I have been writing about trawlers and powerboat cruising for many years. It is both an obsession and a fascination for me, as I witness hundreds of people, mostly couples, embrace the trawler lifestyle as a healthy alternative to routine living on land. While the last several years certainly got a lot of people and families to escape from a confined existence, choosing a freer life on the water away from so many imposed restrictions, the trawler lifestyle was already alive and well in North America.
(Below: "Growler", a Custom Zimmerman 36 Trawler once owned by Bill Parlatore, founder of Passagemaker Magazine.)
What is the appeal of this lifestyle? For me, living aboard and operating trawler yachts represents a quality of life that embraces the values of self-sufficiency and independence, and adventure without sacrificing comfort. One is free to move as the mood dictates, finding a balance of nature while engaging as much—or as little—in society, careers, and other activities that compensate with convenience, glittery things, nice cars and houses, and other material things. Many come to realize at some point they are but distractions from a more grounded existence.
Operating a trawler does not demand the skills and experience required from a similar size sailboat. And it is relatively easy to learn the nuances of engine and vessel maintenance, navigation, and proper seamanship. Depending on what kind of powerboat one chooses, they can be economical to own and operate, and offer a pleasant home experience that often rivals luxury living ashore. And a point often missed when discussing this lifestyle, the skills needed to competently run a trawler offer stimulating physical and mental challenges that are immensely valuable at the stage of life when most of us pursue this life direction.
It is rewarding to gain confidence and a sense of accomplishment with every new port, every new challenge. Dealing with the vagaries of life on the water makes one stronger, more resilient, and better able to deal with just about anything life throws at us. A t-shirt captured that sentiment: “Calm seas never made a skilled sailor.”
And a final note before I begin. While we’ll look at the cost of admission into this life, most of us are at a point in life where we have more financial worth than time, so the cost of getting into this lifestyle is more than made up by a quality of life that most agree is hard to beat.
This guide to buying a trawler yacht serves several functions, and I hope to satisfy them in the following pages. We will discuss the choices one has in the trawler market, and hopefully explain the value of each type as it relates to selecting the right boat. At the same time, I hope to underscore this discussion with a greater appreciation for what I believe is often missed. Choosing the right boat is only the beginning. There is much more to the selection process than simply choosing a layout that seems comfortable or a boat that comes with all the bells and whistles. Walking through a boat during a boat show is only the first taste of what a boat has to offer. I trust my guide will help people avoid falling in love with the wrong boat. If I am successful, we will keep such misplaced passion to a minimum.
TRAWLER BUYER'S GUIDE - TABLE OF CONTENTS
- What Is A Trawler?
- What Are The Different Types Of Trawler Boats?
- What's The Difference Between Trawlers & Cruising Boats?
- What About Catamarans?
- Hybrid & EV Powerboats
- How Many People To Take On Your Trawler?
- Where Should You Take Your Trawler?
- How Long Should You Cruise On Your Trawler?
- What Does A Trawler Boat Cost?
- Completing The Process Of Buying A Trawler
I. What is a Trawler Anyway?
I looked back at some of the references and definitions I offered over the years, as well as those presented by our editors. I keep coming back to the one that still resonates best with me, even as I look over the current field of trawlers and cruising yachts out there. Some are very similar to what was sold years ago, but not all, and each supports a lifestyle that is capable, comfortable, and relatively easy.
I am confident that, as we get ready to start 2024, the word “trawler” is best considered a metaphor for the cruising lifestyle it so well represents. Yacht brokers may disagree with me, but I stand firm. Back in the 1960s, power cruising pioneer Robert Beebe suggested that boats aren’t good for “voyaging” under power if they do not strongly resemble “true” trawlers. He referred, of course, to those husky fishing vessels that remain at sea for long periods, surviving anything the weather and sea throws at them, and safely bringing the catch and crew home when the job is done.
Today that analogy is not even remotely fitting for many powerboats that can capably make passages at sea, complete extended coastal and inland cruises, and serve as comfortable and safe homes for their owners. There has been a continuous evolution of the cruising powerboat genre for years now, and they now come in an assortment of styles, hull shapes, and sizes. And there is no better time than now to look at the field of available trawler choices.
In addition to traditional yacht designs that continue to be refined, we now also have new choices that really push the envelope beyond traditional shapes and concepts. And the introduction of powerful and reliable outboard propulsion has brought along a new category of cruising boats that simply did not exist before.
It is all very exciting. I once observed that comparing the cruising characteristics of a full displacement steel trawler to a displacement power catamaran or a larger Downeast cruiser is pure folly. Each can make a superb cruising boat for owners. Which is the better athlete: a football player, a hockey goalie, or a ballet dancer?
