Here I sit in the new Annapolis office of Seattle Yachts, as it quickly comes together, with new carpet, paint, furniture, window graphics and internet service. We just brought on our first broker, Bill Boyer, and once the certificates and licenses are approved, we will begin the business of selling new and used cruising boats in the Chesapeake Bay area. The main office has slotted some new boats to reach this office this summer, something we really look forward to. With other Seattle Yachts offices in the Pacific Northwest, California, and Florida, we are a great network for people looking for their next cruising boat.

I am pleased at the range of boats for sale. Seattle Yachts owns several boat builders in the U.S., as well as representing yachts from Sweden, Germany, Brazil, and Asia. My recent article on cruising security reminded me of a subject on my mind for several years now. It is the broader subject of safety. And how cruising boats have evolved.

Last fall I had a chance to go sailing for the first time in many months on a 37-foot cruising sailboat. The sail reminded me of the lack of flat deck surfaces, the constant up and down movement in and out of the cockpit, with nowhere to put one’s feet without stepping on blocks, lines, and brightwork. Perhaps it was just that boat, but I forgot how many obstacles, cleats, blocks, tracks, sheets, boom, and winches one must safely navigate around, all while the boat is moving and heeled over. And while the boat had handrails and lifelines, they were not always nearby or high enough to suit me.

The potential risk of tripping or hitting something on a sailboat really stands out if you have not been on one in a while.

Seen below: One reason we love the Hanse 458 is the 'clear deck' concept which minimizes the places you can trip while maneuvering. Definitely not like other sailboats!

Hanse 458 sailboat


I remember driving up to Portsmouth, Rhode Island to visit Ted Hood at his yard. When we took a break so Ted could meet with a potential client, one of his managers gave me a tour of the Little Harbor operation. After climbing a ladder to go aboard a gorgeous Little Harbor 62 sailboat, sitting securely inside one of their buildings without its mast and rigging, we joked about how one had to really pay attention to move safely around the deck, both at foot and head levels. So much stuff, compound curves, and hardware everywhere!

When I compared that experience to the 48-foot trawler I was on the previous week, with wide side decks, high bulwarks and covered aft cockpit, the Little Harbor yacht seemed a daunting landscape. I will never forget the comparison.

Seen below: The new Northwest Yachts 48 may be the perfect-sized trawler for a couple looking to escape the mainland and cruise.

The Perfect Trawler

And size does not make that go away. A couple of years ago, I sailed to Bermuda on a friend’s beautiful, 83-foot Camper Nicholson sailboat. Despite its huge deck layout, there was plenty to step around, over, or duck under to move about. Sitting in the cockpit, watching and hearing the strain and groan of the sheets on the huge winches, it was clear that if anything broke on this boat it would be a big deal. The forces at work to move a large yacht at hull speed are significant.

At the time it got me thinking that perhaps a trawler is the safest vessel to go cruising on, in the context of the kind of pleasure boating most of us enjoy. Whether it is a full displacement trawler yacht motoring along at single-digit speeds, or the more flexible cruising motoryachts capable of efficient travel at higher cruising speeds, they don’t go so fast that things get out of hand. Debris or deadheads can be seen in advance if one is paying attention. Operators have plenty of time to make reasoned decisions whether avoiding objects or navigating tricky waters. Under way, people are generally on a flybridge or inside the boat, not walking around obstacle-course side decks or bouncing along at 25+ knots with low handrails.

Many of those bulbous powerboat cruisers, obviously designed from the inside out, lack the side deck and foredeck protection offered by trawlers and cruising motoryachts. I have never understood those designs. I only need to look out the office window to see a Mainship trawler on the hard next to a large Sea Ray. The foredeck on the Mainship is a flat surface well protected behind high bulwarks and tall stanchions. It is very secure and safe to move about when handling the anchor or dock lines.

It is a different situation on the Sea Ray. A downward sloping, multi-curved foredeck makes moving forward difficult, with only calf-high stanchions to keep one aboard. No thank you!
When I researched the details of accidents within our trawler community a few years ago, I found the boat is never the problem. My conclusion was that a trawler and cruising motoryacht are safe platforms for cruising.

Seen below: Northern Marine has a new 57 that will be launching this spring and will be among the safest trawler-style cruising yachts on the market.

50 Foot Trawler Yacht 

I once asked Bob Phillips of Grand Banks Yachts (that dates me for sure!) if he knew of any boats that had been lost, other than from hurricanes or other natural causes. He thought for a moment and recalled one GB that was destroyed outside of San Francisco, but no one was hurt. While one crew member disconnected shore power at the dock, preparing to leave, someone else was in the master stateroom putting things away. She put a side table lamp on the bed, in case of rough weather, not realizing it was still turned on, but without power. When they later started the generator, the lamp came back on and eventually started a fire in the bedding material. The GB was a total loss, although it did not sink, and no one was injured.

