What Exactly Is A Blue Water Boat? (5 Things To Know)

There are many different types of boats available.

Some are specifically used on freshwater lakes, and others are designed for coastal sailing or use on the open ocean. Some brands or models can be used for either.

So how do you choose a blue water boat?

We’ll be looking at what sets a blue water boat apart from the other boats out there:

What Exactly Is A Blue Water Boat?

A blue water boat is a boat that can support an independent lifestyle safely on the ocean for long periods. In addition, a blue water boat should be designed to handle and be out in rough seas far from land.

All boats are an incredibly personal choice, and there are many different shapes and sizes. Not every boat will tick all the boxes, and compromises are often made.

While there are many discussions about a blue water boat definition, everyone can agree that certain traits are to look for.

So let’s take a closer look at some of the things that make a great blue water boat.

It’s Not About The Size

If you consider long-term cruising and, more specifically, crossing oceans, you need to think about a blue water boat. Some people think a blue water boat is about size, but this is not always true—some exceptional small blue water boat designs like the Bristol 27 or the Westsail 32.

The size of a typical blue water yacht has increased over the years, with today’s average being between 10 – 15 meters (or 33 – 50 feet).

The size of a blue water boat is hugely subjective. Some people are perfectly comfortable on a small sailboat, while others feel safer on a larger, more spacious yacht.

Under The Waterline

Traditionally, blue water boats are stronger, heavier (which makes them more stable), and slower than production boats.

Whereas production boats are lighter, generally making them faster, they are more uncomfortable in heavy seas.

A blue water boat’s hull should be moderate to heavy displacement and feature a long keel. However, nowadays, this long keel is becoming less common in new boats as more and more people favor the more modern fin keel.

The advantages and disadvantages of a long keel compared to a fin keel are as follows:

The Pros:

  • A long keel is usually built into the hull, making the connection stronger than a bolted-on fin keel.
  • A long-keeled boat is easier to handle and more comfortable in heavy weather. You can ‘heave-to’ or stop a long-keel boat more easily than a fin-keeled boat to ride out a storm, effect repairs, or even catch up on some sleep.
  • Also, a long-keeled boat stays on a course or tracks better, especially going downwind in large seas.
  • In addition, a long keel generally has a shallower draft than a fin keel, making a long keeled boat more suitable for shallow waters.

The Cons:

  • The main problem with a long keel is that there is more drag than a fin keel, which means a long-keeled boat is slower.
  • A long keel makes tacking or gybing more difficult and sometimes even impossible in light wind.
  • A long keel makes maneuvering in confined spaces (like in a marina) very tricky, and they are known for being impossible to steer when trying to reverse.

Type Of Rig For A Blue Water Boat

A sloop or cutter rig is the most common rig on blue water boats. The rigging should be no older than 10 years and inspected thoroughly before leaving.

The foresail or genoa should be on a roller-furler for easy reefing. However, in-mast furling on the mainsail causes too much weight in the wrong places and is a major problem to fix should something go wrong.

You can’t go wrong with a good slab-reefing system for the mainsail setup. The lines can be led aft to the cockpit for simple single-line reefing and backed up with a stack pack to collect any dropped sail. This system makes handling a large mainsail a breeze for short-handed sailing.

Choose a cutter rig over a sloop rig for a blue water boat. The main advantage of a cutter rig is flying a staysail or storm jib from the second or inner forestay. This provides more options for both light wind and heavy weather conditions.

The inner sail can also be on a roller furling system, so there is no need to go forward to hank on a storm sail in bad weather.

Another advantage of a cutter rig is that you have a backup forestay already installed should the main forestay fail.

Large Tanks For Water & Fuel

Blue water boats can cross oceans, which can sometimes take many weeks. Therefore, carrying adequate water, fuel, and food stores is extremely important.

The most important supply is fresh water. A serious blue water boat will have large freshwater tanks that will last a crew for at least three weeks. You will need water for drinking, and also for cooking and washing.

You need to calculate roughly 5 liters of water per person per day as a general rule. If you’re crossing an ocean, you need to calculate the number of days you think you will take and add a few more to be safe. So, if you’re planning a 3-week trip, you will need approximately 240 – 480 liters of water (about 50 – 100 gallons) for a crew of 2 or more.

In addition, you will need to carry enough fuel. For example, if you have no other means of charging your batteries, you will need to fire up your engine for a few hours, maybe twice a day, to keep your batteries charged.

It’s good to know how much fuel your engine uses per hour at certain revs. Different sizes and types of engines will use different amounts of fuel. So another good tip is to know your boat inside and out before going offshore.

Typically, a true blue water boat will have more tank and storage capacities than a production boat like a Hunter, Catalina, or a Beneteau.

However, production boats do make ocean crossings. They can increase their storage capacity by adding an assortment of jerry cans for extra fuel and water or even have a watermaker installed.

Although watermakers have been known to fail, so it makes sense always to carry enough water.

Comfortable & Practical Accommodation

Comfortable and practical accommodation on a blue water boat can be divided into two distinct categories – when at anchor or in a marina, compared to being underway.

What is comfortable in a marina often works against a boat at sea. However, most bluewater cruisers spend more time at anchor when they’ve reached their destination than on a passage.

It’s important to be safe at sea and to be able to get some sleep on long voyages!

The modern-day production boats all look impressive at a boat show. They’re spacious, roomy, and have more than 1 head (or bathroom). However, are there safe sea berths where you can sleep when you’re heeling at 10 – 15 degrees?

Equally important is to have a protected cockpit that provides shelter both from the sun and bad weather, especially on long lonely night watches.

Something else to consider is easy-to-reach handholds to make moving around a blue water boat safe.

While modern boats’ spacious interiors look very nice and are practical to liveaboard when at anchor or in a marina, are there places to grab as you get thrown around at sea, or even somewhere to wedge yourself into for safety?

Final Thoughts

There are many discussions on cruising and boating forums about what makes a blue water boat.

Ultimately a blue water boat does come down to personal choice. Some blue water sailors won’t leave port without all the comforts, including ice makers and air conditioning; others will do with the basics.

You can fit any boat with the latest electronic and navigation packages. However, the most important details for a blue water boat are to be self-sufficient and safe at sea.

No matter what systems you have installed, your blue water boat should be strong enough to withstand the most brutal conditions. In addition, you should know your boat inside out and be able to fix these systems or have a plan to make do without them.


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