Once you understand the many kinds of boats on the market today, and the choices you have, given your budget and other considerations, it is important to match whatever boat you choose to your style of cruising. This is at the heart of this buyer’s guide. Yes, it is vital to know what is out there to choose from, but it is even more critical to understand your needs and what kind of boat will best fit those needs. While this may be a challenge for some, hasty mistakes can lead to broken plans, create unnecessary anxiety, and put an unfortunate end to one’s dream cruising plans. All of which is totally avoidable.
Let’s begin with a practical look at the main types of hull shapes to understand the positive and negative aspects of each as they relate to cruising. Then we’ll look into how they may fit your needs.
(Below: Trawler owners meet up during the Pacific Northwest Nordic Tug Owners Rendezvous. Also called PANNTOA.)
II. Choices Come in All Shapes
What was once the only real choice for those intending to cruise under power is the full displacement hull shape. It is the earliest form of powerboat and most commercial and fishing vessels are of this type. It is the most seaworthy and efficient hull shape. Many popular cruising boats are full displacement, such as:
- Northern Marine
- Hatteras LRC
- And dozens of custom steel and fiberglass trawlers.
These vessels travel efficiently through the water, with no unnecessary energy spent trying to lift the hull up onto the wave in front. They are well matched to lower horsepower engines, as they offer minimal resistance going through the water.
These boats are very forgiving at sea, which makes them very seaworthy. Rather than resist wave action, they give way, and roll to let the wave energy pass by rather than resist it, which keeps them safe at sea.
The full hull shape has the most volume for a given length, which translates into superior inside dimensions for accommodations, large tankage, and exceptional storage. They make fantastic liveaboard boats and for long distance cruising these small ships can carry all your stuff. Onboard weight is not an issue compared to any other type of hull shape.
(Below: A Northern Marine 57 is a good example of a full-displacement trawler yacht.)
Again, the low energy requirements to travel through the water, rather than try to get on top of it, means they are best powered by relatively small diesel engines to run at the displacement speeds within the maximum hull speed of 1.34 times the square root of the waterline length. This is Froude’s Law and is the limit of their speed potential. Combine this lower horsepower engine with huge fuel tankage and owners have the range to travel long distance. In some of these full displacement trawlers, one can make across-and-back ocean crossings, or enjoy a full year of cruising, without stopping to buy fuel.
For efficient and economical cruising, a full displacement trawler is the way to go, for many reasons. Rather than bother with the generally tedious sailboat mentality of electrical and battery load management, owners of full displacement trawlers just don’t worry about it. The boat is fitted with one, two, or even three generators that supply all the electrical power needed to run even a full suite of domestic galley appliances, HVAC, and pilothouse electronics.
Not only do these gensets make for relatively unlimited self-sufficiency whenever the trawlers remain at anchor, but the better builders take advantage of the hull volume to thoughtfully plan accommodations during construction. Generators are then strategically located to minimize noise and vibration throughout the boat. Just like being on a small ship, one is vaguely aware that a generator is running somewhere. The boat is designed and built around that concept, so there is always plenty of quiet, available electrical power. Whatever sense that one has of distant humming from running machinery, it is nothing more than evidence of shipboard activity. I have always loved the sense of independence and freedom it provides. On the right boat, it is so muted that it does not detract from the feeling of being one with nature, as when alone in a quiet anchorage tucked inside a rugged Alaskan island coastline.
Some high-end expedition trawlers go one step further. Northern Marine, for example, often designs the boat around a pair of identical 20kW generators to share generating duty. There might also be a small third unit for nighttime use when loads are much reduced. And much like the commercial and working vessels that are the heritage behind the company, nothing is hidden or tucked away. Serious business demands serious access.
(Below: The Northern Marine 57 has two 20kW generators for long-distance adventures.)
There is always a downside, of course. Full displacement boats are limited in speed, and cruising at 7-10 knots is about all one can expect no matter how much horsepower one theoretically adds. It is simply a full shape traveling in its sweet spot in the water. But in conditions where lesser yachts need to slow down to handle the rough seas, these boats just continue on at their normal cruising speed, no big deal and perfectly safe.
The other issue is that such seaworthiness comes at the expense of rolling in a seaway. Yes, it is why these boats are so safe. But it can be uncomfortable for crew, and over time can wear down even the hardiest crew.
