What design features make life aboard comfortable & practical for females?

Discussion in 'Boat Design' started by Wilma Ham, Aug 20, 2006.

  1. Wilma Ham
    Joined: Aug 2006
    Posts: 138
    Likes: 3, Points: 0, Legacy Rep: 37
    Location: New Zealand

    Wilma Ham Senior Member

    As we( John and I-Wilma-) are planning to live on a boat in the near future and sailing a lot, I want to be actively involved in the interior design of the boat. I think it is my responsibility to put as much effort in as I can, so I will make the liveaboard lifestyle as great for both of us as possible. I don’t want to be the hanger on who always complains about the ‘what ifs’ and how I would have things differently. I know there is no perfect boat but at least I can think about how to make it as comfortable and people friendly as I can.
    I have some sailing experience in the Auckland harbours of New Zealand; the weather is not always that great and can be very changeable and cold and wet.
    I have visited around 60 mostly sailing boats in 2 years to get a sense of what is possible and I have looked at motor yachts and catamarans as well to give myself as much exposure to possibilities as possible.
    So, I would like to share ideas and questions about the interior and lay-out of boats.
    Lets start with the lay-out, Murielle on the bigger is better thread made some real good comments about the lay-out. I would like to quote her ; "if you can't easily get to your stuff, if you can't be warm and dry, if you can't function ergonomically, if you don't find it looks good, than you feel like you're camping. I never really missed pressurized water but I'm done with small boat sinks, this time we're going full size". She is planning on having a rather smaller living space that serves as a living space and not an engine room, nav station or tool box at the same time and that makes a lot of sense to me. Why is that not common practice?
    Does that living space need to be down below or could it be raised or in a pilot house with double glazing against the cold or heat and be airy and light?
    Why are the working areas in galleys so small and why are the sinks, cook tops and ovens miniature sized; that is saving space with the wrong things for the wrong reasons.
    Why are the seats mostly behind a table so you cannot get in or out of the space with ease?
    My starting questions are: what determines the interior and lay-out of a sailing boat, where spaces such as saloons, cabins, galleys and cockpits are placed and how much room is allocated to each? Are there any rules that makes the lay-out so common on most sailing boats?
    Why are the latest live aboard sailing boats not designed with a closed in pilot house with good windows for ocean sailing?
    I cannot imagine myself sitting outside in the rain and wind when I could be inside without all the heavy wet weather gear?
    These are some of my thoughts to start off with. I have a lot more but I have to start somewhere.
  2. Tim B
    Joined: Jan 2003
    Posts: 1,438
    Likes: 59, Points: 0, Legacy Rep: 841
    Location: Southern England

    Tim B Senior Member

    Wow, there are quite a few questions there, and to an extent I pity the designer you're going to work with (if you go custom).

    Engine compartments, Nav Stations and Galleys are where they are for convenience and weight reasons. For instance, putting the engine too far aft is bad news from a sea-motions point of view. Nav Stations are normally positioned next to the companionway because it is easy to get to the cockpit.

    As for enclosed Helms, they're fine on powerboats, but they are very dangerous on sailing yachts for two reasons. Firstly, if anything fails it takes longer to get to it (and this can make a huge difference). Secondly, even with modern instuments, it is hard to tell what is going on outside, even in clear waters that is dangerous.

    If you want to try your hand at designing an interior drop me an e-mail and I'll send you some appropriate sections to fit an interior in. I think you'll find that it's actually quite tricky.

    Tim B.
    1 person likes this.
  3. CT 249
    Joined: Dec 2004
    Posts: 1,709
    Likes: 82, Points: 48, Legacy Rep: 467
    Location: Sydney Australia

    CT 249 Senior Member

    I've spent four years living aboard; not massive experience, but some. I agree with having at least some spaces which are single-use. I actually found that open plan was a pain for a liveaboard; you never got a different set of horizons, never had a different "feel" to the living space. Just partitioning off the Vee berth made an enormous difference because you got some space away from sails stored in quarter berths, radios, etc.

