Living on a Boat:

A Boat Buyer’s Guide to Choosing the Right Boat for the Right Purpose

  • What is a trawler?
  • The four main power boat hull forms
  • Need for speed?
  • Spotting architectural integrity
  • Five Reasons NOT to buy a boat

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Thirty to forty years ago, there was no question about what a cruising boat, also known as a “trawler,” looked like. There were relatively few builders in the market space, and all the vessels, whether built by Grand Banks, Willard, Kadey-Krogen or Marine Trader, operated mainly in the seven-to-nine-knot range. During the 1990s, as the number of people interested in extended cruising and living aboard exploded, thanks in part to PassageMaker magazine, so, too, did the variety of manufacturers and styles.

The old salts will vehemently argue that a Down East-style vessel is not a “trawler.” However, we believe we have developed a trawler definition agreeable to all: Any vessel in which you are comfortable living aboard for the period of time in which you intend to live aboard. By that definition, if you plan on cooking, showering and sleeping aboard a Sabre, MJM, Eastbay or similar vessel for three days or more at a time, and you can do that comfortably, that vessel is just as much a trawler as a Kadey-Krogen or Nordhavn cruising the Caribbean for the winter.

Why then, are some cruising boats up for sale soon after purchase? Because, sadly, their owners decide that the experience of living on a boat was not what they thought it would be. What happened?

In many cases, they bought the right boat for the wrong purpose. It’s essential to honestly determine what type of boating you plan to do before you buy. Further, understanding what hull form best fits your boating needs is critical. If you have the right boat for the right situation, you will enjoy it more and keep it longer.

To begin our LIVING ON A BOAT: A Boat Buyer’s Guide to Choosing the Right Boat for the Right Purpose, we lead with a few quick questions to help set you on a proper course for choosing the right "trawler" for YOU!

Quick Questions

boat show pic

At boat shows, we ask our guests to fill out a “boarding pass” before they tour our display so we can understand their cruising plans and provide appropriate direction and assistance. This is where it all starts. As you look at the list below, take a minute to think about that very first question. What are your cruising plans?

  • Great Loop
  • Pacific Northwest U.S.
  • East Coast U.S.
    • North
    • Mid-Atlantic
    • South
  • Caribbean
  • Bahamas
  • World

With your dream destinations fresh in your mind, below are a few questions for discussion with your cruising partner that customers have told us over the years have helped them pave their plans and prepare new questions. Knowing your answers to the following topics will help anyone helping you search.


  • Do you have a boat now? Sail or Power? Boat-less? What is your experience?
    • Is having your current boat a buying obstacle?
    • What is your approximate budget?
  • What is your preferred style of cruising? Marinas? Anchoring-out? 
  • Can you work from a remote location? (Do you need an office on board?) Are you approaching retirement? When?
    • Do you plan to sell your home and live aboard full-time?
    • If not, how many nights aboard will you have each year?
    • How many nights in a row?
  • Considering your cruising plans and available time, how much of your cruising will be spent offshore?
    • How many people will be boating with you? How long will they stay?
  • Do you have design requirements related to access or comfort for physical needs?
  • Have you ever built a new home before?
    • From your home-building journey, do you have any pre-conceived notions about building a semi-custom yacht?
  • Have you ever bought or built a new boat before?
    • What has been your experience working directly with a manufacturer?

Introductory Savings Guide: Get Tips to Become Retired on a Boat!

Next question.

Anyone who attends boat shows or has spent any amount of time on, has a few boat models or brands that have piqued their interest. (We get're longing for life on the water and researching is fun!) To find the best boat option for your live-aboard cruising plans, it's smart to commit to researching all the available solutions. This leads us to our final question. 

What is your initial list of boat models and brands that interest you?  


The next section of LIVING ON A BOAT: A Boat Buyer’s Guide to Choosing the Right Boat for the Right Purpose delves into the four main power boat hull types. Your power boat's hull form will have the greatest effect on your cruising plans and overall experience living aboard. 

Are the boats you've listed designed with the hull form that truly suites your future cruising lifestyle? Things may start to change.

Four Boat Hull Forms:

full displacement, semi displacement, planing & multi-hull

44AE at anchorCompared with other hull forms, a full displacement boat has a greater beam, draft, and load-carrying capacity. As an example, the Krogen 44’ AE has a beam of 16 feet, 4 inches, and draws about 4 feet, 6 inches. The boat will settle in the water one inch for every 2,200 pounds of gear, fuel and stores you put on board. This measurement of load-carrying capacity is called “pounds per inch immersion.” Boats designed with this ocean-capable hull form will also have some form of ballast for added stability. The only thing a full displacement vessel does not do well is go fast.