That is why most full displacement boats have some form of stabilization. They lack sails to remain steady. These trawlers instead rely on some form of stabilizing technology, either active or passive, and they are quite effective reducing rolling at sea. Active fin stabilizers, flopperstoppers, gyrostabilizers, even flume tanks, have been used with varying degrees of success to manage the roll of a full displacement yacht. And active systems keep getting better, with more sensitive electronic controls and sensors to reduce movement. The current generation of gyro systems, such as the SeaKeeper, are proving popular in the trawler community and for good reason.
Full displacement boats are not the best for close quarter maneuvering, especially as many have a single diesel engine. Learning to drive a big displacement trawler is a worthy skill to develop as it builds confidence. One must understand the ship’s main rudder is designed and sized for optimum performance at sea, not close quarter maneuvering. That is why these boats have bow and stern thrusters. Just like every commercial ship out there. The right tools for the job.
Another potential downside of this hull shape has to do with where one cruises. These boats typically have deeper draft and so would not be ideal for shallow water cruising as one is finds in the Florida Keys, the ICW, and the Bahamas and Caribbean.
Having gone many thousands of miles on full displacement trawlers, I have great respect and appreciation of the beauty of this hull shape. Once out of sight of land, speed becomes the speed du jour, no big deal without reference on land. And a stabilized full displacement trawler is a great ride at sea, easy running and comfortable. Even in heavy weather there is generally little cause for concern…if at all.
One more comment on the speed of travel. I always found the underway travel and motion quickly settles crew into a normal routine, with everyone going about their day as if they were in a marina or back on land. Laundry gets done, writing takes place, leisurely cooking in the galley, maybe a brisket in the crockpot. There is always the need for some maintenance, catching up with cruising guides, email with family and friends, and other activities. This is in sharp contrast to traveling at speed, where the motion forces one to hold on, firmly seated at the saloon table, or wedged into a corner cushion. Baking cookies was a favorite memory and one the rest of that crew surely remembers. The boat smelled fantastic, even if I could barely keep up with the disappearing cookies off the cooling rack.
For many reasons, life on a small ship has much to recommend it.
The other hull shape that defines the trawler style cruising boat is the semi-displacement hull. It is perfect for those who don’t need the fuel and storage capabilities of the full displacement trawler, and do not intend to spend a great deal of time making passages, cruising remote areas, or going all season without buying fuel. The semi-displacement trawler is a fabulous compromise. Designers have come up with ways to get more performance, reduce draft, and still serve as a comfortable home while traveling or living aboard.
One way to improve performance is to lose weight in the form of fuel and water tankage, reducing both the size and number of tanks in the boat. They may also cut back on some of the backup redundant equipment and tighten up accommodations. Going on a diet is definitely a path to higher performance. While those granite counters and flooring seem right at home in a full displacement trawler yacht, substituting lighter weight materials will result in a higher speed potential in a semi-displacement yacht. With less weight there is less boat in the water, less draft, wetted surface, and resistance, especially without a deep keel.
Changes to the hull shape come from modifying the typically rounded stern into a flatter hull form aft with hard chines. The flatter hull form will reach higher speeds when adding more horsepower to drive the boat up onto the leading wave. And the flatter stern adds stability, taking out some of the inherent roll associated with a full displacement trawler.
While these boats are quite happy to run along at displacement speeds, the semi-displacement cruiser can also really get up and go, if there is enough horsepower. With bigger engines pushing the boat, it can break free of the water, traveling at 12-15 knots or higher, depending on how much horsepower is in the boat.
This is by far the most popular trawler hull shape primarily for this reason. It can be powered by a variety of engines, still has good load carrying and accommodations, has reduced draft, and provides many—if not all—of the benefits of the full displacement trawler yacht.
Most trawlers in our cruising community are of the semi-displacement type, and brands like:
- Grand Banks
- Nordic Tugs
- Ocean Alexander
- American Tug
- And dozens more prove it is a wonderful all-around platform for cruising
(Interestingly, almost all the trawlers built in Asia during the 1970s and ‘80s were semi-displacement trawlers. But they were powered by low horsepower diesels, often the venerable Lehman Ford 120hp and 135hp engines, so they were priced to sell and provide the economical trawler experience to a wide range of buyers. The fact that these boats could only run at displacement speeds gave many the impression that they were full displacement trawlers, a confusion that continues to exist today.)
(Below: The Nordic Tug 40 is a good example of a semi-displacement trawler.)
The top speed of a semi-displacement trawler is limited by how much horsepower the builder reasons is sellable in the new boats. In my opinion, it was downright shameful when the management of the high-quality Grand Banks brand, the hands down bullseye of the trawler market for many years, decided at one point that all its models had to be capable of cruising speeds above 18 knots. The phenomenally successful and classic beauty of the original GB hull did not lend itself to a pair of high horsepower engines. It was painful to watch the amount of water pushed by a Grand Banks making 22 knots, made worse by the fuel burn to achieve that performance.
