9 Best Liveaboard Catamaran: Sail Away and Explore the World in Style!

Published Categorized as Boats, Buying Guides

Liveaboard catamaran sailboats are some of the most comfortable vessels on the water for long-term living and traveling. The choices when shopping for a cruising catamaran can be daunting, however.

So, without further ado, here are some of the best liveaboard catamaran sailboats that are 40-plus-foot and comfortable for long-term offshore cruising.

liveaboard catamaran

Table of Contents

9 Best Catamaran for Liveaboard

Picking the right liveaboard catamaran for your crew is a big choice. This list has been handpicked based on personal experience of years living on the water. 

Antares 44Gorgeous, seaworthy, comfortable, good support
Knysna 440/500Extremely well built, high quality, pretty
Leopard 42/43/45/47Shaft drives, good looks, spacious, popular
Lagoon 42/46Self-tacking jib, modern design, open layout
Manta 38/40/42Quality construction, good reputation
Privilege 42/435/45/445/465High quality, well-designed
Catana 401/42/431/471Performance-oriented, dual helm stations
Fountaine Pajot Orana 44/Helia 44Good balance of features, right size
Voyage/Norseman 380/400/440/470Open cockpits, easy walkaround, low windage

Note that some of these are grouped based on the boat model. Many times, a boat goes out of production, and the hull molds get bought by another yard. They change the name and sell it under their brand. As a result, you will find a lot of boats listed with multiple names.

Are you looking for a smaller, cheaper option? Check out our list of cheap catamarans, including many older and smaller models that can be gotten for a bargain. 

Best Liveaboard Catamaran Options

1. Antares 44

Originally built by Canadian builder PDQ, it’s now produced by an Argentine company. The Antares 44 is one of the few purpose-built yachts for owners and cruisers.

They include training with new boat sails and have excellent after-sales support. The boats are gorgeous and some of the most seaworthy and well-appointed catamarans on the market, with high bridge deck clearance and everything to make life aboard as comfortable as possible.

2. Knysna 440/500

Knysna is a boutique, semi-custom yacht maker from South Africa. Their boats are extremely well built to a very high standard. The designs came from the St. Francis boats (also really nice options!) but have been updated and redesigned. Knysnas are some of the prettiest cruising cats you’ll ever see. 

3. Leopard 42/43/45/47 (circa 1998–2004)

These early Leopard models had a lot going for them. The 43 is probably the most popular, but the 42 is in the same boat but a few years older.

The Leopard 43 was made popular recently by the Gone With the Wynns YouTube sailing channel. What’s to like? They’ve got shaft drives (not sail drives, so less maintenance), good looks, spacious cabins, and lots of living spaces. 

4. Lagoon 42/46 (circa 2018)

This newer line of Lagoons has a self-tacking jib and sleek, modern design. What we like most is the layouts, which have wide open spaces between the salon, cockpit, and helm station.

5. Manta 38/40/42

Manta was a US builder with a great reputation for building quality boats. They only built one model, which started as the 38 and progressively got more and more added to the transoms (sugar scoops). 

6. Alliaura Marine Privilege 42/435/45/445/465

These older French boats were built to a much higher quality standard than current charter boats. They’re well-designed, even if the layouts are a bit dated by modern standards. There are many offshore cruisers that have been comfortably live aboard Privilege owners for years.

7. Catana 401/42/431/471

Catana is a performance-oriented French company. Their boats have distinctive daggerboards, narrow hulls, and asymmetric hulls. Catana now also makes the new Bali line of charter liveaboard catamarans. One of the company’s trademarks are the dual helm stations mounted aft on each hull, a really fun place to sail from.

8. Fountaine Pajot Orana 44/Helia 44

Many FPs could be on the list, but the 44s are my favorite. They have just the right balance of good looks, useable space, and a workable layout, and it is just the right size. For tours and videos of the Helia, check out the Out Chasing Stars YouTube channel.

9. Voyage/Norseman 380/400/440/470

A South African yard from the early 2000s, the Voyage boats have a nice feature set and are built well. Unique for the era, these boats have open cockpits and easy walk-around side decks. Compared to many of today’s cats, these have low windage and low-slug decks for a sleek, seaworthy look.