To continue with our model example, the Krogen 44’ AE has a top speed of 9+ knots. The upside is that at a speed of 7 knots, this full displacement boat sips only 1.9 gph and has a range of more than 3,000 nautical miles (that’s ocean crossing range). 

Referring back to the first guiding question we asked about cruising plans, what did you check?

  • Great Loop
  • Pacific Northwest U.S.
  • East Coast U.S.
    • North
    • Mid-Atlantic
    • South
  • Caribbean
  • Bahamas
  • World

All are suitable and comfortable for the full displacement hull form. 

As the experts on full displacement, allow us to continue on the topic and further spell-out this hull type in the blog post linked below, or head to

Spelling-out "Full Displacement"

A semi-displacement boat has a moderate beam, draft and load-carrying ability compared to a full displacement vessel. The hull tends to flatten-out as you move aft of center, and this difference in hull shape, combined with a narrower beam and more horsepower, allows the vessel to achieve a top speed of 1.5 to two times that of a full displacement vessel. The American Tug 435, with a top speed of nearly 16.5 knots and a waterline length of about 38.5 feet, is an example of a semi-displacement boat. Speed does, however, come at a cost. At 10.1 knots, she is burning 11.25 gph because the large engine (500 hp) uses its might to get the boat up and out of the water on the flatter part of the hull. Consumption and range are better at 7.5 knots, burning 4 gph. However, engine manufacturers state that running an engine at significantly reduced rpm from the engine’s intended cruise rpm (known as under-loading and over-cooling) will increase maintenance and shorten engine life. Consider your long-distance cruising plans and the range the boat has, know your space and comfort requirements, and then calculate your budget for fuel.

Purists would say a planing hull can’t be a trawler, but with our more practical, experience-oriented definition, it certainly can. One just needs to be realistic about expectations because a planing hull vessel is narrower for a given length than the two previous hull forms. Simply put, this means you can carry less stuff. On the positive side, a boat such as a Sabre 42 will get you to your destination in a hurry, with a top speed of more than 30 knots and a comfortable cruising speed of 22 knots. The downside is that it takes a lot of power to get (and keep) a vessel up and out of the water at that clip. At 22 knots, the Sabre 42 burns 26.3 gph. That’s three times the speed of a full-displacement vessel of similar length, but burning 13 times the fuel. At planing speeds, day cruising and shorter (time and distance) destinations are the objective. Be sure to review the next section of this lifestyle guide that covers speed, and how adjusting your float plan just might shift your perspective on having it as a requirement.  

Lastly, as its name suggests, a multi-hull boat has more than one hull. While in sailing, there are boats with two or three hulls, multi-hulled power boats only have two hulls and are called power catamarans or "power cats". Due to their wide beam (typically 40 to 45 percent of their length), power cats are roomy for their length. A 34-foot power cat can have as much room as a 40 to 45-foot mono-hull, and be more efficient (under the right circumstances). While the space-to-length and efficiency factors are intriguing, smaller power cats (those under 55 feet) tend to be more sensitive to weight. For example, more than 2,000 pounds of fuel, water, food, etc. can be added to a 44-foot full displacement boat before it settles one inch in the water, but you can only add about 500 pounds to the 34-foot power cat before it settles one inch. The more the boat settles in the water, the worse the fuel economy gets. A loaded-for-cruising 34-foot power cat could lose its fuel efficiency over the full displacement boat.

So, what will it be? Which hull form type defines your “trawler”?

However, we are not done there. Our LIVING ON A BOAT: A Boat Buyer’s Guide to Choosing the Right Boat for the Right Purpose would not be complete without a message on speed and quality (architectural integrity). Onward!

Considering Need for Speed 

For many cruisers, especially those not yet retired, time is of the essence and boat speed is considered a necessity. Or is it? What do we know about cruising speed that you don’t? Perhaps it’s simply another perspective on use of time.

44AE flybridgeLet's consider the need for speed with an example of two different boaters headed from Warwick, R.I. to Block Island. Warwick to Block Island is approximately 35 miles, and for 32 of those miles, a boat could run at speed. This makes the trip a hair over four hours in a full displacement vessel, such as the Krogen 44 AE, or about two hours in a planing hull vessel, such as the Sabre 42. Remember, the planing hull vessel must run at six knots for about three miles of the 35-mile trip.)

On the surface, it seems the owner of the planing vessel has two more hours to enjoy Block Island. Not so fast (pun intended).

You see, the full displacement owner casts off and then makes coffee, showers and cooks and eats breakfast, all the while making way toward his/her destination, provided he/she has a good first mate. These activities are all enjoyed in safety and comfort during the four-hour trip. The other boater must make coffee, shower, cook, eat, clean up and stow everything before leaving the dock and getting underway. Depending on the pre-departure habits of those on board, the overall trip process can actually be longer on a "faster boat"!