To some extent, larger semi-displacement trawlers also take advantage of generators to supply onboard electrical power, as there is not enough room for dozens of dedicated house batteries for the boat’s electrical needs. In most cases a running generator is not as quiet or unobtrusive as one comes to expect on a full displacement trawler, but a modern installation with underwater exhaust does much to reduce the impact of a running generator.
The benefits of the semi-displacement trawler clearly explain why it remains the most popular choice for most people. It has reasonable storage and fuel capacity, comfortable accommodations, and can run at higher speeds. All things considered, for most people it is the best package of features one looks for.
But it is not perfect. One of the disadvantages of the hull form is its less-than-ideal handling in rough seas. Some of these boats have small rudders to allow better control at higher speeds. The boat’s motion tends to lose its normal composure in rough water, when the boat must slow down, and the rudders are less effective.
(On modern boats, this is somewhat negated by stabilizers and gyrostabilizer systems. They do a remarkable job of reducing the rolling motion in these boats, and owners are more than satisfied to have motion under control on their semi-displacement trawlers.)
Owners of semi-displacement boats really appreciate being able to run faster to their next destination. The difference between eight knots and 11 knots is readily apparent when one can see the destination ahead and the crew is anxious to get there.
One of the tradeoffs of the semi-displacement trawler is that when they achieve high speed, they burn obscene amounts of fuel, and quickly. To own a large, semi-displacement trawler capable of 20+ knots is an exercise in balancing economy with distance and time. Those who don’t have the time will spend more at the fuel dock. It is just that simple.
Everything considered, the semi-displacement trawler is justifiably very popular for most cruising, even when that includes long distance travel. Flexibility is its best feature.
Big and small, fast or slow, the full displacement and semi-displacement hull shapes are what we talk about when we talk about trawlers and the trawler lifestyle. Motoryachts most often fit into the semi-displacement category, and one will find them cruising along with the trawler crowd. But the motoryacht is much better staying at a luxury marina will full shorepower and other hookups. One rarely finds motoryachts anchored out for days on end, where trawlers often spend their time. It isn’t what motoryachts are designed to do.
For many years, the cruising scene consisted of sailboats and trawlers, and that was it. Visit any popular cruising destination, from Marsh Harbour to Roche Harbor, and the anchorage and marinas were full of sailboats and trawlers. Both excel at life on the hook, and the constant scurrying of crew, dogs, provisions, and gear by speedy dinghies are as much a part of the cruising life as sundowners on the beach watching for the Green Flash.
III. Not All Cruising Powerboats Today Are Trawlers
There are two other kinds of powerboats that we find cruising in North America today. And they have really grown in popularity in recent years.
One has taken the world by storm, in my opinion. Almost every sailing couple I know who came to the Dark Side has gone in this direction, but they are certainly not the only ones who choose these boats. For many people, the lure of being on the water, even if it is only for weekends, must be satisfied in short order. People with limited time have a need for speed that full-time cruisers do not. These people want efficient, high-speed running, and it is more desirable than load-carrying ability or accommodations. Without a planing hull, they can’t go.
The planing hull quickly moves from hull speed up on top of the water. A burst of horsepower drives the boat up, and it doesn’t take as much power to stay there. It is an efficient speed machine. Some boats in our niche can really blast along in calm water, cruising efficiently at 25 knots…or higher. Some examples are:
A planing hull has a shallow draft, with a sharp entry and a flat, minimal underbody. This allows a planing boat to reach its destination quickly and then slow down if owners choose to gunkhole in skinny water. But watch that running gear, as there is nothing to protect the props and rudders designed for minimal drag.
This boat is best suited for those in a hurry. But they are still cruising boats, and they open up possibilities for those with only so much available time. The Great Loop becomes possible for those who can’t spare a year or more. Boaters headed to Florida for the winter and don’t have months to do the ICW. Puget Sound owners with weeks instead of months to explore the Inside Passage, or East Coast boaters who want to experience the Abacos but don’t have all winter to do so.
Get there quickly, then slow down and smell the flowers. Sounds like a plan to me.
(Below: Sidonia & Fred kept their 62-foot trawler, but purchased this Nimbus 405 to complete the Great Loop. Read their story.)
One potential disadvantage of the planing boat is that high-speed efficiency is directly tied to weight. Given that many of these boats are built with the latest infused fiberglass construction, often using high-tech cored material, the goal is to save weight where possible. Keeping weight down is important. And limited bilge and accommodations spaces don’t offer much general storage anyway.