Why a Liveaboard Catamaran?

Whether you want to set off and sail the world or just live comfortably while tied to a dock, catamarans are a great way to do it.

Catamarans first became popular with charter companies because they had more space to sleep more people. But something else became apparent quickly—non-sailors liked them. While they have all the parts and equipment to sail, they also have more space for guests to spread out. Everyone can have a private cabin, and there’s tons of space on deck to lounge where ever you like.

What’s more, the space on a catamaran feels different. The salon, the main living area in the cabin, is up high on the bridge deck. It has large windows that let in lots of air and light. A sliding patio door opens directly into a large cockpit, usually with bench seating for up to ten people and a dedicated large table for meals. All of this is separate from sailing controls and the helm, which is nearby but not in the way.

The dream of sailing and living on a sailboat appeals to many people until those people see the inside of a typical monohull sailboat. 

You see, the classic sailboat is cramped and dark. Many sailors describe the cabin of their sailboat as a “cave.” Windows are limited. Every inch of space in a sailboat has a purpose, so the space is usually packed with furniture, storage lockers, and need-to-have items. The outdoor space, called the cockpit, is crammed around the sailing controls and the helm or wheel. Getting between the cabin and cockpit requires climbing a steep ladder. The deck space is taken up with lines and sails, with no room designed to stretch out and enjoy yourself. And then you step on a catamaran.

The difference between a regular monohull sailboat and a catamaran is night and day. If you look at pictures of the two, the monohull is undoubtedly a boat. But the promo shots of a catamaran could be a seaside cottage or tiny house. It’s more comfortable and more approachable for the non-boater despite the spacious interior. And for boaters, it represents a huge step up in space and comfort

liveaboard catamaran

Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Liveaboard Catamaran

Here are some critical questions to ask yourself before making this investment:

  1. Purpose and Use: What is your primary purpose for the catamaran? Are you planning long-term cruising, weekend getaways, or perhaps a mix of living aboard and chartering? Understanding your primary use will help guide your choice in terms of size, layout, and features.
  2. Budget: What is your total budget, including purchase price, outfitting, and ongoing maintenance costs? Remember, the purchase price is just the beginning; insurance, docking fees, maintenance, and potential upgrades can add significantly to the overall cost.
  3. Size and Layout: What size of catamaran suits your needs? Consider the length and beam in terms of living space, comfort, and handling. Additionally, how many cabins and heads (bathrooms) do you need? The layout should accommodate your living and privacy needs, especially if planning to have guests or family aboard.
  4. Sailing Performance vs. Comfort: What is your preference regarding sailing performance versus living comfort? Some catamarans are designed for speed and agility, while others prioritize spacious living areas and amenities. Your sailing plans (long passages vs. coastal cruising) will influence this decision.
  5. Single-handed Sailing Capability: Will you often be sailing solo or with a crew? It’s crucial to consider how easily you can manage the catamaran by yourself or what kind of crew you will need for longer passages.
  6. Equipment and Amenities: What equipment and amenities are essential for your lifestyle? Consider navigation equipment, safety gear, kitchen appliances, energy systems (solar panels, generators), water makers, and storage capacity.
  7. New vs. Used: Are you considering buying a new or used catamaran? New boats offer the latest designs and technologies, along with warranties, but at a higher cost. Used boats can offer significant savings but may require more upfront maintenance or upgrades.
  8. Inspection and Survey: Are you prepared to have the catamaran thoroughly inspected by a professional marine surveyor? This is crucial for identifying any issues or potential maintenance concerns, especially with used boats.
  9. Docking and Mooring: Have you considered where you will dock or moor your catamaran? Availability, costs, and accessibility of marinas or mooring spaces can vary significantly by location.
  10. Lifestyle Fit: Does living aboard a catamaran align with your lifestyle and comfort level? Consider the implications of living in a smaller, mobile space, including storage limitations, privacy, and the need for a certain level of physical mobility and adaptability.
  11. Insurance and Registration: Have you researched the insurance and registration requirements for your catamaran? These can vary by location and the type of sailing you plan to do.
  12. Exit Strategy: Finally, what is your exit strategy? Consider how long you plan to keep the catamaran and how easy it will be to sell when the time comes.

