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Staying Safe On A Catamaran: 24 Essential Tips

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Staying Safe On A Catamaran: 24 Essential Tips For Safe Cat Adventures

When you’re heading out on the water, having a good time is usually the first goal. I mean, let’s be realistic, most people who plan on going out on a boat are thinking first of the fun time, and second about safety. If you intend to go on a catamaran, there’s going to be different circumstances you’ll want to pay attention to depending on the type and size. For your safety and the safety of those on board, of course.

Staying Safe On A Catamaran – 24 Essential Tips For The Would-Be Sailor In You

We’ve put together this guide about staying safe on a catamaran for you with some core and essential tips. Tips for you to help you on your journey to stay safe and have fun out on your cat. Because there’s nothing better than having an excellent time out on the water. Read on for these 21 essential tips for staying safe on a catamaran

1 – Get Licensed

This one might seem pretty obvious for legal reasons, but there is vital and practical importance to this. When you get your pleasure craft operating license, you have to take a test. That means you have to study. The most significant portion of the required knowledge you need to pass is about the ‘rules of the road.’ I mean waters (not road, of course). That’s learning all about buoys and markers and knowing how to approach or pass by another boat. This knowledge is essential to safe boating and avoiding costly and dangerous (possibly even life-threatening) collisions and accidents.

2 – Learn To Swim

Speaking of accidents, a lot of people get lazy when it comes to safety gear. This laziness tends to occur more on larger vessels. We tend to get complacent when we think we are proper and safe. But accidents happen in the blink of an eye. What would you do if you are cruising along, relaxed, not wearing a life jacket, and you fall into the water? If the catamaran is at speed, it will take time to turn around and pick you up. Especially if it’s a sailing cat and there’s decent wind. If you don’t know how to swim, that could be the end for you. I know this one seems like one of those obvious tips, but I think it’s essential, especially for families who intend to bring children out on the water.

3 – Inspect Your Boat

Again something a lot of people take for granted. Especially when it is a newer boat. Before you leave your place of mooring, take a pleasant walk around your cat. Make sure everything is in order and stowed properly. We’ll get to stowing gear in another step, though.


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4 – Know The Weather Forecast

Okay, so this doesn’t matter so much if you’re just taking the car out to the supermarket. However, it is an entirely different animal when it comes to going out on the water. Some places can have gale force winds switch direction on you, or a storm cell could come out of seemingly nowhere. When you’re out on the water having fun, it’s easy to lose track of time and thus your surroundings. Making sure you study and know your forecast is essential to a safe journey.

5 – Bring Charts Or Maps

Knowing where you’re going is crucial. I went out on a new lake last year and thought to myself that the lake wasn’t big enough to concern myself with a map. I’m happy my wife convinced me to bring one though and I’ll tell you why. When you look at a map of a lake or area of the sea, it can seem like it’s no big deal just to use the shore as your guide. However, a few hours out and things can be disorienting. Especially if you are in an area with a lot of islands or a jagged shoreline with multiple bays and inlets.

I have nearly become lost in the thousand islands area near Kingston, Ontario, on a couple of occasions. Thank goodness for the maps and charts I brought! And don’t be afraid to have both a physical map and a GPS unit. Just in case the GPS fails, a physical map will always be available. Just make sure you get one that is laminated to protect the map from water damage. Staying safe on a catamaran includes knowing where you’re going, believe it or not.

6 – Make And Follow A Pre-Launch Checklist

Making a pre-voyage or pre-launch checklist is a smart way to keep organized and not forget anything important. How many times have you gone to another room of your house or apartment and realized that you forgot what you entered the place to get? I can tell you I probably do that at least once a day. And most people are the same as me in that respect. It’s so easy to forget something when you’re excited about going out on the water for an adventure too.

I remember doing some river boating down in Costa Rica with my wife, and we were in a bit of a rush to get to our boat before it left for the secluded town of Tortuguero. In our haste, we forgot the sunblock at the hotel. There we were, on a covered boat for 4 hours of travel up the canals, and my wife got cooked from the sun on one half of her body. Even though the ship had a cover, the glare of the hot Central American sun off the water was enough to give her a nasty sunburn. She was a very unhappy tourist for several days while she recovered. Again, I want to stress how easy it is to forget something, so just make a list of things to bring, do, and check and make sure you use the file to the letter.

7 – Staying Safe On A Catamaran Includes Maintaining Minimum Legal Safety Standards

Here in Canada, and also in our neighboring country United States Of America, several legally required items must be on your catamaran. These include proper running lights, a whistle or sound horn, a bailing bucket, personal safety devices like life jackets, and more.