But this is not a problem for owners not planning to live aboard. They are not spending weeks on the hook, nor are they expecting guests to accompany them on their Great Loop. They are bringing along just what they need to enjoy the boat as is, and no more. (Our recent series following a couple doing the Loop on their Nimbus 405 Coupe showed this lifestyle perfectly. A great trip on the Great Loop.)
Unfortunately, when the weather turns sour, any boat designed for efficient, high-speed running will be at a decided disadvantage when it is time to slow down, where they experience less control. Some handle this transition better than others, but generally small rudders do not have enough surface area to be effective at slow speed. But these boats are still all-around great cruising boats which explains they popularity and growing numbers out cruising. If the weather is bad, they don’t go anywhere. Their speed potential allows them to pick their travel when the weather window improves.
A relatively recent move is to power these boats with outboard engines. Using one or two large outboards (or up to four engines on some of the more extreme machines) makes a statement about using technology to advance boat design. The area in the hull usually dedicated for machinery and propulsion is now open for tanks, storage, and a more relaxed interior for accommodations.
The move to outboards eliminates the need for rudders and traditional steering systems, which removes complexity from the boats. Modern outboards are quiet and smooth, and this translates into a better running experience under way. Many find it a worthy tradeoff to the longer engine life offered by diesels. The access on outboard engines makes maintenance easier, and systems integration simplifies the boats at the same time.
Some builders tell me how easy life becomes when one can lift the engines out of the water when they are tied up in a marina. No more worries about underwater growth on running gear, eliminating corrosion issues, and fouled surfaces that require frequent cleaning.
During those times where one is living on a planing boat at anchor or without shorepower, the smaller house battery bank means one must run a generator more frequently, often several times a day. That assumes there is a genset on the boat, which is usually required if the boat has air conditioning.
The degree of self-sufficiency on a planing boat is directly tied to the need to keep things light and only having the essential systems, tankage, and accommodations. If your cruising involves staying at nice marinas with great facilities, who needs all that storage and extra staterooms? For Loopers, it offers flexibility and travel at a different level than chugging along, mile after mile, seeing the same landscape all day long.
The motion on a boat doing 20+ knots does not allow much activity on the boat and crew is restricted in what they can do while making miles to the next destination. That is not to say it isn’t thrilling to blast along, threading the needle among the San Juan Islands. Heading down Chesapeake Bay at speed is satisfying in ways that eight knots just doesn’t cut it. The same is true along Hawk Channel, Biscayne Bay, or Lake Ontario.
The second type of cruising powerboat that does not fit the description of a trawler is the power catamaran. A somewhat fringe boat within the cruising powerboat category, power cats are nevertheless a great platform for anyone looking for a cruiser that offers space, outstanding maneuverability from widely spaced engines, and excellent shallow water cruise ability.
Power cat builders have evolved mostly from builders of sailing cats, so it is not surprising that the early boats were nothing more than sailing cats without masts. But more companies came out with boats design as powerboats. (The compromises of creating a power cat from a boat designed for sailing went away for the most part.)
Companies that offer (or did offer) power cats included:
Some of these companies are no longer in business but made enough boats that they are usually available on the used market.
There is a lot to be said for a cruising catamaran. Economical cruising at 15-18 knots is the domain of the displacement catamaran, while planing cats, which are not suited for liveaboard cruising, can run quite well at 30+ knots.
The advantages of power cats include relatively shallow draft, great initial stability, and open interiors. The bridgedeck adds great living spaces, where one might find extra accommodations.
Many cats can be safely beached without a problem, which is a unique ability for any cruising boat.
(Below: Example of an Endeavor Power Catamaran.)
The economy of running a power catamaran is quite addicting. I owned a 41-foot power cat that would run along at 18 knots with hardly any wake, while getting exceptional fuel burn at that speed. The wide platform made for great living aboard, and the separation of the twin diesels, particularly when running at speed from the flybridge, seemed magical. It was quiet with lack of vibration, and quite relaxing as we reeled mile after mile on calm seas. It was a great cruising boat with outstanding maneuverability from widely spaced engines. I could literally walk the boat sideways using the two engines, while everyone on the dock assumed I used bow and stern thrusters to make it happen. (The boat had neither.)
The only issue I have with the power cat is the height of the bridgedeck between hulls. If it is too low, it can slap in head seas with an unnerving bang and motion that feels most unsettling, as if the boat is going to break. Multihull pioneer Malcom Tennant took me around several waterfront marinas in New Zealand to show me various interpretations of power catamaran bridgedeck design. When the bridgedeck nacelle stayed 36 inches or more above the water, the power cat would not slap under any conditions. The buoyancy of the hulls took over long before the bridgedeck met waves. And I reminded myself this was in New Zealand, where going to sea invariably involves rough seas and strong winds. (From my limited experience, the definition of pleasure boating in New Zealand has a decidedly different definition from anywhere else!)
