There are a number of factors that will help you decide what size boat you need to be comfortable on your next vacation. Striving to achieve the best balance between the tradeoffs will make the difference between a great vacation and an untenable situation.
The first, and unavoidable, consideration is your budget. The rule of thumb is get the biggest boat your money will allow while still leaving ample funds for provisioning, excursions, travel to the destination and other entertainment. Larger boats will cost more but will also accommodate more people with whom to split the costs. Catamarans and powerboats tend to offer more space than the same length of monohull sailboat. Most charter companies will have recommended occupancies, but beware: those numbers include crew sleeping in shared areas like the saloon. Also, remember that bigger boats have bigger engines which eat more fuel, and that adds to the overall cost as well.
The number, age and sophistication of your crew should impact the size of boat you choose. Twenty-somethings have a high tolerance for packing in lots of people to split the costs. They don’t mind sleeping in the cockpit, stowing stuff in every available cranny, and sharing heads, so long as there are nice sunsets and plenty of sundowner cocktails. At the other end of the spectrum are the fifty-somethings, for whom privacy and comfort will rank high. Sharing heads may be foreign to them and a boat in chaos due to too many suitcases strewn about will be a big annoyance.
Try to make sure each person has a berth in a cabin. Even if s/he doesn’t sleep in that cabin, it will be a place to stow belongings and that will help keep the common areas clean of clutter. Couples can share a head; if there are more than 2-3 bodies per head, communicate that prior to departure. If your crew is made up of experienced boaters (or campers for that matter) they will fare well in close quarters, typically better than people used to traveling to hotels.
Length of Charter & Location
Just about anyone can put up with cramped quarters for a few days. The question is, are you willing to be marginally comfortable for a couple of weeks? For longer charters, there must be adequate shelter provided for everyone aboard to be comfortable. If you’re chartering in the tropics, some people will sleep in the cockpit and have no trouble spending a lot of time on deck. But there has to be room for everyone who wants shade. If you’re chartering in the Pacific Northwest, especially during a cooler shoulder season, shelter from rain or cold will be very important. Choose a boat that can accommodate where you’ll be when, and for how long.
Management & Handling
Finally, consider your experience and that of your crew. Bigger is not always better if you are uncomfortable with maneuvering a boat in tight quarters, working with big equipment like a large anchor, or handling sails that will have high loads in big wind.
There’s no one answer to the question of ideal charter boat size. The best approach is preparation and communication with your crew. Think through who will be there, what their abilities are, what their expectations are, where and when you’ll be chartering, and what your personal priorities are. As a skipper, don’t take on more boat than you want—but remember, one unhappy crewmember equals one unhappy boat, so be sure to set expectations well ahead of time.
Read more: Which is Better, Catamaran or Monohull?