able to grab hold of it.

From now on you shouldn’t need to engage the drive to either propeller. Keep the helm to leeward and the boat should lie with the wind somewhere on the quarter. If you’re moving too fast – making things difficult for the casualty – you could transfer the line to the bow so that the drag of towing will tend to make the boat round up somewhat – you should be able to control the angle at which the boat lies to the wind by moving the attachment point of the rescue line to different points along the sheer.

If all goes according to plan you should be able to haul the casualty in to the windward quarter of the boat, where they can use the emergency boarding ladder.

If they are not up to that then it should be possible to pass them another rope with a bight in the end of it big enough for them to pass it over their shoulders and under their arms so that they can be hauled aboard.

Do’s and don’ts

  • DO take positive action to wise up on the risk of capsize on the catamaran you sail. Asking difficult questions of boat suppliers and collecting opinions from other owners are all valid.
  • DO develop some kind of basic plan for the worst case – such as impressing on crew that if below in high-risk conditions then being in the hulls is much safer than being on the bridgedeck. In the case of a man overboard do always make the pick-up from a position downwind of the casualty.
  • DON’T take the word of some designer who’s never capsized as gospel – ferret around online and find out what conclusions people who have actually been there have drawn from their experience.
  • DON’T risk sailing in bad weather until you have plenty of experience with the boat in more moderate conditions.
  • DON’T even think of steering by autopilot when in potentially dangerous conditions. Many accounts of capsize reveal that there was no one on the helm at the critical moment.
  • DON’T make a meal of all this. Capsize is very unlikely in most cruising catamarans, but it does happen occasionally so, as with most seamanship issues, the smart move is to be on top of the subject and prepared for the worst.

Our eight-part Catamaran Sailing Skills series by Nigel Irens, in association with Pantaenius , is essential reading for anyone considering a catamaran after being more familiar with handling a monohull.

Part 8: the future of catamaran cruising

Series author: Nigel Irens

One name stands out when you think of multihull design: the British designer Nigel Irens.

His career began when he studied Boatyard Management at what is now Solent University before opening a sailing school in Bristol and later moving to a multihull yard. He and a friend, Mark Pridie, won their class in the 1978 Round Britain race in a salvaged Dick Newick-designed 31-footer. Later, in 1985, he won the Round Britain Race with Tony Bullimore with whom he was jointly awarded Yachtsman of the Year.

His first major design success came in 1984 when his 80ft LOA catamaran Formule Tag set a new 24-hour run, clocking 518 miles. During the 1990s it was his designs that were dominant on the racecourse: Mike Birch’s Fujicolour , Philippe Poupon’s Fleury Michon VIII , Tony Bullimore’s Apricot . Most famous of all was Ellen MacArthur’s 75ft trimaran B&Q, which beat the solo round the world record in 2005.

His designs have included cruising and racing boats, powerboats and monohulls, but it is multis he is best known for.

See the full series here

A special thanks to The Moorings, which supplied a 4800 cat out of their base in Tortola, BVI. www.moorings.com

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cruising catamaran capsize

Why Catamarans Capsize, A Scientific Explanation (For Beginners)

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When people see a catamaran, many think of capsizing, which has proven to be a way less common event than your average forum thread would lead you to believe. This article will use a scientific approach to look at the data available for stability incidents with catamarans. 

This article is based on a study made by the UK government concerning recommendations for regulating catamarans. I have used that knowledge to discuss some of the common misunderstandings considering catamaran stability. Let’s get to the short answer! 

A Catamaran will capsize when rotational forces overcome the stability of the boat. Capsizing can happen in two ways, either the ship overtakes a wave and sinks it bows into the next one, inducing something called pitch-poling. Or a breaking wave, with the same height as the boat’s length, hits the vessel’s side, making it roll over to its side(a.ka. flipping).

Are you like me and need to understand why? Read on! 

What Does It Mean to Capsize?

In the context of boats, to capsize means to flip the boat upside down unintentionally.

On a small dingy, it is part of the sailing experience, and the boat can quickly be righted, but on a cruising cat, it can be the difference between life and death.

This can happen in numerous ways that will be discussed in great detail below. The most common is a combination of high seas, strong winds, and sailor error.

Not only is it dangerous to be in the middle of the sea stuck on what has now become a very expensive chunk of plastic, but the act of capsizing is also hazardous. Depending on where you are, inside, outside, or in one of the hulls, you may face the risk of getting thrown overboard, stuck in a hull upside down in the dark, or getting hurt by flying objects.

Much of the discussion around capsizing and what to do after it has happened is theoretical. In this article, I will show you the science behind catamaran stability and how that interacts with the power of the sea.

Why Does a Catamaran Capsize?

Catamaran stability can sometimes be a little tricky to understand. To get us off to a good start, here is some terminology that will be useful;

  • Wind heeling moment is the effect wind has on the rotational(heeling) movement of the boat.
  • Apparent wind angle is the angle of the wind when the boat is moving; this can differ from true wind, which is measured in a fixed position.

The study reaches a couple of conclusions, some of which are of interest to this discussion.

cruising catamaran capsize

Heeling Is Greatly Dependent on Apparent Wind Angle and Sheeting of the Sails

This means that a catamaran (or any other sailboat, for that matter) will have a greater rotational force if the sails are sheeted in hard. This is because the wind gets “caught” in the sails, and the forces act directly on the sails, mast, standing rigging, and onto the hulls.

If, instead, the sails were loosened or “sloppy,” the amount of wind “caught” would be less, and therefore, more wind would be able to pass around the sails, thus decreasing the heel.

When it comes to apparent wind angle, the study shows that the forces are most significant when the wind is forward of the beam. This is primarily due to the aerodynamic effectiveness decreases aft of the beam.

Large Waves From the Side or Aft

Large waves are always a factor con safety at sea; they can be divided into  breaking waves,  waves whose amplitude (basically when waves get so big that they start coming apart(breaking) reach a threshold where the shape of the waves suddenly changes.

The other category is  non-breaking waves  or rolly waves. These are more gentle and cannot change shape in a violent and uncontrolled manner.

The study concludes that (1)catamarans have less roll response than monohulls during non-breaking waves, which means a catamaran will generally follow the motion and wave shape as it goes up and down it in a predictable manner, and that (2) this behavior shows no indications of being dangerous.

A monohull will instead rock from side to side and show a pendulum-like behavior.

On the other hand, breaking waves pose a real threat and are something to be aware of if traveling on a smaller catamaran. The test showed that a sufficient beam-to-wave ratio is needed to avoid capsizing.

A common beam-to-length ratio is 50%; that is, the length of the boat is at least double the size of its width.

Together with wind forces, breaking waves seem to be the most significant factor affecting the risk of capsizing.

Breaking waves with a height equivalent to the beam of a catamaran, half the beam of a trimaran may be sufficient to cause a capsize. Smaller or narrower yachts are, therefore, more vulnerable.

What makes breaking waves dangerous is their ability to bring the boat past its tipping point (or range of stability); much of this is due to the steepness of the wave. A 30ft non-breaking wave will act as a rolling hill in the English countryside, while a 15ft breaking wave is more of a black slope in a French ski resort.

The closer a boat comes to its tipping point, the less energy is needed to move past it. This is why the combination of factors is essential, large breaking waves, high apparent wind forward of the beam, and a minor error from the cockpit, and disaster is around the corner.

Effect of Keels (Daggerboards, Centerboards)

When a catamaran is hit with a breaking wave from its side, one factor that reduces rotational forces is the ability to move sideways with the wave, in other words, to slide sideways.

Usually, this is not wanted since it reduces the cat’s ability to go windward; this issue is sometimes addressed by adding mini keels, dagger, or centerboards.

The issue with keels is that the crew cannot withdraw them into the hull to reduce drag; this means that they can become a security issue when hit by large breaking waves to the side. It will hinder the sideways sliding actions and increase the risk of capsizing, as the study indicates.

Here’s an article I wrote comparing daggerboards to centerboards .

Placement of Weight (Vertical Center of Gravity, Vcg)

We have already discussed the importance of having a big enough beam to create sufficient stability. Moving the hulls wider apart will lower the center of gravity (or center of weight) and increase stability; this is true if all other factors are the same.

I f we move the hulls closer to each other, the catamaran becomes narrower, and the center of gravity will move upwards. What happens then? You guessed it, removing the wide base makes it less stable and more prone to heeling.

The same effect can be had by moving weight on the ship vertically (VGC); lower = more stable, and vice versa (a monohull moves it below the surface using a heavy keel).

Pitchpoling (Frontflip)

Pitchpoling is when a catamaran sails with the winds and waves, and the speed of the boat increases to levels above the wave speed. When this happens, there is a risk that the catamaran will semi-surf down the wave and hit the next one. This will slow the boat down, increase apparent wind, and create a rotational force that will make the boat invert if big enough.

Pitchpoling can happen in two ways, symmetrically or asymmetrically. According to the testing in the study, it is more common for one of the bows to dig down into the water and then diagonally flip.

Factors That Affect Pitchpoling

To increase the rotational forces needed for pitchpoling to happen, the center of weighing needs to be shifted aft. This means that a catamaran that is improperly balanced, for example, the bows filled with gear instead of empty, will increase the risk of burying the bows and potentially flipping over. More on weigh issues below!

Another way to offset your balance is to allow water inside the bows; this can happen after repeated slamming of waves onto the hatches. Once filled up, they can hold tons of water and be a severe threat due to buoyancy loss and shift in the center of weight.

Surfing a wave is cool, but it is much safer to lower the speed through reefing early; this reduction in speed makes it less likely to sail into the next wave or trough and risk pitchpoling.

If the boat speed is still too high, the next option is to deploy a drogue that will break the boat and add some directional stability. If this, for some reason is not possible, the study suggests that the vessel should hit the waves head-on.

What is a drogue?

cruising catamaran capsize


We have already discussed the issue of burying the bows; the effect is massively increased with a solid deck that almost makes the boat into a spoon(a terrible thing if you do want thousands of kilos of water onboard). A better way to dissipate water is with trampolines that lets the water through in a much faster way, like eating soup with a fork.

The effect of having trampolines is twofold; firstly, it will reduce the time the bows are submerged. Secondly, it will decrease the weight of the water on top of the bows and, therefore, how deep the bows will dive.

What is a trampoline on a catamaran?

cruising catamaran capsize

Hull Shape and Freeboard

There is a discussion that too narrow hulls can increase pitchpoling risk since the hulls might easier dive into the water. I understand the logic, but I am unavailable to find any data to support that claim.

You could also make the claim that wider hulls would increase the braking effect and therefore add to rotational forces. As said, we need more data on this!

Freeboard is the distance between the water and the deck; the bigger this is, the less chance of burying the bows, and vice versa. Same here, It makes sense logically, but there are little data to understand what is enough freeboard.

Real Cases of Catamarans Capsizing

Some news sites have reported on catamarans flipping in different parts of the world. Unfortunately, there is not much data, so drawing well-grounded conclusions is hard.

The previously named study mentions only one report of a catamaran capsizing due to waves hitting its side precisely at the moment of breaking. The cat was 9 m long, and the owner had modified the boat by adding keels.

The study consists of a data set of over 120 incidents reported, of which only 33 are catamarans showing that catamaran capsizing is something very uncommon.

The reason for a catamaran sailboat capsizes;

  • 28% Gust of wind
  • 16% wave and wind
  • 12% Pitchpoled
  • 4% Braking Wave

It is also worth noting that most catamaran incidents happened in the range between 6-9 of wind force(Beaufort). Most incidents were on boats smaller than 11m.

News reporting and other articles

While researching this piece, I came across several relevant news articles regarding incidents and a few well-written case studies. I have incorporated these in this article as a point of discussion rather than factual claims. At the bottom of this page, you’ll find the links if you want to read the articles in full length.

2019 Australia, 39ft catamaran capsizes. The daggerboards can be seen and appear to be fully extended; considering the discussion above with keels, daggerboards will decrease the possibility of sideways movement even further. This is also indicated in the study.

There is a discussion on whether or not to leave one daggerboard deployed and one raised, but once again, the discussions of which one and when vary. And I have not been able to find any scientific support for these claims.

2010 Tonga, 57 ft Atlantic catamaran. The crew describes the situation to be very gusty, with winds up to 60kts! A full report on this incident would be very interesting and could really add to the knowledge database. 57ft is a huge ship, but a boat of this size also has a lot of sail area, and during this incident, the autopilot was steering the ship under reefed sails.

A ship of this size should be wide enough to be able to handle some very big waves, and it would be interesting to see whether the crew stuck to the wind charts. I think there is a lesson to be taught here on autopilot and being on the lookout for bad weather.

You should definitely be behind the helm if there is a squall coming so that you are ready to compensate for a change in wind pattern and quickly put in another reef if the initial assessment was wrong.

Chris White, the designer of Atlantic Catamarans shares his thought on this incident;

To summarize: 1) Neither captain thought capsize was even a possibility until way too late 2) Both boats were under autopilot, which had the helm all the way through the capsize 3) The main sheet was never eased or released Chris White of Chriswhitedesigns.com


The first part of this article takes its trustworthiness from a scientific study backed by the United Kingdom government; in this next section, I will use that knowledge to address some common myths and misconceptions.

A Charter Is Harder to Flip Than a Performance Cat.

As far as I understand, this argument is based on the following premises;  the charter boat is heavier than the racing cat; therefore, it is more stable . As we have come to understand from above, it is a matter of total kilograms and where it is located.

A low and centered center of gravity means better stability. A cruising cat can easily be weighed in the wrong places due to all the extra gear that is usually brought along, such as generators or extra food for a long passage.

Moving the center of weight forward increases pitchpoling risk, and moving the weight up makes it vulnerable to breaching by breaking waves.

There is no need to believe a cruising cat is safer in that aspect inherently. Another common argument I hear is that the rigging would never be able to flip a fully loaded cruising cat since the standing rigging will break before lifting a hull.

What is standing and running rigging?

In theory, this might be true (I don’t have the data available), but in reality, this is certainly not the case; the data in the study clearly shows that catamarans can flip with their rigging intact.

Taking the combined factors of wind, waves, and the keels’ braking effect, there is not necessarily much force needed on the rigging for the boat to capsize. Yes (once again, in theory), a lighter catamaran will be easier to flip under some circumstances, but I would then argue that is more of a sailor error than due to the boat’s construction or weight.