Reflecting on these questions can help you make an informed decision that aligns with your sailing aspirations, lifestyle preferences, and financial situation.

Picking the Best Catamaran for Liveaboard Life

There’s a lot to look at when thinking about catamaran liveaboards.

Here are a few things to consider as you browse Yachtworld, Sailboat Listings, and Catamaransite.

Performance Cats vs. Cruising Cats

Cats are unfairly divided into two groups, but it’s often oversimplified. All catamarans are built for cruising once they’re above a certain size (about 35 feet). At the same time, all catamarans are built for some amount of performance. The trick is figuring out which manufacturers balance these two things the same way you do.

Cruising catamarans are generally charter cats from companies like Lagoon, Leopard, Fountaine Pajot, and Bali. These boats lean on the side of having bigger hulls, stub keels, and easier-to-sail rigs. They still sail well, though. Unless you’re a racing sailor, know that most owners are very happy with how these catamarans sail. 

There are also a few companies making cruising cats that are aimed at private owners. Antares and Knyesna are two examples of spacious cruising catamarans perfect for living aboard. These are built semi-custom and are more likely to have space dedicated for storage, workspace, and offices.

Performance catamarans usually have smaller accommodations and sleeker profiles. They are also likelier to have daggerboards than stub keels, narrow hulls, and more sail area. Brand examples include Catana, Outremer, Maine Cat, and Gunboat. They’re built as lightly as possible out of the best materials and aim for the highest speeds and the most miles sailed per day. Boats in this category are much more expensive due to their higher construction costs and more advanced features.

More and more companies are spouting up with their own balance of performance vs. cruising space. No company picks one or the other; they all make compromises somewhere.

Size — What’s Too Small and What’s Too Big?

Picking the right size for your catamaran is important. If you’ve been boating on a few types of vessels, you might have some ideas. But if you’re shopping online, it is almost impossible to tell. 

As a rule of thumb, the smallest liveaboard catamarans are usually between 35 and 40 feet long. This isn’t just about accommodations, it’s about weight-carry capacity. It’s very easy to overload a catamaran, affecting both its performance and stability. If you’re a couple and want to go long-distance cruising, a 38-foot-class cat is best. This has space for you, your stuff, and an occasional guest or two.

If your budget allows, a 42 to 44-foot class boat is superior in a few ways. If you often have guests or more kids coming with you, this size boat is about right. They also carry more load, perform better (more miles per day), and ride better in a choppy sea.

Of course, there are couples cruising out there who couldn’t possibly do it on anything less than 65 or 70 feet! The size of your boat is a personal choice based not only on your budget but what you are comfortable with.

You really won’t know where you fit until you get on some boats. Visit a major boat show to get aboard some boats. Even if they don’t have the exact models you like the most, you can probably get an idea of what sizes work. If you’re close to buying, you can also enlist the services of a buyers broker to show you around some boats and help you pick the right size for your trip.

However, It must be said that bigger boats come with bigger price tags—for as long as you own it. Just looking at asking prices, you’ll quickly see that they leap at intervals as the boats become more complex. A nice, sail-away-ready 38-footer can be found for $250,000, but a 45-footer in similar condition will likely be over $400,000.

But everything is more expensive on a bigger boat, not just the purchase price. Dock space, boatyard fees, and most labor tasks (waxing, bottom paint, rerigging, etc.) are priced based on the boat length, not time. It is always beneficial to buy the smallest boat you’re comfortable on and save the extra money for longer cruises and future boat projects!

Build Quality and Longevity

When shopping for a catamaran, it’s really important to gauge the build quality of the boat. This can be a daunting task for first-time buyers as you learn about how these boats are made and the differences between manufacturers. 

The bottom line is this—since catamarans are built for speed and performance, they are built lightly with modern techniques and materials. Unfortunately, most boat builders aren’t paying much attention to how that boat will last after ten or twenty years of pounding across oceans. Stress and flexing issues on these boats are real, as are manufacturing issues that don’t appear until years later.

