The aft cabin configuration has been around for as long as motorboats have been cruising. Over the years the basic arrangement has evolved in different directions, but the basic premise remains the same. Put the master cabin or stateroom in the aft portion of the hull, taking advantage of the full beam usually associated with cruising powerboats.
There are several advantages in having the owner accommodations in the stern of the boat, or near the stern. There will be more cabin space by using the full beam of the boat, with storage usually underneath the side decks. The volume of this area provides for twin beds or an island berth, with a desk, hanging lockers, chairs, and ensuite head with shower. Some even have a walk-in closet. It is hard to duplicate this space utilization when limited to the bow of the boat.
Another big benefit of the aft cabin layout is the separation of living spaces between owners and guests or children in the forward cabin(s). This separation allows for true privacy for the owners, not simply the illusion of privacy when a boat’s cabins are located next to each other, separated by a thin bulkhead and louvered cabin doors for ventilation.
In some boats, there is still an aft deck, such as on the Grand Bank 36 and 42 Classic, or the Selene 40, or the Monk 36. The aft cabins on these traditional trawlers do not extend all the way aft to the swim platform, so there is still exterior space to walk around the boat. In fact, the GB Classic also has a hatch in the aft cabin, so people can step out of the cabin onto the aft deck area. This is also helpful for ventilation, which we will discuss shortly.
Many traditional trawlers as well as modern motoryachts take this master aft cabin all the way to the swim platform, and some of them do not even have a swim platform, so the master cabin is at the stern of the boat. This maximizes interior volume, but at the expense of exterior utility. This is the case with the Defever 44 and other popular Sundeck trawlers, and many motoryachts from Meridian, Sea Ray, Carver, and dozens of other builders. The outside living space is above the aft cabin.
So much priority is given to the interior accommodations, in fact, that exterior appearance and performance (in terms of being able to walk around the boat, handle lines and fenders for docking or locking through a canal) can be compromised.
It is also often difficult to handle provisions coming aboard from the dinghy, or pets, or dive gear. Once on the swim platform, if there is one, crew must deal with a tall stern that may haver a vertical ladder up to the sundeck. For a cruising boat, this is not ideal, but the popularity of the aft cabin motoryacht and sundeck trawler proves these are acceptable tradeoffs.
Again, in the classic trawler designs already mentioned, such as the Grand Banks 42 Classic, this is not a problem.
One issue that almost every owner will mention is the lack of ventilation in the aft cabin. Given its location far from the bow, there just is not the air flow around the rest of the boat for any breeze to reach whatever hatches and ports might be open in the aft cabin. Small side ports allow outside breeze into the boat, but at anchor it is not effective. It is quite the opposite from bow accommodations with a large hatch opened overhead. Anyone who has cruised on a sailboat knows the beautiful rush, when anchored out, from a slight offshore wind that brings out the smell of tropical flowers and lush vegetation from shore. This is not the experience of aft cabin living.
Fans are required around the cabin, and air conditioning is necessary unless one stays in the northern cruising regions. Plugged in at the dock is not a problem, and the ventilation problem is solved. Unfortunately, for those who prefer to be at anchor, getting air conditioning means running the generator. And few people like the sound of a loud generator while they try to sleep. Newer generators are not near as obnoxious as the older units, but they are not silent.
One practical solution is to close up the boat at dinner time and turn on the generator to cool off the interior and keep out the bugs. Air conditioning removes the humidity and when everyone is ready to turn in for the night, the generator is turned off and things stay comfortable for the night.
For living aboard, especially when living at a marina, the aft cabin has much to recommend it. With closets, lockers, and cabinet drawers for a couple’s clothes, shoes, and all the possessions considered important for daily living, the aft cabin is hands down the best layout configuration. Midship stateroom is also a great layout, but that is only on larger yachts.
There is one issue to keep in mind. Many of today’s motoryachts have large, dogged hatches on the stern that open from the aft cabin. This lets in lots of light (which aft cabins can never have too much of) and one would think it nice to open this hatch up on occasion. But there is a potential safety concern with the aft cabin layout, and that is its proximity to engine and generator exhausts that can potentially backdraft into the cabin. Gas engines and generators, especially, can be deadly if fumes enter poorly ventilated living spaces. (This is also true with diesel engines but with a lesser concentration of CO.)
CO detectors are absolutely required. And this is something to keep in mind when one rafts up with other boats, depending on where the exhaust from another boat’s generator is located.
The modern motoryacht and trawler, with an aft cabin arrangement, is ideal for comfortable living aboard and cruising in coastal and inland waters. It offers maximum living space and storage, more so than any other boat layout. The possible tradeoff in exterior living and boat handling can be acceptable if one priorities are clear.
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