    The higher the living area, the greater the motion but personally I'd take the extra motion and get more light, with windows you can see out of. What's the point of being in a nice place when you can't see it?

    In my limited experience of pilothouses, visibility is a problem. Many also try to incorporate a deck saloon with an interior steering station, which means lots of wet wet weather gear over the upholstery. A chintzy saloon doesn't go well with the working part of a sailboat IMHO.

    Much depends on your cruising style. My brother's cat works brilliantly (in my limited experience and his extensive experience) because it has a covered cockpit that is designed to get wet, not a deck saloon. You can come out from snorkelling and crash out on the benches out of the wind and sun; that doesn't work as well if you have lots of teak and delicate upholstery. I've sailed a famous ex Kiwi boat (Buccaneer) that had a big deckhouse that was basically a covering to the front of the cockpit. Again, it could get wet with no problems but it was still good shelter and had good visibility. The wheel was in a partly-protected position just behind (but these days you'd control it with an autohelm remote easily). There was a proper companionway protecting the rest of the accomodation. It was an excellent shelter without being impractical.

    One other thing I'd love would be an area at hte base of the companionway with a grate on the cabin sole, to take the water coming off people who have been wearing foul weather gear or swimming, and a drying cabinet for towels, swimmers and wet weather gear. That can keep the rest of the accomodaton dry.

    These are just a couple of ideas, I'm not an expert by any means.

    As to why are many boats the way they are - many are designed by designers who do little cruising. Others are designed to look good at boat shows. And people have incredibly different ideas of the style of cruising that appeals to them.
  4. Grant Nelson
    Joined: Feb 2005
    Posts: 210
    Likes: 12, Points: 0, Legacy Rep: 163
    Location: Netherlands

    Grant Nelson Senior Member

    Shouldn't we first be asking Wilma what size boat she is thinking of (and general type: mono-hull, cat, no. of masts, etc.) , and where she will be sailing (will it be hot or cold, rough or calm) most of the time, and how they will be using the boat (lots of extra on the water activities, entertaining, racing, etc - what visions do you have most in your head when you see yourself on your future boat?) and with how many people for how much of the on the water time - visting vs sleeping, etc.? All this will affect her choices. And of course, then will come 'what feels and looks right' personally to Wilma... and part of that will be determined by her and her partners age/activity level. Also, how tall they are, and last, but not least, is there a preferred construction material and if it will be build by pro's or themselves or some combination there of.... ;-)
  5. yipster
    Joined: Oct 2002
    Posts: 3,486
    Likes: 96, Points: 58, Legacy Rep: 1148
    Location: netherlands

    yipster designer

    you got valid points and not only for females.
    on newer boats we see these issues often allready adressed.

    i however totally fail to see whats against running water?
    keeps the tank low, dont drain much dc and standard installed.

    than again, even with the dockhose in,
    girlfrend dont like me saying to be moderate with water...
    1 person likes this.
  6. Finlander
    Joined: Aug 2006
    Posts: 80
    Likes: 1, Points: 0, Legacy Rep: 19
    Location: Europe

    Finlander Junior Member


    Excellent points and I agree completely. I'm in the planning stages of a custom boat that seems to fulfill your requirements. I'm building it for myself though :) My project is based on the Nauticat Motorsailer.

    About my paradigm:

    I have many years of experience sailing on Nauticat Motorsailers. They sail exceptionally well (considering they are big wheelhouse cruisers) and have plenty of space and comfort for all types of weather--hot, cold, snow, etc. They really feel like 'comfort-optimized' sailboats. Check-out the link below or do a quick web search on Nauticat Motorsailers--sizes 33, 36, 38 and 44.