While the displacement power catamaran has reasonable load carrying ability, it is generally prudent for a power cat owner to still keep an eye on weight and its distribution around the boat. While the larger power cats (one Tennant 20-meter cat comes to mind) can take 3,600 gallons of fuel for extremely long legs, cats under 48 feet are best kept light when possible.
I am quite smitten with the concept of the power cat for general cruising. I wish more builders would enter this market with well-engineered, lighter weight designs that showcase the benefits of the concept rather than simply building stable platforms that can hold a crowd. But unfortunately, heavy party barges are what one sees at the boat shows.
V. Hybrid and EV Powerboats
I suppose I would be negligent to not mention the push for electric and hybrid boats to mirror the somewhat political trend in the automotive world. To be honest, we own a Prius, but I much prefer driving my older Porsche. I also happen to like the smell of a diesel engine. In automobiles, I’m just not sold on a concept that requires such major (and overwhelmingly expensive) changes to our nation’s infrastructure.
As it relates to recreational boating, electric and hybrid power has come and gone in a variety of prototype cruisers, from Reuben Trane’s early solar catamaran to Greenline’s models of hybrid powerboats. I know the sailing community is generally united in their campaign to ditch the diesel engine, and YouTube influencers are falling all over each other trying to get the first serious system that offers a viable solution.
As well articulated by experienced broker, Seattle Yachts’ Dan Bacot, we won’t see much interest in this form of power cruising until someone builds a boat that can honestly make 100 miles in a day at six knots under electric power. That will make it feasible for the Great Loop and other cruising plans.
Until that milestone is reached (and I’m sure they will) such alternatives are just not worth serious consideration.
Now that we have looked at the various hull shapes and categories that define the trawler and other cruising boats, let’s see how to find a match from these different platforms to fit your plans.
It is important to think through this process with as much honesty as possible. It is so easy to slip into the unrealistic world of the ultimate boat. But most eventually agree these are more fantasy than anything remotely close to what any of us will do. Buying a boat that is capable of crossing oceans to reach exotic places like Tahiti is just not appropriate if you really intend to do the Great Loop in the next few years. That is also true if the idea of spending winters (or summers) in the tropics or the rugged Northwest Territories isn’t ever going to happen because you can only take a couple of weeks off at a time.
VI. How Many People Will be Aboard?
Is it just the two of you for most of the time? Will you have guests or family only occasionally, or do you expect to have others with you for most of the cruise? Families with growing children will have different needs than retired empty nesters who rarely have company.
The answer to this question will help determine the size of the boat, its layout and accommodations, and help define the boundaries of your search.
(Below: Obviously this image from the Mid-Atlantic Nordic Tug Owners Get-Together would be a little much!)
A word of advice from the stories of many cruising couples: Don’t buy a boat bigger than you need and make the assumption you will always have company to share your adventure. As I’ve heard many, many times, couples go ahead and buy a boat with multiple staterooms with the above assumption. Once they leave home and begin cruising, however, they make lots of new friends, all on their own boats. After a couple of years, they realize they don’t use those extra staterooms very often. And they can accommodate occasional family members with other arrangements, such as setting up the saloon. They eventually downsize to a smaller boat because they don’t need that extra room and a smaller boat is easier to handle and less expensive to own.
Two people can comfortably cruise on a boat that is 36 feet or so. This is certainly true for people who are down in the islands for the winter on a Monk 36, or cruising north on a Nordic Tug 37. No problem. But they are not living full time on the boat, or cruising with friends enough to require separate cabins. Both will drive up the space needs considerably. And it is not just about space. A water and holding tank large enough for two people will seem much smaller after only so many days. And I’m not talking about rationing water or limiting showers. This is cruising, after all, not minimalist camping.
A boat’s layout is as important as size, at least until one reaches the greater flexibility afforded by larger boats. There is a classic separation of living spaces in some boats, such as the Grand Banks 42 and the Selene 40. They have two nice staterooms, with the master in the stern and guest stateroom in the bow. That works great, offers privacy, and people share common spaces in the saloon and galley. Other boats group all staterooms forward, with the master and one or more guest cabins located near the bow. This is what one finds on the Nordic and American Tugs, Fleming, Krogen, Northwest Yachts, and most others. And all have proven successful, especially when extra people are family.
