One of the most difficult things about finding your perfect-for-you family cruising boat is knowing your cruising boat type before you’re cruising. How do you know what type of cruising you want to do before you’re doing it? You also might not have a lot of cruising experience. How will your family handle being out to sea for multi-day passages? Will they be comfortable squeezing under bridges with minimal clearance? Of course experience will help answer these questions, but this can also be a daunting decision before your adventure has even begun. If you’re not sure of different cruising boat types, here are a few highlights to help determine some features you should be looking at on boat listings.

  1. Bluewater Cruisers
    You want to sail across oceans. 10+ days at sea? No problem. 20+ bring it on! You plan to ‘live on the hook’ and enjoy remote anchorages ‘off the beaten path’. You want to be self-sufficient. No posh marinas for you. You have a lot in common with coastal cruisers, but aren’t afraid to lose sight of land for a sizable amount of time to reach different cruising destinations.

    • Draft. Deeper keels allow you to sail at a higher point to the wind, but you’ll want to anchor at some point, so knowing the depths of your future cruising grounds can help you determine your specs. For example, if you want to sail in the Virgin Islands, you’ll find plenty of anchorages where 6+ feet draft is fine, but if you want to sail in the Bahamas, you’ll have fewer places you can visit on the Banks side.
    • Cruising Equipment. You’ll need a way to make water and power (solar, wind, generator, inverter). Safety equipment is important too, like a life raft. Depending on how ‘self-sufficient’ you want to be, this equipment list can go on and on. The point is, you want to be able to be away from civilization until you reach exotic destinations…or need fuel.
  2. Coastal Cruisers
    You want to sail the coast and between island chains. You’ll tie up to a mooring or dock when necessary, but you’d rather ‘live on the hook’ enjoying anchorages in well-known harbors, and maybe even a few yet undiscovered. You have a lot in common with bluewater cruisers, but don’t feel the need to lose sight of shore for very long. You also have stuff in common with ICW cruisers, but only if your mast height allows you to venture into inland waterways.

    • Mast Height. Depends on how ‘coastal’ you want to be, but you’ll want good sail-ability on the ocean. If you do want the option to go ‘on the inside’, your mast will need to be less that 64 feet. We’ve heard of some larger vessels chopping their mast to make them ‘ICW friendly’.
    • Draft. Depends on which coast you’re referring to, but deeper drafts will restrict some cruising grounds. Knowing where you want to go will help you determine your limits.
    • Size. You’re not really concerned about dockage, so length and beam doesn’t really matter, but size DOES matter when you refer to the amount of livable space you’ll be sharing with your family. Only you can determine what is enough.
    • Anchors and Chain. You’ll want to make sure you have a really good anchor (our Rocna has gotten us though a lot and have heard good things about Mantus too), and a backup anchor. You’ll also want at least 200 feet of chain and the same amount of line for backup.
  3. ICW Cruisers
    You want to sail ‘on the inside’, not a lot of ocean cruising for you. You’ll sail the inland waterways, bays, and the occasional ocean leg. You’ll visit marinas tying up to moorings or docks and anchor out occasionally. You have stuff in common with coastal cruisers, but prefer to be inland when possible.

    • Mast hight. Most fixed waterway bridges allow for a 64 foot mast height, but always check your charts & guides to make sure. So, know that anything over 64, and your only option will be to sail on the outside during segments of your route. Be mindful of your windex and antennas on the top of your mast. Those usually aren’t factored into ‘factory’ mast height measurements. Of course, you’ll also need to keep tide and bridge maintenance/construction in mind. Invest in good charts, guides, and even tap in to an ICW social media outlet.
    • Draft. The ICW is supposed to be 7 feet deep, but a shallower draft will give you more cruising ground options. You’ll also speak to plenty of cruisers who have a shallower draft and have still found themselves temporarily aground. Again, charts and cruising guides help.
    • Length and Beam. Boat length and beam will be important considerations as you’ll pay rates per foot at marinas and the wider your beam, the fewer slips you’ll be able to fit in.
  4. Loop Cruisers
    You want to cruise the inland waterways and see the land as few people have. You’ll visit lots of marinas tying up to docks and anchor out when necessary. You’ll also have to account for fuel stops and prices. You have stuff in common with ICW cruisers, but their vessels usually are much bigger than yours. Just remember, you can go where they cannot.

    • Height. You’ll likely have a power boat, but if you’re a sailboat, you’ll be de-masted. You’ll need to clear fixed 19 foot bridges, but being less than 17 feet will give you more routing options.
    • Draft. Some waterways get pretty ‘skinny’, so no more than 4 feet is recommended, but even less is better.
    • Beam. You’ll have to squeeze through tight places and experienced loopers recommend 23 feet or less.
    • Loop capabilities. You must be able to go at least 250 miles unassisted, even more if you do the lower Mississippi river route. What does this mean? Consider how much fuel you can carry & if your main tanks don’t carry enough, you’ll need to find space for portable jugs.
  5. Label Breaker Cruisers
    You want to do what you want to do when you want to do it. Period. Sometimes you want to be ‘on the inside’, but you’ll go on the outside too. You pick and choose capabilities from multiple cruiser types based upon where you want to go and what you want to do. No labels for you!

In which category do most family cruisers fall?

Good question, and I don’t really have an answer. We are US east coast, non ICW, coastal cruisers, and have met many similar family crews. The most common family crews we meet are ICW cruisers who also make the dash to the Bahamas for the winter/spring season, but this is our experience, and yours might be different. Social media shares plenty of bluewater family crews, so I know they exist, but we’re not cruising out there, so we haven’t met many. Interesting to note, we’ve even met some families who’ve sent their kids to land while they make multi-day passages then fly their kids in once they’ve reached their final destination. There are no right or wrong answers here. Every family does what works for them…and that’s exactly the point.

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