It is a recurring question in our cruising niche. What makes a yacht a trawler?

For many years, the answer was straightforward. The boat must have a seaworthy hull, often taken from a proven offshore fishing boat. Ed Monk Sr’s Seamaster hull comes to mind as one of the most distinguished of all trawler hull designs, as are some of those developed by Art DeFever. Any pleasure trawlers built on these hulls were considered proven offshore.

The boat also had to be set up to remain self sufficient for extended periods, often weeks or months at a time. The typical luxury yacht is designed to move from one lavish marina to another, with multiple umbilical cords to power and supply its many systems. A trawler, on the other hand, is set up for the opposite scenario. A yacht can be considered a trawler when it is designed for spending several weeks at anchor or gunkholing in a remote area, perhaps Alaska’s Misty Fjords National Monument. Not only does it contain a seaworthy hull, but it has the fuel efficiency at low speeds to cruise longer, as well as the accommodations and storage to handle such voyages. This trawler needs no onshore or other support, as it makes its own water, ice, electricity, and has all onboard systems to monitor weather as well as any TV station, especially when also using a weather consulting service.

Compared to a luxurious yacht, the trawler will have superior anchoring gear, and I don’t mean what came with the boat. Standard anchoring packages are for the average owner’s intended use, and are notoriously under-sized for the kind of independence we are talking about here. When I was in Auckland to sea trial Steve Dashew’s new aluminum 83-foot Wind Horse, his choice of anchors was an enormous Rocna anchor weighing several hundred pounds, with an anchor rode to match. As I’ve mentioned before, he commented that when others on the dock are making fun of your anchoring setup, you know you are getting close. There is no such thing as too big or too heavy, assuming one has a windlass to match.

(Below: A heavy duty anchor and windlass is often found on trawlers.)

heavy anchor for trawler yacht

Self sufficiency is also important when it comes to fuel, water, provisions, medical supplies, and other tankage. Carrying thousands of gallons of fuel ensures unconstrained living whether one is traveling long distance or not. Forget crossing an ocean, having a large fuel supply means one can choose to refuel when the conditions—and price—are in one’s favor. And even with the latest and greatest watermaker, there is definite security knowing that the ship’s large water tankage (up to 2,000 gallons in some cases) will hold one over no matter how many showers the crew enjoys. This independence ripples through the other tankage capacities, even the tank for storing waste oil.

The term “self sufficient” is not a minor accolade.

The feats of such trawlers are well known. While most boating folks understand the capabilities of the typical Nordhavn or Delta or Northern Marine, most would not assume that a Grand Banks 42 Classic could safely travel to Seattle from Hawaii on its own bottom, yet that is precisely what I’ve seen. Or a DeFever PassageMaker 40 trawler with single engine (and which looks like most any trawler yacht from the 1980s) successfully rounding Cape Horn and cruising this remote part of the world.

defever 40

Yes, a trawler can do all these things, and more. When the weather turns to crap, who doesn’t prefer the warm and cozy saloon of a heated and dry interior that does not require crew to brace themselves against a bulkhead, wrapped in blankets or winter clothes. The opposite is true as well. My friend always mentions how she got hooked on trawlers cruising the Florida Keys with her boyfriend on their sailboat. During one long rainy period, she watched a nearby trawler sitting comfortably at anchor, the wife giving her husband a haircut in the covered cockpit, totally protected from the elements.

A yacht of any size that fits the above description and role can be considered a trawler.

(Below: Hampton Yachts do a great job of creating a luxury cruising yacht with trawler-like characteristics.)

hampton yachts trawler

However, there has been a change in recent years, and the definition of a trawler is now more associated with the cruising lifestyle that it allows, and that is the current standard of comparison in my mind. Today, it is all about lifestyle, and this has proven more relevant than what brand, style, profile, or any other deciding factors. Look at the fleet of “trawlers” currently doing the Great Loop. You will find boats of all sizes and styles, yet each of the owners is doing much the same thing with their boats. It doesn’t matter if some consider it a motoryacht, a fast motor cruiser, a “fast” trawler, a Downeast cruiser, or even a sport fishing boat…during this trip they are used as trawlers.

