How Reliable Are Catalina Boats? (Explained)

Catalina Yachts is an American boat-builder famous for its fiberglass monohull sloop-rigged sailboats.

Their current range includes:

  • The Sport series (fun 8–27 foot day sailors).
  • The Cruiser series (spacious mid-sized yachts from 31–35 feet).
  • The very capable Ocean series (38–44 feet yachts for more serious offshore adventures). 

Though Catalina produces boats as small as 8 feet, the company is best known for producing its mid-sized cruisers.

Catalina’s mission statement is simple: “To design boats that stand up to real-world conditions and sail well. They must be comfortable above and below, easy to maintain, and hold their value.”

Here’s How Reliable Catalina Boats Are:

Catalina Yachts has been building boats for more than 50 years. They have developed a range of sailboats and a complete range of sailing yachts built by any US manufacturer today. Their sailboats are known to be sturdy, reliable, and roomy.

A Brief History Of Catalina Yachts

Catalina Yachts was founded in 1969 by Frank Butler in Hollywood, California. His original intention wasn’t to become the largest sailboats builder in America but rather to build good boats of great value.

His first model was the Catalina 22, which was designed with the goal that they would build 100 of these boats. The company easily achieved that goal by building hull number 5,000 within 5 years.

They have since gone on to produce nearly 16,000 Catalina 22s. This number includes the modified 22 Sport version and the 22 Mark II, which remain in production today.

In 1970, Catalina introduced their second model, the Catalina 27, quickly followed by the Catalina 30 in 1974. This trend-setting design won its class in the Newport to Ensenada Race, which helped it to achieve immediate sales success.

By 1980, Catalina sailboats were winning industry awards, winning their class races, and winning the long-lasting loyalty of their customers. In addition, the Catalina 22 was nominated by SAIL Magazine as their best “trailerable boat of the decade.”

In 1984, Catalina bought the now-defunct Morgan Yachts in Largo, Florida. This smart strategic move gave the company a second, well-known brand and provided existing facilities to build their increasingly popular Catalina models.

In addition, the fact was that the majority of Catalina customers lived on the East coast, which added on quite considerable transport costs to every boat sold in this area. Moving production to Florida expanded on this existing market.

Frank Butler, the founder of Catalina Yachts, continued as CEO until his death in November 2020, aged 92. His were big shoes to fill. However, the family asked his former secretary and longtime close personal friend, Sharon Day, to take over as president, chief engineer, and CEO.

Today, Catalina still builds their boats in Florida and is the only remaining sailboat builder in the USA. The company is considered one of the largest boat manufacturers in the world, with over 80,000 boats manufactured to date.

How Long Do Catalina Boats Last?

A quick search on the website turned up a Catalina boat for sale built in 1972.

In addition, at the time of writing, there were several other models available from the mid to late 1970s. This shows that, along with any fiberglass boat, if they are well looked after, there is no reason why a Catalina boat should not last 50 years or more.

General, regular maintenance should include the following:

  • Washing your boat regularly;
  • Looking out for any cracks and fixing them before they get bigger;
  • Using a wax polish to protect the hull from the sun’s harmful UV rays;
  • Take your time to wash and wax your boat thoroughly.

Are Catalina Boats More Reliable Than Similar Brands?

Similar brands of boats to Catalina include Hunter, Beneteau, and Bavaria.

All four brands produce spacious and comfortable production sailboats. However, Catalina boats are primarily made to be durable and reliable.

They are built to last in real-world conditions and to be fast, comfortable, spacious, and safe enough to have your family and the kids on board.

How Much Maintenance Are There On Catalina Boats?

All Catalina Yachts have been designed with ease of maintenance in mind.

Just like any other brand of boat, there is some routine maintenance that will need doing in addition to regular cleaning.

These include, but are not limited to the following:

  • The engine should be regularly serviced – check the manual for maintenance schedules.
  • Check the bilge for any water or debris and that the bilge pump is working.
  • Inspect the standing rigging for any signs of corrosion.
  • Inspect the running rigging for any signs of chafing.
  • Check the battery bank and the condition of the batteries.
  • Make sure all through-hull fittings are secure.