    Generally, there are two kinds of Nauticats: Traditional (as per the sizes listed above) and 'Modern.' I like the traditional designs because they are roomiest and have the simplest build process. They are roomy because they hold their width throughout the entire length of the boat; that means more interior volume per-foot.

    Conversely, the 'modern' Nauticat designs are sleeker and more cramped---and lots of little up-and-down levels within the interior. And they sort of have what CT-249 mentioned about impractical deck saloon/ wheelhouse combinations with awkward visibility. Some people like that though, but it's not my thing.

    For my project, I won't use the Nauticat hull, per se. However, my design will be based on another hull that's perhaps even more roomy than the traditional Nauticat: possibly a Spray. Bruce Roberts in Australia specializes in that particular hull.

    When you do the web search, it'll be obvious which Nauticat models are traditional and which are modern.

    Look at the wheelhouse on the smallest one, the traditional Nauticat 33. With folding chairs, it's plenty big enough for six people to sit at an anchorage with a small table and a platter of sandwiches--not cramped at all, even in rainy weather. Perfect view to the outside. No straining the neck. That's based on my personal experience over many years.

    When you want more privacy, go down below to a spacious U-settee, again for about 6 people.

    Outside, the flat rear deck is big enough for those same six people. Very spacious, with no clutter like on regular cockpit sailboats. We used folding chairs there, but on our second Nauticat, there were storage boxes that served as benches--common features.

    Actually, I keep mentioning those six-people, but we've had more aboard; just not all in the same cabin/compartment at once ;)

    Although I'm designing a custom vessel based largely on the Nauticat design, I'm making some changes to the Nauticat-style arrangement. Some changes are:

    1). The cabins forward and aft of the wheelhouse must be watertight/resistant, like on a regular sailboat. The Nauticat doesn't have hatches there, so that could be dangerous for ocean sailing in the unlikely event that the wheelhouse gets flooded. Also, unlike on the Nauticat, the huge engine compartment (under the wheelhouse floor) must be sealed. Simple.

    2). The wheelhouse is wonderful for operating the boat...under power. However, it's not very practical for sailing because one must go outside to handle the sails. I'm considering two options for my design: One is to have removable rear/side windows to access winches and sheets and the other is to design the back-half of the wheelhouse with a removable canvas top, instead of it being a fully-enclosed hardtop. Not sure yet.

    3). Unlike the Nauticats, I'm opting against the V-berth cabin in front. Instead, I want to extend the main cabin, plus provide more closet space. For visitors, the U-settee would convert to a private double cabin. The first drawing on the page linked below (the center cockpit Spray 36 A) describes my proposed interior pretty well. Just picture a wheelhouse over the cockpit...and perhaps a larger U-shaped nav station that I'll also use as an office for work.


    Generally, this design works equally well--and is relatively inexpensive to build for any boat 33-feet and upwards. By the way, my wife and I could probably live on a Nauticat 33, if the interior were to be arranged as per above. Slightly bigger would be better of course, but I don't think we'll need over 40-feet, due to the massive interior volume inherent to such a large hull.

    Sorry if I barraged you with too many details. I'll try to help with more info if you're interested.


    Hope this link works; it's a Nauticat 33 that's for sale by a broker. Good interior pics...
  7. M&M Ovenden
    Joined: Jan 2006
    Posts: 365
    Likes: 80, Points: 38, Legacy Rep: 527
    Location: Ottawa

    M&M Ovenden Senior Member

    I don't think questions on layout and style of boats can lead to right or wrong answers but to opinions which will be very different and often opposing depending on peoples style of sailing and living, location and age. I have a pretty clear answer about your pilot house question Wilma. Now this is my opinion and being too young to be wise, I have time to change my mind.


    Why are the latest live aboard sailing boats not designed with a closed in pilot house with good windows for ocean sailing?
    I cannot imagine myself sitting outside in the rain and wind when I could be inside without all the heavy wet weather gear?
    These are some of my thoughts to start off with. I have a lot more but I have to start somewhere.

