The Cockpit as Safe Haven

When choosing a liveaboard and voyaging yacht, many people tend to identify with the “norm” that the magazines are pushing for their advertisers. It should be kept in mind that the heaviest advertisers control editorial policy (articles) in all commercial publications, their survival depends on it. The vessel owner’s survival, however, depends on choosing a vessel designed using parameters rationalized specifically for safety and enjoyment.

The respective interests are not likely to coincide when there are a great many catamarans on offer, said to be designed for offshore voyaging, with characteristics inherited from the holiday charter market from which they were derived. Additionally, as with all design, it can difficult to identify what is “modern” and what is just the latest fashion. Style is very appealing and desirable, as long as it isn’t disguising compromised function.

The very good popular technical literature that address concerns of this nature, such as C.A. Marchaj’s book “Seaworthiness The Forgotten Factor”, fights an uphill battle against the marketing machines of the large volume boat builders. The appeal of a staged “lifestyle” photo shoot can easily outweigh any written argument with an unwary observer.

At what point did the design consensus decide that a truly enormous cockpit, originally designed to seat eight people for a cocktail/dinner party and fully open to the stern is suitable for an ocean voyaging vessel?

And what is wrong with having an entire bulkhead face pierced with sliding patio doors?

Apparently the “old” design insistence on defending from a breaking following sea, potentially much higher than the vessel itself, is no longer necessary.
Maybe any boarding wave crest will simply spill back out over the stern as the boat is tipped up on the wave back? The stern will certainly not rise very quickly. As you know, these waves travel in sets.

Maybe the cockpit soles of catamarans are thought to be so high off the water that it isn’t an issue, no breaking wave crest could climb as high as say four of five feet, could it?

What if it does though, and throws tons (only 200 gal/ton) of water through the cockpit to crash against the “bulkhead” at around 20k (USCG study “typical breaking wave crest” for 200’ wavelength)? Can we say the design at least recognizes the possibility?

Maybe we shouldn’t be so complacent, maybe we should make some provisions against those occurrences we know nature can, and sooner or later will, challenge us with.

Suppose we created a substantial stern bulwark aft of the opening to the cockpit in order to break any solid water that may want to come aboard?

Suppose we moulded in recesses in the cockpit aft face to accept a hinged storm board gate to repel solid water but allow it free escape?

Suppose we kept the cockpit sole dimensions within the largest practical limit commensurate with its functions, thereby limiting its capacity to shovel in unexpected water?

Suppose we kept the sliding door, a very attractive and enjoyable feature after all, at a practical size to give us the access we want without alarming the sensibilities of old fashioned sea going types?

Suppose we made sure the design of the cockpit and hardtop have provision for enclosing protective canvas work, right from the start?

Suppose, with all this nice protected space available, we could keep the helmsman from dying of exposure or being washed off some cold dark night?
Maybe we could provide a truly functional helm station, with visibility even. If we draw it right, maybe we could even keep the watchkeeper from baking in the sun, like the Sunday roast.

Suppose we could bring all the running rigging lines in off the mast and potentially treacherous deck? Maybe we should put the winches right at hand in the cockpit and run all the lines under the bridge deck.

Suppose we incorporated all these ideas right from the start in the initial design exercise?

You can enjoy fair weather sailing and still experience the spectacular open ocean environment in comfort and safety in a vessel conceived for offshore sailing. Design with the possibility of extreme conditions in mind and compromise a little on the toy boat flash, isn’t that the only philosophy we can all live with?


4 thoughts on “The Cockpit as Safe Haven

  1. Some cats have forward cockpits. Examples include Atlantic, Gunboat, SMG Multihull and others. A sailing cockpit at the base of the mast seems a very practical design. It avoids the complexity of running lines aft and tends to keep the deck clear. It seems a safe work area when the sea gets a tad unsettled, as has been known to occur. Indeed, companies praise the virtues of not having to walk around the salon on narrow, slippery side decks on dark and stormy nights.

    It seems to me that in the event of a very large oncoming sea such a cockpit behaves like a bucket, in that it would fill with water and that it needs to be very quickly drained.

    What are your opinions on this catamaran configuration?

  2. i have read so many sea stories of multihulls crossing oceans and have never heard of any water incursion into the salon. are authers just not mentioning this or does it just not happen? i cant imagine that all the charter cat deliveries from france and south africa are experiencing what you are suggesting and not mantioning it or better yet fix the problem. what do you all think?

  3. I doubt that you would hear of any vessel’s shortcomings from its manufacturer, and professional delivery captains don’t have the time for, or interest in, writing stories. Plenty of problems occur that are not put out there for general consumption. This does not mean that boarding by following seas is being experienced, we sincerely hope not.

    The height of the “cockpit” floor is a natural benefit in the cat, reducing the likelihood of some potentially unfortunate events. That is not a reason to ignore other design options specifically beneficial for sea voyaging, though they may be an impairment for the wider charter market. Aside from protection against following seas, there is also personal security and the sense of protection and shelter that needs to be considered.

    The owners have entrusted us with trying for the best level of safety for themselves and their families on open sea voyages. We feel a responsibility to consider the design choices accordingly and therefore elect to plan for eventualities. It offends this sensibility to incorporate into a seagoing design, patio style architecture that would require hurricane shielding if installed in a Florida subdivision. Sooner or later a vessel will face the ultimate test, people are very resourceful and tenacious when it comes to survival, especially at sea where you have no choice, but I would rather hear, (as we frequently do), of relatively uneventful passages made through some very extreme conditions.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s