Which Yacht is that? Classifying Cruisers

Calling a boat a “cruiser” is something that happens quite easily. Alas, it doesn’t mean an awful lot, because the term as such covers quite a variety of different boats. Classifying different types of cruisers can be tricky. In this article, I give a brief overview to common types of cruiser yachts and how to recognize them.

Traditionally, the term “cruiser” refers to sailing or motor yachts that were built for long distance sailing (or travelling) and offered enough comfort and space to live on the boat permanently. This would not allow to carry cargo and, by definition, exclude racer yachts.

These days, things are getting a bit blurred. On the one hand, cruisers diverge and come in a variety of different forms and classes. On the other hand, cruiser designs merge with designs of racers, blurring out the sharp boarder between these two types of yachts.

Apart from the material used to build a particular boat (wood, steel, aluminum, glassfiber-reinforced plastic or ferro-cement), most sailors differ between six classes of boats that come with specific functions and features.

Types of Cruiser Yachts

1.) Traditional Cruisers: Easy, that one. This is basically what everybody called a “cruiser” until the 1960ies brought the explosion in different designs. Usually more narrow and deeper than modern cruisers, traditional ones are often built of wood. Many traditional cruisers are made for true aficionados and come with lots of polished teak and brass. The rigging is normally matching the traditional style, and consists typically of a gaff or Bermuda. Many traditional cruisers use actual canvas for the sails.

2.) Family Cruisers: This type of cruiser occupies the biggest market share and if you walk down the average marina in North America or Europe, family cruisers will occupy more than half the spots dedicated to sailing yachts. As modern mass products, they are almost always built cost efficiently in GRP, have a big hull with generous, comfortable interiors and made for safety rather than speed.

3.) Trailer Cruisers: Flexibility is the strong point of trailer cruisers. They come with a narrow hull and a lifting daggerboard. The masts can be easily dismounted and the whole cruiser fits on a trailer. This enables sailors to be independent of a permanent marina and makes trailer cruisers the ideal boat for people who want to cruise in different waters.

4.) Cruiser-Racers: The hybrid mentioned above is a child of recent years, in which cruisers were blended with features traditionally associated with racer boats. They are lighter and, especially compared to family cruisers, rank speed over comfort and safety. They usually come with large Bermuda-sloop rigs.

"Other" Cruiser Yachts

Furthermore, there are “other cruisers”. They can be divided into “One-Off Cruisers” and “Modern Production Cruisers”. The former term refers to custom-made cruisers that would otherwise be hard to classify. Many yacht manufacturers are open to consider individual needs and desires, some even offer different modules that sailors can choose from.

They can even stick them together themselves – almost like buying a boat from a particular Swedish furniture company. One-Offs are often among the most expensive yachts or built by aficionados that blend features of traditional cruisers with modern designs. The second class of “Modern Production Cruisers” refers to modern designs that don’t fit into any of the other categories, but are built in serial production.

Further Reading

Back to "boats"

How to Choose a Sailboat

Guide to Parts of a Boat

Which Boat is that? Dinghy Classification

Wikipedia on Maritime Cruising

Wikipedia on Sailboats

Cruising resources on DMOZ