    I am not a fan of the full pilothouses but don't disagree about having to stay out of the spray.

    Unlike driving, when sailing you use all your sens. Off shore there isn't much visual references, and use a lot of the other sens to feel how the boat is running. A lot of this would get lost in a too cozy pilot house,and I agree a bunch of fancy equipment can tell you what's going on but not as efficiently your good own senses. To me the electronics, which I'm more than happy to use comes in second and confirm or add to what I feel.
    I'll explain. On deck you feel the wind, what ever you are doing if the wind shifts or the boat loses its course, you know it. If the wind increases just a bit, you know it. The only sounds you hear are those of the boat, if the sails could be set a bit better, you'll hear it.
    Sailing from in a pilot house would take a lot of will to not get lazy. I like having my boat always well balanced, tweaking the sails to never touch the helm. Wouldn't one tend to over steer and tend to avoid resetting the sails when things slightly change.
    On a safety point of view, I think always being ready is a good idea. Things can happen fast on a boat. A line that comes loose might not give you much time to get suited up, but could keep you busy in the cold and wet for a while.
    Without a good self discipline wouldn't one tend to put back reefing when sitting a little to cozy in the pilothouse. When in the crap it's all in your physical advantage to act early and the elements will make you act rather earlier than later.

    I know about freezing hands and finger tips tingling but am still not to sure about the full on cozy pilot house. I do appreciate that hot chocolate straight from the sea worthy galley when the weather is bad though.

  8. Finlander
    Joined: Aug 2006
    Posts: 80
    Likes: 1, Points: 0, Legacy Rep: 19
    Location: Europe

    Finlander Junior Member

    Amel Maramu

    I agree with M&M Ovenden about wanting to have some feel for the weather.

    IMO, here's a nice compromise. Notice that the helm is mounted on the bulkhead instead of in the middle of the cockpit. I like that arrangement because it provides more space in the cockpit. Besides, when I sail, I almost always use the windvane or autopilot, so having a big wheel to clutter the cockpit doesn't really thrill me. Sailing purists would likely find some reason to disagree with that arangement--but I'm not one of them :p

    Also, with this arrangement, you could probably enclose everything with canvas for when it's raining in the harbor or at anchor. For that matter, you might even sail with everything enclosed, but then you'd lose some that aforementioned feel. But at least you'll have the option if you want it.

    Incidentally, this hull is much sleeker than what I mentioned in my last post; therefore, the boat needs more length to acheive the same interior volume. It probably sails quite well though.

    The forward V-cabin on the Amel Maramu could probably be used as a workshop. That'd keep the tools and some messy projects out of the way.

    http://www.caraibe-yachts.com/en/photos.php?ph=2&id=225&boat=Amel Maramu 1979
  9. Richard Hillsid
    Joined: Mar 2006
    Posts: 117
    Likes: 4, Points: 0, Legacy Rep: 19
    Location: Scandinavia

    Richard Hillsid Senior Member

    Finlander can you private measage me?
  10. Finlander
    Joined: Aug 2006
    Posts: 80
    Likes: 1, Points: 0, Legacy Rep: 19
    Location: Europe

    Finlander Junior Member

    I would, but I don't seem to have the right priviledges...what to do?
  11. Wilma Ham
    Joined: Aug 2006
    Posts: 138
    Likes: 3, Points: 0, Legacy Rep: 37
    Location: New Zealand