VII. Where are You Going?
I am not going to spend time with trawlers best suited for crossing oceans, as so few people really intend to do that these days. The world is a different place, the changing climate has more severe weather, and the relative ease of shipping one’s boat worldwide makes this a lot less desirable than it was decades ago. And a boat designed to cross the Atlantic to explore Europe is not the best type of boat for exploring Europe once you arrive, particularly if you want to head into the extensive canal systems.
Not to get off the point, and before anyone questions why I am such a fan of full displacement boats like the Northern Marine when I admit having no plan to cross oceans, let me clarify that the joy of owning such a great yacht is much more than being able to cross an ocean. All the benefits that make these great boats are just as valid for living aboard and coastal cruising, and many other adventures. One does not need to spend two weeks at sea to enjoy them.
The majority of people have plans that include the Great Loop, British Columbia and Alaska, the ICW on the East Coast, the Bahamas and the Caribbean, Mexico, the Great Lakes, Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay, Canadian Maritimes, and New England. One can spend several lifetimes exploring right here in North America. Doable, affordable, and close enough to family, friends, and support.
The best boats for many coastal and inland adventures are more about ease of operation and maneuverability, and keeping the draft down and the height within whatever restrictions exist for the chosen cruise.
It is quite possible to travel from Alaska to Maine as one big extended coastal cruise, although that would be a long trip. And all of it is within sight of land with very few and short exceptions. If you consider the new SeaPiper 35, add a truck and suitable trailer and you are good to go!
(Below: The Triangle Loop is a great trip for trawler boat owners.)
VIII. For How Long?
Which brings up how long one expects to be on the boat. Obviously, a full-time liveaboard couple will have space requirements unlike those planning a month on the boat. And the need for creature comforts is also a sliding scale, as occasional cruisers can live without comforts that would be unacceptable if the same people were to spend several months on the boat.
For example, if you use a dishwasher at home, you might be fine with hand washing dishes after each meal on the boat…for a time. But after a while that might seem too much like camping and not what you had in mind when you dreamed of cruising. The same goes for a separate shower versus the wet head found on smaller boats. (Definitely consult your spouse on these points!)
Again, I feel that 36 feet is about the minimum for full-time living aboard and cruising. Some have gone smaller, or somewhat bigger on a planing boat, but it is accepted because the duration of the planned cruise is short. The couple who did the Great Loop on their Nimbus 405 Coupe had plenty of space because they had what they needed, and nothing more. It served their needs for this trip. They take their longer cruises aboard their other boat, a 62-foot custom trawler.
Some couples expect to have the same creature comforts on their trawler as they enjoy ashore. But that usually means a generator, air conditioning, and/or a diesel furnace. While they may not know it, they also require large water tanks as they are not thinking about water management, and they want space for all the provisions and personal possessions. If they are liveaboards, where do they plan to store holiday decorations?
For most people, the length of time they expect to be aboard dictates comfort levels and determines which compromises they are willing to make.
These points also point to their style of cruising.
The diversity of cruising is its chief attraction, and each day brings something new, something different. Anchor out or stay in a marina…or even reserve a slip at a luxury marina with lots of facilities? Eat aboard or enjoy local cuisine? Wait for a perfect weather window or go no matter what? Move from one location to the next or stay in one place for a long time and take lots of small side trips?
As should be obvious, your style of cruising will have a huge impact on selecting the right boat. If you tend to be the sort who has a plan and follows the plan no matter what, then you will be far happier with a more seaworthy boat that can take whatever conditions come up each day. That is quite different from the fair-weather cruiser who waits for ideal weather and is content to wait.
If you like the idea of keeping on the move rather than staying in one place, then you will likely be more interested in the underway characteristics of the boat than one that is most livable when tied up at a marina.
Boat speed figures into this question as well. I know successful cruisers who swear the best plan is to get under way as early as possible and run the boat at speed for four or five hours. On a faster boat this gets them miles down the road, but then they stop early in the afternoon. They refuel, wash everything down and then play tourist for the rest of the afternoon. It is far more leisurely than nonstop travel. And they also take days off. Three days running, then two days off, staying put wherever they stopped. It keeps the cruise from becoming a blur.
Those who lust to spend weeks on the hook in paradise are going to be very unhappy if they must run the generator twice a day to keep the refrigerator running, and which requires them to refill their water tanks frequently. As for the holding tank, that is obvious as well.
On the flip side, if you love the energy and varied activities of resort marinas, you will be thrilled with the conveniences of an all-electric boat that relies on shorepower facilities, using the generator only when away from the dock.
IX. What Does A Trawler Boat Cost?
This is where an experienced broker can make all the difference. One can expect to pay anywhere from between several hundred thousand dollars to a couple of million to find a suitable boat. It may not be close to home, and a good broker will use the available resources to identify the right boat and then find one that fits and is in the condition one is willing to pay for.
