Duncan Kent chooses a selection of second-hand sail and power boats that are ideally suited to cruising with your children and grandchildren

Best boats for a family: sail and power

Many years ago I started cruising with my wife and young daughter in a 24ft woodie, covering some 7,000 miles in her over several years.

This was with a homemade double bunk, a camping stove, cool box, one small car battery and a 30-year-old car engine that ran sporadically.

We moved onwards and upwards, saving every penny we could, and were soon enjoying the delights of the massive aft cabin in our 42ft Moody.

However, we’ve never forgotten the fun we had in our old Falmouth Pilot and still entertain the grandkids with yarns of our early travels.

A boat is what you make of it and, no matter what your budget is, can nearly always be made to suit your requirements if needs must.

Since the turn of the century, though, more and more production yachts have been designed with family cruising in mind.

For me, having had the added experience of sailing with our young grandchildren, one of the most important things is to find a boat that behaves predictably in any sea.

One that’s not too tippy or flighty and can be sailed single-handed or safely left on autopilot while some crisis or another is sorted as a matter of urgency.

As the family grows up, if they’re still willing to sail with you, then they’ll likely become keen sailors themselves.

So, if you can find a yacht that can cope with toddlers and yet perform well enough to also provide the thrills a little later in their lives, then you have a keeper.

Best boats for a family: 20-25ft LOA

Sailing yachts

Somehow, designer David Thomas managed to squeeze a family-size cruising yacht into the Hunter Ranger 245 and still make it look good.

Though conceived solely as a coastal/offshore cruiser, his earlier racing designs meant she was never going to be a slug, despite her comparatively substantial build.

My first experience of the 245 was out in an uncomfortable Solent chop with a gusty Force 5-6 sou’westerly blowing.

I was prepared for our test sail to be cancelled, but Andy from Hunter Boats was having none of it. At the end of our sail, I was having so much fun I didn’t want to come back in.

Thomas really had the knack of getting the best performance out of a small boat, even one with twin keels.

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Later boats had a self-tacking jib that reduced her windward performance a tad but made her more ideal for a family with young children that needed constant attention.

Besides, there was always the scooper to rev things up when the opportunity presented itself!

For days without wind, the 10hp inboard diesel would get you home, charge the batteries for the evening and heat the water for the washing up.

The budget alternative was an outboard, but being in a deep well it still gave a good performance.

Below, she is surprisingly roomy, light and airy for a small boat, thanks to the open plan layout.

This provides a comfortable saloon with 6ft/1.83m standing room and able to seat six at the table with ease.

The open forepeak is compact and really only suitable for children or very small adults, but she has a private heads compartment, a cosy quarter berth, a decent galley and even a reasonable chart table.

The Ranger 245 was later renamed the Channel 245 when Lauren Marine took over the build in 2003, but it was virtually the same boat bar a few coachroof and deck mods.

Best boats for a family - a white yacht moored by a pontoon

The Gib’sea 77 has a practical sea-going layout but needs reefing early. Credit: David Harding

A popular small, French-built cruising yacht of the 1980s, the 25ft Gib’sea 77 was available with either a deep fin or a stub keel and centreplate.

The hull is relatively deep bellied so she’s not the quickest around, but then she makes up for it by being stiff enough to stand up to her sail in a blow.

For her size, she is surprisingly roomy inside.

Being quite beamy the saloon has room for a family of four to relax and dine around the fixed wooden table, and headroom is reasonable at 1.68m/5ft 6in.

She sleeps six at a push, although four is more realistic.

The forecabin vee-berth is over 6ft long and there’s a hanging locker and deep shelf for your clothes.

The two straight settees also make excellent adult berths that can be used underway with lee cloths.

She even has a quarter berth, although at just 0.9m/3ft wide, it’s a very cosy double!

The Gib’sea 77 has a private heads compartment, albeit a little cramped, and a decent enough galley.

The saloon table also pivots around the compression post to make more living space and creates a useful chart table when sailing.

