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Captain's Report

Contents of Report

Introduction

With everything we do there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. As it turns out, the same can be said for driving a catamaran. The truth is this boat is no differently operated than any other boat on the water most of the time, but there are some conditions to run this boat differently than a monohull. So let’s discuss how to drive a catamaran and get the maximum performance out of the hulls design.

A Trick When Trolling

So, let’s say we’re offshore, and we’re moving from dive spot to dive spot, or maybe we’re working a reef line to find the biggest concentration of fish. Because a catamaran pushes easily though the water and doesn’t need a lot of horsepower to maneuver, what we can do in this situation is shut one engine down. There is no reason to run two engines for slow-speed maneuvering away from the dock.

That one engine will push the boat no problem, and still allow full control of the boat. It’s not going to try and turn circles even though the engines are far apart, but what it will do is save wear and tear on the engine and, obviously, save fuel in the process. Remember: Alternate the active motor so we don’t have more hours on one engine than the other.

Maneuvering at the Dock

Another slow-speed operation of the catamaran that is enjoyable, is docking or slow-speed maneuvering. Remember, the engines are quite far apart, so there will be a lot more control when comparing this boat to a monohull with the engines close together.

It’s a good idea to practice this away from the marina. Simply find a focus point, such as a channel marker or buoy, and use that to practice maneuvering the boat around. With one engine in forward and one in reverse, the boat is going to rotate on its axis.

Remember the phrase, “go slow like a pro.” Take time to approach the dock slowly, and maneuver with the engines. Turning the steering wheel is tempting, but it is not a good course of action. All the maneuvering must be done with the throttles. It’s amazing how easy it is to maneuver this boat, whether putting it on the trailer or backing it into the slip.

Operating A Catamaran throttle
Maneuvering the boat is done best with the throttles and makes for easiest turning and docking.

Getting on Plane

Another difference between a catamaran and a monohull is putting the boat on plane. Typically, in a monohull, full throttle is initially brought in to get the boat up and over a big hump of water. Once the bow comes back down and we can see the horizon again, we can then back off to a reasonable cruise speed.

However, on a catamaran, it doesn’t take a whole lot of power to get the boat to plane off, and we never really lose the line of sight to the horizon. So full power isn’t necessarily needed. Plus, if we do go full power on a catamaran, the boat will be up on plane instantly and passengers may not be ready for it. So, to plane off on a cat, just gradually put the throttle forward, the horizon is still there, and, in short order, the boat is up on plane.

Operating A Catamaran horizon
The cat has no trouble getting on plane and the horizon is always in view.

Running in Rough Water

Where does the catamaran shine the most when paired with a monohull? The answer is inarguably when running in rough conditions. This is really where we get the full benefit of what a catamaran hull is all about.

Most problems that arise with first-time operators a lot is that they’re just too timid. They’re afraid to run the boat at the speed it really needs to gain its performance. They operate it like a typical mono-hull. For example, when coming up to a big boat wake.

On a typical monohull, the proper method is to back off on the throttle, cross the wake, and then pick up speed again. In a catamaran however, we need to do just the opposite. It’s a better course of action to actually increase the speed to get over the wave. Reason being, the more air that gets stuffed into the tunnel, the more cushion effect the boat will get. So, when a cat launches off the wake and lands on the other side, it’s going to be a soft landing. The same thing applies if we run a rough inlet. If we’re at a good cruise when we get to the inlet, the monohull operator is going to slow down. The cat operator will hold or increase the speed.

Passengers might be scared or surprised of the idea of the operator increasing the speed as they come to a wave. Once they experience it, and become comfortable with it, the operator will really get the full use of what a catamaran hull can give.

Operating A Catamaran running
The faster the cat is going, the better the ride. It’s best to have confidence in the catamaran’s capabilities on rough waters.

Trimming a Catamaran

Once a cat gets up on plane, it doesn’t need a lot of trim. In a typical monohull, the bow needs to be trimmed up high, especially if the boat has a pad. Catamarans like to run flatter, with only about 7-degrees to play with.

One mistake people often make when they first start driving a cat is that they over trim it. But when that bow comes up, the narrow portion of the hull is not being allowed to meet the oncoming wave. There’s now a blunter portion meeting the wave and the boat will experience more of an impact. Let that narrow entry do what it’s designed to do. Let it slice that wave right in front rather than sail right over it. Don’t over trim the boat, keep it somewhat flat, and let the entry slice through the waves.

Making a High-Speed Turn

One of the biggest misconceptions of a catamaran, is that it can’t make a high-speed turn, and that they’ll roll or flip over. Nothing could be further from the truth. We can make any turn we want in a catamaran. The operator just needs to get the feel for it.

Any High Speed Turn on a Catamaran will be with the Boat Remaining Flat. Most people are used to a V-hull leaning in to the turn so this will feel strange at first. The cat doesn’t have that lean so people will think it’s going to flip, but it isn’t. It’s just the way a cat handles. We can certainly make a high-speed turn on a catamaran, it’s just a flat turn.

Now if we want to make a sharp turn with the catamaran, she will lean in. All that needs to be done before going into the turn, is just retard the inboard engine just a little bit before entering the turn to cause that lean. It’s stable, there’s nothing unsafe about it, and we can come right out of the turn, and get back onto the original heading.

Operating A Catamaran running
Notice how the cat leans into the turn, just flatter than a mono hull.

Handling Different Sea Conditions

There are three main directions this boat will be running at; a head sea, quartering sea, and a following sea. The head sea is where we will get the best ride, remember, the more air that is stuffed under the tunnel, the more cushion effect we get, and the softer the landings. So, in a head sea, the catamaran rides the best.

When we get into a quartering sea, we really don’t have to change what we’re doing very much. These cats love to quarter, whether we’re quartering off the bow or off the stern. If we’re not taking that wave directly on, and we’re running a little bit of a quarter to it either in or following, the boat really responds to that, and we have full control of the boat.

A Following Sea is the Only Time We’re Ever Going to Want to Change our Direction Slightly. As we mentioned before, catamarans don’t have a lot of displacement in the front. We have a sharp entry, and that’s what gives us our ride. The only drawback is when we’re coming down the face of following sea. We don’t have that displacement to pick the bow of the boat up. We don’t want to scoop off any of the wave in front of us, so turning the boat 10 to 15-degrees will prevent that. Quartering a little bit on that following sea will give the boat a little more displacement, and we’ll have less of a tendency to punch through the wave in front.

Anchoring a Catamaran

Then finally, there’s anchoring a catamaran. Typically, and in most conditions, we can use the center cleats just like any other boat, but with the catamaran, because it doesn’t have the displacement to get up and over the bow wave, it becomes more of a hindrance to use in rough water. If we have a big steep sea in front, we may clip the top of that wave off if we anchor from the center.

To avoid that with most catamarans if not all of them, simply tie off with the cleats on either the outboard port or starboard side. Tie the rode here, and that will let the boat quarter into the sea, much like if we were running in a following sea. The boats going to step up and over the wave. It’s going to be more stable, and then there’s no chance of taking any water over the end of the bow.

Operating A Catamaran docking
With cleats to the sides of the bow, it becomes more practical to secure the anchor rode from the side rather than the bow when anchoring in rough conditions.

Observations

Catamarans have many advantages over monohulls but they’re not for everyone. But if shopping for one and the monohull salesman starts talking about how horrible the cat is in varying conditions, now it can be seen as the trash talk that it is. As with any purchase, we recommend a test drive as the final deciding point on buying a boat. If taking a test drive in a cat, hope for windy conditions and that will seal the deal.