How Big A Sailboat Is Needed To Cross The Atlantic Ocean?

In Boatingby Morten Storgaard

So, you’ve decided to take a sailing trip across the Atlantic? This is one of the most adventurous and thrilling sailing decisions you could make.

But now you most likely have questions. The biggest question being:

How big a sailboat do I need to cross the Atlantic?
For crossing the Atlantic Ocean you should aim for a boat that is at least 30-40 feet long. An experienced sailor can do with less. The smallest sailboat to cross the Atlantic Ocean was a 5 by 4 feet sailboat. The record holder is Hugo Vihlen.

While this is a valid question, there are many factors to consider beyond size.

In this article, we researched all that you need to know for your Atlantic Crossing Adventure.

The 1993 World Record Breaker

When preparing for your journey across the Atlantic, your biggest worry is probably: is my boat too small? Chances are it is not.

In 1993 the record was set for the smallest boat to ever cross the Atlantic Ocean. The record was set by Hugo Vihlen on a boat named “Father’s Day”. “Father’s Day” measures in at 5 feet and 4 inches in length. It can now be found at the National Maritime Museum at Cornwall.

“Father’s Day” still holds the World Record to this day.

So What Size Do I Need?

If you are planning a trip across the Atlantic Ocean, ​the size of your boat is more a question of personal preference and needs.

One mistake you don’t want to make is going too big or small for the crew at hand. While it is common to crave more space and privacy, you do not want to take out a boat that is too big to handle. If you are planning to make the trip solo or even as a small team of two, you will want to be sure that you pick something that can easily be sailed by one person.

We recommend taking off in a sailboat that is around 30-40 feet long or bigger. This is to make sure you can withstand rough weather and bigger waves.

That being said, it’s definitely possible to cross the Atlantic ocean in smaller sailboats. But unless you are a very seasoned and experienced sailor you shouldn’t take off in a boat any smaller than 30 feet.

This will be helpful in case of emergency situations and any other challenges that may arise.
If you plan to travel with a larger crew, then you will be able to a lot for more space. However, you will want to keep in mind, ​the bigger the boat, the bigger the expense!

Other Things to Keep in Mind when Selecting a Vessel:

Size is not the only thing you should be concerned about when choosing your vessel to sail across the ocean in.

Other factors include but are not limited to:

  • Number of Hulls
    Mono-hulled boats are more traditional and are much more stable in dangerous weather conditions. Multi-hulled boats are being created safer every day and can be used on the open ocean, however, they are more work in treacherous conditions.
  • Rudder type
    When choosing a boat, you will want to avoid suspended rudder types as they have been known to be vulnerable. No matter what type of rudder you do use, make sure you have an emergency backup.
  • Keel type
    The best type of Keel for open ocean travel is a fixed keel. A keel fixed in the center is ideal for this type of travel.
  • Sails
    Ensure that your sails are as strong as possible as well as being easy to manage. You want to make sure there are no sail issues while traveling.

How Long of a Trip Should I Expect?

When planning to take this trip you should expect it to last about 3 to 4 weeks. This accounts for normal travel as well as accounting for a possible lack of wind.

When measuring your route’s distance keep in mind that boats do not often travel in a straight line. You should plan for the possibility of up to 20% more distance traveled than your planned route.

Average travel time can also vary based on multiple factors. ​

These can include:

  • What type of ship selected.
  • The size of the selected ship.
  • Your personal sailing skills and speed.
  • Your chosen route.

Atlantic Sailing Routes

One of the most important aspects of your trip is the trip itself!

There are two major routes to take when choosing to sail across the Atlantic Ocean and they have a high impact on travel time.

The most important decision to make is whether you will go east to west or west to east.

If you are traveling from Europe to the Americas you will sail South-East to the Caribbean most likely from Portugal or the Canary Islands.

Going South-East instead of straight across might seem out of the way, but this is how you will get the strongest winds and kindest weather conditions.

Your trip from Europe to the Americas, depending on where you land, can average between three to four weeks.

A journey from the Americas to Europe will still average between three to four weeks but generally takes sailors longer than the South-East route.

The best route to take when traveling from the Americas to Europe would be to depart from Bermuda and land on the Portuguese coast.

How Big of a Challenge Should I Expect?

Sailing across the ocean is no easy task. ​

Before you embark you want to be sure that you are capable of meeting the challenge!
​Novice sailors should be careful, mistakes made on this journey could be potentially fatal.

Not only can the journey be challenging, it can also be nerve-wracking. Confidence in your ability should help calm your nerves, but you may want to evaluate how comfortable you feel with the journey, your equipment, and your sailing skills.
One major precaution to take is to avoid setting out in hurricane season. This normally lasts from the months of June to November. It is wisest to head out after hurricane season.

Even in the hurricane off-season, you should ensure you are prepared if you come across a storm. Out in the open ocean, waves can get larger than anything closer to shore. With an experienced sailor on board, most boats are set to handle the challenge of any type of weather.

This is exactly why you don’t want to be sailing in too small of a boat when crossing the Atlantic Ocean, or the Pacific ocean for that matter.

One challenge that comes with cross ocean travel is loneliness. In a one-month solo journey across the ocean with nothing to look at but endless water and no one to talk to can be challenging for the average person.

What Should I Bring?

Another major question you probably have is: what do I need?

It would not be wise to take off without all the necessary essentials. The ocean does not have any rest stops or quick convenient stores so you will need to be prepared.

Most importantly you will want to make sure you pack enough fuel. Whatever fuel you think you will need for the journey, you will want to bring at least 33% more.

More things use fuel than you might immediately think, including all your equipment. You will want to be confident that you have enough to power everything you need before you depart so you know you will have full use of your craft and equipment for the entire journey.

One way to you might consider to ensure you will not run out of power is to have alternatives on board, such as solar panels. This will provide energy throughout the entire trip without taking up too much cargo space.

Along with fuel for your craft you will want to make sure you have food and water for yourself. Make sure to pack enough that will last the longest possible length of your trip.

Packing enough water is a key element to your survival. Dehydration can be extremely harmful to you and can cause sailing mistakes due to fatigue and other symptoms.
While you are out on the water in the exposed sun, risk of dehydration is higher than normal so you will need more water per day than you would otherwise typically consume.

Clothing and correct skin protection is also something that should be considered while packing. Both warm and cooler clothes will be useful on the trip.

Some other essentials to bring include:

  • A watch or other time keeping device
  • Sleeping gear
  • Toiletries
  • Waterproof bags
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat
  • Sun protection for your skin
  • Knife and other survival utensils such as can be found on a swiss army knife.

While you want to make sure you have everything you will need, you also don’t want to over pack. The more room you preserve for the essentials the better.

You will also benefit from cutting down on the luxuries. Your main focus will be sailing and there won’t be time for much else.

Are There any Tips I Should Know About?

Some tips for your journey include:

  • Focus on speed!
    Your main focus should be arriving at your destination as quickly as you can.
  • Keep your journey simple!
    A month-long trek across the ocean is not the time to try out unnecessary fancy equipment. You don’t want to be fiddling around with too much stuff when your focus should be on the ocean and your journey.

The most important thing to keep in mind is to have faith and confidence in your ability to succeed.​

If it is your goal to sail across the Atlantic Ocean you can do it!

Many people make this journey every year in multiple vessels. My advice is to not get too bogged down in the specific size of your boat.

If you prepare properly you should have an amazing journey across the Atlantic Ocean!

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