If you’re looking to buy a used boat, you want to ensure it’s been built by a reputable builder and has been taken care of. Therefore, a survey from a professional who knows about catamarans is really important. 

Features of the Catamaran Liveaboard

For liveaboards, a few layouts and features set catamaran designs apart from one another. 

  • Owners vs. charter layouts
  • Galley-up vs. galley-down design
  • Open transoms vs. closed cockpits

Owners vs. Charter Layouts

Since many catamarans were designed and built for charter use, their layouts often feature as many staterooms as possible with en suite heads (bathrooms). This enables groups of couples to pool their resources and travel on a boat but still have personal space and privacy. It also allows hiring a crew to work the boat for your charter and for everyone to have separate accommodations.

The result is a pretty common layout found in many catamarans that features four cabins and four heads. The 4/4 will have a bunk on each end of the hull, each connected to a small bathroom and shower. If the catamaran is under 40 feet, it might be a 4/2 with only one larger bathroom in each hull. If you assume two per bed, and the salon settee converts into a fifth bunk, this boat could conceivably sleep ten. 

A private owner probably doesn’t need or want this many bunks. Most boats are owned by cruising couples that occasionally have friends visit or small families with one or two kids. Two bunks are plenty.

For this situation, the owner’s version layouts are much better. In this case, the owner’s stateroom takes up an entire hull. There’s extra storage space, a very large head, and a more spacious cabin. Plus, you usually get a very roomy separate shower that feels like home. All that extra space can make an office space or room to install amenities like a washing machine. The other hull shares the same layout as the charter version, with a smaller cabin on each end and one or two bathrooms in between. So, the owner’s version is either a 3/2 or 3/3.

Owner’s versions are slightly harder to come by and usually more expensive. However, many go into charter service despite the name, so they are out there. They’re more desirable and have higher resale value. On the other hand, the charter versions are often the cheapest liveaboard catamaran options because they’re common and less desirable in the resale market.

Galley Up vs. Galley Down

The next feature is how the boat is laid out with the galley.

Most modern charter cats have adopted the galley-up layout, which has the galley in the upper salon. That way, it’s right next to the indoor and outdoor dinettes, and the cook can be part of the social action.

A galley-down design has the galley tucked into one of the hulls. It’s more common on smaller boats where the upper salon is too small for the galley. But having the galley down is a safer and easier arrangement if you are cooking at sea, where the chef needs to brace themselves against a counter to get things done. 

Galley up or galley down? It’s a matter of personal preference. Some like being up with the views and fresh air while cooking, while others like the counter space and useability of a well-laid out galley down layout.

Open Transom/Traveler Up vs. Closed Cockpit

One big difference between modern charter catamarans and early models (and older monohulls) is the cockpit’s layout.

On catamarans, the cockpit is open and easy to walk around. You can step out onto the boat’s transom or side deck without stepping over any seats or deep coamings. This is a much more comfortable arrangement for living aboard.

But, if you’re crossing an ocean and the weather turns ugly, being tucked inside a deep cockpit with a tall coaming is pretty comforting. 

A common feature to look for is an arch or hardtop over the cockpit. The main sheet, the line that controls the mainsail, attaches to a control called the traveler. If this is on the deck at the back of the cockpit, it’s very hard to work around it. But if this is on top of a hardtop or arch, the cockpit will feel more open and spacious. Many older Lagoons and FPs had deep cockpits with the traveler on deck. Leopard catamarans were among the first to put it on an arch and open up the cockpit.

Again, it’s a matter of personal preference. But you definitely want to consider what you like and why before purchasing a catamaran because these are not features you can easily change. 

