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How Well Does a Catamaran Handle a Storm? (And Strategies)

When we head out to sea, we want to know that we’re traveling in one of the safest vessels, therefore choosing a cat is the ideal decision. Not only will you have an enjoyable trip, but you’re sailing into the unknown with confidence. 

We are assured because of what the manufacturers say, but because we’ve tried and proven varying sizes of cats through rough and mild weather, and they’ve not failed so far.  In open water, bigger catamarans are very safe due to their inherent design and size.

Experts will tell you that a huge modern cat has great buoyancy and extraordinary roll resistance. Jointly, these characteristics make the likelihood of an inversion or capsize slim to none. A breaking wave upward of 30 feet slamming against a cat abeam will merely cause sideways surfing of the vessel.

Let’s take an in-depth look at how cats handle storms from the smallest to the biggest to help you make an informed decision on which type to buy.

old catamarans

How Well Does a Catamaran Handle a Storm?

You must decide if your intended course places you on a beam reach as its breaking wave is the most taxing on the catamaran.

Most catamaran designs meet CE Class A-1 standards for open water. However, a catamaran’s slab sides and wide windows getting hit by a 90-degree wall of water put the boat at the highest risk. Choose a route that places the wind and waves in front of or behind the stern of the ship’s hull.

You can make better selections if you’re aware of the wind’s direction. For instance, if you know where you’ll be going during a passage, you may want to shoot higher than you normally would. Aim low if you’re worried about being thrown around in the passage. Avoid beam-on seas at all costs! I can’t stress this enough! Cats are better able to withstand hits if they are not directly in line with your path.

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Sail formats will be the same as those above, but the traveler will have a more leeward position. The heel angle is important. On a beam reach, steering clear of a storm is tough and time-consuming. If you’re unsure, go for a different reef, and even if the wind seems to be calming, don’t rush to shake those reefs out. You should keep your cat’s leeward board up and the weatherboard lowered if it has any boarding. Make adjustments to your mainsheet to keep the helm in balance.

Gale-force winds are usually predicted months in advance. Catamarans sailed by experienced sailors can be placed on the backside or downwind quadrant of low-pressure systems to avoid them. Sailing in gales may bring back some of your most treasured sailing memories once you’ve mastered your boat and a few gusts of wind.

What are High-risk Passages for Cats?

stability

It is unlikely that you will ever encounter gale force winds or other life-threatening circumstances while sailing offshore due to advanced communications. During the winter and summer months, the most dangerous routes are those that cross the north-south axis.

To get a good thrashing off-shore, try sailing in late fall or early spring between the Caribbean and New England, New Zealand and the South Pacific, or along Europe’s eastern Atlantic.

How Various Catamarans Perform in Storms 

There are two main categories of catamarans today: high-performance and charter.

High-performance Cats

main characteristics of a catamaran hull

Smaller displacement, less windage, deep rudders, centerboards, or daggerboards are common features of high-performance catamarans. A TWA that’s between 45 and 50 degrees is possible in practically all weather situations.

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Even the best keelboats can’t match the windward performance of a high-performance cruising catamaran. Sail selection is critical for their safety in all situations, given their small weight and large sail plans. Higher speeds, lighter loads, and a well-balanced vehicle are the keys to coping with storm conditions.

These two categories do not fit all catamarans equally; different approaches to operating such vessels should be taken into consideration. Make a reasonable appraisal of the vessel before you set off on an ocean voyage. 

The boat’s manufacturer should also provide you with a sail-selection chart that specifies safe sail limitations for each given weather scenario. A simple heeling scale might well be useful if no such guidance is available.

Charter Catamarans

bridgedeck

Heavier displacements, shorter bows, low-aspect low-aspect rudders, integrated fixed keels, and high-windage flybridges, are characteristic features of production catamarans produced for the charter market.

In even the best flat-water situations, these boats battle to make ample windward progress and usually sail close-hauled at actual wind angles between 55 and 60 degrees (TWA).

Catamaran heavy-weather techniques should focus on retaining control and obtaining a modest speed without putting the boat or her crew in perilous situations.

Handling Storms in Cat

what to wear on a catamaran

Whether we’re in the open sea or a limited leeward passageway will determine how we ride out the storm.

The High-performance Cat

On a lee shore, a high-performance cat will find it simpler to get out of the water. The leeward daggerboard can be raised and sailed on only one windward if the conditions are extreme.

In this way, if the boat is overpowered, and the weather hull begins to rise, the cat will start slide-slipping as the board loses grip, instead of heeling. The helm must be balanced in daggerboard boats.

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Many daggerboard cats need an inner forestay with a stay sail or storm jib to accomplish this. ‘ However, provided the daggerboards aren’t set forward too much, you’ll be fine with a deep-reefed main.

To find out what works best for your boat, try out a few different configurations and see what happens. If you trim the leech for helm balance and lower the traveler by several feet, the boat will sail well under the main alone.

As with daggerboard cats, the centerboard catamaran may be tuned for performance by trimming the mainsail and re-calibrating the centerboard angle.

Performance cats can sail upward of 14 knots to the windward in the best situations. Speeds from 7 to 9 knots should be ideal for gale-force winds. Taking it easy on a boat makes it easier for everyone.

The Charter Cat 

Windward-facing catamaran configuration is necessary if you have a restricted amount of space in the water. Only one headsail is available on most charter cats, a genoa that can only be used in light wind conditions. Such a vessel may only have a reefed mainsail like a heavy-weather sailplane.

You should ease the traveler a few feet down from the centerline when sailing under a heavily-reefed main on your own so that you can make progress. Tracking your progress is easy with GPS and optical bearings (if you’re near the shore).

Inspect the Helm Balance

The mainsheet should be eased to induce more twists in the leech if the autopilot is having trouble, as indicated by the rudders reporting numerous degrees of weather helm. The pilot will appreciate the relief. Sheeting in the mainsail can be done more strongly when the boat’s steering wheel is in a neutral position.

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The idea is to keep moving forward without having to deal with any slack. It’s possible to cruise at a speed between 5 and 7 knots in almost any weather. The leeward engine should be used if the sea state causes problems.

Handling a Cat When the Storm is Raging 

cruising

The charter cats’ low-aspect rudders are often in the turbulence of the water beneath the hull. Don’t expect a solid grip or a quick steering response from them. For this breed of cat, it can be difficult to navigate rough and choppy waters.

Even if gaining speed can help, the utmost aim in a storm is to avoid having the bows sunk into the next wave plus avoid having the transoms breached by larger breaking waves arriving from behind.

It is possible to use warps to your advantage. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways. If a warp is used in a large loop with the ends tied to each transom, you can change the length of every warp to assist with the rudder’s balance.

Your Best Ally Is Speed

The bows of contemporary performance cats can rise in response to their increased speed, and going faster has no disadvantages. The less likely you are to encounter a large wave impact, the nearer you sail to the speed of a wave train.

You can use an outboard rail that’s jib-sheeted or a deeply reefed mainsail can be used. There will still be a smooth and satisfying ride even upward of 60 knots of wind. To maintain lightweight pilots and rudders, always check the helm balance.

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Holding Your Ground With a Cat During a Storm

what to pack for a week on a catamaran

You can use “Parking the Cat” throughout a storm to stop and hold your ground, same as tugging into the monohull.

Park by deep-reefing your main, lowering your traveler to the hull, and securing the mainsheet firmly in place. The rudders should be pushed against the wind, so draw your boards up midway if you have any.