Capsizing a Catamaran vs. Monohull

These two types of boats work in very different ways when it comes to stability; one significant factor is the ability of self-righting of a monohull due to its large and heavy keel.

On the other hand, the catamaran will stay bottom-up and mast down until intentionally righted by another ship.

Once the monohull starts leaning to its side, it will start to dissipate the pushing force that the wind acts upon the sails. This is an automatic way for a monohull not to become overpowered.

This lack of feedback (no or little heeling) on a catamaran means the sailor needs to rely on wind speed charts to tell him or her when to reef. If these charts are not followed, chances are the cat will get overpowered.

Another interesting aspect is that even though a catamaran is flipped upside down, it will still float due to the massive air compartments and low weight, something that a monohull will not. It will even stay afloat if there is a hole in one of the hulls.

What are the differences between monohulls and catamarans?

Catamarans Capsize More Often Than Monohulls

This is a wild debate in many online forums; some argue that it is less safe since it doesn’t have a keel, and some argue that I would rather be floating atop my inverted catamaran than alone in the middle of the ocean with a sunken monohull (while obviously totally missing the point of the discussion).

The truth is that there are no real data to back these claims, at least not that I am aware of. I have tried the insurance companies, but there doesn’t seem to be any big data available, only stories and myths.

cruising catamaran capsize

The Skills of the Crew

When trying to avoid a catastrophe like a capsize, the most critical aspect is avoiding putting yourself in a bad spot, sailing above your skillset, and more winds and waves than the boat can handle.

This is evident, of course, but it is worth mentioning in detail what this actually means; planning to avoid bad weather and learning how to plan a sail safely and not rush is one of the best safety skills you can have. Once you’re out on the water, surprises will always come your way, so when that happens, use the radar to try to stay away and outrun the weather.

Outrun, you say, no boat is that fast. Well, the idea is to outrun it at an angle, not outrun it like Indiana Jones outruns a rolling stone. At least try to hit the part of the squall or bad weather with lower wind speeds.

Reef Often, Reef Early

Considering the data above, that most boats capsize during gusts of wind, there is a need to respect that data and make that old saying more accurate than ever. Reef early reef often. Make sure you turn off your autopilot; if there is a squall coming, you better be behind the helm to control your ship. Autopilot is stupid, your not!

Also, remember that reefing not automatically reduces speed!

As mentioned above, reducing sail area doesn’t necessarily reduce speed, but it reduces the area where the wind’s pushing can turn into rotational forces. Keep your speed so that you do not overtake the weaves and risk burying the bows.

cruising catamaran capsize

Keels, Daggerboards, Centerboards

Before you decide on your standing operating procedures for heavy weather, make sure that you understand how your daggerboards will affect the boat handling. The research suggests that you might want to raise them, but make sure you understand why you do it and when.

Using fully deployed daggerboards while getting hit by a breaking wave to the side will increase the rotational force making a capsize more likely.

Heavy Weather Strategies

The boat’s performance is one thing; the crew’s skills are another; make sure you practice those skills and read up on the actual data that exists instead of reading too many forums and listening to know-it-alls. Ensure that your drills are based on science and not someone’s best guess! I encourage you to read the full article, it will be linked below, and go out there and look for more high-quality content.

  • https://catamaranguru.com/top-6-characteristics-of-a-good-catamaran/
  • http://www.wumtia.soton.ac.uk/sites/default/files/1441_merged.pdf
  • https://shuttleworthdesign.com/NESTalk.html
  • https://www.chriswhitedesigns.com/25-news/112-what-we-can-learn-from-anna-s-capsize
  • https://www.researchgate.net/publication/250304001_Model_Tests_To_Study_Capsize_and_Stability_of_Sailing_Multihulls

News articles

  • 2020 https://voilesetvoiliers.ouest-france.fr/securite-en-mer/disparition-en-mer/le-catamaran-hallucine-de-regis-guillemot-chavire-au-large-de-vigo-un-mort-trois-rescapes-491bc45c-237e-11eb-97e1-64af5fb563fa
  • 2019 https://www.news.com.au/national/nsw-act/news/three-dead-two-rescued-after-catamaran-capsized-in-newcastle/news-story/8f94be3543c41368a4fd83b9b661033b
  • 2010 https://www.chriswhitedesigns.com/25-news/112-what-we-can-learn-from-anna-s-capsize
  • https://www.sailingtoday.co.uk/uncategorized/bullimores-33m-catamaran-capsized/

Owner of CatamaranFreedom.com. A minimalist that has lived in a caravan in Sweden, 35ft Monohull in the Bahamas, and right now in his self-built Van. He just started the next adventure, to circumnavigate the world on a Catamaran!

2 thoughts on “ Why Catamarans Capsize, A Scientific Explanation (For Beginners) ”

Hi , Thanks for the advice, very good to know. Look forward to having a look at links. Best of luck on the trip, have fun. Mike

Thanks, Mike! Let me know if you have any other questions 🙂

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Multihull Capsize Risk Check

Waves, squalls, and inattention to trim and helm contribute to instability..

cruising catamaran capsize

In recent years we’ve seen a surge in interest in multihulls. Thirty years ago, when my experience with cruising multihulls began, nearly all of the skippers served an apprenticeship with beach cats, learning their quirks by the seat of their pants. They hiked out on trapezes and flew head-over-heels past their pitch-pole prone Hobie 16s, until they learned the importance of keeping weight way aft on a reach and bearing off when the lee bow began to porpoise.

By contrast, the new generation of big cat buyers skipped this learning process, learning on monohulls or even choosing a big stable cat as their first boat. Heck, nobody even builds real beach cats anymore, only pumped up racing machines and rotomolded resort toys. So we’re guessing there are a few things these first-time cruising multihull sailors don’t know, even if they have sailed cruising cats before.

It is extremely hard to capsize a modern cruising cat. Either a basic disregard for seamanship or extreme weather is required. But no matter what the salesman tells you (“none of our boats have ever …”), it can happen. A strong gust with sail up or a breaking wave in a survival storm can do it. And when a multihull goes over, they don’t come back.

Trimarans tend to be more performance oriented than catamarans. In part, this is because it’s easier to design a folding trimaran, and as a result Farrier, Corsair, and Dragonfly trimarans had a disproportionate share of the market.

In spite of this and in spite of the fact that many are raced aggressively in windy conditions, capsizes are few, certainly fewer than in equivalent performance catamaran classes.  But when they do go over, they do so in different ways.

Multihull Capsize Risk Check

Trimarans have greater beam than catamarans, making them considerably more resistant to capsize by wind alone, whether gusts or sustained wind. They heel sooner and more than catamaran, giving more warning that they are over powered. 

Waves are a different matter. The amas are generally much finer, designed for low resistance when sailing deeply immersed to windward. As a result, trimarans are more susceptible to broach and capsize when broad reaching at high speed or when caught on the beam by a large breaking wave.

In the first case, the boat is sailing fast and overtaking waves. You surf down a nice steep one, into the backside of the next one, the ama buries up to the beam and the boat slows down. The apparent wind increases, the following wave lifts the transom, and the boat slews into a broach. If all sail is instantly eased, the boat will generally come back down, even from scary levels of heel, but not always.

In the second case a large wave breaks under the boat, pulling the leeward ama down and rolling the boat. Catamarans, on the other hand, are more likely to slide sideways when hit by a breaking wave, particularly if the keels are shallow (or raised in the case of daggerboards), because the hulls are too big to be forced under. They simply get dragged to leeward, alerting the crew that it is time to start bearing off the wind.

Another place the numbers leave us short is ama design. In the 70s and 80s, most catamarans were designed with considerable flare in the bow, like other boats of the period. This will keep the bow from burying, right? Nope. When a hull is skinny it can always be driven through a wave, and wide flare causes a rapid increase in drag once submerged, causing the boat to slow and possibly pitchpole.

Hobie Cat sailors know this well. More modern designs either eliminate or minimize this flare, making for more predictable behavior in rough conditions. A classic case is the evolution of Ian Farrier’s designs from bows that flare above the waterline to a wave-piercing shape with little flare, no deck flange, increased forward volume, and reduced rocker (see photos page 18). After more than two decades of designing multihulls, Farrier saw clear advantages of the new bow form. The F-22 is a little faster, but more importantly, it is less prone to broach or pitchpole, allowing it to be driven harder.

Beam and Stability

The stability index goes up with beam. Why isn’t more beam always better? Because as beam increases, a pitchpole off the wind becomes more likely, both under sail and under bare poles. (The optimum length-to-beam ratios is 1.7:1 – 2.2:1 for cats and 1.2:1-1.8:1 for trimarans.) Again, hull shape and buoyancy also play critical roles in averting a pitchpole, so beam alone shouldn’t be regarded as a determining factor.

Drogues and Chutes

While monohull sailors circle the globe without ever needing their drogues and sea anchors, multihulls are more likely to use them. In part, this is because strategies such as heaving to and lying a hull don’t work for multihulls. Moderate beam seas cause an uncomfortable snap-roll, and sailing or laying ahull in a multihull is poor seamanship in beam seas.

Fortunately, drogues work better with multihulls. The boats are lighter, reducing loads. They rise over the waves, like a raft. Dangerous surfing, and the risk of pitchpole and broach that comes with it, is eliminated.  There’s no deep keel to trip over to the side and the broad beam increases the lever arm, reducing yawing to a bare minimum. 

Speed-limiting drogues are often used by delivery skippers simply to ease the motion and take some work off the autopilot. By keeping her head down, a wind-only capsize becomes extremely unlikely, and rolling stops, making for an easy ride. A properly sized drogue will keep her moving at 4-6 knots, but will not allow surfing, and by extension, pitch poling. 

For more information on speed limiting drogues, see “ How Much Drag is a Drogue? ” PS , September 2016.

Capsize Case Studies

Knock wood, we’ve never capsized a cruising multihull (beach cat—plenty of times), but we have pushed them to the edge of the envelope, watched bows bury, and flown multi-ton hulls to see just how the boat liked it and how fast she would go. We’re going to tell you about these experiences and what can be learned from them, so you don’t have to try it.

First, it helps to examine a few examples of some big multihull capsizes.

Techtronics 35 catamaran, John Shuttleworth design

This dramatic pitchpole occurred in a strong breeze some 30 years ago. In order to combine both great speed and reasonable accommodation, the designer incorporated considerable flare just above the waterline, resulting in hulls that were skinny and efficient in most conditions, but wide when driven under water in steep chop.

The boat was sailing fast near Nova Scotia, regularly overtaking waves.  The bows plowed into a backside of a particularly steep wave, the submerged drag was huge, and the boat stopped on a dime. At the same time, the apparent wind went from about 15 knots into the high 20s, tripling the force on the sails and rapidly lifting the stern over the bow. Some crew were injured, but they all survived.

PDQ 32 Catamaran

On July 4, 2010, the boat’s new owners had scheduled time to deliver their new-to-them boat up the northern California coast. A strong gale was predicted, but against all advice, they left anyway. The boat turned sideways to the confused seas and a breaking wave on the beam capsized the boat. There were no injuries, and the boat was recovered with only moderate damage a few weeks later. Repaired, she is still sailing.

Another PDQ 32 was capsized in the Virgin Islands when a solo sailor went below to tend to something and sailed out of the lee of the island and into a reinforced trade wind.

Sustaining speed with wider tacking angles will help overcome leeway.

Cruising cats can’t go to windward. That’s the rumor, and there’s a kernel of truth to it. Most lack deep keels or dagger boards and ex-charter cats are tragically under canvassed for lighter wind areas, a nod to near universal lack of multihull experience among charter skippers. Gotta keep them safe.  But there are a few tricks that make the worst pig passable and the better cats downright weatherly. Those of you that learned your craft racing Hobies and Prindles know most of this stuff, but for the rest of you cruising cat sailors, there’s some stuff the owner’s manual leaves out.

“Tune” the Mast

Having no backstay means that the forestay cannot be kept tight unless you want to turn your boat into a banana and over stress the cap shrouds. Although the spreaders are swept back, they are designed primarily for side force with just a bit of pull on the forestay. The real forestay tension comes from mainsheet tension.

Why is it so important to keep the forestay stay tight? Leeward sag forces cloth into the luff of the genoa, making it fuller and blunting the entry into the wind. The draft moves aft, the slot is pinched, and aerodynamic drag increases. Even worse, leeway (sideslip) increases, further increasing drag and sliding you away from your destination. Sailing a cruising cat to windward is about fine tuning the lift to drag ratio, not just finding more power.

How do you avoid easing the mainsheet in strong winds? First, ease the traveler instead. To avoid pinching the slot, keep the main outhaul tight to flatten the lower portion of the main. Use a smaller jib or roll up some genoa; overlap closes the slot. Reef if need be; it is better to keep a smaller mainsail tight than to drag a loose mainsail upwind, with the resultant loose forestay and clogged slot. You will see monos with the main twisted off in a blow. Ignore them, they are not cruising cats. It is also physically much easier to play the traveler than the main sheet. Be glad you have a wide one.

Check Sheeting Angles

Very likely you do not have enough keel area to support large headsails. As a result, you don’t want the tight genoa lead angles of a deep keeled monohull. All you’ll do is sail sideways. Too loose, on the other hand, and you can’t point. In general, 7-10 degrees is discussed for monos that want to pinch up to 40 degrees true, but 14-16 degrees makes more sense for cruising cats that will sail at no less than 50 degrees true. Rig up some temporary barber haulers and experiment. Then install a permanent Barber-hauler; see “ Try a Barber Hauler for Better Sail Trim ,” Practical Sailor , September 2019.

The result will be slightly wider tacking angles, perhaps 105 degrees including leeway, but this will be faster for you. You don’t have the same hull speed limit, so let that work for you. Just don’t get tempted off onto a reach; you need to steer with the jib not far from luffing.

Watch the fore/aft lead position as well. You want the jib to twist off to match the main. Typically it should be right on the spreaders, but that depends on the spreaders. If you have aft swept shrouds, you may need to roll up a little genoa, to 110% max.

Use your Tell-Tales

On the jib there can be tell-tale ribbons all over, but on the main the only ones that count are on the leech. Keep all but the top one streaming aft. Telltales on the body of sail are confused by either mast turbulence (windward side) or pasted down by jib flow (leeward side) and won’t tell you much. But if the leach telltales suck around to leeward you are over sheeted.