I wrote an entire article detailing just these legally required items for both Canadian and American waterways. There are a few things you must have to be compliant (and safe), so make sure you know and understand what and why you need specific items for the area you’ll be cruising in.


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8 – Designate A First Mate

This tip is a two-step tip. First off, I don’t recommend going out on the water alone. I mean, if you have a personal watercraft catamaran, that’s a bit of a different story, of course. But if you’re going out on any decent sized catamaran, I strongly recommend you not only have at least one other person with you to assist with the navigation and so on, but that you also designate one person to be your ‘second in command.’ That person should be able to replace you as a skipper in the scenario where you are incapacitated.  

It may seem that designating a first mate or assistant skipper is silly, but as mentioned, accidents can happen in the blink of an eye. You could slip while walking from one part of the cat to another. What if you were to hit your head? Who would secure or pilot the craft if you were unable to do so? Making sure you are accompanied by a competent individual trained to assist in case of emergency is an essential part of sailing safety.

9 – Share Your Travel Plan

Going out on the water isn’t exactly like just taking a stroll around the block. Due to being out on the water, it is necessary to let someone know where you are going and also let them know when you will contact them either once you’ve arrived at your destination or when you have returned to your point of departure.

If a storm were to roll in and you had to drop sail and ride it out, wouldn’t you want someone on land to know you’re out there and maybe get you some help? If no one knows you’re at sea, then there is no one to call the coastguard when you don’t arrive at the port when scheduled. Stay safe, and stay prepared.

10 – Use Your Life Jackets And Safety Gear

Make sure you have a well-fit life jacket or vest. It should comply with regulations. And don’t be a slacker with wearing it. I’ve noticed that here in Ontario, a lot of boaters won’t wear their life jackets. I think my wife and I may have been the only ones out on the water using our PFDs on more than one occasion. It seems to me that most of the time, the single people who use them are those on personal watercraft.  

Taking your life jacket for granted could be the last mistake you make. If you are on any kind of catamaran that isn’t a massive ship like a ferry or military transport, you ought to be wearing your life jacket. At the very least, keep it within arms reach. And stop worrying about what other boaters think. Who cares if you wear a life jacket. Drowning is much less cold than wearing a PFD.

11 – Don’t Drink Or Use Drugs

Again, a no-brainer. Staying safe on a catamaran while drunk or stoned is an oxymoron. Driving a boat has the same rules as driving a car when it comes to driving intoxicated. You cannot even have open liquor on a ship. Well, most boats, that is. It is typically illegal to consume alcohol on a boat unless the boat is also considered a residence. Therefore, no cabin, no alcohol. However, even if the catamaran is large enough to be considered a home, the captain must still observe the law, and the same basic principles of drinking and driving apply to the operator of the vessel.


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12 – Ensure Rigging Is Up To Code

If you are riding a sailing cat as opposed to a powered one, then make sure all your rigging is not only in good working condition but also up to code. Having equipment inspected by a licensed professional on a frequency recommended by the manufacturer is a smart choice. A professional rigging expert will be able to determine the safety of your existing equipment and will be able to provide you with either sound advice to replace components, or will let you know all is well. Either way, peace of mind is the result. And there’s nothing worse than having a sail go down due to rigging, especially when you need it most.

13 – Maintain Minimum Safety Equipment

As each country has it’s own rules and regulations for what the minimum safety gear requirements are, make sure you know them before you depart. And equally importantly, make sure you not only have all the necessary equipment, at the minimum but also that it is in good working order. This is an essential part of staying safe on a catamaran.

I had a friend go out on his watercraft cat, and he forgot that the whistle that was attached to his life vest had ripped off. He went out on the water and had a sail problem, which stranded him out on the bay for 3 hours before someone noticed he was waving to get their attention. He had a wicked sunburn (he had also forgotten to put on sunblock) and was thoroughly exhausted from trying to get other boaters’ attention. That would have been a lot easier if he had his whistle to signal for help.

14 – Use Sunscreen Or Cover Up

Remember that the sun is deceiving out on the water. We tend to think that if we wear a hat or stay in the shade that we won’t get burned. But the surface of the water acts as a mirror. It reflects a lot of light up off the water. So, even if you have a beautiful umbrella above your head, if you’re on deck, you are getting sun. Sunstroke is a genuine danger when going out on the water for extended periods. A small bottle of a decent SPF sunscreen can make the difference between you feeling quite ill for several days or feeling healthy and ready to go back out on the water.