    Wilma Ham Senior Member

    Wow, thanks for all the contributions, great. Firstly I am in the thinking stage and instead of pitying the designer, I think most desingers might like it if people would take some time to think about things. I don't want to be unreasonable, like a woman insisting on an induction stove with no rails -for looks- on a sailing boat, I just want to use my brain to come up with some questions, observations and discuss options.
    Such as what is important for you and how do you want to live. The example of six folding chairs is wonderful. I am not wasting space with a large saloon table and settees on being able to dine or entertain 10 people, when that will hardly ever happen. I don't like that configuration anyway. I have never been comfortable behind such a setting, I have seen 50feet boats wasting space on 3 to 4 cabins, everything did become cramped for the rare occasions that they had so many people on board. John and I are looking at how we live now and where we sit most of the time and how we entertain. That will not change much when we live aboard and hopefully mean we will use the space we have intelligently.
    About the closed in cockpit, again all good points. We will have a steering position outside, but most of the time during ocean sailing the self steering will do the work and adjusting sails will not be a major once you set course for long distances I believe. Just having the option to be inside when the weather is really foul and doing the sails from within appeals. Most people have an outside steering position they use when close to land or in harbour or when really good weather. I don't think I could see a container even if I am sitting outside at night!
    The sailing boat we are looking for at the moment- it might change but not likely- is around 40 ft and I want alluminium, no painting, less maintenance. We are thinking about a center board to go to shallow places and we know that it can cause problems. But we have seen good ones and good use of the shaft of the board inside the boat ie backdrop for a long galley kitchen.
    We want to keep our options open where to go, we are thinking about Alaska AND the tropics, the world is our oyster. I want a boat to go places, other wise I might as well have a bach.
    I have noticed that people are scared of the sea, most of the times I have been given books about shipwrecks and bad weather sailing, but although I think there will be times when I will be scared, most of the time the motorway scares me as well. I want a boat that makes me feel as safe as possible, steel/alluminium that won't get a hole when I am sitting in the pilothouse steering for reefs. We have seen steel boats with 22cm steel plates in the bottom etc.
    I just want to give things a bit of thought. Has anybody heard of gimbled chairs? Are there any pictures? I think that sounds great, do they work?
  12. Willallison
    Joined: Oct 2001
    Posts: 3,590
    Likes: 130, Points: 0, Legacy Rep: 2369
    Location: Australia

    Willallison Senior Member

    Sadly Wilma, you're faced with a bit of a conundrum. You're certainly not the first I might add. You are faced with a classic case of conflicting desires...
    A boat - be it sail or power - that is capable of SAFELY taking you from NZ to Alaska and the tropics is (if not by necessity) then at least by common sense going to rule out a number of the things that would make her more pleasant whilst in port.
    Let's start with those seats that you want. Where will you put them whilst you're underway? More to the point, when they're stowed, where will you sit?
    When you want to move thru the accomodation spaces and the boat lurches as it goes over a wave, what will you grab onto?....removing the permanent seating made lot's of space for when you're in port, but may not be the best option for whilst you are at sea.

    A similar case exists for the pilothouse - though let me say from the outset I would NEVER have a boat that required me to sit out in the rain in order to steer it!
    Having said that, those lovely big pilothouse windows pose a real threat when the going gets rough. You'd be surprised just how much water can get through a hole that size. I once punched a 28 foot powerboat into a wave. One of the (perspex) windscreen panel popped out giving me a rather unexpected (and very cold) bath. This was just a quick dunking through a 4 foot wave, yet I was surprised just how much water came aboard.

    Big sinks, big cookers, big toilets - all are available, just depends what type of system(s) you want to use.

    As I said to you elsewhere, boat design is all about compromise. Some of your wish list can be accomodated, some probably can't. But the one thing you simply can't afford to compromise on is safety.
    1 person likes this.
  13. catsketcher
    Joined: Mar 2006
    Posts: 1,315
    Likes: 165, Points: 63, Legacy Rep: 790
    Location: Australia

    catsketcher Senior Member

    A cat may do

    CT249 said a little of what I believe. He is a smart chap and yes I am the brother he speaks of.

    I really love the pilothouse cat concept. The most popular cat in Australia - the Seawind 1000 is a pilothouse style cat - you have a hybrid area where the typical bridgedck cabin is and dry areas downstairs. Our cat is 11.6 metres and has only had water in the cockpit once.

