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There are numerous types of catamarans, and their uses vary widely. The catamaran is one of the oldest and most useful hull types, and some variants have been used for thousands of years. Here are the most common kinds of catamaran boats and their uses.
Sailing catamarans are probably what you think of when you hear the name. Sailing catamarans are sailboats with two identical hulls connected by a center deck. The largest sailing catamarans are spacious and stable vessels that are capable of serious offshore sailing.
Sailing catamarans have a number of notable advantages over monohulls. Monohulls, which are traditional sailboats with a single hull, are limited by a simple concept called hull speed. As the bow and stern wave of a monohull intersect, they cause drag which limits the top speed of the boat.
Catamarans are not bound by hull speed limitations, as they have two hulls. Catamarans can go twice or even three times as fast as similar monohulls and achieve excellent travel times.
Catamarans are also more stable than monohulls, as their wide stance and shallow draft reduce the effect of rough water. They don’t heel, as the force of the wind is counteracted by the double hulls. Additionally, modern sailing catamarans can ‘wave pierce’ by cutting through swells instead of riding over them.
Sailing catamarans come in many shapes and sizes. Small sailing catamarans, such as those used in races and regattas, are known for their speed and relative stability compared to light racing monohulls. Sometimes, they feature a smaller second hull for stability—these are called outriggers.
Sailing catamarans have spacious interiors thanks to the large cockpit between the hulls. This cockpit usually contains cooking and eating spaces, a place to sit, and a hallway between the hulls. The hulls usually contain living quarters and often mirror each other.
Power catamarans have an even greater variety than sailing catamarans. These vessels are used for everything from party platforms to ferries and patrol boats.
Power catamarans are a recent development, as engineers and marine architects now realize they have numerous hydrodynamic advantages over other hull types.
Catamarans are much more efficient than other hull types, as they have less drag relative to their size. Additionally, you can build a much larger catamaran with less material. This makes them popular for car and rail ferries, as builders can construct a very wide vessel with two small hulls rather than a narrower vessel with a large single hull.
Military and Commercial Catamarans
Even the military has found a use for the catamaran hull shape. The Spearhead class EPF is an expeditionary fast transport vessel designed for carrying capacity and speed. It has two sharp hulls and a huge cargo capacity.
The Spearhead class EPF is 337 feet long, which is about the same length as a WW2 escort destroyer. Yet despite having a similar length and displacement, these catamarans can travel more than twice as fast—43 knots, or nearly 50 miles per hour. Their great speed is a direct consequence of their catamaran hull type.
Power catamarans are also used as patrol and utility boats on a much smaller scale, with either outboard or inboard motors. The State of Texas uses catamarans to patrol shallow rivers and lakes. Texas Game Wardens utilize state-of-the-art aluminum catamaran patrol boats, which are fast enough to outrun most fishing boats.
There’s another form of power catamaran that you may not have considered. Pontoon boats are technically catamarans, and they’re enormously popular on lakes and rivers throughout the country. Pontoon boats aren’t known for speed, but they’re a great platform for a fun and comfortable outing.
The final common type of power catamaran is the two-hulled houseboat. Houseboats don’t always use the catamaran hull type, but it’s common enough that most major manufacturers offer it as an option.
Catamaran houseboats have a few notable advantages over monohull designs. For one, they’re easier to build—especially when pontoons are chosen. Additionally, they’re better suited for navigating shallow water. These vessels can support more weight across their two hulls, offer increased stability, and they’re also efficient.
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