Keep Your Bottom Clean

 It’s not just about speed, it’s also pointing angle. Anything that robs speed also makes you go sideways, since with less flow over the foil there will be less lift. Flow over the foils themselves will be turbulent. Nothing slows you down like a dirty bottom.

Reef Wisdom

Push hard, but reef when you need to. You will have the greatest lift vs. windage ratio when you are driving hard. That said, it’s smart to reef most cruising cats well before they lift a hull to avoid overloading the keels. If you are feathering in the lulls or allowing sails to twist off, it’s time to reef.

Multihull Capsize Risk Check

Don’t Pinch

Pinching (pointing to high) doesn’t work for cats. Get them moving, let the helm get a little lighter (the result of good flow over the rudder and keel), and then head up until the feeling begins to falter. How do you know when it’s right? Experiment with tacking angles (GPS not compass, because you want to include leeway in your figuring) and speed until the pair feel optimized. With a genoa and full main trimmed in well, inside tracks and modified keels, and relatively smooth water, our test PDQ can tack through 100 degrees with the boat on autopilot. Hand steering can do a little better, though it’s not actually faster to windward. If we reef or use the self-tacking jib, that might open up to 110-115 degrees, depending on wave conditions. Reefing the main works better than rolling up jib.

Boats with daggerboards or centerboards.  The comments about keeping a tight forestay and importance of a clean bottom are universal. But the reduction in leeway will allow you to point up a little higher, as high as monohulls if you want to. But if you point as high as you can, you won’t go any faster than similar monohulls, and quite probably slower. As a general rule, tacking through less than 90 degrees, even though possible, is not the best strategy. A slightly wider angle, such as 100 degrees, will give a big jump in boat speed with very little leeway.

Chris White Custom 57

In November 2016, winds had been blowing 25-30 knots in stormy conditions about 400 miles north of the Dominican Republic. The main had two reefs in, and the boat was reaching under control at moderate speed when a microburst hit, causing the boat to capsize on its beam. There were no serious injuries.

Another Chris White 57 capsized on July 31, 2010. It had been blowing 18-20 knots and the main had a single reef. The autopilot steered. The wind jumped to 62 knots in a squall and changed direction so quickly that no autopilot could be expected to correct in time.

Gemini 105mC

In 2018, the 34-foot catamaran was sailing in the Gulf of Mexico under full sail at about 6 knots in a 10-15 knot breeze. Squalls had been reported on the VHF. The crew could see a squall line, and decided to run for cover. Before they could get the sails down, the gust front hit, the wind shifted 180 degrees, and the boat quickly went over.

38-foot Roger Simpson Design

The catamaran Ramtha was hit head-on by the infamous Queen’s Birthday storm in 1994. The mainsail was blown out, and steering was lost. Lacking any control the crew was taken off the boat, and the boat was recovered basically unharmed 2 weeks later. A Catalac catamaran caught in the same storm trailed a drogue and came through unharmed. Of the eight vessels that called for help, two were multihulls. Twenty-one sailors were rescued, three aboard the monohull Quartermaster were lost at sea.

15 meter Marsaudon Ts

Hallucine capsized off Portugal on November 11 of this year. This is a high performance cat, in the same general category as the familiar Gunboat series. It was well reefed and the winds were only 16-20 knots. According to crew, it struck a submerged object, and the sudden deceleration caused the boat to capsize.

Multihulls We’ve Sailed

Clearly seamanship is a factor in all of our the previous examples. The watch needs to be vigilant and active. Keeping up any sail during squally weather can be risky. Even in the generally benign tropics, nature quickly can whip up a fury. But it is also true that design choices can impact risk of capsize. Let’s see what the numbers can tell us, and what requires a deeper look.

Stiletto Catamaran

We’ve experienced a number of capsizes both racing and while driving hard in these popular 23-foot catamarans. The combination of light displacement and full bow sections make pitchpoling unlikely, and the result is very high speed potential when broad reaching. Unfortunately, a narrow beam, light weight, and powerful rig result in a low stability factor. The potential for capsize is real when too much sail is up and apparent wind is directly on the beam. The boat can lift a hull in 12 knots true. This makes for exciting sailing when you bring your A-game, but limits the boat to coastal sailing.

Corsair F-24 MK I trimaran

Small and well canvased, these boats can capsize if driven hard (which they often are), but they are broad beamed, short-masted, and designed for windy sailing areas. F-24s are slower off wind than the Stiletto, in part because of greater weight and reduced sail area, but also because the main hull has more rocker and does not plane as well. They are faster to weather and point considerably higher than a Stiletto (90-degree tacking angle vs. 110 degrees). This is the result of greater beam, a more efficient centerboard design, and slender amas that are easily driven in displacement mode. The boat is quite forgiving if reefed.

Going purely by the numbers, this boat seems nearly identical to the F-24. In practice, they sail quite differently. The Dash uses a dagger board instead of centerboard, which is both more hydrodynamic and faster, but more vulnerable to damage if grounded at high speed.

The rotating mast adds power that is not reflected in the numbers. The bridgedeck clearance is higher above the waterline, reducing water drag from wave strikes. The wave-piercing amas create greater stability up wind and off the wind. The result is a boat that is slightly faster than the original F-24 and can be driven much harder off the wind without fear of pitchpole or broach.

Without proper testing, calculating stability yields only a rough picture.

Multihull Capsize Risk Check

Evaluating multihull performance based on design numbers is a bit more complicated than it is with ballasted, displacement monohulls, whose speed is generally limited by hull form. [Editor’s note: The formula for Performance Index, PI has been updated from the one that originally appeared in the February 2021 issue of Practical Sailor.

The following definitions of units apply to the adjacent table:

SA = sail area in square feet

D (displacement) = weight in pounds

LWL = length of waterline in feet

HCOE = height of sail center of effort above the waterline in feet

B = beam in feet

BCL = beam at the centerline of the hulls in feet.

Since a multihull pivots around the centerline beam, the overall beam is off the point and is not used in formulas. Calculate by subtracting the individual hull beam from the overall beam.

SD ratio = SA/(D/64)^0.66

This ratio gives a measure of relative speed potential on flat water for monohulls, but it doesn’t really work for multihulls.

Bruce number = (SA)^0.5/(D)^0.333

Basically this is the SD ratio for multihulls, it gives a better fit.

Performance index = (SA/HCOE)^0.5 x (D/1000)^0.166

By including the height of the COE and displacement, this ratio reflects the ability of the boat to use that power to sail fast, but it understates the importance of stability to the cruiser.

Stability factor = 9.8*((0.5*BCL*D)/(SA*HCOE))^0.5

This approximates the wind strength in knots required to lift a hull and includes a 40% gust factor. In the adjacent data sheet, we compare the formula’s predicted stability to observed behavior. Based on our experience on the boats represented, the results are roughly accurate.

Ama buoyancy = expressed as a % of total displacement.

Look for ama buoyancy greater than 150% of displacement, and 200 is better.  Some early trimaran designs had less than 100 percent buoyancy and would capsize well before flying the center hull. They exhibited high submerged drag when pressed hard and were prone to capsize in breaking waves.

Modern tris have ama buoyancy between 150 and 200 percent of displacement and can fly the center hull, though even racing boats try to keep the center hull still touching. In addition, as a trimaran heels, the downward pressure of wind on the sail increases, increasing the risk of capsize. The initial heel on a trimaran is more than it is on catamarans, and all of that downward force pushes the ama even deeper in the water. Thus, like monohulls, it usually makes sense to keep heel moderate.

These numbers can only be used to predict the rough characteristics of a boat and must be supplemented by experience.

This is the first real cruising multihull in our lineup. A few have capsized. One was the result of the skipper pushing too hard in very gusty conditions with no one on watch. The other occurred when a crew unfamiliar with the boat ignored local wisdom and set sail into near gale conditions.

Although the speed potential of the PDQ 32 and the F-24 are very similar, and the stability index is not very different, the feel in rough conditions is more stable, the result of much greater weight and fuller hull sections.

Like most cruising cats, the PDQs hulls are relatively full in order to provide accommodation space, and as a result, driving them under is difficult. The increased weight slows the motion and damps the impact of gusts. Yes, you can fly a hull in about 25 knots apparent wind (we proved this during testing on flat water with steady winds), and she’ll go 8-9 knots to weather doing it, but this is not something you should ever do with a cruising cat.

Stability by the Numbers

The “stability factor” in the table above (row 14) is based on flatwater conditions, and ignores two additional factors. Unlike monohulls, the wind will press on the underside of the bridgedeck of a multihull once it passes about 25 degrees of heel, pushing it up and over. This can happen quite suddenly when the boat flies off a wave and the underside is suddenly exposed to wind blowing up the slope of the wave. A breaking wave also adds rotational momentum, pitching the windward hull upwards.

Multihulls by the Numbers

Autopilot is a common thread in many capsizes. The gust “came out of no place…” No it didn’t. A beach cat sailor never trusts gusty winds. The autopilot should be disengaged windspeeds and a constant sheet watch is mandatory when gusts reach 30-40 percent of those required to fly a hull, and even sooner if there are tall clouds in the neighborhood. Reef early if a helm watch is too much trouble.

“But surely the sails will blow first, before the boat can capsize?” That would be an expensive lesson, but more to the point, history tells us that well-built sails won’t blow.

“Surely the rig will fail before I can lift a hull?” Again, that could only be the result of appallingly poor design, since a rig that weak will not last offshore and could not be depended on in a storm. Furthermore, good seamanship requires that you be able to put the full power of the rig to work if beating off a lee shore becomes necessary.

Keeping both hulls in the water is up to you. Fortunately, under bare poles and on relatively flat water even smaller cruising cats can take 70 knots on the beam without lifting … but we don’t set out to test that theory, because once it blows for a while over even 40 knots, the real risk is waves.

Everything critical to safety in a blow we learned on beach cats. Like riding a bike, or—better yet—riding a bike off-road, there are lessons learned the hard way, and those lessons stay learned. If you’ve been launched into a pitchpole a few times, the feeling you get just before things go wrong becomes ingrained.

Perhaps you are of a mature age and believe you monohull skills are more than enough to see you through. If you never sail aggressively or get caught in serious weather, you’re probably right.

However, if there’s a cruising cat in your future, a season spent dialing in a beach cat will be time well spent. Certainly, such experience should be a prerequisite for anyone buying a performance multihull. The statement might be a little pointed, but it just makes sense.

Capsize by Wind Alone

Multihull Capsize Risk Check

Capsizing by wind alone is uncommon on cruising multihulls. Occasionally a performance boat will go over in squally weather. The crew could easily have reefed down or gone to bare poles, but they clung to the idea that they are a sail boat, and a big cat feels so stable under sail—right up until a hull lifts.

Because a multihull cannot risk a knockdown (since that is a capsize), if a squall line is tall and dark, the smart multihull sailors drops all sail. Yes, you could feather up wind, but if the wind shifts suddenly, as gusts often do, the boat may not turn fast enough. Off the wind, few multihulls that can take a violent microburst and not risk a pitchpole. When a squall threatens, why risk a torn sail for a few moments of fast sailing?

You can’t go by angle of heel alone because of wave action. Cat instability begins with the position of the windward hull. Is it flying off waves?

A trimaran’s telltale is submersion of leeward ama. Is the leeward ama more than 30-40 percent under water? The maximum righting angles is a 12-15 degrees for cats and 25-30 degrees for trimarans, but that is on flat water. Once the weather is up, observation of motion becomes far more important. Is the boat falling into a deep trough, or is at about to launch off a steep wave and fly?

Just as monohulls can surprise a new sailor by rounding up and broaching in a breeze, multihulls have a few odd habits that only present themselves just before things go wrong. Excuse the repetition, but the best way to learn to instinctively recognize these signs is by sailing small multihulls.

Sailing Windward

Because of the great beam, instead of developing weather helm as they begin to fly a hull, multihulls can suddenly develop lee helm, causing the boat to bear away and power up at the worst possible moment. This is because the center of drag moves to the lee hull, while the center of drive remains in the center, causing the boat to bear away.

If the boat is a trimaran, with only a center rudder, this rounding up occurs just as steering goes away. This  video of a MOD 70 capsize shows how subtle the early warning signs can be ( www.youtube.com/watch?v=CI2iIY61Lc8 ).

Sailing Downwind

Off the wind, the effect can be the reverse. The lee hull begins to bury, and you decide it is time to bear off, but the submerged lee bow acts like a forward rudder. It moves the center of effort far forward and prevents any turn to leeward.  Nearly all trimarans will do this, because the amas are so fine. The solution is to bear away early, before the ama buries­—or better yet, to reef.


We’re not trying to scare you off multi-hulls. Far from it. As you can probably tell, I am truly addicted. Modern designs have well-established reputation seaworthiness.

But multihull seaworthiness and seamanship are different from monohulls, and some of those differences are only apparent when you press the boat very hard, harder than will ever experience in normal weather and outside of hard racing. These subtle differences have caught experienced sailors by surprise, especially if their prior experience involved only monohulls or cruising multihulls that were never pressed to the limit.

Although the numbers only tell part of the story, pay attention to a boat’s stability index. You really don’t want an offshore cruising boat that needs to be reefed below 22-25 knots apparent. Faster boats can be enjoyable, but they require earlier reefing and a more active sailing style.

When squalls threaten or the waves get big, take the appropriate actions and take them early, understanding that things happen faster. And don’t forget: knockdowns are not recoverable. It is satisfying to have a boat that has a liferaft-like stability, as long as you understand how to use it.

Technical Editor Drew Frye is the author of “Rigging Modern Anchors.” He blogs at www.blogspot/sail-delmarva.com



It’s interesting to read the report of the Multihull Symposium (Toronto, 1976) regarding the issues of multihull capsize in the formative years of commercial multihull design. There were so many theories based around hull shape, wing shape, submersible or non submersibe floats, sail area and maximum load carrying rules. My father, Nobby Clarke, of the very successful UK firm Cox Marine, fought many a battle in the early Sixties with the yachting establishment regarding the safety of trimarans, and I am glad that in this modern world technolgy answers the questions rather than the surmises of some establishment yachting magazines of the time.

Thank You Mr.Nicholson and Thank You to Practical Sailor for this great read superbly shared by Mr.Nicholson God bless you and our great Sailing Family.