Best Features of a Liveaboard Catamaran

Here’s a list of the best features to look for, tailored to ensure a harmonious balance between sailing performance and liveaboard lifestyle:

  1. Spacious and Comfortable Living Areas: Look for a catamaran with ample living spaces, including a large saloon, comfortable cabins, and multiple heads with showers. Adequate headroom and natural light can make the interior feel more spacious and livable.
  2. Efficient Galley: A well-equipped galley (kitchen) with sufficient storage, counter space, and appliances such as a refrigerator, freezer, stove, and oven is essential for daily living and entertaining on board.
  3. Good Ventilation and Air Conditioning/Heating Systems: Proper ventilation is crucial to prevent condensation and maintain a comfortable living environment. Additionally, having air conditioning and heating systems can extend the comfort range to hotter and colder climates.
  4. Ample Deck Space: A catamaran with generous outdoor spaces, including a comfortable cockpit, foredeck, and trampolines, provides additional living and relaxation areas, enhancing the onboard lifestyle.
  5. Water Maker: Having a water maker on board can be a game-changer for long passages and remote anchoring, reducing the need to frequently dock for water supplies.
  6. Energy Independence: Features like solar panels, wind generators, and efficient battery storage systems ensure a sustainable and independent power supply for your electrical needs.
  7. Easy Handling and Maneuverability: A catamaran designed for ease of handling, possibly with features like electric winches, a furling mainsail, and bow thrusters, can make sailing and docking less strenuous, especially for short-handed crews or solo sailors.
  8. Safety Features: Essential safety features include a robust navigation and communication system, life rafts, fire extinguishers, automatic bilge pumps, and a well-thought-out design for safe movement around the boat.
  9. Storage Capacity: Adequate storage for provisions, spare parts, personal belongings, and water toys is crucial for long-term living and voyaging.
  10. Dinghy and Davits: A reliable dinghy and an easy-to-use davit system are essential for accessing the shore when at anchor and for general exploration.
  11. Strong Build and Hull Design: A catamaran with a solid build quality and a hull design suited for your intended use (coastal cruising vs. blue-water passages) provides safety and comfort in various sea conditions.
  12. Bridge Deck Clearance: Sufficient clearance between the water and the bridge deck reduces slamming in rough seas, contributing to a smoother and more comfortable ride.
  13. Protective Helm Station: A helm station that offers protection from the elements while maintaining good visibility around the boat is essential for safe navigation.
  14. Accessibility and Maintenance: Consider the ease of access to engines, generators, and other systems for maintenance. A well-designed layout can save time and effort in upkeep.
  15. Liveaboard Amenities: Additional amenities such as a washing machine, entertainment systems, and outdoor grilling areas can make life aboard more enjoyable.

That said, each potential owner’s priorities will vary, so it’s important to consider which features align best with your lifestyle and sailing plans.

Tips for Liveaboard Catamaran Life

Living aboard a catamaran is not just about adjusting to the physical constraints of boat life; it’s also about embracing a lifestyle that is both challenging and immensely rewarding. With the right preparation and mindset, you can make your liveaboard experience truly unforgettable.

1. Downsize and Organize

  • Downsize Belongings: Space is a premium on a catamaran. Carefully consider what you need versus what you want. Downsize your belongings to the essentials and a few comforts that make you happy.
  • Organize Intelligently: Use space-saving storage solutions and keep your belongings organized. Every item should have a designated place to avoid clutter and ensure safety while underway.

2. Learn to Conserve

  • Water Conservation: Fresh water is precious on a boat. Get accustomed to water-saving habits like short showers and using saltwater for preliminary cleaning.
  • Energy Conservation: Be mindful of your energy use. Rely on renewable energy sources like solar panels and wind generators, and invest in energy-efficient appliances.

3. Maintenance Skills

  • Develop DIY Skills: Basic maintenance and repair skills are essential for a liveaboard lifestyle. Being able to troubleshoot and fix issues with the engines, sails, and electronics can save time, money, and prevent potential dangers.
  • Regular Check-ups: Stick to a strict maintenance schedule to prevent small issues from becoming big problems. This includes checking the hull, rigging, sails, and all onboard systems regularly.

4. Safety First

  • Invest in Safety Equipment: Ensure you have all necessary safety equipment onboard, including life jackets, fire extinguishers, flares, a life raft, and an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon).
  • Be Prepared for Emergencies: Regularly practice safety drills with everyone onboard. Everyone should know how to operate the safety equipment and what to do in case of an emergency.

5. Stay Connected

  • Communication Tools: Invest in reliable communication tools, including a VHF radio, satellite phone, and internet access, to stay in touch with the outside world and for emergency communications.
  • Build a Community: Connect with other liveaboards and sailors. They can be a great source of support, advice, and companionship.

6. Embrace the Lifestyle

  • Be Flexible: Living on a catamaran means being at the mercy of the weather and the sea. Be prepared to adapt your plans according to conditions.
  • Enjoy the Simplicity: Embrace the simplicity and closeness to nature that comes with living on a catamaran. It’s a chance to focus on what truly matters to you.

7. Financial Planning

  • Budget Wisely: Understand and plan for the costs associated with liveaboard life, including marina fees, maintenance, insurance, and daily living expenses.
  • Emergency Fund: Always have a financial cushion for unexpected repairs or emergencies.

8. Health and Well-being

  • Stay Active: Incorporate physical activity into your daily routine. Swimming, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and yoga are great options.
  • Healthy Eating: Plan and stock up on nutritious foods. Fresh produce may not always be available, so consider growing herbs or sprouts onboard.

9. Environmental Responsibility

  • Respect the Ocean: Practice eco-friendly habits to minimize your impact on the marine environment. This includes proper waste management, using eco-friendly products, and avoiding activities that harm marine life.

10. Education and Learning

  • Navigation and Sailing Skills: Continuously improve your sailing and navigation skills. Knowledge and experience contribute significantly to safety and enjoyment.
  • Learn Local Regulations: Familiarize yourself with the regulations of the waters you are sailing in, including fishing laws, protected areas, and anchoring rules.

Which Is the Best Catamaran for Liveaboard Cruising?

  1. Antares 44
  2. Knysna 440/500
  3. Leopard 42/43/45/47
  4. Lagoon 42/46 (circa 2018)
  5. Manta 38/40/42
  6. Alliaura Marine Privilege 42/435/45/445/465
  7. Catana 401/42/431/471
  8. Fountaine Pajot Orana 44/Helia 44
  9. Voyage/Norseman 380/400/440/470

The good news is that we live in a time when catamarans have become mainstream. They’re exceedingly popular and more exciting new models are coming out each year. We’ve moved past the years when the only boats to choose from were built for charter. There are now great choices aimed at liveaboards and cruising families. 

Best Catamaran for Liveaboard FAQs

What is a good size catamaran to live on?

For most cruising couples, the smallest catamaran they’d want to consider is in the 35 to 38-foot range. Small families prefer a slightly bigger boat, from 40 to 42 feet, while those with older kids or more people on board like something in the 45-foot range. Everyone is different, of course, and you’ll find families of 4 or 5 living happily on 35-foot cats and couples that could never live on anything less than 60. 

Are catamarans good in rough seas?

Yes and no. Most catamarans 38 feet and over are certified for offshore sailing and can safely handle any conditions—so long as they are sailed conservatively. In general, as long as you reduce sail early and travel carefully, catamarans are safe at sea. 

But are they comfortable in rough seas? This is a question for which everyone has a different answer, and a lot depends on the model of the catamaran. Catamarans are built light in order to move quickly over the waters. Unfortunately, the two hulls mean that the boat is slammed by each wave twice. In some conditions, this makes for a choppy ride that makes some people seasick quickly. 

Can you sail a 40-foot catamaran by yourself?

Yes. Most catamarans are set up for short-handed or single-handed sailing. Much of it is simply how the boat is rigged and whether or not all the control lines are led to the helm. Even if a boat isn’t set up this way, it’s usually fairly straightforward to make it so.

What is the minimum size of a liveaboard?

People live on all sizes of vessels, so there’s no minimum. It’s a personal choice and depends on how you like to live. The most common size for liveaboard boaters is between 35 and 45 feet. These boats are small enough to be easy to drive, store, and maintain while still having enough space to live comfortably.

By Matt C

Matt has been boating around Florida for over 25 years in everything from small powerboats to large cruising catamarans. He currently lives aboard a 38-foot Cabo Rico sailboat with his wife Lucy and adventure dog Chelsea. Together, they cruise between winters in The Bahamas and summers in the Chesapeake Bay.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *