When you are dreaming of sailing, one of the first questions you’re likely to have is how big of a sailboat you should choose. Most people are excited by the prospect of having a big, beautiful boat but the practical sailor will realize that choosing a boat that is too big will lead to all kinds of problems and may even make you want to give up the hobby. Here’s what you need to know to help you choose a sailboat that will be perfect for you to handle on your own.
How big of a sailboat can one person handle? A talented sailor can handle a boat of almost any size, but the best size for a sailor to single hand on open water is between 35 and 45 ft. If you’re just day cruising, a smaller boat is fine. If you’re a skilled sailor with lots of automated equipment, you may be happy on a 50 to 60 foot boat.
The ideal sailboat size is different for everybody. The right size for you will depend on what you want to do with the sailboat and what your comfort level with different sized boats is.
If you will be going out on the open water, you will, of course, need something different than if you are planning some light daytime sails at a local lake. Here’s what you need to know to choose the largest boat that you can handle comfortably.
Sailing Single-Handed Comparison Table
|Smaller than 35 ft||Between 35 and 45 ft||Bigger than 45 ft|
|Unlikely to have enough storage space for more than a week or so||Ideal storage space for trips of several weeks or up to a month||Can be very difficult to handle by yourself and has much more room than you would need for stores even for a long trip|
|Tend to go slower than larger boats unless they are exceptionally long, which can make them difficult to handle in other ways||Maintain a very good speed, easily able to get on and stay on a plane without becoming overpowered||May be slowed down by their weight and only able to achieve good speed under high winds, which can be challenging for a sole sailor to handle|
|Unlikely to be seaworthy unless expertly handled, and dangerous even when handled by an expert||Likely to be very seaworthy and even unsinkable||Likely to be seaworthy but may be very difficult to handle on open water|
|Easy to anchor or dock at a marina, but may not be safe out of anchor unless conditions are ideal||Easy to anchor or to dock at a marina, with slips of the appropriate size typically being available and this being a good size for sturdy anchoring||Will cost more to dock at a marina and it may be harder to find a slip. Could be very challenging to anchor single-handedly even with navigation equipment, and anchorages will be limited.|
|Can be a rough ride on open water, with lots of pitching that can make even a hardened sailor seasick||Handles well in open water, able to ride a plane and keep pitching to a minimum.||Does well on open water, but tends to go slowly unless there is plenty of wind|
Best Sailboat Size for One Person
Only you can decide exactly what is the right boat for your needs, but here are a few considerations:
For many of us, when we imagine taking up sailing, we tend to imagine dramatic open ocean adventures. The truth is that most sailors never need an ocean-worthy boat, and it dramatically increases the price and size of a boat to be ocean-worthy.
It’s worth taking seriously whether you really need to sail on the open ocean or not when choosing your sailboat. If you will only be doing daytime sails, a sailboat of only 10 or 15 ft can meet your needs nicely.
If you like the idea of a larger boat, you can consider a houseboat or another boat that gives you lots of room at a very reasonable cost since it does not need to be seaworthy. If, on the other hand, you do intend to sail on the open ocean or even make cross-ocean journeys, you will want a boat that is at least 30 or 35 ft, and will likely feel safest and most comfortable on a boat up to 45 ft.
If you intend to sail for long periods in places where you cannot safely anchor, you need a boat that can do some do the navigating by itself. Many types of boats can be equipped with navigation, but not every boat will handle well when left to navigate itself.
Larger boats are more stable, which enables them to navigate more effectively when you hook them up to a wind vane or autopilot. It’s a lot of fun to handle boats by yourself when you’re first starting out, but the more time you spend sailing, the more important you are likely to find it to have a boat that has the capacity to help you navigate when necessary.
If you have your heart set on a very small sailboat, keep in mind that you are likely to make a few compromises when it comes to the ability to navigate by itself. By contrast, larger sailboats tend to be more stable and better able to integrate with autopilot systems.
Furthermore, larger sailboats often come with some navigation equipment integrated, which will reduce the number of improvements that you’ll need to make.
Sailing by yourself can be a lot of fun, but it also comes with some inherent challenges and limitations. For instance, if you’re sailing by yourself, you are likely to be concerned about leaving your boat alone while you get supplies for fear of it being robbed.
As most Sailors know, just locking up the cabin doesn’t do much to protect some of the most valuable things on your boat, which may be accessed easily by breaking into the cockpit or even found on deck. For this reason, storage space is an important concern for anyone that will be single-handing their boat, even and perhaps especially in well-populated areas.
Boats from around 35 to 45 ft often have a nearly ideal storage capacity for single-handing on a several week trip. If you will be supplementing your resources by living off of the land in a remote area, you may be able to stretch resources even further.
Docking and Anchoring
When you’re single-handling, anchoring and docking will likely become some of your least favorite activities. Having a boat that is a reasonable size to dock and anchor yourself can make the difference between casually pulling into your anchorage or slip for the night or spending hours trying to position the boat.
Of course, there’s always the endlessly awkward option of having strangers at the dock feel it necessary to help you. If you’d like to avoid these unpleasant experiences, choose a boat of around 30 or 45 ft that has some ability to navigate for itself while you anchor and which is small enough that you can physically pull it and control it by the anchor line or docking line if it becomes necessary.
Boats around 30 to 45 ft also tend to be very maneuverable and fit into a number of different slips. This characteristic can save you money and make it easier for you to find places to dock and anchor your boat.
Using tactics like multiple anchors and bridles to keep from being hung up, you can position yourself with your stern safely anchored away in some mangroves on a stormy night or position to get the best of the breeze while avoiding the chop in an inlet achorage. This size of boat offers excellent versatility to make you feel like a pro at docking or anchoring single-handed.
When you’re handling your boat by yourself, you may need to get to your destination fairly quickly. Single-handling can be more dangerous, so getting to your destination before bad weather sets in can be paramount.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that speed is a valuable characteristic in a single-handed boat. As a rule, longer boats are faster. They can accomplish more significant speeds while offering you a smoother ride.
Speed and smooth sailing tend to be very important characteristics for single-handing sailors. You’ll find it more difficult to get on a plane and stay on a plane with a shorter boat. If you have your heart set on a smaller boat, choose one that is longer.
This is the design of many small racing sailboats, which are light and small while achieving great speeds. A longer sailboat like this can be a good option for some sailors, but keep in mind that there is little opportunity for storage on a boat like this. They can also be difficult to handle on the ocean.
Have Fun Choosing Your Sailboat
Only you can choose just the right sailboat for your needs. By the time you are ready to purchase a sailboat, you will likely have been dreaming of this moment for some time.
Be careful to make a practical decision and not let your whims sway you as you make this difficult decision. Single-handling a sailboat successfully isn’t easy, and the boat you choose will make a big difference in deciding whether it goes well.