Great read! Multi hulls are great party vessels which is why companies like Moorings and Sunsail have larger and larger numbers in their fleets. More and more multihulls are joining the offshore sailing fleets. Dismasting and capsizes do happen. Compared to mono hulls I know of no comparative statistics but off shore and bluewater, give me a mono hull. That is probably because I took one around with zero stability issues and only minor rig few issues. Slowly though; ten years.

Great read! Multi hulls are great party vessels which is why companies like Moorings and Sunsail have larger and larger numbers in their fleets. More and more multihulls are joining the offshore sailing fleets. Dismasting and capsizes do happen. Compared to mono hulls I know of no comparative statistics but off shore and bluewater, give me a mono hull. That is probably because I took one around with zero stability issues and only minor rig issues. Slowly though; ten years.

What’s an ama? Those who are new to sailing or even veteran sailors who have never been exposed to a lot of the terms simply get lost in an article with too many of those terms. I would suggest putting definitions in parentheses after an unfamiliar term to promote better understanding.

Vaka is the central, main hull, in a trimaran.

Ama is the “pontoon” hull at the end of the aka, or “crossbeam”, on each side of a trimaran.

I’m a geek, and therefore live in a dang *ocean* of the Jargonian & Acronese languages, and agree with you:

presuming 100% of audience is understanding each Jargonian term, and each Acronese term, is pushing credulity…

( and how in the hell “composition” means completely different things in object-oriented languages as compared with Haskell?? Bah. : )

As I understand it: Cats have an advantage in big beam seas because they will straddle a steep wave whereas a Tri can have its main hull on the wave crest with the windward ama’s bottom very high off the water and acting as another sail. Also, rig loads on a mono hull are calculated to be 2.5-3x the righting moment at a 45 deg heal; the reason being at 45 degrees the boat will still be making headway and feeling the dynamic loads in the seaway but beyond 45 degrees is a knockdown condition without seaway shock loads. A multihull rig on the other-hand can experience very high dynamic shock loads that are too short in duration to raise a hull.

Though I agree with much of the article content, the statement: “… this is because strategies such as heaving to and lying a hull don’t work for multihulls.” does not ring true in my experience. I have sailed about 70,000nm on cruising catamarans, a Canadian built Manta 38 (1992, 39ft x 21ft) with fixed keels and my present boat, a Walter Greene Evenkeel 38 (1997, 38ft x 19ft 6″) with daggerboards. I came from a monohull background, having circumnavigated the world and other international sailing (60,000nm) on a mono before purchasing the Manta cat. I owned that catamaran for 16 years and full time cruised for seven of those years, including crossing the Arctic Circle north of Iceland and rounding Cape Horn. I usually keep sailing until the wind is over 40knots, then the first tactic is to heave-to, and have lain hove-to for up to three days with the boat lying comfortably, pointing at about 50 to 60degrees from the wind and fore-reaching and side-slipping at about 1.5 to 2knots. Usually once hove-to I wait until the wind has reduced to 20knots or less before getting underway again. Lying ahull also works, though I have only used that in high winds without big breaking waves, as in the South Atlantic in the lee of South America with strong westerlies. I have lain to a parachute sea anchor and it is very comfortable, though lots of work handling all that gear and retrieving it and was glad to have deployed it when I did. I heave-to first, then deploy the sea anchor from the windward bow while in the hove-to position. The daggerboard cat will also heave-to well, though takes some adjusting of the boards to get her to lay just right, though I have not experience being at sea on this boat in as high of winds as with the Manta (over 60 knots). Catamaran bows have lots of windage and have little depth of hull forward. Thus you need mostly mainsail and little jib to keep her pointing into the wind. I aim for the wind to blow diagonally across the boat, with a line from the lee transom to the windward bow pointing into the wind as an optimum angle. As per taking the boat off autopilot when the wind gets near 20 knots is just not practical. The longest passage I have made on my catamarans has been from Fortaleza, Brazil, to Bermuda, nearly 3,000nm and across the squall prone doldrums and horse latitudes, taking 20 days. The autopilot steered the whole distance. I have never lifted a hull nor felt the boat was out of control despite having sailed in some of the most dangerous waters of the world.

I believe that your Techtronics 35 should be Tektron 35 (Shuttleworth) and as far as I know the capsize that occurred off Nova Scotia was, in fact, a Tektron 50 (Neptune’s Car I believe) sailed by the Canadian builder Eugene Tekatch and was reported as being off PEI. This capsize was well documented under a thread in “Steamradio” that I can no longer find. It appears that Steamradio is now, unfortunately, no longer operating. The report of the capsize was along the lines of the boat being sailed off wind with all sail in a gale. I think Shuttleworth indicated that they would have been doing about 30 knots. They then hit standing waves off PEI, the boat came to a standstill and with the change in apparent wind to the beam, over they went. Reading between the lines, Shuttleworth was pretty unhappy that one of his designs had been capsized in this manner, unhappier yet that some of the findings of I believe an american committee/ board were that the design was somehow at fault. Given Shuttleworth’s rep it seems unlikely. As I say these are recollections only.

Shortly afterwards Neptune’s Car was up for sale for a steal price.

I think Jim Brown (Trimaran Jim) when speaking of the Tektron 50 referred to it as weighing less than similarly sized blocks of Styrofoam. Admittedly, blocks of solid foam weigh more than one might imagine, but still a vivid point. Though Tektron 50 was light, we have far more options to build lighter boats today, than in the past.

Good that Practical Sailor is looking at this issue and I agree with much of it, so thanks PS for that. Also fun to see Nobby Clark’s son chip in …. I met Nobby at the ’76 World Symposium in Toronto, when I was just starting to get interested in Trimarans. I have since owned 4 and as a naval architect, builder and sailor, now specialize in their design and ‘all things related’, with a quasi-encyclopedic website at: http://www.smalltridesign.com . So as a trimaran guru, I’d like to add a few things here. In my experience (now 45 years with multis) there is really too much difference between catamarans and trimarans to compare them on the basis of the same formulas. For example, lifting a hull on a cat brings about a major reduction in reserve stability ….. lifting an ama on a trimaran, certainly does not. Using 30-40% immersion of an ama is hardly a guide to limit or prevent a capsize on a trimaran as that’s not even close to normal operating immersion . I would recommend a reduction of ama bow freeboard to about 1-2% of the boat length (depending on a few size factors) is a better guide as the ‘time to really ease up’. This visual indicator is great on my boats but is very hard to judge on hulls with reverse bows where there is no deck up forward. For a number of reasons, I am against this shape but as I’ve already made my case on line about this, I’ll not repeat it here. Over 80% of the capsizes we see on line, show that mainsails were never released .. and that includes the capsize of the MOD70 in the YouTube referenced in the PS article. As several trimaran owners I deal with have also capsized or near-capsized their boats (particularly those between 22 and 40ft that ‘feel’ more stable than they really are, I am developing a few models of EMRs to help solve their issue, (EMR=Emergency Mainsheet Release) and these will be operated wirelessly by punching a large button under the skippers vest, as I am not in favor of any fully automatic release. This HAS to be a skippers decision in my opinion for numerous reasons. The first two units of this EMR dubbed ‘Thump’R, will be installed this Spring … one in Europe and the other in Australia, but one day, perhaps Practical Sailor will get to see and test one for you 😉 In a few words, my advice to all multihull sailors is to be very aware of the way your stability works on your specific boat and sail accordingly. We learn this instinctively with small beach boats, but is harder to ‘sense’ as boats get heavier and larger. I have sailed cats from a 60ft Greene cat to a 12ft trimaran and although some basics apply they are of course very different. But you still need to ‘learn the early signs’ of your boat, as these must be your guide. IMHO a good multihull design will be fairly light and easily driven which means that it will still sail well with less sail. This means that the use of a storm mainsail in potentially high wind can add much reserve stability and safety to your voyage. To give an example from my small W17 design that sets a rotating wingmast, the boats top speed to date is 15kts with 200 sqft, but with the storm mainsail and a partly-furled jib I can get the area down under 100sqft without losing rig efficiency. In fact, the tall narrow storm main with a 5.5:1 aspect ratio is now even MORE efficient as the wingmast is now doing a higher percentage of the work. In 25-30t storm conditions, I have now sailed 8kts upwind and 14.4kts down, and feel very dry and comfortable doing so … even at 80+. So get the right sails, and change down to small more efficient ones when it pipes up. A multihull storm sail should look nothing like a mono’s trysail … with our narrow hulls, we are sailing in a very different way. Happy sailing Mike

In the old days, low displacement, short and narrowly spaced amas were the design of choice. One was supposed to back off when they started to submerge. It was a visual indicator. Modern amas are huge. If a 24 foot tri like the Tremolino could be designed to use Hobie 16 hulls in the 70s, today it would carry Tornado hulls. The slippery shape of designs catches the eye, and their supposed less grabby when submerged decks, but these amas also carry 1.5-2x main hull displacement. The chance of burying them is significantly reduced.

The original intent of these slippery ama designs was to shake off wind. Though low drag shapes for reducing pitch pole risk are a consideration, it should be balanced against maintaining ama deck walkability. This is important in allowing one to service the boat or rig drogues or anchors, not to mention to position live ballast. I am thinking here of the smaller club and light crusing tris. You aren’t going to be able to do a lot of these things on monster luxury boats that are a different scale entirely. But they mater on the kinds of boat most people are likely to own.

Poring over tri design books, one will notice that the silhouette of, say, a 40 foot tri, and the smaller 20 foot design are very similar This yields a doubling of the power to weight ratio on the smaller boat. This difference can even be greater as the smaller boats are often nothing more than empty shells, yet may carry higher performance rig features like rotating masts. Smaller tris are often handicapped by the requirements of being folded for trailering which both limits beam and ama displacement, though it may tend to increase weight. On top of that, mainsail efficiency is much higher, these days, with squared shapes, and less yielding frabrics. And, of course, much larger sail plans. All the better, just so long as people realize what they have by the tail.

Excellent article…thank you!!!!!!!!!

Good article. One thing that concerns me about modern cruising cat is how far above water level the boom is. I first noticed this looking at Catana 47’s for hire in New Caledonia and recently saw large Leopards 48 & 50 footers visiting Fremantle Sailing Club, here in Australia, and in all cases the boom seems to be at least 20 feet (6 metres) above the water. This seems to greatly increase the heeling moment and reduce the amount of wind required to capsize the vessel. Mind you at 20+ tons, the weight of the Leopards probably makes them a bit more resistant to capsize. But why does the rig need to be so far off the water?

Notice to Moderator After having read this article a couple or days back, I emailed naval architect mike waters, author of the specialist website SmallTriDesign to read the article and perhaps comment. Nearly a day ago, he emailed me back to say that he had, yet there’s been nothing posted from him and now I see a post with todays date. With his extensive knowledge and experience I would have thought his insight to be valuable to your readers and I was certainly looking forward to seeing his input. What happened?

Yes, PS .. what’s cookin ? Thought readers would be interested to know that capsize control help maybe on the way 😉

Yes PS, what’s cookin’ ? Thought your readers would like to know that some anti-capsize help maybe on the way 😉

Great article! I’ve read it twice so far. Recently in Tampa Bay I sailed my Dragonfly 28 in 25 knots breeze and found that speed was increased (drag reduced?) after I put in one reef in the main. I think I should have reefed the Genoa first?

Absolutely Tim. Slim hulls, as for most trimarans and the finer, lighter catamarans will often sail more efficiently with less sail .., especially if with a rotating mast, and you can indeed get proportionally better performance. The boat sails more upright for one thing, giving more sail drive from improved lift/drag and less hull resistance .. and its certainly safer and more comfortable and can also be drier, as an upright boat tends to keep wavetops passing underneath more effectively. Even my W17 design has been shown to achieve over 90% of its top speed with only 1/2 the sail area, by switching to a more efficient, high-aspect ratio ‘storm mainsail’ set behind its rotating wingmast …, a far cry from a monohulls storm trysail in terms of upwind efficiency. Yes, wind speed was higher, but the boat sailed far easier and its definitely something that slim hulled multihulls should explore more, as they will then also be less likely to capsize. More here if interested http://www.smalltridesign.com

Darrell, is there some reason for blocking replies that hold opinions contrary to those of PS ? I am still hoping to read the expertise of those who actually study design and sail multihulls. The written target of PS is to accurately present facts and that implies the input of experts. Over the last 10 years, I have come to appreciate a few experts in the field of multihulls and right now, I see at least one of them is not being given a voice here. Your article made a lot of fine points but there are some issues needing to be addressed if PS it to remain a trusted source for accurate information. First, I have been told by a reliable source, you need to separate trimarans from catamarans and use different criteria to compare their stability as they do not respond the same and neither can you judge their reserve stability in the same way. I would also like to know what NA Mike Waters was hinting at when he said “capsize control help may be on the way” .. would you know anything about that? If not, then please invite or allow him space or the promise of PS fact-finding accuracy is heading down the drain for me. thanks

As a new subscriber to PS, it is a little disquieting to see no response to the two comments above by Tom Hampton.

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Why Do Catamarans Capsize? The Facts You Need To Know

cruising catamaran capsize

Catamarans have become increasingly popular in recent years as a fun and safe way to explore the waters around you.

But what happens if a catamaran tips over? What are the causes and safety tips to avoid it? In this article, we’ll explore why catamarans are more prone to capsizing than other boats, what can cause them to capsize, and what you should do if your catamaran tips over.

We’ll also discuss what to do if your catamaran capsizes and how to right it if possible.

So, if you’re looking to stay safe while sailing your catamaran, this article is for you!

Table of Contents

Short Answer

Catamarans can capsize due to a variety of reasons, including strong winds, large waves, and imbalance.

When a catamaran is caught in a gust of wind, the increased wind pressure on one side of the catamaran can cause it to lean to one side, which can lead to a capsize if not corrected.

Additionally, if the catamaran is not balanced properly, with too much weight on one side of the boat, it can easily capsize.

Lastly, large waves can easily cause the boat to roll, leading to a capsize.

The Design of Catamarans

Catamarans are two-hulled watercraft, which makes them inherently more susceptible to instability and capsize than more traditional vessels.

This is due to their wide-hulled design, which makes it easier for the boat to become unbalanced.

The two separate hulls also make them more difficult to steer, as the hulls act like two sails and can push the boat in unintended directions.

Additionally, catamarans have less buoyancy, making them more likely to capsize if they are overloaded with cargo.

The sails of a catamaran can also contribute to the likelihood of a capsize.

As the wind increases, the sails can act as a sail, pushing the boat over.