New boat prices are high, and I don’t see that changing. Working with a broker is vital to success here, even after you have done your homework and know (or think you know) what you want. The broker will help locate boats that may be close enough to what you are looking for, and he or she may even steer you in a slightly different direction if they think it may serve you better for what you describe as your ideal trawler.
I strongly recommend buying a new or newer boat whenever possible. It just makes sense, and I would go down in size rather than get an older boat. A newer boat will be less problematic than an older boat with vintage systems, engines, wiring, plumbing, and construction. Leaks are a pain to deal with, and you are not buying a boat as a project.
Honestly, spending your time looking for discontinued parts and then repairing a boat when you and your spouse are supposed to be out cruising is no fun. It sucks. And it quickly wears down the excitement of the adventure, even if you like to tinker on the boat. And your spouse will get tired of reading books on the settee while you make another repair. This is not what you both planned. I’ve seen it over and over, enough to be 100-percent convinced.
Buy a new or newer boat and just enjoy the adventure.
Keep in mind there are other costs beyond the purchase price, and your broker will be very helpful, flushing them out and identifying some you may have missed. There is annual maintenance, for example, insurance, dockage, and the need for occasional repairs. Parts wear out, which will happen most often on an older boat. The mindset of “out of sight, out of mind” doesn’t make it go away. That hidden cutless bearing needs replacing on occasion, as do many other moving parts on a boat.
There is a ballpark figure that floats around the cruising community. Some suggest 10 percent of the cost of the boat is about right for these annual expenses. I have never verified that to be accurate with my own boats, but it is worth considering.
(Below: Currently a pre-owned Nordic Tug like this can range from $250,000 - $600,000 and more.)
X. Putting It All Together
From my experience, validated by many owners over the years, it is easy to spend too much time agonizing about what kind of boat to buy. If it allows you to enjoy your time on the water, it can be made to work. No boat is perfect. They all represent compromises in one way or another.
Besides your efforts to find the right boat for the kind of cruise you intend, there are two other key factors that contribute to a successful ownership experience. The first, and one that I have been making throughout this guide, is to buy a boat that is as new as possible, even if it means you might have to downsize a bit with your available budget. If it will work for you otherwise, but you must lose the hot tub on the flybridge, it is a worthy tradeoff. You will still have a genuine cruising boat.
The horror stories of old Asian trawlers built to low standards are now mostly irrelevant, as these examples of boats to avoid are now so old one should not even consider them. Besides, there is the reality of today’s marine insurance industry, hit by the large number of damage claims from named storms in recent years. One will find it difficult to get insurance for boats even at 20 years old, let alone 50+ years.
There is another factor that should figure into this buying equation, and it will make all the difference between wonderful and satisfying ownership and a money pit that needs continuous repair by outside services wherever one travels.
That is accessibility. If you can’t get to everything easily, things will be neglected, and system parts will wear out and break. Being able to see, touch, inspect, and take apart every major component on the boat is vital, no matter if it is a Nordic Tug, a lavish Hampton motoryacht, or an expedition trawler. It is even more important on a planing boat like the Nimbus or Back Cove, where available space is at a premium and the builder had to be creative during construction to fit it all in.
Owning a boat with a non-working stern thruster that can’t be inspected, serviced, or repaired without removing the genset shoehorned just above it would cause me great distress, to put it mildly.
If you study the differences, pros and cons, and other considerations, you will be much better equipped to step aboard boats at a boat show. All lined up with brokers standing by to answer your questions, it will feel good to examine each boat on your list to see how it feels, and whether it might fit the needs of what you hope to do. This process can take a couple of years, which is fine. In fact, I know folks now searching for their retirement trawler that is still five years away. There is nothing wrong with taking one’s time.
I would caution, however, not to take too long. Because life goes on, and things happen. Reality changes. Aging parents, volatile portfolios, world stability, and inevitable family medical issues are all things that command our attention at some point.
In addition to the above issues, it is good to remember that nothing in life remains static. When you find your plans or goals change, it is okay if that perfect boat is no longer the right choice. Edits may be needed to the original blueprint. It is very important to realize and accept this.
The notion that there is only one boat to satisfy every dream is totally wrong. But there is a boat for everyone looking to go cruising, that fits every plan, purpose, or budget.
My purpose for this guide is to help you find a boat that brings you the most fun and adventure, in comfort and safety and within your budget. Successful cruising can happen on most any boat.
The key to this adventure is to get started and go!
Enjoy these Trawler-related articles: