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What Size Boat Do You Need For An Ocean Crossing?

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Crossing an ocean on your own sailboat is no small feat – you need a solid, reliable sailboat, good sailing experience, and strong practical skills to fix anything that could break underway.

Having the best size sailboat for ocean crossing to sail such a long distance, effectively being self-sufficient for weeks at a time, is fundamental.

But what size boat for ocean crossing? Keep reading to find out.

You will sleep, eat, go to the toilet and relax in the confines of your vessel. You will be surrounded by nothing but water and chances are, you won’t see any other boats or ships on the horizon that can help if things go wrong.

My husband and I crossed the Atlantic ocean in 2020 and saw a total of zero other vessels out there.

The most common question asked when crossing an ocean is what is the best size sailboat for ocean crossing. And while size is indeed important, we will explain in this article that size alone does not determine whether a boat can cross an ocean, or not.

What size boat for ocean crossing? And What else should you consider? Find out below!

Ocean crossing sailboat in choppy waters

What Size Boat For Ocean Crossing?

If you’re looking for a quick answer to this question, the Atlantic Rally For Cruisers (ARC), which is run by the World Cruising Club every year in November from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean, requires a length of 27 feet minimum sailboat sizes for ocean crossing, in order to enter the competition.

However, most sailboat sizes for ocean crossing tend to be bigger than this.

Bear in mind that a smaller boat is easier and cheaper to maintain, which means you will be more likely to keep her in top shape. The better maintained your boat is, the less likely you are to experience problems during the passage.

The size of your boat will determine the speed of your passage and the comfort you will enjoy on board.

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What Size Boat For Ocean Crossing: Speed

A longer waterline usually means a faster speed.

So while there is a difference in speed between boats of the same length based on their shape and weight, you can almost always safely assume that a bigger boat will sail faster than a smaller boat.

Bear in mind that your sailing strategy also makes a difference in the time it takes to complete your crossing.

For example, when we crossed the Atlantic Ocean from east to west on our 37ft long keel monohull (a Tayana 37), we took the same amount of days it took a Bavaria 46 to make the same crossing.

This is because we sailed further north than they did, where the wind was stronger, and we dared to sail “deeper” downwind than they did, covering less miles than they did in the same amount of time.

Sailing Inspiration: My first ocean sailing trip! Exhilarating, beautiful, wild

Man holding up fish under awning of ocean crossing sailboat

What Size Boat For Ocean Crossing: Comfort

The bigger the boat, the more comfortable the ride will be.

As a rule of thumb, you could say that more space makes for more comfort. This is because you have bigger places to hang out, you can take crew with you to share your watches with, and a bigger boat tends to move less abruptly.

Based on this, you’d want to cross on a boat that’s 30ft or longer, depending on how numerous a crew you want to take.

However, while a bigger boat offers more space, the shape of the vessel also affects the comfort on board, as it determines how the boat moves through the water.

For example, we chose a 37ft long keel sailboat that was heavily built and featured a canoe stern.

These characteristics make the Tayana 37 a gentle-moving sailboat, as the heavy weight and deep keel keep the boat steadier, while the canoe stern allows for following waves to break naturally, rather than hitting a sugar scoop stern, making a big splash and sending the boat off course.

What Size Boat For Ocean Crossing: Bluewater Vs Coastal Cruiser

Having considered speed and comfort, two essential factors in your decision, it’s worth discussing now what type of sailboat is deemed to be able to cross oceans and has a proven track record of doing so.

What it all really comes down to, is whether the vessel is designed for bluewater, or as a coastal cruiser. No matter the size of the hull, or how fast it can go, the boat you sail on will need to be safe and sturdy. There are bluewater sailboats of all sizes – some are as small as 26ft.

Sailing Inspiration: Family gives up house, jobs to go bluewater sailing with kids

So what makes a boat a bluewater cruiser?

Bluewater Cruisers

Hull Shape

Boats with a deeper and longer keel are typically steadier in rough seas.

Construction

A solid, thick construction can withstand big waves and an impact with an object better. Thick fiberglass or steel are usually the recommended hull construction materials for a sturdy hull.

Encapsulated Keel

An encapsulated keel is less likely to fall off due to a collision with an underwater object or a maintenance problem typical of a bolted keel.

Rudder Location

Choosing an underwater profile that protects the rudder (which is essential for steering the boat) is very important. A skeg hung rudder or a rudder attached to the back of the keel will be less likely to be affected by a crash with a container or a log – the keel will take the impact.

Ability To Heave To

In heavy weather and in an emergency situation, the boat should be able to heave to, a technique that allows the vessel to sit semi-still, pointing against the wind. This allows you to go down below to seek shelter, or it gives you time to repair anything that’s broken.

A Sea-Going Cockpit

You’ll want to look for a cockpit that drains fast in case of a big wave washing in. This also features small spaces where you can’t fall and hurt yourself in big seas.

Sailboat in clear blue water surrounded by a half circle of trees on land

A Well Designed Cabin

The cabin needs to have plenty of handholds that you can use to move around in rough seas. It’s also best to choose a low profile cabin, as it creates less windage in bad weather.

Power

The boat needs to have enough power to use your electronics, fridge and lights, for weeks. This can be done by installing a solar or wind system, as well as by using the engine to charge your batteries.

Food And Water Storage

Your boat will need to be able to transport enough food and water for the whole crew for the passage, plus an emergency amount, in case something goes wrong.

Self-Steering

Unless you plan to take a big crew who are happy to hand steer for hours at a time, day after day, a self-steering system will give the helmsman time to rest and it will be essential in an emergency situation, such as when a member of the crew is unwell.

Coastal Cruisers

Boats that don’t meet all or almost all of these requirements are typically considered coastal cruisers. However, this doesn’t mean they haven’t crossed an ocean before.

There are many boats that don’t meet these criteria that have crossed oceans; however the risk their owners took is probably bigger than those who cross on boats with these characteristics, as the vessel wasn’t as proven.

Ultimately, you need to choose a boat that you are confident sailing.

If you don’t feel you have the experience or the skills to keep a fast racer cruiser under control in big seas or a storm, chances are you won’t feel safe out there, in the middle of nowhere.

If you’re considering buying a small bluewater sailboat on a budget, check out this article I wrote.

Man sits on ocean crossing sailboat

What Size Boat For Ocean Crossing: Choosing The Right Boat

Now that you know the main factors that will affect your decision, I’d recommend you check out a directory of bluewater sailboats, so you know the boats on there are ocean-capable, and then select your favorites, based on the size that’s right for you.

My favorite directory is this one.

Bear in mind that this is just a starting point – you’ll need to do your own research into each model to make sure it is as safe and sturdy as you’d like it to be.

And there may be boats out there that don’t appear in directories, especially custom-made ones.

Once you have drafted your list, start window shopping to get an idea of the cost of the boats you selected. This will shorten the list even more, giving you a shortlist of bluewater cruisers in your budget.

You may have to adjust your preferred size or the boat’s age, based on the current market.

You can find boats for sale on these websites:

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What Size Boat For Ocean Crossing: Extra Tips For Crossing The Ocean

Choosing the right sailboat is just the first step to getting ready for an ocean crossing. Believe me, I would know, as my husband and I spent months getting our Tayana 37 ready to sail across the Atlantic Ocean.

Here’s some extra tips for getting ready to go.

Brush Up On Your Medical Knowledge

As an ocean crossing takes weeks, you will need to be able to deal with a medical emergency alone.

If you have any nurse or doctor friends, ask them if you can contact them via satellite phone in case of emergency.

We also carried a book that had easy-to-follow flow-charts for the most common medical emergencies. It gave us a little extra confidence.

Buy Safety Gear You Are Confident In

Before setting off, research what safety gear you’d like to take with you (EPIRB, life raft, PLB, and more) and choose a number of devices that will make you feel safe.

While you don’t want to waste money on unnecessary gear, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Sailboat on pale blue waters

Check All Your Equipment

Before leaving your dock or the mainland, make sure you check your gear and order anything that needs replacing or upgrading.

It’s much easier to do this where you know you can buy things reliably and at a good price. Make sure to inspect your rigging, sails, and deck gear carefully, so it doesn’t break mid-crossing.

Invest In A Satellite Communication System

Sailing across an ocean with a satellite device will make things a lot easier.

You can check or ask for the weather forecast and keep in touch with friends, both of which are very important.

We found exchanging messages with our friends incredibly good for our mental health while crossing, as we spent most of our time at sea alone.

Make Sure You Have Shade

Whichever route you are sailing, having shade in the cockpit is important to keep sunburn and fatigue at bay. Invest in a bimini and spray dodger.

Take Spares

Don’t leave land without taking spares for your essential equipment, such as a secondary self-steering method, bilge pumps, water pumps, rigging wire, and so on. You need a backup system for the most important equipment.

Practice Heaving To

Before you go out on the big blue, make sure you can heave to effectively. Doing it in the middle of the ocean, possibly turning into the trade winds, can be intimidating for someone who isn’t used to it it.

Start by doing it in mild conditions, then build up your confidence as you go along.

Catamaran on crystal clear water

Find A Night Time Lighting Solution

On such a long passage, you will spend roughly half your time in the darkness.

Make sure you have a good lighting solution (red lights above the nav station and in the cockpit, or a head torch) before you set off. We used head torches, so we could keep the boat as dark as possible for the sleeping person.

Taste Various Long Life Foods

You will inevitably need to eat long life foods on your crossing, so it’s a good idea to try out different things to see what you like most.

There is nothing more disheartening than opening a disappointing can of food when you are exhausted and hungry from your last watch.

Bring Along Plenty Of Entertainment

Even if you are crossing with a big group of friends that can keep you company, you will need to switch off from the sailing and the noise every now and then.

Make sure to bring with you plenty of music, podcasts, books, audiobooks, movies or TV series, language courses, and more.

Read, Read, Read

You can’t be too prepared. Keep reading about heavy weather techniques, backup systems, and more. Chances are you won’t need that knowledge, but you will be so grateful you have it, if things go south.

Person leans out over side of ocean crossing sailboat to point at dolphin

Conclusion On What Size Boat For Ocean Crossing

Ready to cross an ocean? Whatever your budget, there is a bluewater sailboat out there for you.

The best size sailboat for ocean crossing will be right for your needs – how big a crew you’re taking, how fast you want to sail, and how much space you feel you need on board. And of course, it needs to be within your budget.

Check out these other posts to help you choose the best boat:

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