If the sails are not managed correctly, they can push the boat too far, resulting in a capsize.

Finally, large waves can cause a catamaran to become unstable and eventually capsize.

The wide-hulled design of catamarans makes them more vulnerable to waves, as the two hulls can move independently and cause the boat to become unbalanced.

Additionally, the asymmetrical shape of catamarans makes them more likely to flip over in high waves, as the force of the waves can push the boat in one direction and cause it to overturn.

Overall, catamarans are inherently more unstable than other types of vessels due to their wide-hulled design, and they can easily become unbalanced if improperly loaded with cargo.

Additionally, excessive wind can cause the sails of a catamaran to act as a sail, pushing it over and causing it to capsize.

Lastly, large waves can cause a catamaran to become unstable and eventually capsize.

For these reasons, it is important for catamaran owners to understand why catamarans can capsize and take the necessary precautions to prevent it.

Improper Loading Can Lead to Catamaran Capsizing

cruising catamaran capsize

When it comes to catamarans, proper loading is key to staying afloat.

A catamaran is inherently more unstable than other types of vessels due to their wide-hulled design, and they can easily become unbalanced if improperly loaded with cargo.

This can cause the vessel to become unstable and eventually capsize.

To avoid this, it is important to ensure the catamaran is loaded correctly and that the weight is evenly distributed across the two hulls.

When loading a catamaran, it is important to consider the size, shape, and weight of the items being loaded.

It is also important to be aware of the catamarans overall weight capacity.

Overloading the vessel or having an unevenly distributed load can cause the catamaran to become off-balance, leading to dangerous and potentially life-threatening situations.

It is also important to be aware of the center of gravity when loading a catamaran.

Cargo should be distributed in such a way that the center of gravity remains low and the catamaran remains stable.

This will allow the vessel to handle waves and wind more effectively and reduce the risk of capsizing.

When loading a catamaran, it is important to be aware of the risks associated with improper loading.

Taking the time to properly load the vessel and ensure the weight is evenly distributed can help reduce the risk of capsizing and keep passengers and crew safe.

Wind Can Cause Catamarans to Capsize

When it comes to why catamarans capsize, strong winds are a major factor.

This is because catamarans are inherently more unstable than other types of vessels due to their wide-hulled design.

The wide hulls can act as sails, catching the wind and pushing the boat over.

This is especially true if the catamaran is not properly loaded, as excessive wind can quickly create an imbalance and cause it to capsize.

Additionally, strong winds can cause the sails of a catamaran to act as a sail, pushing it over and causing it to capsize.

This can be especially dangerous if the sails are not properly trimmed, as the wind can catch them and cause the catamaran to lose its balance.

Furthermore, if a catamaran is not equipped with good quality sails and rigging, they can easily break or tear in high winds, making it more difficult to control the vessel and leading to a possible capsize.

In order to prevent a catamaran from capsizing due to wind, it is important to always be aware of the current weather conditions and adjust the sails and rigging accordingly.

It is also important to make sure the catamaran is properly loaded and balanced, as an imbalance can quickly lead to capsize.

Finally, it is important to use quality sails and rigging, as they will be more resistant to strong winds and will help to keep the catamaran under control.

Large Waves Can Cause Catamarans to Capsize

cruising catamaran capsize

When it comes to catamarans, large waves can be one of the main causes of capsizing.

This is due to the unique design of catamarans, which have two hulls connected by a platform.

This wide-hulled design gives catamarans more surface area than other types of vessels, making them inherently less stable.

While this can make them great for cruising in calm waters, it can also make them vulnerable to the effects of large waves.

When a large wave hits a catamaran, it can cause the vessel to become unbalanced.

This is because the wave can push one hull up while the other remains in the water.

This can create an imbalance in the catamarans center of gravity, causing it to become unstable and eventually capsize.

In addition to the effects of large waves, catamarans can also become unbalanced if they are improperly loaded with cargo.

As with any vessel, it is important to ensure that the catamaran is properly loaded so that it is not too top heavy.

If the vessel is carrying too much weight on one side, it can become unbalanced and be prone to capsizing.

Finally, excessive wind can also cause a catamaran to become unstable and eventually capsize.

Catamarans can act like a sail when the sails are open, and the wind can push the vessel over if it is not properly secured.

Its important to always make sure that the sails are properly secured and the catamaran is not exposed to excessive winds.

In conclusion, catamarans can capsize for a variety of reasons, such as strong winds, waves, and improper loading.

It is important to be aware of these potential dangers when operating a catamaran, and always take the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of the vessel and its occupants.

Safety Tips to Avoid Catamaran Capsizing

When it comes to owning and operating a catamaran, safety should always be your top priority.

While catamarans are inherently more unstable than other types of vessels, there are several steps you can take to help prevent your vessel from capsizing.

First, make sure your catamaran is properly loaded.

This means that the weight should be evenly distributed between the two hulls so as to maintain a balanced vessel.

Additionally, any heavy items should be secured in place to prevent them from shifting during travel.

Second, take caution when sailing in high winds or waves.

Catamarans are particularly vulnerable to strong winds and large waves, as the sails can act as a sail and push the vessel over.

If you are sailing in these conditions, make sure to keep the sails close-hauled and lower the mast to reduce wind resistance.

Additionally, try to stay away from large waves and steer into them instead of away to reduce the risk of capsizing.

Third, make sure all safety equipment is in working order.

This includes life jackets, flares, and other essential items that can be used in the event of an emergency.

Additionally, make sure that everyone on board is aware of the safety procedures and understands how to respond in case of a capsize.

By following these safety tips, you can help ensure that your catamaran remains upright and that everyone on board remains safe.

While capsizing can happen for a variety of reasons, it is important to take the necessary steps to prevent it from happening in the first place.

How to React if Your Catamaran Is Capsizing

cruising catamaran capsize

If you find yourself in a situation where you think that your catamaran is capsizing, the most important thing to do is remain calm.

It is tempting to panic, but if you panic, you may make it harder to react in a way that can help save your vessel.

It is also important to remember that catamarans can capsize in a matter of seconds, so it is important to act quickly.

The first step you should take is to lower the sails and turn off the engine.

This will help reduce the wind pressure on the hull and the risk of the catamaran tipping over.

Next, make sure that everyone on board is wearing life jackets and has access to a floatation device.

If possible, move to the center of the boat, as this is the safest spot in case of a capsize.

If the catamaran begins to capsize, dont jump off the boat.

Instead, grab onto something solid to help keep your balance and wait for the boat to right itself.

If the boat doesnt right itself, assess the situation for any potential hazards such as rocks or logs that may be in the water.

If the boat is still in danger of capsizing, it is best to abandon ship and get to safety.

It is important to remember that catamarans can capsize in a matter of seconds, so being prepared and knowing what to do when it happens can help keep everyone safe.

It is also important to make sure that the catamaran is properly loaded, that its sail settings are appropriate for the wind conditions, and that everyone on board is wearing a life jacket in case of a capsize.

By following these tips, you can help ensure a safe and enjoyable outing on your catamaran.

Is It Possible To Right a Capsized Catamaran?

In most cases, it is possible to right a capsized catamaran.

However, the difficulty of the task depends on the size and shape of the vessel, as well as the conditions in which it capsized.

If the catamaran is small enough, it may be possible to right it by hand, but larger vessels may need to be righted with the help of a crane or other lifting device.

Additionally, the crew must take into account the weather conditions when attempting to right a capsized catamaran.

High winds can make the task more difficult, as they can push the vessel further away from the shore.

If the catamaran can be righted, the next step is to assess the damage and determine if the vessel can be safely sailed.

If the catamaran is severely damaged, the crew may need to abandon it or seek assistance from a towboat or other vessel.

If the damage is minor, the crew may be able to repair the vessel and continue sailing.

It is important to note that if a catamaran is righted, it is still vulnerable to capsizing again if it is not properly loaded or if the weather conditions are too severe.

Therefore, it is important for the crew to take all necessary precautions to ensure that the vessel is properly loaded and that the crew is aware of the conditions before continuing on their voyage.

Final Thoughts

It’s important to understand the risks associated with owning and operating a catamaran.

By taking the necessary precautions, such as proper loading, avoiding high winds and waves, and having the right safety equipment on board, you can ensure that your catamaran remains stable and you stay safe while on the water.

If you find yourself in a situation where your catamaran is capsizing, react quickly and take the proper steps to right the vessel.

With the right knowledge and preparation, you can enjoy your time on the water without worrying about a potential capsizing.

James Frami

At the age of 15, he and four other friends from his neighborhood constructed their first boat. He has been sailing for almost 30 years and has a wealth of knowledge that he wants to share with others.

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cruising catamaran capsize

Catamaran Capsize: What to Do When Your Boat Flips

by Emma Sullivan | Aug 10, 2023 | Sailing Adventures

cruising catamaran capsize

Short answer catamaran capsize:

A catamaran capsize refers to the overturning or tipping over of a catamaran, a type of multihull boat with two parallel hulls. This can occur due to various factors such as strong winds, improper handling, or technical failures. Capsize prevention measures like proper training, ballasting systems, and stability considerations are crucial for safe navigation and reducing the risk of catamaran capsizing incidents.

Understanding Catamaran Capsizing: Causes, Risks, and Prevention

Catamarans are a popular choice among sailing enthusiasts due to their sleek design, stability, and impressive speed. However, even the most experienced sailors can fall victim to catamaran capsizing if they fail to understand the causes, risks involved, and how to prevent mishaps. In this blog post, we will delve into the intricacies of understanding catamaran capsizing to ensure that you can enjoy your sailing adventures with peace of mind.

Causes of Catamaran Capsizing:

1. Overloading: One common cause of catamaran capsizing is overloading. Exceeding the weight limitations of your vessel can lead to instability and loss of control in rough waters. It is essential to understand your catamaran’s maximum carrying capacity and distribute weight evenly throughout the boat.

2. High Winds: Strong gusts can swiftly overpower a catamaran, making it prone to capsizing. Understanding weather patterns and keeping a close eye on wind forecasts becomes crucial before embarking on any sailing journey.

3. Wave Interference: Waves play an integral role in causing catamaran capsizing accidents. Large waves hitting the boat at unfavorable angles can destabilize it or even cause it to pitchpole (the front end dives into a wave while flipping). Studying wave behaviors and having knowledge of proper sailing techniques when encountering such conditions is vital for preventing mishaps.

Risks Involved in Catamaran Capsizing:

1. Injury or Loss of Life: The most significant risk associated with catamaran capsizing is potential injury or loss of life. Falling from a capsized vessel into rough waters poses serious dangers, especially if rescue or self-recovery measures are not promptly executed.

2. Damage to Property: Struggling against strong currents after a capsize can cause considerable damage to both your vessel and other boating equipment on board. Repairs can be costly, and the loss of personal belongings can be emotionally distressing.

3. Environmental Impact: Capsized catamarans may spill fuel, oil, or other hazardous substances into the environment, causing pollution and harm to marine life. Understanding the potential environmental impact of a capsizing event highlights the importance of responsible boating practices.

Preventing Catamaran Capsizing:

1. Proper Training and Education: Acquiring formal training courses in sailing, especially ones specifically focusing on operating a catamaran, is essential for preventing capsizing accidents. Learning about safety procedures, navigation techniques, and understanding your vessel’s capabilities will significantly reduce risks.

2. Maintenance and Inspection: Regularly inspecting your catamaran for any signs of wear or damage can help identify potential issues that could lead to a capsize. Maintaining sails, rigging, and hull integrity ensures that your vessel is in optimal condition for safe sailing .

3. Weather Monitoring: Stay updated with meteorological reports and observe weather patterns carefully before setting sail . Avoid venturing out during severe weather conditions such as high winds or thunderstorms to minimize the risk of capsizing incidents.

4. Weight Distribution: Pay close attention to how weight is distributed within your catamaran to maintain its stability . Ensuring an even distribution across both hulls reduces the risk of capsizing due to imbalance.

5. Safety Equipment: Always have suitable safety equipment readily available onboard your catamaran in case of emergencies. This includes personal flotation devices (PFDs), flares, whistles, safety lines, fire extinguishers, and distress signals – which are all vital tools for rescuers spotting you quickly during a capsize situation.

By thoroughly understanding the causes behind catamaran capsizing incidents along with their associated risks while implementing preventative measures explained above; you can minimize the likelihood of encountering such mishaps on your sailing adventures.”

Remember that maintaining vigilance at all times during your sailing trips is crucial , regardless of your experience level. Stay informed, respect the power of nature, and prioritize safety to ensure a memorable and enjoyable catamaran experience for yourself and everyone on board.

How to React When a Catamaran Capsizes: Step-by-Step Guide

Title: Successfully Navigating a Catamaran Capsizing: A Comprehensive Step-by-Step Guide

Introduction: Catamarans are undoubtedly marvelous vessels, designed to provide both stability and speed on the water . However, even the most experienced sailors may find themselves in a situation where their catamaran capsizes unexpectedly. To help you stay prepared and confident, we have crafted a detailed step-by-step guide on how to react when faced with such an unfortunate event. From staying calm to implementing effective techniques, this guide will equip you with the necessary knowledge to swiftly recover from a catamaran capsizing.

Step 1: Maintain Composure In any crisis situation, keeping calm is key. Take a deep breath, clear your mind and remind yourself that panic only exacerbates the challenge at hand. Remaining composed allows you to think rationally and make wise decisions during each subsequent step.

Step 2: Assess the Situation Upon realizing that your catamaran has capsized, take a moment to evaluate the circumstances around you. Determine whether any crew members or passengers require immediate assistance or medical attention. Prioritizing safety should always be your primary concern.

Step 3: Activate Floatation Devices Ensure that everyone onboard has access to personal floatation devices (PFDs). Encourage everyone to put them on without delay – these will significantly enhance everyone’s chances of staying buoyant while awaiting rescue.

Step 4: Conserve Energy Capsizing can be physically demanding; therefore, it is crucial for everyone involved to conserve energy during this challenging time. Remind crew members and passengers not to exert themselves unnecessarily and advise them on using slow movements in order not to tip over or destabilize the boat further.

Step 5: Establish Communication Locate any communication devices available onboard, such as handheld radios or emergency flares . If possible, make contact with nearby vessels or coastguards immediately for assistance. Modern technologies like personal locator beacons (PLBs) can effectively alert authorities to your location, ensuring swift and targeted rescue efforts.