Regardless if you eat breakfast or not, some amount of extra prep time must be factored into the "need for speed" voyage. This mental shift in how you use your time can become a game-changer. How would you budget your time? Is speed a need?

Next, when it comes to architectural integrity, not all boats are created equal. For success and comfort at sea (for you and your partner), should you be asking, "What is a "stretch-a-boat" model?" The answer is: Yes.

"Stretch-a-Boat" Models

It’s prom. You and your friends rent a “stretch” limo for the evening. You are, of course, really impressed, and you tell the driver what a cool car it is. He responds, “Well kid, that’s because you don’t have to drive it.”

Hold that thought.

When a naval architect designs a boat, the hull is designed to accomplish a set of goals, and the resulting hull can be measured by those terms. 

The entry of the bow dictates the shape and beam of the forward sections, and therefore the usability of the space inside. The shape of the stern dictates drag, sea keeping ability, and fuel economy. The boat, especially a full-displacement trawler, must flow through the water with mathematical precision, parting, displacing, and most importantly, replacing, the passing water at the same volume and similar angles as it was displaced. A boat is designed to act in unison. 

For example, the engines must be placed such that the shaft and propeller position are optimal for the flow of water on the hull, so that the displaced water is returning to its original placement as the boat passes, and the propellers have a concentrated flow in which to “bite.” Too far back and they will be too close to the water surface and suffer cavitation, and if too far forward, the wash will affect the stern and increase the drag on the hull, plus increase shaft angle, thus decreasing the efficiency of the propeller. The same is true with the rudder, which also must be appropriately sized and placed optimally within the flow of the propeller, to steer the boat properly. Too far one way and she will steer like a sleepy drunk; too far the other and she is a hyperactive puppy pulling on her leash.

Enter "stretch-a-boat" models. Notable manufacturers have stretched a 41-footer to be a 49-footer, a 47-footer to a 52-footer, and a 55-footer to a 60-footer. This disturbing trend violates the "architectural integrity" of the original hull design. Remember all those early stories about SUVs rolling over? Car manufacturers simply took the chassis of another vehicle and put a large boxy structure on top, thereby raising the center of gravity. So why do boat manufacturers violate the architectural integrity of one hull design and stretch it to make another model? Simple. It’s a relatively low-cost way to introduce another model.

If you take a boat that was designed at 55 feet and “stretch” it to 60 feet, all the engineering is changed. You simply can’t design the proper curvature and shape of a hull, then stretch the middle by 10 percent or more, or stick a larger cockpit on it, and have the physics stay the same. Additionally, you can’t, using sound naval architecture principles, place the propellers, rudders, etc. on a boat and then change its length by 10-15 percent and add a larger engine and prop, and expect the same handling result.

Like most bad ideas, this one tends to magnify itself--and this is all especially true in the full displacement and semi displacement hull forms. Just like that stretch limo–a captain won't want to drive it!

So, one can avoid buying a “stretch-a-boat” model by asking how the model’s molds were designed and made. From a fresh sheet of paper? Or by stretching an existing model. And, take a sea trial, preferably on a rough day. Insist on turning off the stabilizers and hand steering the boat in all conditions.



5 Reasons NOT to Buy a Boat

Here’s what you need to remember. There is a lot to think about when you purchase a cruising boat. Do your research, ask lots of questions, and determine the type of boating you will actually be doing. We hope you enjoy your buying and planning experience. There are countless reasons why you should fulfill your dreams of living on a boat, but to close, we'll leave you with five reasons NOT to buy a boat.

1. Don’t be sold by a deal on a boat that may not truly fulfill your cruising objectives.

2. Don’t be sold by cheap sizzle. Lower quality materials and ultra-trendy interiors simply do not last the test of time.

3. Don’t be sold because they will take your boat in trade.

4. Don’t be sold by the idea that, despite its true purpose, a particular boat is the best of both worlds. For example, that you can run a fast boat slow for improved fuel economy. 

5. And, please, don’t buy speed solely for the ability to outrun a storm. Pick a seaworthy vessel that meets your definition of a trawler!

One fallacy about hull forms that we often hear is, “I want a fast boat so I can outrun bad weather.” That statement sends insurance agents ducking for cover. Why? They know that one of the safest places to be in an approaching squall is in a well-found boat away from marinas and traffic. Accidents happen when people feel rushed, especially when their haste is weather-induced. People get hurt and property gets damaged.

Final words. Most importantly, do not wait too long for the perfect moment! Get underway and start your adventure.

Next: A no-fluff guide to the main design differences of our current production line of seaworthy yachts

Click: Go to Guide

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