And just what does that mean anyway? To start with, to complement the features and capability I’ve mentioned above, the trawler community is about comfort, safety, a relaxed on-water experience, and as little drama as possible. Even on multi-engine yachts capable of high speed, owners often dial back to fit a more relaxed, unhurried pace that puts them in the middle of the pack, among traditional trawlers, such as Grand Banks, DeFever, Mainship, Krogen, Selene, and dozens of vintage Taiwan trawlers that were built in the 1980s and later. And there are an overwhelming number of middle-aged motor cruisers on the Loop at any one time. Even fast, Downeast-style boats do the trip, and while they may torque up the engines to speed at times, they are loving this lifestyle much the same as everyone else.

Even Last Item, the Nimbus Coupe we’re following on its Great Loop, is used much like a traditional trawler, balancing its time at the dock with nights in a quiet anchorage.

Since “lifestyle” may not be as definitive as some would like, I thought it would be helpful to parody a popular routine from a few years ago. Jeff Foxworthy became famous by poking fun at Southern blue-collar life, with his routine of one-line answers to the question, “You might be a Redneck…” People loved his wit, as these answers were spot on, perhaps better than any formal definition.

So, following the mantra of the Blue-Collar Comedy Tour, sit back and see what you think. And to make it even more helpful to others, why not add your own answers in the comments following this blog entry. We’ll all learn more about the trawler lifestyle while we continue to define what a trawler is and the lifestyle of those who have one.


“You Might Be a Trawler Owner if you…”



·         Stop whatever you’re doing to watch a beautiful sunset.

·         Can enthusiastically rate the overall beauty of every passing boat, sail or power.

·         Always carry essential spares, such as extra fuel filter elements.

·         Appreciate the beauty and care that goes into well-varnished brightwork.

·         Are equally at home grilling steaks and fresh seafood on the boat as well as going ashore to an interesting restaurant.

·         Can pick up a flashlight within five feet of wherever you are on the boat.

·         Look back from the dinghy and marvel at the beautiful lines of your trawler yacht.

·         Always talk shop with friends during drinks in the cockpit.

·         Enjoy morning coffee in the pilothouse, or in the cockpit, watching the world wake up.

·         Can be counted on to offer advice that is grounded in experience rather than dockside BS.

·         Have redundant navigation systems and charts.

·         Mark your anchor rode and know how to set an anchor away from other boats.

·         Can laugh at the bonehead things you’ve done when leaving the dock.

·         Still have ticket stubs and receipts of places and attractions from years ago.

·         Always wave to the Coast Guard and naval vessels that you pass in your travels.

·         Have more pillows aboard than you would like but are afraid to broach the subject.

·         Understand radio etiquette and know how to use the VHF radio like a pro.

·         Always tip the helpful young man or woman on the fuel dock.

·         Can produce more than the obligatory jar of Gray Poupon mustard when asked, as there are several different flavored bottles in the galley, purchased during cruises over the years.

·         Understand the Rules of the Road and always show courtesy and humility when in close quarters.

·         Always look for what’s new and keep a wishlist of upgrades for “next year.”

·         Never run out of ingredients for sundowners and other libations on the boat, dock, or beach.

·         Are always willing to assist with a project on a friend’s boat, with involvement ranging from bringing the proper tools to show how it’s done, to finding a comfortable seat to provide supervision with side talk on a range of subjects.

·         Respect the U.S. flag and are careful to display it properly.

·         Love to engage young people about being on the water safely, whether driving the big boat or running the dinghy in close quarters.

·         Thoroughly enjoy the onboard routines of life on a trawler.

·         Have docking down to a well-practiced procedure, without need for shouting or drama.

·         Appreciate the value of regular and preventative maintenance and find satisfaction when it is done right.

This is not a complete list, of course. I’m sure there are more answers out there. Please add your own as comments to this blog, so we may benefit from our collective experience of what makes a yacht a trawler in today’s world.

Trawler on, my friends!


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