Step 6: Activate Self-Righting Mechanism Many catamarans are equipped with self-righting features. Determine whether your vessel possesses this capability and, if so, initiate the self-righting mechanism as per your specific manufacturer’s instructions. This will help upright the boat swiftly and minimize any further complications.

Step 7: Teamwork is Essential Maintain a collective mindset throughout the ordeal by fostering teamwork amongst crew members and passengers. Assign roles to individuals based on their abilities, such as staying close to less confident swimmers or assisting in communication efforts. Cooperation plays a vital role in maximizing everyone’s safety during a catamaran capsizing event.

Step 8: Abandon Ship If Necessary In extreme situations where the catamaran cannot be successfully righted or is taking on significant water , abandoning ship may become necessary. Ensure that everyone is aware of emergency escape routes and how to properly use life rafts or other flotation devices for evacuation. Stay together as a group to increase visibility for rescuers and minimize potential risks of separation.

Conclusion: No sailor desires to experience the unsettling event of a catamaran capsizing; however, being well-prepared significantly improves your chances of overcoming such an incident unscathed. By following this step-by-step guide with composure, careful assessment, effective communication, teamwork, and necessary equipment utilization, you will empower yourself and others with confidence when facing such circumstances at sea. Remember: Safety should always remain paramount on any sailing adventure !

Frequently Asked Questions about Catamaran Capsizing

Are you a catamaran enthusiast or someone interested in the world of sailing? If so, you may have heard about catamaran capsizing and the potential risks involved. In this blog post, we will delve into frequently asked questions about catamaran capsizing to provide you with a detailed professional explanation . So let’s dive right in!

1. What is catamaran capsizing? Catamaran capsizing refers to the situation where a catamaran boat overturns or flips onto its side or completely upside down due to various external factors such as strong winds, large waves, or improperly distributed weight on the vessel.

2. What are the common causes of catamaran capsizing? There are several factors that can contribute to a catamaran capsizing. Some of the most common causes include extreme weather conditions such as high winds and heavy waves, sudden shifts in wind direction, improper handling by sailors, insufficient crew experience or training, overloading of equipment or passengers, and structural issues with the boat itself.

3. How likely is it for a catamaran to capsize ? While catamarans are generally considered stable vessels, there is still a chance of capsizing under certain circumstances. The likelihood of capsizing depends on various factors including the size and design of the catamaran, prevailing weather conditions, crew skills and experience levels, and adherence to safety protocols.

4. Can you prevent catamarans from capsizing altogether? While it is impossible to completely eliminate all risks associated with sailing on a catamaran , there are measures that can be taken to minimize the chances of capsizing. These include proper weight distribution on board by evenly distributing passengers and equipment across both hulls, regular maintenance checks and repairs to ensure structural integrity of the vessel, acquiring adequate knowledge about weather patterns before setting sail , keeping an eye on changing wind conditions during trips, and investing in appropriate safety equipment such as life jackets and flotation devices.

5. What should I do if my catamaran capsizes? In the unfortunate event that your catamaran capsizes, it is crucial to remain calm and follow proper safety protocols. Firstly, make sure everyone on board is wearing a life jacket and accounted for. Attempt to right the boat by applying appropriate techniques learned through training or seek professional assistance if necessary. If unable to overturn the catamaran, seek refuge on top of the inverted hulls until rescue arrives or until you are able to safely swim to shore, depending on the proximity of land.

6. Are there any measures in place to enhance catamaran safety? Absolutely! In many sailing communities, there are regulatory bodies and organizations that promote safe sailing practices for catamarans. These can include mandatory safety inspections for vessels, standardized training programs for skippers and crew members, guidelines on weight distribution limits, and recommendations regarding suitable weather conditions for outings.

7. Is catamaran capsizing more dangerous than monohulls? Both catamarans and monohulls have their own unique characteristics when it comes to capsizing risks. While a monohull may be more prone to rolling over completely due to its single hull design, a catamaran is more likely to capsize onto its side or invert partially due to its dual-hull configuration. Both scenarios can present dangers depending on several factors such as sea state , weather conditions, crew experience level, and rescue accessibility.

8. Can I still enjoy sailing on a catamaran without worrying about capsizing? Absolutely! The joy of sailing on a well-maintained and properly operated catamaran far outweighs the potential risks associated with capsizing events. By taking appropriate precautions such as ensuring crew competency level matches prevailing conditions, adhering to weight distribution guidelines set by manufacturers or designers, using reliable weather forecasting services before embarking on trips, and practicing emergency drills with your crew, you can greatly minimize the chance of experiencing a capsizing event.

So there you have it – the frequently asked questions about catamaran capsizing. We hope this detailed professional, witty and clever explanation has shed some light on this topic and provided valuable insights for anyone considering sailing on a catamaran . Remember to always prioritize safety when enjoying your sailing adventures !

The Anatomy of a Catamaran Capsize: Key Factors to Consider

Catamarans are known for their outstanding stability and performance in the water. However, despite their impressive design, these amazing vessels are not immune to capsizing under certain conditions. Understanding the anatomy of a catamaran capsize is essential for sailors and boat enthusiasts alike, as it allows us to learn how to prevent such incidents and ensure our safety when navigating these remarkable watercraft.

One of the key factors that can lead to a catamaran capsize is excessive wind or gusts. While increased wind is generally advantageous for sailing, when coupled with strong currents or waves, it can create an unbalanced force on the boat, increasing the risk of tipping over. A sudden violent gust or wind shift can catch even seasoned sailors off guard, making it crucial to stay vigilant and react promptly by adjusting sails or heading into the wind to reduce pressure on them.

Another vital aspect contributing to a catamaran capsize is weight distribution. Catamarans rely heavily on their wide hulls for stability, which can sometimes lead novice sailors to overlook the significance of proper weight distribution within the vessel. If there is an excess load on one side due to unevenly distributed cargo or passengers congregating in one area of the boat, it can destabilize the catamaran and make it more prone to flipping over during challenging weather conditions .

In addition to excessive wind and poor weight distribution, wave action plays a significant role in catamaran disasters. When powerful waves crash against a catamaran’s hulls at certain angles or heights, they exert tremendous forces that can easily overcome its stability measures. For instance, if caught by an unexpected large wave while crossing a bar entrance or maneuvering through narrow channels where choppy seas prevail, there’s a higher possibility of encountering instability issues that may potentially result in capsize.

Furthermore, sail handling skills are critical when trying to prevent a catamaran from capsizing. A catamaran’s sail plan is designed to optimize performance, but this also means that sail forces can become excessive in challenging conditions. If the sails are not appropriately adjusted or if inexperienced sailors fail to anticipate gusts and adjust accordingly, the boat may be overwhelmed by the power of the wind, leading to an alarming loss of control and potential capsize.

Lastly, seaworthiness is a fundamental consideration when it comes to preventing catamaran capsizes. Regular maintenance and inspections should be conducted to ensure that all vital components such as rigging, rudders, and hull integrity are in impeccable condition. Proper communication equipment should also be onboard at all times to allow for quick distress calls or requests for assistance during unforeseen emergencies.

To conclude, understanding the various factors contributing to a catamaran capsize is essential for any sailor or boat enthusiast who wishes to embark on this exhilarating water adventure. By recognizing the crucial role of excessive wind, weight distribution, wave action, sail handling skills, and seaworthiness precautions, individuals can minimize their risk of encountering a catastrophic event while enjoying the pleasures of sailing on these beautiful vessels. So before setting out on your next catamaran voyage, make sure you’re well-prepared and equipped with safety knowledge that will keep you sailing smoothly !

Top Safety Tips for Avoiding and Surviving a Catamaran Capsize

Title: Navigating the High Seas: Top Safety Tips for Avoiding and Surviving a Catamaran Capsize


The allure of catamarans lies in their ability to skim across the water, effortlessly harnessing the wind’s power . However, as with any water-based activity, accidents can happen. Understanding the necessary precautions and knowing how to react in dire circumstances is paramount to ensure your safety while enjoying this thrilling experience . In this blog post, we present you with our comprehensive guide on top safety tips for avoiding and surviving a catamaran capsize. So buckle up; we’re about to set sail into the world of nautical preparedness!

1. Choose Your Vessel Wisely:

Your primary defense against a capsizing event starts with selecting a suitable catamaran . Ensure that it has appropriate stability features like outriggers or pontoons that offer additional buoyancy in case of rough waters or sudden gusts of wind. Additionally, always check the weather forecast before embarking on your journey to avoid unfavorable conditions.

2. Master Your Catamaran Handling Skills:

Knowledge and expertise are priceless while cruising aboard a catamaran. Familiarize yourself thoroughly with your vessel’s manual, understanding all systems and controls entirely—training courses and sailing schools can be excellent resources for acquiring essential skills such as docking maneuvers, navigation techniques, and emergency drills.

3. Keep an Eye on Weight Distribution:

A well-distributed weight load enhances stability significantly during transfers of power between hulls when riding waves or strong gusts. Ensure that weighty gear is evenly distributed between both hulls, taking care not to place excessive weight on one side which may lead to imbalance and potential tipping.

4. Rigorous Pre-sailing Checks:

Prior to setting sail , conduct thorough pre-departure checks focused on key safety areas such as rigging tension, mast integrity, hull conditions (including hatches), rudder alignment, and electronics functionality. Moreover, make it a habit to inspect the vessel’s keels, ensuring they are free from any debris or obstruction that might affect stability.

5. Appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE):

Never underestimate the importance of PPE for all onboard. Each crew member should be equipped with a well-fitting personal flotation device (PFD) suited for their weight and body type. Additionally, wearing non-slip footwear and donning protective clothing against sunburns will keep you comfortable throughout your journey.

6. Maintain Constant Vigilance:

While the joys of sailing can sometimes be entrancing, maintaining constant situational awareness is crucial aboard a catamaran. Always keep an eye out for sudden changes in wind direction or intensity, potential obstacles such as submerged rocks or reefs, and other moving vessels that may pose collision risks.

7. Execute Controlled Gybes:

Performing controlled gybes (turning the boat downwind) helps mitigate risks associated with strong gusts during maneuvers. By gradually turning instead of executing sharp turns, you reduce the chances of capsizing due to abrupt shifts in wind pressure on the sail .

8. React Swiftly During Capsizing:

Despite taking every possible precautionary measure, there may still be instances where your catamaran capsizes unexpectedly. If this happens, stay calm and remember these essential steps: hold on to something secure within the hull if accessible, prioritize assessing everyone’s safety first before attempting self-rescue; avoid panicking or swimming away from your vessel since it serves as a rescue platform until help arrives.


Sailing aboard a catamaran provides an exhilarating experience loaded with adventure and serenity; however, being aware of potential risks associated with capsizing is vital to ensure a safe voyage. By following our top safety tips outlined above – choosing the right vessel, mastering handling skills, maintaining correct weight distribution, conducting rigorous pre-sail checks – you can vastly reduce the likelihood of a catamaran capsize. Remember, staying prepared and acting wisely during such an event is paramount to your survival at sea. So, bon voyage, fellow enthusiasts, and may the winds always be in your favor!

Exploring the Aftermath: Recovering from a Catamaran Capsize

Picture yourself sailing peacefully on a gorgeous sunny day, only to have your serene experience shattered by a sudden and unexpected event – a devastating catamaran capsize. It’s an unfortunate incident that can turn your joyful sailing adventure into a daunting and stressful situation . However, fear not! In this blog post, we will dive deep into the aftermath of a catamaran capsize and discuss the steps required to recover both physically and mentally from such an ordeal. So, grab your life jackets and let’s set sail into understanding the complexities of post-capsize recovery!

1. Assessing the Immediate Situation:

When faced with a catamaran capsize, it is crucial to remain calm and composed. Your immediate priority should be ensuring everyone’s safety onboard. Quickly conduct a headcount to account for all crew members while simultaneously checking for injuries or potential dangers in the surrounding environment such as debris or submerged objects.

2. Activating Emergency Signals and Communication Systems:

Once you have secured everyone’s safety, it is vital to activate emergency signals promptly. Utilize any available communication systems to notify nearby vessels or shore authorities about your predicament. This will enable them to dispatch rescue services swiftly, minimizing the time spent adrift.

3. Maneuvering Towards Stability:

With safety measures in place, it’s time to focus on stabilizing your catamaran after its terrifying roll-over incident. Depending on various factors such as water conditions and vessel type , there are multiple techniques you can employ for righting your capsized craft. Perhaps using auxiliary flotation devices or relying on collective crew effort, these methods may vary but share one common goal – restoring stability safely.

4.Controlling Water Intake:

Catamarans may suffer extensive damage during capsize incidents resulting in water flooding their hulls rapidly; thus controlling water intake becomes crucial for successful recovery efforts. Energetically employ bilge pumps or any other available means to eliminate excessive water ingress, as this allows your vessel to regain buoyancy and maneuverability.

5. Assessing the Extent of Damages:

Once stability is restored, it’s time to conduct a thorough inspection of your catamaran. Assess the extent of damages inflicted during the capsize incident carefully. Pay close attention to critical components such as rigging, sails, hull integrity, and safety equipment. Identifying potential structural issues upfront will aid in subsequent repair and recovery plans.

6. Towing or Sail-Assisted Recovery:

Now that you have a comprehensive understanding of damage incurred, it’s time to plan your recovery strategy. Depending on the severity of damages and proximity to help, you may choose between towing your craft back to land or utilizing its remaining sailing capabilities for a sail -assisted return home. Remember, ensuring everyone’s safety remains paramount throughout this decision-making process.

7. Seeking Professional Assistance:

Involving an experienced maritime professional during post-capsize recovery can prove invaluable. They can offer expert advice regarding vessel repairs and assist in making critical decisions about whether immediate repairs are necessary or if repatriating via tow should take precedence.

8. Debriefing and Reflecting:

Finally, once your catamaran is safely repaired or taken for professional assistance; it is essential to reflect upon the tumultuous experience openly with your crew members and those involved in the rescue operation. A debriefing session will not only provide closure but also contribute towards bolstering future safety practices and enhancing preparedness for similar emergencies.

Facing a catamaran capsize might send waves of panic through even the most seasoned sailors; however, with proper preparation, quick thinking, and adherence to safety protocols outlined above – recovering from such an unpredictable event becomes feasible both physically and mentally.

Embrace every opportunity for learning from this experience while acknowledging the resilience displayed by yourself and your crew. Sail on, knowing that you now possess the knowledge to navigate through the aftermath of a catamaran capsize with confidence and grace. Bon voyage!

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Can a Catamaran Capsize? The Surprising Answer

Capsizing often happens with small boats like canoes, kayaks, and sailboats. But even for bigger boats like catamarans, which have an established reputation for stability and safety, it's still normal to wonder if they can capsize too. To give you peace of mind and prepare you for the worst, let's answer that question in this article.

A catamaran can capsize under extreme conditions, just like any other boat. Even the most stable catamaran can capsize if it's hit by a large wave, caught in a sudden gust of wind, or if the rotational force has overcome the stability of the boat. However, it's not something that happens frequently.

It can be a scary experience if a catamaran capsized, but you have to stay calm and know that most modern catamarans are designed to self-right. This means that they can turn themselves back over after capsizing. Let's continue reading to know what else can we do to recover from a catamaran capsize.

  • A catamaran's stability is attributed to its center of gravity, its freeboard, and its pendulum-like behavior. However, despite its stability and speed, a catamaran can still capsize due to strong winds and capsizing waves.
  • There are factors that can contribute to the likelihood of a capsize happening, such as wind speed, wave height, weather conditions, breaking waves, and the overall sailing conditions.
  • The best thing to do to quickly recover from a capsize is to stay calm and position the boat to make it self-right quickly.

cruising catamaran capsize

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A catamaran can capsize despite its stability, factors influencing catamaran capsizing, safety measures to prevent capsizing, recovering from a capsized catamaran.

A catamaran can capsize. However, it's not very common, and most catamarans are designed to be stable and safe in a variety of conditions.

Despite their stability and speed, catamarans can still capsize under certain conditions. Strong winds, large waves, and imbalance can all cause a catamaran to capsize. When a catamaran is caught in a gust of wind, the increased wind pressure on one side of the catamaran can cause it to lean to one side, which can lead to a capsize if not corrected.

Any boat can technically capsize , but there are specific factors that can contribute to a catamaran capsizing. One of the main reasons for catamaran capsizing is the effect of rotational forces. When these forces overcome the stability of the boat, it can lead to capsizing.

A catamaran is a type of multihull boat that has two parallel hulls connected by a deck or bridge. They are well known for their stability and speed, making them a popular choice for sailors and boaters.

One of the key advantages of their twin hulls is that it gives them a larger base and makes them less likely to tip over . It also helps to distribute the weight of the boat more evenly, providing greater stability. This is especially helpful in rough seas , where the catamaran's stability can help keep you safe and comfortable. Below are factors that contribute to the stability of catamarans:

Their center of gravity makes them stable

In a catamaran, the center of gravity is typically lower than in a monohull, which helps reduce the likelihood of capsizing. This is because the lower the center of gravity, the more stable the boat will be.

The freeboard also adds up to their stability

Their freeboard of a catamaran is typically lower than a monohull's, which helps to reduce the windage and the chances of the boat being pushed over by strong winds.

Their pendulum-like behavior helps them to be stabilized

When they encounter waves, the two hulls move independently of each other, which helps to reduce the rolling motion of the boat. This is because the weight of the boat is distributed between the two hulls, which act like pendulums, swinging in opposite directions to counterbalance the motion of the waves.

cruising catamaran capsize

Aside from stability, another advantage of a catamaran is its speed. Because they have two hulls, they create less drag than a single hull and can move through the water more quickly and efficiently. This can be especially useful if you're trying to get somewhere quickly or if you're racing.

The height of the wave can affect the chance of capsizing

Wave height is a significant factor when it comes to catamaran capsizing. The higher the waves, the greater the risk of capsizing. This is because the waves can exert a significant amount of force on the boat, causing it to tip over.

Wave capsize occurs when a boat overtakes a wave and sinks its bow into the next one, causing it to capsize. However, this is also not very common and can usually be avoided by keeping an eye on the waves and adjusting your speed and course accordingly.

Wind speed is another important factor to consider

The stronger the wind, the more likely it is that a catamaran will capsize. The wind can create a lot of pressure on the sails, which can cause the boat to lean to one side and potentially capsize. To know more about the ideal wind speed in sailing, read this article.

cruising catamaran capsize

Weather conditions can also play a role in catamaran capsizing

If there is a storm or other severe weather conditions, the risk of capsizing is much higher. Perhaps consider checking the weather forecast before setting out on a catamaran to ensure that conditions are safe. You may also try reading this article on the possible danger of sailing through thunderstorms.

Breaking waves can cause a catamaran to capsize

When waves break, they release a significant amount of energy, which can cause the boat to capsize. Try to keep an eye out for breaking waves and avoid them if possible.

The overall sailing condition can increase the likelihood of capsizing

You may need to be aware of the conditions and take appropriate precautions to ensure that you stay safe while on the water.

1. Ensure proper weight distribution

To prevent capsizing, you could check if the weight on your catamaran is evenly distributed, with heavier items stored low and towards the center of the boat. Try to avoid overloading your catamaran with too much weight.

2. Learn the right way of reefing

Reefing is the process of reducing the size of your sails to adjust to changing wind conditions. When the wind starts to pick up, you will need to reef your sails to prevent your catamaran from heeling over too much. You must learn how to reef your sails properly before you set out on your journey.

3. Know how to properly anchor and use the right anchor

An anchor can help keep your catamaran in place and prevent it from drifting in strong currents or winds. You need to know how to properly anchor your catamaran and always use an anchor that is appropriate for the size of your boat. Learn different anchoring techniques in tough conditions through this article: Boat Anchoring Techniques Explained (Illustrated Guide)

cruising catamaran capsize

4. Utilize your catamaran's engine

Your engine can be a valuable tool for preventing capsizing. If you find yourself in a dangerous situation, such as strong winds or currents, you can use your engine to help keep your catamaran stable and prevent it from capsizing.

5. Use your boat tools to prevent it from capsizing

Keels, daggerboards, and centerboards all help stabilize your catamaran and prevent capsizing. You may need to check if these are properly installed and maintained.

6. Use the drogue to slow down the boat

A drogue is a device that can help slow down your catamaran and prevent it from capsizing in heavy seas. You can check if you have a drogue on board and learn how to properly use it in case you need to.

7. Make sure to have safety equipment onboard

Always make sure you have the proper safety equipment on board, including life jackets, flares, and a first aid kit. Everyone on board must also know where the safety equipment is located and how to use it.

8. Use an autopilot

Autopilot can help keep your catamaran stable and prevent it from heeling over too much. Consider learning how to properly use your autopilot before you set out on your journey.

Capsizing a catamaran can be a scary experience, but with proper preparation and practice, you can easily handle it. When the boat flips upside down, all the loose gear in the boat floats away (or sinks), and you are left with a capsized boat. Here are some steps that can help you recover from a catamaran capsize:

The first thing to do when your catamaran capsizes is to remain calm. Take a deep breath and assess the situation. Check if everyone on board is safe and accounted for.

Position the catamaran to self-right

Catamarans are designed to self-right, which means that they can turn themselves back over after capsizing. To self-right, the boat needs to be positioned in a certain way, usually with the mast pointing downwind.

Help the catamaran to self-right using the righting lines

If your catamaran doesn't self-right, you can help it by using the righting lines. These lines are attached to the bottom of the hulls, and they can be used to pull the boat back upright.

The buoyancy of the catamaran can help you recover

Catamarans are designed to be buoyant , which means that they can float even when they are upside down. This makes it easier to recover from a capsize.

Be prepared

The best way to prepare for a capsize is to practice recovering from one. Set aside some time to practice capsizing your catamaran in a controlled environment, like a calm lake. This will help you build confidence and prepare you for the real thing.

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Confident catamaran handling: how to master multihulls

  • Katy Stickland
  • July 3, 2020

Gavin Le Sueur shows Yachting Monthly how to step on board a catamaran for the first time with confidence

Multihull sailing with a white sail

The Nautitech 40 Open, despite aimed at the cruising market, places an emphasis on performance and speed

It’s official: this year, for the first time ever, yacht charter holiday businesses ordered more catamarans for their fleets than monohulls, writes Gavin Le Sueur.

Capable of creeping into the shallowest of anchorages, sailing flat and fast, while being incomparably spacious, catamarans win the numbers game hands down and are the choice of many sailors looking for a perfect charter abroad.

Still, for even the most experienced monohull sailor, taking command of two hulls and two engines can seem a tall order.

No need for trepidation though. The wind and sea remain the same. The theory of sailing is unaltered.

What does change when sailing a multihull are the handling characteristics and some basic seamanship rules.

These changes are the result of using beam rather than ballast for stability.

Nautitech 40 Open on The Hamble River

Stepping ashore at the stern is the only option in this situation. This changes how coming alongside manoeuvres are conducted

Inherent in this is a lighter, more stable platform that accelerates quickly and has higher windage and different motion.

Seamanship is an evolving knowledge base.

Just when we think everything is as good as it can get and there’s no need for innovation, along comes a new idea that we eventually feel is essential.

From a design viewpoint, for instance, there are now production cruising cats being foil assisted to reduce wetted surface area and drag.

Materials tech also keeps changing the goalposts for multihulls.

As they get lighter and stronger, follow-on changes occur in beam and rig styles.

Multihulls come in all shapes and sizes.

Good seamanship requires knowledge of the theory behind sailing a multihull and understanding the characteristics of the specific design you are sailing.

Like all yachts, each multihull model has its own quirks.

This article provides an outline of some of the features you should be aware of when chartering a catamaran for the first time.

This knowledge base will also be of use to those sailing and anchoring in company with a multihull.

Manoeuvring a catamaran in a harbour

Twin-engined catamarans have wonderful manoeuvrability.

They can turn in their own length, which is good as they usually have twice the beam (or more) of an equivalent monohull and will slip sideways in crosswind due to reduced lateral resistance and higher hull and cabin tops.

Most of the boat is out of the water.

When docking, know the crosswind and current effects and allow for them, and how quickly you will come to a stop with engines in neutral or hard astern.

Because multihulls are lighter and have a higher wetted surface area than a monohull, they have reduced momentum and will generally pull up quicker.

Coming alongside on a Nautitech 40 Open on The Hamble River

Ensure the length of the yacht is well protected by fenders as each end will be used to exercise leverage

Twin-engine knowledge is needed to exit and enter berths.

There is little advantage in using the helm under 2 knots boat speed when you have two engines well spaced apart.

Learn to control your catamaran with engines alone at low speeds.

If both propellers rotate in the same direction, there will be an advantage docking in a specific way.

Counter-rotating engines lessen this effect.

You will be handling a much larger platform and, under you develop a feel for the size of the vessel, having crew on the bows help guide distance control.

If the multihull has daggerboards, lowering these while manoeuvring will reduce any sideways slip due to windage and increase it if your sideways movement is due to current.

Nautitech 40 Open on The Hamble River

Spend a little time getting used to the controls outside the marina and you’ll find that despite being big, modern cats are very responsive

Many multihulls have mini-keels and the effect on these of crosswinds and currents needs to be rehearsed before attempting a tight marina berth entry.

The stability of a multihull comes with a price: the platform is level, but the motion tends to be quicker.

There is reduced momentum and, as a result, they accelerate and stop much more quickly.

When manoeuvring, ensure the crew keeps ‘one hand for the boat’.

When sails are raised, be aware that the sheet lines are loaded immediately and wind gusts can cause rapid acceleration.

There is no heeling to spill the power.

Avoid sitting on or near loaded sheets.

Coming alongside leeward in a catamaran

1. position the boat parallel.

docking a Nautitech 40 Open catamran on The Hamble River

Position the boat parallel, with the bow angled slightly off the pontoon, aiming to bring the aft quarter alongside a cleat.

2. Let the wind bring you alongside

Nautitech 40 Open on The Hamble River

Control the boat’s angle while the wind pushes you on, then step ashore from the aft quarter with the sternline.

3. Use the outboard engine to hold steady

Nautitech 40 Open on The Hamble River

With the stemline secure, a few forward revs on the outboard engine will hold the boat in place while you secure the bow,

Coming alongside windward in a catamaran

1. line up the aft quarter with a cleat.

Coming alongside windward Nautitech 40 Open catamran on The Hamble River

Instead of fighting the wind, simply aim to bring the aft quarter of the boat in line with a cleat.

Don’t worry about being parallel.

2. Secure a line and turn the boat with engine

Nautitech 40 Open catamran on The Hamble River

With a short line to the pontoon, motor ahead with the outboard engine to bring the bows up into the wind.

3. Balance the power for a neat alongside

Nautitech 40 Open catamran on The Hamble River

A few revs astern on the inboard engine will balance the boat to keep the aft line at 90° and the quarter clear of the pontoon.

Casting off a catamaran

1. cast off forward.

Casting off a Nautitech 40 Open on The Hamble River

Remove the forward mooring line using the engines to hold position on the pontoon.

2. Make life easy with engines

Casting off Nautitech 40 Open catamran on The Hamble River

If necessary, disengage the outboard engine to ease pressure on the remaining aft mooring line, then remove it.

3. Swing the stern out

Swing the stern out. Nautitech 40 Open catamaran on The Hamble River

Use the outboard engine to swing them stern out.

Stop the boat moving forward with the inboard, while the bow rests on a fender.

Taking control: Under sail

Under sail, multihulls respond to the wind quickly.

They accelerate with gusts and slow with lulls.

As a result, the apparent wind (the wind you feel) changes quickly also.

On many multihulls, it is easy to become complacent as to the true wind direction and strength.

You may appear to be pointing high and flying along when in reality, you have moved the apparent wind forward as you have accelerated and are actually laying off and losing ground to windward.

There is a sweet spot for each multihull where the sea state and wind strength combine to give you the optimum velocity made good (VMG) to windward.

A catamaran sailing on the Solent

Gauge how the wind is affecting you before making your final approach

This is not usually pinching hard to windward and it is also unlikely to be screaming away on a reach thinking you are tight on the breeze.

Downwind, a catamaran will outperform most similar-sized monohulls. Beware of the apparent wind in this situation.

It might be blowing 25 knots, your multihull running at 12 knots and you feel a gentle breeze.

Under spinnaker and full main, problems can quickly arise.

Although multihulls track well and tend not to broach, loss of concentration or autopilot failure can put you beam on and well overpowered.

Reef early. If you think you might need to reef, then reef.

A catamaran sailng under canvas on the Solent

Cruising speeds well into double figures require careful attention to the load on the rig

Better to be underpowered than overpowered, especially in unsettled
 or variable conditions.