Compared to gybing booms, rig and hardware failures, and sloping decks adorned with tracks, lines, and fittings, trawlers just do not present danger to the crew, often just a couple and their dog.
On most sailboats, the crew is out in the open, steering and handling the sails, exposed to the weather and sea conditions.

Most of us mature folks no longer choose to venture out in conditions where sailors are out there with double-reefed mainsails and tiny headsails, huddled in foul weather gear behind a dodger. Those conditions are no longer our cup of tea. But if they were, we would be safe at the inside helm or pilothouse, warm and dry.

Many owners of larger center cockpit sailboats attempt to reduce exposure by fully enclosing the cockpit, but to me they are just trying to turn their sailboat into a trawler.

Considering the many thousands of Grand Banks, Mainship, Monk, DeFever, Marine Trader, and scores of vintage Taiwan trawler brands that serenely cruise our waterways, they have an excellent record as safe cruising boats, and trawler speeds are just fine. Look at the boats doing the Great Loop at any given time, and how much fun the couples are having in their great adventure. What is the perfect boat for doing the Loop? A trawler.

Traditional trawlers are boxy with a pointy end, not particularly efficient hull shapes, but they do well with small diesel engines, such as the venerable Ford Lehman or Perkins. A pair of those engines will drive a 42-footer at the leisurely speed of a trawler.

Seen below: The classic Grand Banks 36 is a great example of a traditional trawler-style boat.

classic trawler boat 

But as the desire to go faster found larger engines creeping into these boats, the hulls push a lot of water as speed increases, as those boxy hull shapes were not designed for that much power. And fuel economy goes out the window. When Ken Smith designed the original Grand Banks, it was not meant as a high-speed cruiser.

Many of the early Taiwan boats were downright crude in construction, built with lots of pieces and parts, and some components were prone to delamination.
Despite these issues, these traditional trawlers continue to offer lots of living space, are relatively simple, and the varnished teak interiors remain easy to live with.

I think what ultimately makes them safe is their simplicity, slow speed, and lack of drama. Dependable diesel cruisers, safe and reliable. Throw in a bow thruster and you are good to go.

While the definition of a "trawler yacht" has certainly changed over the past number of years, it remains a metaphor for our lifestyle rather than a specific boat or hull shape. We have all sorts of variations today, and all represent boats that can fit the needs of a couple or family. (Read: Buying And Owning A Trawler Yacht)

The evolution continues and now boats share little with traditional trawlers. Today’s hull shapes run efficiently at higher speed, powered by diesel engines that offer more horsepower per pound with reduced emissions. The build process is also different, with resin infusion becoming the standard for fiberglass construction. New hulls have great strength without the weight, and far better resin-to-glass ratios than conventional hand laid construction.

Couples can now choose sleek or as traditional as they prefer, and they also have lots of choices in finish materials and accommodations. The president of Grand Banks once joked to me that they made the highest quality, and most uncomfortable, seating. No more. Today’s boats offer luxury saloon seating, and helm chairs rather than hard benches.

Boat builders take safety up a notch in other areas as well. Stairways with handrails replace vertical ladders, side decks have tall safety railings and great protection, and they build interiors to higher ergonomic and comfort standards.

Even our choices for stabilization go way beyond what was available in Robert Beebe’s paravane days.

Which brings me back to looking over the cruising boat choices from Seattle Yachts. It is quite a spectrum of cruising choices. On one end, there are the quality expedition yachts from Northern Marine. I was on a Northern Marine 80 just last week, all 285,000 pounds of her. Go anywhere capability does not get any better.

Then there are the Alaskan and Northwest Yachts. Twin engines, semi-displacement cruising yachts that can do pretty much anything well. Perfect for living aboard, extended cruising, or just hanging out on the water. They complement other quality yachts from Hampton, Endurance, Schaefer, and Regency. All are fine choices for those leaning toward cruising motoryachts. If couples want somewhat more traditional, there is the full line of Nordic Tugs, highly successful and popular cruising boats that can be found all over North America, built in the U.S. You will see Nordic Tugs at every Great Loop rendezvous.

Seen below: The Nordic Tugs 40 is en route to Seattle Yachts and more build spaces are available.

Nordic Tug Boats 40

Downsizing towards a day or weekend cruiser? Seattle Yachts sells the line of Nimbus boats from Sweden. They feature walkaround layouts that keep everyone safe without the need to climb over seating or other structures. There is a T11 coming to Annapolis this summer, and I cannot wait to drive it among the typical Annapolis waterfront scene of picnic boats and large Whalers. The Nimbus should really stand out from the ritzy play boats and white fiberglass.

I think it is great to see designs that properly insert safety into the design spiral, rather than dealing with it as an afterthought.

What a wonderful time to go cruising, and an even better time to get a new boat.

See you on the water.

Enjoy these other boating and cruising articles by Bill Parlatore: