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Catamaran vs Trimaran: Choosing the Perfect Multihull Vessel

The debate over whether catamarans or trimarans are better boats has been going on for a long time without resolution, but the reason is understandable. The truth is that despite their many similarities, catamarans and trimarans have distinct characteristics that set them apart from each other, so each type of vessel offers a distinct boating experience. The catamaran vs. trimaran debate largely boils down to personal preference and how you intend to use the boat. Here are some of the things you need to consider when choosing between a catamaran and a trimaran. 



What Is a Catamaran?

A catamaran is a multi-hulled boat that has two twin hulls connected by a structure supported by a wide beam. Catamarans come in a wide variety of sizes, ranging from small rowing boats to large boats that are big enough to be used as car ferries. The structure connecting the two hulls can be anything from a simple frame with webbing to a superstructure that includes cabin and/or cargo space. Most of the recreational catamarans for sale are designed to hold two to 20 passengers. 


catamaran yacht


What Is a Trimaran?

A trimaran is also a multi-hulled boat, but it has three hulls instead of two like the catamaran. The middle (main) hull is larger than the two small outer hulls attached to it. These hulls are connected by a lateral beam, wing, or some other form of superstructure, depending on the model. These types of boats also come in a wide variety of sizes, ranging from recreational yachts to ferries. 




Advantages of Catamaran vs. Trimaran

The advantages of catamarans vs. trimarans are mainly based on comfort. Catamarans are spacious boats, known for their large living quarters with plenty of room on board for hosting gatherings and parties. Their popularity has enticed many boat builders to create increasingly luxurious designs on larger and larger boats. The catamaran also has a more classic style that appeals to those who want a boat with a simple, sleek shape. Catamarans are best suited for boating in calm seas, lagoons, and shallow waters.


Advantages of Trimaran vs. Catamaran

The advantages of trimarans vs. catamarans mainly come down to speed. Trimarans are among the speediest boats available, offering lightning-fast speeds on open waters. Many recent winners of notable boating competitions have been won by boaters piloting trimarans. These boats also perform well when heading upwind and are remarkably stable with their three-hulled design. The anchoring gear is installed on the main hull and is easy to deploy. 


Trimaran vs. Catamaran Speed

In the trimaran vs. catamaran speed debate, the trimaran is the clear winner. For long offshore races, trimarans have become the preferred vessels, and boaters piloting trimarans have won the Jules Verne Trophy in every race held since 2010. This is because of their unique design, which has speed and safety qualities that provide significant benefits for boaters. 


The trimaran's third hull makes the boat considerably faster than any other hull form due to the correlation between the boat’s waterline length and its speed. Having more hull distance in the water lets the boat reach higher speeds. Trimarans can also be pushed harder and are more forgiving than other boat styles in racing environments.


That doesn't mean that catamarans are slow. Some styles of catamarans are capable of breaking world records when the boating conditions are right. On downwind runs, a racing catamaran may be quicker than a trimaran, but for overall speed in various conditions, the trimaran comes out on top. 


Catamaran vs. Trimaran Performance

In the catamaran vs. trimaran performance debate, both sides have their advantages. A catamaran is easier to handle and maneuver with the boater having to handle the lines and halyards less often. However, this ease comes at the expense of speed, with cruising catamarans generally traveling slower than comparable trimarans. 


Trimarans are more versatile in their performance, and they perform better than a catamaran when traveling against the current or the wind. Trimarans can be used in nearly all weather conditions, are less vulnerable to drifting, and have less roll motion than a catamaran. However, handling a trimaran requires more work than handling a catamaran, which can be exhausting over long periods of sailing. 


Trimaran vs. Catamaran Efficiency

When comparing trimaran vs. catamaran efficiency, the differences are minimal. Multi-hulled boats are more fuel-efficient than comparable mono-hulled boats due to their hull forms and their lighter weights. Multi-hulled boats also tend to have smaller displacement and shallower drafts than other boat styles. 


The biggest difference in trimaran vs. catamaran efficiency is that catamarans nearly always have twin engines while trimarans generally run with one engine. A trimaran also has less hydrodynamic resistance than a catamaran because it spreads out the displacement across three hulls instead of two. This allows each hull to be narrower and more streamlined.