    It actually makes the cat safer to use as you have far better visibility than normal cats. I sit in shelter when we sail offshore and see all round in comfort and in safety. The back of the cabin is open so it hard to ignore rising wind or conditions.

    You are also closer to the roll centre of the boat.

    As to sinks and settees and the like cat designers have a much easier job of it than mono designers. A circumnavigating cat I know of went all around with store bought chairs and tables inside. I bought a table from a normal shop for our boat and followed the lead of another cat owner - I never had to bolt it down- it just never moved.

    At risk of offending - and remember I don't seek to offend but to offer a pesronal opinion - if you seek ocean crossing capability and shoal draft then a multi is a prime candidate. There are no design conflicts at all between the two. In fact that is one of the reasons I like multis, sailing on the ocean on a big boat and then running up on a beach is a thrill for some like me. I know you can get good mono centreboarders but a mono designer can better say whether they have compromises for ocean crossing.


    Phil Thompson

  14. Finlander
    Joined: Aug 2006
    Posts: 80
    Likes: 1, Points: 0, Legacy Rep: 19
    Location: Europe

    Finlander Junior Member

    folding chairs and wheelhouses

    Just to clarify... I meant that folding chairs would be used in addition to settees. For example, the main U-settee area seats 4, but with extra folders it seats 6. The wheelhouse also has settees for 3 and a captain's chair; but a couple extra folders can be added. Plus, when you arrive at some foreign port, then it might be nice to sit somewhere away from the boat for a while. Two or three folders aren't that hard to store on board--depends on interior volume and layout of the vessel of course...and the types of folders. Perhaps I misled a bit, so I just want to clear things up.

    I like flexible spaces whenever possible--and there aren't many possibilities on sailboats. For my new project, I'm considering bolt-down storage benches for the cockpit. They could be moved to the aft deck when in port. But I'm not 100% sure yet. It's a walkover design, so I don't need a passthrough.

    By the way, in this part of the world, at 60-degrees latitude, both fully-enclosed wheelhouses and hard-dodgers are very common. Some boats don't even have designated outside seating; at best, in those cases, a person can sit on the cabin roof in-front of the wheelhouse or behind it.

    None of these indoor comforts would have helped last winter though, since the entire Baltic froze-over. It was easier to cc-ski over it than sail :eek:

    FYI--basically, here's what many boats around here look like. The pictures aren't from here, but the designs are pretty much the same.



  15. M&M Ovenden
    Joined: Jan 2006
    Posts: 365
    Likes: 80, Points: 38, Legacy Rep: 527
    Location: Ottawa

    M&M Ovenden Senior Member

    When I build the inside of my previous boat, I was full of great innovative ideas. I really tried the think out of the box process but by the time I got threw all the must (as galley in the center of the boat, double bed where it's wide enough, engine where it belongs) I was back to a fairly traditional layout. I found out that smaller the boat, greater the compromise, yet having the bigger boat also means sailing and maintaining the beast.
    Anyway, that to say that I think what will make a boat a better live a board than an other is mostly in the details, those little things you don't really notice but are quite brilliant.
    Here's an example I got from a friend. I thought it was silly but made so much sens. Installing a noisy fan in the head. Doesn't matter were the fan fans, the important part is the noisy part. It has to be just noisy enough to cover up the noises nobody wants to share with the people on the other side of the thin bulkhead. The lack of noise barrier between the head and, lets say the saloon, can get very awkward on some boats. There isn't always much choices where to locate them, and often end up side by side.

    What sort of ideas have you come with Wilma? It could be interesting to know what you like or dislike about traditional live aboard layabouts, as it is the best way to come up with solutions.

Forum posts represent the experience, opinion, and view of individual users. Boat Design Net does not necessarily endorse nor share the view of each individual post.
When making potentially dangerous or financial decisions, always employ and consult appropriate professionals. Your circumstances or experience may be different.