You can find cheap fishing boats, you can find center console yachts like the Grady-White Canyon 456, and you can find everything in-between, but truth be told there is no such thing as the “perfect” boat. Well, okay, that’s not exactly news to you old salts. If you’ve owned multiple boats through the years you probably already know by now that every boat has its ups and downs, and different people like boats more or less for different reasons. That said, there’s one boat-versus-boat argument that comes up over and over again through the years yet we’ve never addressed on the pages of FishTalk: which is better, a monohull or a powercat?
Before diving into this discussion, there are a few cold, hard facts that need to be laid out. First off, despite having a cult-like following among some anglers, powercats have never accounted for so much as 10-percent of the fishing boat market in the United States. That should tell you something, right there. Secondly, the reason most often given by boat owners as to why they don’t like catamarans has nothing whatsoever to do with how they perform—it’s that they look funny. That should tell you something too, though maybe more about the average boat-buyer than about the boats themselves. But if that’s what many people base their boat-buying decisions on, so be it. And thirdly, all of the blanket statements you’ve ever heard about cats (or for that matter, monohulls) should be taken with a grain of salt. They may or may not be true when it comes to individual models, but the truth of the matter is that all cats are different, just as all monohulls are different. Each has its own unique traits and making any sort of generalization is bound to be inaccurate when it comes to this specific model or that one.
Common Power Catamaran Advantages
Keeping in mind that these advantages may be more or less applicable to any specific boat, as a general rule of thumb some catamarans do enjoy significant advantages over some monohulls, including:
- Slower decelerations and reduced wave impact. This has been objectively measured (with accelerometers) in a Glacier Bay 26 powercat versus a Regulator 26 monohull—both boats known for providing an excellent ride—to the tune of a 0.287-second deceleration versus a 0.081 second deceleration, and a three-G force impact versus a four-G force impact when hitting an identical wave head-on.
- Enhanced static stability and a reduced righting moment (the period of time it takes to return to level after a wave causes rolling).
- More interior volume, particularly in models that carry their beam all the way forward.
- Widely-spaced outboards providing drastically improved close-quarters maneuvering.
As a result of these common traits, many powercats act and feel like over-sized boats. Let's look at one catamaran example, Tideline Boats. A Tideline 235, a bay boat/offshore boat crossover, provides a good example. Whether you look at the amount of fishing space, seakeeping abilities, or range, you’ll find that this 23’5” boat feels and acts more like a 25- or 26-footer when compared to a monohull. This isn’t an uncommon characteristic of well-designed cats.
And when you get to a larger model the difference can be even more extreme. Take a quick look at a larger Tideline, the 365 Offshore, for another point of reference.
Common Monohull Advantages
On the flip side of the coin, there are also some advantages monohulls commonly hold over cats. The most impactful include:
- A larger single space to build on below the waterline, thanks to the deeper single hull, allowing for larger and deeper console head compartments, cabins, and in some cases (when built on centerline) fishboxes.
- Monohulls usually have a slower roll period. Though they may roll more often and more easily, the motion is commonly less abrupt and the fast, uncomfortable “snap roll” some cats experience is very rare in monohulls.
- Handling characteristics are more predictable from boat to boat.
- Because they’re so much more popular, you have a lot more boats to choose from. Plus, monohulls are often easier to re-sell.
There are also a few odd traits commonly attributed to powercats. As we stressed earlier, these do not apply to all powercats. In fact, some of these are endemic to very different powercat hull designs (such as planning versus displacement or semi-displacement) of one type or another. But anyone who considers buying a cat and takes one for a test run would want to have these possibilities in mind:
- An outward bank in sharp turns.
- A “sneeze,” which is a puff of mist that shoots out of the tunnel after hitting a wave and then blows back into the boat.
- A snap-roll (as described earlier).
- Tunnel-slap, when a wave hits the top of the tunnel and causes an abrupt impact; in some models this is a phenomenon that occurs specifically at slow speeds in a head sea, but not at high speeds or in beam or following seas.
- An unusual appearance.
Naturally, there are also some odd traits that can be attributed to monohulls which rarely are issues seen on a cat. These include:
- Low static stability and the tendency to lean hard with shifts in weight on the deck (as in, someone walking from one side of the boat to the other).
- Significant bowrise coming onto plane.
- Bow steering.
Cat Myths, Dispelled
There’s an awful lot of misinformation out there when it comes to powercats. Let’s do our best to dispel those highly inaccurate Facebook-world rumors.
Powercats are unsafe because they can roll over
Well sure, um… we’re pretty sure that all boats can roll over, right? And in actuality, thanks to weight distribution via the widely-spaced twin hulls, it requires an average of four times more force to overturn a catamaran hull than a monohull with the same dimensions. So in reality, in general cats are actually less likely to roll over.
Catamarans cost more
This may appear to be so if you look at boats with equal LOA, because it takes more materials to build a powercat of identical length. But if you look at the boat’s complete size (including the space added by the increase in forward beam) and comparable capabilities, the cost is about even.
All cats ride smoother than monohulls
Nope. We’ve been on some cats that bashed us to mush, and some monohulls that felt like a magic carpet ride. The only way to be sure about any particular boat is to go for a sea trial in various conditions.
So, where does this leave us? Are monohulls the better boats, or do powercats rule? In truth, each and every one needs to be considered on an individual basis. When push comes to shove there’s only one person who can make the final determination—and that person’s eyes just reached the end of this article.