A well-reefed multihull with sails well set will sail flatter and faster than one overpowered.

In downwind gusty conditions, the correct action when hit by a gust is to 
bear away and ease the sheets.

Never luff up as this increases the apparent wind.

By bearing away, you ease the pressure on the sails.

As soon as the gust passes, it’s time to reef .

When overpowered sailing to windward, immediately ease the traveller or mainsheet.

Be aware that the increased relative power in the headsail will want to drive the boat off the breeze.

Bavaria Nautitech 40 Open catamaran on The Hamble River

Downwind under asymmetric, a catamaran will far outpace its monohull counterparts. Passage plan accordingly to utilise wind speeds

Round up slowly and keep control. Rapidly rounding up can stall the rudders and may worsen the capsize risk in big seas.

Spinnaker, headsail and main sheets should always be secured in a quick-release cleat.

A self-tailing winch or a cleat requiring tension to be taken to release 
is not quick release.

Never leave a winch handle in the winch as a released sheetline can easily foul on this.

Many multihull capsizes are a result of a series of issues – a squall, overpowered rig, inability to quick release, turning the wrong way to depower.

On a cruising catamaran these are reduced, but good seamanship dictates an awareness of what to do when the unexpected occurs.

Avoid getting caught ‘in irons’

Although not unique to multihulls, getting caught ‘in irons’ is a common problem.

‘In irons’ is the state of stalling when your multihull has pointed too high into the wind or lost momentum through a tack and all forward motion is lost.

It is possible to sail or drift backwards on a multihull with considerable skill.

To get out of irons, release the headsail and push the rudder over to the opposite side you would if going forward.

The multihull will drift backwards and around on to the tack required.

As soon as the bow falls away and the mainsail has wind on the windward side, sheet in the headsail, correct the helm and only sheet in the main once you are progressing forward.

Most cruising catamarans will generally have a conservative rig and minikeels.

Due to their higher windage, reduced momentum and increased hull surface area, sailing to windward requires a different skill set than on a monohull.

First of all, don’t try to point as high as the monohull you are used to sailing.

A catamaran sailing on the Solent

Modern catamarans rarely get stuck in irons. Maintaining power and speed through tacks, particularly in a seaway, will normally stop the boat from staling

Lay off and go for a bit of speed.

You have less weight so will generally go faster, albeit it further off the wind.

Doing this in practice, the velocity made good equation will work out in your favour.

Sailing to windward is about making the best speed toward your destination.

You might cover more ground but will generally arrive relaxed and at the same time (or earlier).

If the sea state is choppy and you are pounding into it, lay off a bit, power up the sails and punch forward.

The sea state can stall a cruising multihull quicker due to their reduced momentum.

Use the sails to maintain drive.

1. Get sailing

A sail on a catamaran

Putting the wind just off the bow and dropping the sail on to the coachroof makes for a trouble-free hoist clear of crew.

2. Aim for boat speed

Bavaria Nautitech 40 Open catamaran on The Hamble River

Having raised the main and unfurled the job, bear away.

Aim for boat speed before getting closer to the wind.

3. Use beam to shape sails

Traveller track on a catamaran

The extra-wide traveller track can be used in place of a kicking strap to put more shape in the sail on a catamaran.

4. Use your instruments

Instrument on a catamaran

Use the yacht’s instruments to track velocity made good, as well as true and apparent wind speeds.

Cats sailing flat sail faster. Avoid becoming overpowered and always reef early.

5. Avoid overpowering

Leeward shroud on a catamaran

Keep an eye on your leeward shroud if it’s very loose.

Consider whether you might be overpowered and if it’s putting too much strain on your rig.

Daggerboards and their effective use

Daggerboards increase the lateral resistance and assist in tracking and sailing to windward more effectively.

To adjust boards when sailing you may need to ‘unload’ them – jiggle the helm, partially round up and bear away quickly or adjust them when tacking.

On catamarans, when sailing to windward in light to moderate conditions have the centreboards fully down.

In very light winds have only one centreboard down to reduce the wetted surface area.

Continues below…

A yacht charter holiday allows you to explore new destinations

Get ready for your yacht charter holiday

Getting to grips with a few skills and checking your boat carefully will give you a more enjoyable yacht charter…

a charter yacht in Greece

How to plan the perfect charter holiday

Whether you own your own boat or not, chartering offers the opportunity to sail somewhere different without complication. Will Bruton…

A multihill moored close to shore

Multihull anchoring and mooring buoys

Handling a catamaran in manoeuvres can sometimes be 
easier than with a monohull, but there are a few surprising differences.…

To windward in heavy conditions, partially retract the boards, starting with the leeward board.

When sailing downwind the centreboards should be adjusted to balance the helm.

When broad reaching this usually means the windward board is half down and the leeward board nearly fully up.

A small amount of board down will improve downwind steering.

In storm conditions consider the tripping effect of increased lateral resistance and adjust the boards accordingly.

Remember to retract your boards when coming into shallow water!

Not all multihulls are the same.

A trimaran generally has a wider beam, single engine and rudder, and less internal space.

They heel a bit more and are usually better windward performers.

Multihull Dragonfly 32

Trimarans generally have one engine. Credit: Emil Landry

Their wide hull windage is often less, and many have a central daggerboard which aids manoeuvrability and reduces lateral slide.

A trimaran will often be quicker to respond to the helm, and as they are proportionally lighter, will accelerate faster.

This is, of course, a generalisation as there are full bridge deck cruising trimarans with the internal volume and weight of a cruising catamaran.

Trimarans, like a single-engined yachts, require knowledge to the effect of the water flow over the rudder from the propeller when undertaking tight manoeuvring.

cruising catamaran capsize

Further reading

Multihull Seamanship by Gavin Le Sueur (Fernhurst, £14.99)

After 22 years and five reprints, Multihull Seamanship has undergone a full rewrite to update the many changes that have come with further experience and design advances.

This book is an A-Z of skills for catamarans and trimarans, cruising and racing.

Dr Gavin Le Sueur is a lifelong multihull sailor with experience racing and cruising the seven multihulls he has owned.

He has survived cyclones and capsize, raced two-handed around Australia and cruised throughout the Pacific and Asia with his wife Catherine and their three children.


How to escape a capsized Catamaran

  • August 6th, 2021
  • Sailing Skills

You may have read my cruise report on sailing a brand new Excess catamaran through the notorious waters of the Bay of Biscay . My account of the heavy seas and strong winds are real – and the withdrawal of all the two of my crew members due to sea sickness makes a strong point here. Right now I am on another delivery trip, it´s a again a 38-feet Excess 11 catamaran and this time it´s the Biscay northbound, the cat has to be sailed to Germany. Well, what shall I say? Different ship, same experiences …

cruising catamaran capsize

Although in the midst of the summer season this time the God of the Winds isn´t all too generous to us: Headwinds, high windage and ever building seas make this trip as well a stormy one. Definitely not a vocational cruise for sure. Sometimes, mostly during my night watches , when a gust breaks in and the catamaran´s autopilot struggles to keep her on course in the breaking waves, I think of the unthinkable: What if this cat suddenly capsizes ? And what to do then?

In-built safety: Can a Cat capsize?

Let´s rewind here and set the clock back 2 weeks. I inspect the cat in the commissioning yard still on dry land. I roam the hulls, officially looking for scratches or inconsistencies, and between them two I find something interesting. Two big hatches, wide enough to fit a grown-up man through. I take a closer look.

cruising catamaran capsize

To obtain the Cat A CE-certification a catamaran must offer means of escaping. Since a monohull is self-righting, meaning that it is virtually impossible to capsize and not to return to an upright state (unless the keel is off), a normal monohulled sailboat does only need escape hatches. Our cat does have them too – just at a very different position.

cruising catamaran capsize

The hatches are of the highest, rigid category. In our case made by French market leader Goiot Systems of Nantes. Massive aluminium frames, fitted by screws and sealed by a thick sealant from the outside to the catamaran, no wave can break inside. I have witnessed this multiple times during my sailing on the cat how massive amounts of fierce waters battered the windows – with no effect on them. So, you can literally bet your life on these parts.

Just in case: What is a Catamaran capsizes?

But what if the catastrophy happens? Well, I´ve checked the system and the code of conduct is very easy and fast. If you happen to find yourself in a capsized cat – everything is upside down now – first of all the clear window of the hatch will provide some natural light which is essential to shake off the first shock, make a clear thought and find the place to be.

cruising catamaran capsize

The hatch is built right under the entryway staircase down from the saloon into the two hulls, so you will have to remove the middle-stair. That is done (on my Excess catamaran) by unlocking two heasy lock bars and taking out the step of the frame. On the Excess the step has a secondary safety which is a click-in-bar holding it in place until removed by hand – so no fear that the step will hit you. Remember, when capsized, you will be working hand over head.

cruising catamaran capsize

Right under this hatch there is a small massive steel hammer. It´s the kind we know of buses or subway trains. By hitting the hatches glass you will smash it – cover your eyes and protect your face! When the glass is broken, you may clear splinters and finally climb out of the boat. Easier said than done: I can imagine that in such a situation, possibly in heavy seas , maybe injured with fractures or contusions, this is quite an undertaking.

cruising catamaran capsize

Now, finding yourself in the middle between the two hulls on the capsized catamaran must be as frightening as being inside: With the boat still washed over by roaring waves and brutal seas, maybe the rigging still partially attached down below the cat, jerking and wrenching the poor hulk. For having something to hold on to, the cat has a series of padeyes right aft of the hatch (see my first pictures in on dry land for reference) where a keen skipper might fit a lifeline to.

A better question – how NOT to capsize a multihull

But can a cat capsize? Well, unfortunately yes. A multihull has no keel. Thus no weight down below, hence no lever and no righting moment. The stability of a catamaran is determined by his form (hence: form-stability). Looking at stability curves you might notice that a catamaran has a huge amount of stability in relation to heeling – for the first degrees. It is much, much harder zo making a catamaran heel 5 degrees, for example. It needs much more power to do so than to heel a monohull.

cruising catamaran capsize

On the other hand, once over 15 degrees heeling (this is a guide value), the catamaran is lost. It will suddenly hit the tilting point and tip over. Once done, there is no safety net and no fallback, the capsize is imminent and cannot prevented anymore. Remember: A catamaran is very, very stable and safe in normal sailing conditions and even in heavy weather . But a skipper must respect under all circumstances the reefing threshold of his catamaran and reduce sails area accordingly. In this – at least that goes for my Excess 11 – this threshold seems very high and will nonetheless bear enough safety margin. For example, on the reefing chart it is recommended to put in the first reef in the main at 23 knots AWS. 23 knots! I felt it necessary to reef at 19-20 knots …

cruising catamaran capsize

So, with this knowledge and my first couple of hundred miles of experience on a monohull I can reassure you, dearest readers, with peace of conscience: Under normal cruising circumstances, even in foul weather, you catamaran won´t tilt and is not unstable nor unsafe. It takes a load full of massive energy to capsize a catamaran or a an unusually incompetent skipper who dangerously ignores the code of conduct. Just in case: You now know how to escape – and don´t forget to activate the EPIRB . Be safe out there!

You might as well find interesting to read:

Safety concept for a boat.

Keel types in monohulls

All catamaran-related articles by clicking on this hashtag #excesscatamaran


  1. Can Our Catamaran Capsize ?

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  2. Catamaran Sailing Part 7: capsize

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  3. Extreme 40 catamaran capsizes at Extreme Sailing Series on Sydney

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  4. VDWS Sailing

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  5. Every way to capsize a catamaran!

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  6. Prindle 16 catamaran sailing CAPSIZE double trapeze Poland

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  1. Are Performance "Cruising" Catamarans Safe?

  2. Part 2 of the Capsize of Trimaran JESS. The Rescue of Skipper Gilles and What Happened

  3. Ep. 31 Capsize Test: Welsford Navigator "Trim" goes over on Narrabeen Lagoon, Australia

  4. Capsizing Tarka, our Westray 16 sailing dinghy

  5. Catamaran Capsize Kenterung Topcat K2



  1. Catamaran Sailing Part 7: capsize – Yachting World

    Capsize is very unlikely in most cruising catamarans, but it does happen occasionally so, as with most seamanship issues, the smart move is to be on top of the subject and prepared for the worst ...

  2. Why Catamarans Capsize, A Scientific Explanation (For ...

    The cat was 9 m long, and the owner had modified the boat by adding keels. The study consists of a data set of over 120 incidents reported, of which only 33 are catamarans showing that catamaran capsizing is something very uncommon. The reason for a catamaran sailboat capsizes; 28% Gust of wind. 28% Wind.

  3. Multihull Capsize Risk Check - Practical Sailor

    The catamaran Ramtha was hit head-on by the infamous Queen’s Birthday storm in 1994. The mainsail was blown out, and steering was lost. Lacking any control the crew was taken off the boat, and the boat was recovered basically unharmed 2 weeks later. A Catalac catamaran caught in the same storm trailed a drogue and came through unharmed.

  4. Why Do Catamarans Capsize? The Facts You Need To Know

    The sails of a catamaran can also contribute to the likelihood of a capsize. As the wind increases, the sails can act as a sail, pushing the boat over. If the sails are not managed correctly, they can push the boat too far, resulting in a capsize. Finally, large waves can cause a catamaran to become unstable and eventually capsize.

  5. Catamaran Capsize: What to Do When Your Boat Flips

    Short answer catamaran capsize: A catamaran capsize refers to the overturning or tipping over of a catamaran, a type of multihull boat with two parallel hulls. This can occur due to various factors such as strong winds, improper handling, or technical failures. Capsize prevention measures like proper training, ballasting systems, and stability considerations are crucial

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    Casting off a catamaran. 1. Cast off forward. Remove the forward mooring line using the engines to hold position on the pontoon. 2. Make life easy with engines. If necessary, disengage the outboard engine to ease pressure on the remaining aft mooring line, then remove it. 3. Swing the stern out.

  9. Every way to capsize a catamaran! - YouTube

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  10. How to escape a capsized Catamaran - NO FRILLS SAILING.com

    That is done (on my Excess catamaran) by unlocking two heasy lock bars and taking out the step of the frame. On the Excess the step has a secondary safety which is a click-in-bar holding it in place until removed by hand – so no fear that the step will hit you. Remember, when capsized, you will be working hand over head.