Catamaran vs. Trimaran Stability

The stability of multi-hulled boats is one of their biggest advantages over mono-hulled vessels. Multi-hulled boats benefit greatly from their wider stance on the water, and their wide beams and floats offer higher stability than a ballasted keel. Multi-hulled boats are also more buoyant because their floats help prevent immersion. When comparing catamaran vs. trimaran stability, the better boat will depend on the conditions on the water.


A catamaran's geometrically stabilized design reduces both heeling and wave-induced motion, providing a stable platform underway and at anchor. However, the catamaran's design is not as suitable for navigating heavy seas as the trimaran's build. The trimaran's three hulls provide excellent stability even in rough waves, but this can also make a trimaran less comfortable than a catamaran when the water is calm.


Catamaran vs. Trimaran Safety

Both catamarans and trimarans are considered to be safer on the water than mono-hulled boats. A catamaran has superior resilience and roll inertia that makes capsizing extremely unlikely. Its speed, steadiness, and ease of motion due to a lack of ballast also contribute to increased safety.


Trimarans are considered the safest multi-hulled boats because their three-hulled design makes them almost unsinkable. Many also have a core made of high buoyancy foam, helping them stay afloat even in the most brutal storms. Weight centering and a complete anti-drift scheme also make the boat safer for everyone aboard.


Trimaran vs. Catamaran Maintenance

Comparing trimaran vs. catamaran maintenance costs shows that many of the costs will be very similar for both types of boats. These costs include yearly boat service and repairs, annual haul-outs, and insurance coverage but exclude major upgrades. You will also have to budget for dockage, winterization, and storage for each year if you don't intend to use the boat year-round. 


Boaters are advised to budget between 5% and 10% of the boat's value for annual maintenance costs if their boat is less than five years old and a little more if the boat is older than that. Different maintenance jobs can be charged in different ways. Sometimes, the charges are based on the length of the boat while other charges are based on the number of hours worked.




Catamaran vs. Trimaran Cost

If you are looking for an affordable seafaring vessel, catamarans and trimaran are both good choices. There are many reasonably priced catamarans and trimarans suited for families as well as other models that provide more luxury for an additional cost. The materials that the manufacturer used to build the boat and the electronics included will also impact the price of the boat.


With so many different factors impacting the cost of different boats, you should choose the best vessel for you based on the features you want as well as your budget. Doing some research using the information on Rightboat's listings will help you find the right combination of quality and affordability you are looking for. Because we offer both new and used boats, nearly any boater will be able to find a boat in our listings that fits their needs. 



Choosing between a catamaran and a trimaran may seem simple at first, but the different sizes, styles, and amenities offered can make the choice much more complicated than you would think. If you prefer comfort and ample space while cruising, a catamaran may be the better choice. However, if you like speeding across the water and enjoy the thrill of racing, then a trimaran may be your best option.


Whichever boat you decide to purchase should fit your specific circumstances and requirements. Start the decision-making process by deciding what the primary use for your new boat will be. Will it be used more for family cruising or sport fishing? What bodies of water will you be boating in? Are you planning on staying close to shore or taking the boat into deeper waters? All these factors will impact whether you should choose a catamaran or a trimaran. 


With Rightboat's listings, you can learn about the features of the latest catamaran and trimaran models and see what you can expect to pay for the boats you are considering. You can sort through our listings by price, age of the boat, length of the boat, or listing date and then narrow down the results of a search using the rest of our filtering tools. If you are interested in buying a new or used catamaran or trimaran, take a look at our listings, and see what we have to offer today!


Related article: Ketch vs Yawl


Written By: Toi Williams

Toi grew up in coastal New England, Her parents had a second home on Newfound Lake, in New Hampshire. Because of this, Toi was able to enjoy boating at sea as well as in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire. Today, she regularly wakeboards and waterskis on her Malibu wake surfing boat. She also sailed at sea in Maine, and taken many trips to the Isles of Shoals.

More from: Toi Williams

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