The more you use your Catalina, the better you will know your boat. In addition, each boat will have different systems installed that you will need to check.

Routine maintenance will save you from finding bigger problems in the long run!

What Are The First Things That Break On These Boats?

Catalina Boats are built to a very high standard using the best quality materials, so there is no specific thing that breaks first on these boats.

If you sail your boat hard, something will break. Having looked at the various sailing and cruising forums, there is no collaboration about what breaks first on a Catalina boat.

What Are The Most Common Problems With Catalina Boats?

While Catalina Boats are built to high standards, they have also been building boats for more than 50 years.

Certain production techniques have progressed during this time. The newer boats do not seem to have any common problems

However, if you are looking at purchasing an older Catalina yacht, there are some common problems to look out for:

The Catalina Smile:

The Catalina Smile can apply to almost any sailboat built with a bolted-on keel to the hull. The signs to look for are that the bolt-on keel to hull joint often cracks on the leading or front edge, often in the shape of a mouth or ‘smile.’

These keel cracks can be caused by hard grounding or a collision, incorrect lifting and improper support and blocking when hauling out, repeatedly beating into coming waves, improperly torqued keel bolts, etc.

You can also put down the separation of the keel from the hull at the forward edge to old age.

The good news is that you can mostly fix this Catalina Smile at a reasonable cost. However, this will depend on how far the crack has gone and if any water incursion has occurred. In addition, just patching over the crack will result in the cracks returning over a short time.

Catalina has issued a bulletin with their specifications on making a correct repair, plus there are several good websites with videos showing how to do it.

Deck Failures Due To Water Seepage

Unfortunately, deck failures are quite common on older Catalina models.

The older models had undersized chainplates attached directly through the hull and were prone to leaks. But any through-hull fitting where holes have been drilled and not properly caulked can be a source of water intrusion.

Fiberglass boat decks typically use a ‘sandwich’ manufacturing process that combines fiberglass, foam, and wood layers. This combination has proven capabilities for being light, strong, and preventing leaks inside your boat.

However, if the upper fiberglass layer develops any cracks or seepage from a through-hull fitting, water can get inside and damage the core, which can cause deck failure.

Water damage that causes a rotting core can be identified by soft or spongy patches on the deck. If these soft spots on a Catalina sailboat’s deck are small, they can usually be fixed quite easily, although you will have to remove the damaged part and re-glass a repair.

If the rot has spread or reached a structural bulkhead, then it becomes a bigger, more expensive problem to fix.

Mast Compression Post & Block Issues

Many older Catalina models came with aluminum deck-stepped masts rather than keel-stepped masts.

A deck-stepped mast is fixed securely to a reinforced section of the deck. The mast is supported by a wooden compression post that continues down to the keel. There, a compression block supports it in the bilge.

The advantage of a deck-stepped mast is that there should be less water leaking down the mast into the boat as it doesn’t penetrate the deck. However, the disadvantages of a deck-stepped mast may include mast compression problems identified by cracking in the deck or ceiling around the mast or compression post.

Alternatively, you may notice cracks along the front edge of the bilge access where the wood column meets the floor.

Most compression issues can be traced to the compression block failing. As it is in the bilge and is made of wood, the block often rots and needs replacing. To replace this block, the mast will need to be removed.

If you do find you need to replace the block, you can order a replacement block from Catalina along with the installation directions.

Final Thoughts

Despite or because of their more than 50 years in business, Catalina Yachts have one of the best reputations in the business.

In general, customer satisfaction with Catalina Yachts is very high, with the company having one of the highest rates of repeat customers.

This can be attributed to the great support that owners get through the various Catalina Associations, Catalina Yachts themselves, and Catalina Direct, an independent provider of upgrades and parts for older boats.


Catalina Yachts

Catalina Direct

Common Issues With Catalina Yacht Sailboats

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