15 – Drink Plenty Of Water

Speaking of sunstroke, heatstroke, and other exceptional summertime dangers, dehydration is often forgotten when going boating. And it is sort of understandable why we take it for granted. After all, you’re going out on the water. Who would think you’d need to bring water going out on the water? I don’t need to tell you that if we’re talking about the ocean, then, of course, you can’t drink what you’re sailing on.  

Likewise, if you’re out on a lake, you might now want to drink that water either. E-coli and lots of other fun things are floating around out there, and I recommend avoidance. But dehydration needs to be avoided as well.

As mentioned, the water can act like a big mirror causing the sun to reflect up off the water. This deception in the source direction for things like sunburn tends to throw us off when considering water consumption. That’s why it is so essential to bring enough water to stay hydrated. Not only could dehydration make you feel sick, but it can also impair your judgment. And impaired judgment is the last thing you need when operating a catamaran out on the water.


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A petroleum jerry can is shown in this file photo.
Metal Gas Can

16 – Store Fuel Safely (And Bring Enough)

A part of planning your adventure is making sure you can get where you are going safely. If you intend to travel for a reasonable distance under power, make sure you have an adequate fuel supply. Running out of gas is not something you want to do, especially if out on a large body of water. Not only do you need to plan and bring what you need as well as an emergency supply, but the fuel should be stored safely and adequately.

Keeping your fuel onboard means it should be adequately secured. Never store and sort of gas below deck in a confined cabin area, especially somewhere you might spend time in like a cabin where you would sleep. Just like in a car, you don’t want a jerry can sitting in the back seat. It is always best to store gas on deck, outside where there is no fear of harmful or dangerous vapor builds up. Remember staying safe on a catamaran doesn’t include inhaling gas fumes.

Keep in mind also that when storing gas cans, tanks, or other fuel containers, they need to be secured well. The gas storage container, whether a jerry can or fixed, tank-type ought to be inspected regularly to ensure the safe storage of fuels. The storage location must also be away from any sources of flame-like an onboard stove or similar heating devices, which could ignite the gas if the gas were to leak from the container.

Remember, just because you are out on the water, doesn’t mean that water could put out a gas fire. It won’t so stay safe and store and handle your fuel accordingly.

17 – Balance The Weight Of Gear

The smaller your catamaran, the more important this tip is. If it’s a large cat-like a ferry and you dump a bunch of heavy vehicles or freight on one side of the vessel, that isn’t smart either. But, balancing out your gear on smaller cats is an essential component to maintaining the vessel’s stability.

18 – Don’t Trust A Chart Plotter (In Shallow Water That Is)

Chart plotters are great little tools. They can help you to navigate your journey to your destination. You need to keep in mind though that a chart plotter doesn’t see rocks, coral, or other under surface obstacles that could be relatively dangerous to your hull.

Whenever in shallow water, I like to ignore my chart plotter to some degree. Always slow it right down in the shallows so you can avoid any possible obstructions and avoid running aground on a rock or reef.


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19 – Don’t Trust Autopilot

Autopilot is like the chart plotter. It cannot always be trusted. Autopilot doesn’t see the rocks, corals, or other dangers that you would notice. Never use an autopilot near-shore or shallow waters for this exact reason. Staying safe on a catamaran doesn’t mean trusting something in the wrong conditions.

20 – Steer Clear Of Shipping Lanes

You may not always be able, but for the most part, staying out of shipping lanes is a brilliant idea. Ocean faring shipping vessels are enormous. Have you ever seen one of those container ships up close? Standard container ships today measure upwards of 400 meters. That’s over 1,300 ft long. And they can be 59 meters (193 feet) wide and as high as 73 meters (239) tall. That’s 3.6 football fields long by over half a football field wide and as tall as a 22 story building. How big was the cat you were going out on again? Point being, these massive ships don’t stop on a dime. In fact, by the time they saw you, it would be too late for them to move. And if you were out there at night, well, they might not see you at all, especially if you aren’t in a massive catamaran.

A storm wave engulfs a ship in this illustration.
Wave Eats Ship – Yikes!

21 – Steer Clear Of Storms

Again, obvious, I think. Storm avoidance is relative to knowing your weather forecast. On any lengthy voyage, you should have the means to keep up to date on current estimates in your area. Having the ability to see a current weather satellite view can be vital in avoiding danger. If you know you can steer around a storm cell, you should. Even with the catamaran being an extra sturdy and stable craft. I’m not a fan of sailing in rough seas, are you? Let me know in the comments below if you’ve ever had a frightening experience on the water due to weather. I’d love to hear about it.

22 – Slow Down In Poor Visibility

Slowing down when in poor visibility conditions is another no-brainer, in my opinion. But, you’d be surprised how many people don’t follow this very basic rule. Let me tell you how a guy on a personal watercraft sized catamaran flipped his cat over right in front of me.

I was out testing a boat from a rental company to write an article for them and was spending the day out on Lake Simcoe here in Ontario. The day was sunny and beautiful with a reasonably decent wind. I was out on a powerboat with an outboard and, as mentioned, was navigating around the shore, taking in the beauty of the day and taking notes for the upcoming content piece I was writing for the marina that had the rental boats.

So, there I was about 200 meters from the shore, out on this little runabout. I was passing by an inlet where I could see there was a small bay, and several small personal watercraft were moving around the bay, also enjoying the day as I was.  

Personal Watercraft Catamarans

One of these crafts was a guy on a small personal watercraft catamaran. He was just flying along, I’m guessing at about 15 knots. He looked like he was just having a grand old time as he piloted the craft out of the inlet and seemingly right towards the path I was on. The wind was coming right for me from where this guy was, and from the angle, I don’t think he could see me, being in a blind spot of his sail.

Well, let me tell you it’s a good thing I grabbed my whistle and started blowing it like a mad hatter. Within a few blows, he finally heard me over the wind. I had stopped my boat to attempt to not collide with this fellow, and I guess he got startled and turned his cat too quick and bam. Down his sail goes, and up goes one of his hulls. He had ditched his cat by going too fast and turning too suddenly.  

Naturally, I went and helped him out, and we had a good chuckle about it, but it could have been an awful situation. And it was bright outside, no fog at all. But it’s an excellent example of how an obstructed view can occur if they aren’t careful, even in normal conditions. I can only imagine what sort of situations a fast cat could get into if it were foggy out. So, come dusk slow it right down. If you can’t see around a corner of an inlet, slow it down.  


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23 – Trust Your Gut

When it comes to your ability to pilot your catamaran, trust your guy. Sometimes when we are taking friends out on the water, they tend to push you to take risks, you may not feel comfortable about taking. Trust your instincts. If you aren’t 110% behind an idea, don’t do it. When drowning is possible, always choose decisions on the side of caution.

24 – Be Responsible And Use Common Sense

This last tip may come as a shock. That is, it is so blatantly apparent that I shouldn’t even have to say it. But there are some people out there on the water that make some pretty poor decisions. If you are the captain of your vessel, anyone who is aboard has their lives in your hands. Never forget that. Be a responsible captain and keep everyone safe.

Following common sense will solve half the issue you may face out on the water. For example, you might have planned a cat trip for weeks with friends or family. Everyone could be excited about it, but then a last-minute weather change could throw a wrench into the gears. If you use common sense, you’ll postpone the launch. I’ve heard time and time again about this sort of situation happening, and people go out on the water and put their lives at risk. A little common sense can go a long way to keeping you safe and sound out there on the big drink.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Safe Are Catamarans?

Catamarans are sturdy boats. Due to having two hulls spaced apart, rather than the single hull you’ll find on a monohull vessel. So, how safe are they? Well, technically speaking, a catamaran is more reliable than a monohull boat. The craft is known for its ability to handle rough seas with relative ease compared to monohull ships.

How Hard Is It To Capsize A Catamaran?

To accurately answer this question, we need to refer to a specific type of catamaran, given that the handling is different depending on its size. I wrote an entire article on this single topic alone. To sum that article up, the smaller the cat, the easier to flip over and capsize. Keep in mind catamarans are typically more sturdy and stable than a monohull boat. With this in mind, catamarans are less likely to capsize compared to an equally sized monohull vessel. However, due to their increased speed capabilities, a cat has a higher chance of flipping on fast maneuvers at speed than it does at slower speeds.  

Are Catamarans Safe In Rough Seas?

Yes. It is not uncommon to hear at port how other sailors’ narrowly survived’ the rough gale they went through, while a catamaran may just cruise through the storm with little issue. Not to say one should let one’s guard down when out in rough seas. But a catamaran is a proven platform that is much more stable than a monohull ship.

Do Catamarans Flip Easy?

No catamarans do not flip easily, and yet yes, they do. Confused? Well, as I mentioned, I dive deep (no pun intended) into this topic in another article about capsizing catamarans. It’s like this: The smaller the cat, the easier it is to flip. Why? Due to the extra stability of the catamaran platform, larger sails than that of a monohull are typical. This larger sail size means increased speed. When a catamaran is at high speed, and the wind shifts, a slight misstep when it comes to navigating and the sail can quickly push the craft right over. However, a catamaran is typically more stable than a monohull sailboat of equal length. Therefore, catamarans can only flip over given the right conditions and do not flip as readily as monohull boats. Staying safe on a catamaran is easier than you think.

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