She has a straightforward but sturdy masthead rig that’s well supported, and a traditional slab reef main.

They originally came with a hank-on jib, although most were later upgraded to a furler.

I took a fin keel model for a sail out of Falmouth on a particularly squally winter’s day and she behaved impeccably.


The popular Sealine S24 packs a lot into a small hull but still provides ample space for a small family to get out on the water for the weekend and have fun.

She’s trailerable too, if you have a powerful tow vehicle, so you can take her home and save storage fees over the winter. Alternatively, she should just fit into a dry stack system.

She boasts a large cockpit with wrap-around seating for four to six for entertaining, four of whom can sleep over in either the main cabin, with its huge transverse double berth, or in the other permanent double under the wheelhouse floor.

Best boats for a family - a white power boat

The Sealine S24 is capable of cruising at 18-20 knots. Credit: G.I.Dobner/Alamy

She also has a moulded GRP private heads compartment with a hand shower and hot water, and even a good enough galley to store food and produce a decent hot meal for four.

Although frequently found on the UK’s inland waterways and lakes, the S24 is also a very competent seagoing vessel.

Most were ordered with a Volvo Penta KD32 170hp inboard diesel engine with sterndrive.

With this, she is easily capable of 18-20 knots cruising and will top over 25 knots flat out.

Speed freaks, however, might prefer the 4.2lt Mercruiser petrol model if achieving 30 knots is the goal.

Best boats for a family: 26-30ft LOA

Sailing yachts

The Dufour 2800 was the French yard’s most successful cruising yacht, with some 1,300 launched over seven years.

The 1978 design was ahead of its time and featured a high-volume hull and a light, airy interior, as well as giving an impressive sailing performance.

As standard she came with a fin keel, but a ‘Club’ performance model with a deeper, lead ballasted fin was an option.

Alternatively, one could opt for the centreboard version for creek crawling.

The layout below is conventional, but the long coachroof and numerous windows let plenty of light in, and her tall topsides also allow ample headroom in the saloon.

She’s relatively beamy too, which combined with a table that folds up against the bulkhead, leaves ample room for family living.

A man on a boat

Best boats for a family: The small mainsail on the Dufour 2800 is easy to manage and the high boom is a good safety feature. Credit: Jeremy Evans

The galley can easily feed a family of four, although worktop space is limited.

The heads compartment runs across the boat with two doors to enclose it. Some have even added a shower.

The forecabin is entirely taken up with the large vee-berth, although there are numerous overhead lockers and bins.

This is the only double berth, although I’ve seen some with a convertible saloon berth. Otherwise, the settees and a narrow quarter berth provide three singles.

Typical of the day, her mainsail is quite small, so she relies upon her large furling genoa for power, which involves a fair bit of winching after each tack.

Tiller steered, her unbalanced rudder can be heavy if pushed, but kept well-trimmed she is pretty easy on the helm.

Her deep cockpit is safe and secure, yet roomy enough for a table. Tall coamings keep the water out and the seatbacks are comfortably angled.

Sail controls come to hand easily, although some may not like the bridge deck mounted mainsail track, and her motion in a seaway is positively pleasant thanks to her sleek hull shape and deep vee bows.

You’d think a 28ft cruising yacht would have minimal interior volume once enough close-cell foam had been injected into her double-skinned hull to make her unsinkable, but somehow the Etap 28S manages it without a problem.

Not only does the foam add buoyancy, but it also provides fantastic insulation too.

Her open-plan interior has all the features of a larger boat, including an adult-size forepeak vee-berth, a huge aft cabin, a spacious heads with shower, and a comprehensive galley.

Another handy feature is the dining table, which can be slid up the compression post to the deck head to make more space.

The saloon headroom is a very generous 1.95m/6ft 4in too. The 28S looks quite modern with her plumb ends, gentle sheer and eyebrow-style coachroof.

A yacht with a white hull and white sails at sea

The Etap 28S has an open transom and quarter seats, making it comfortable for bracing. Credit: Graham Snook/Yachting Monthly

Her cockpit is spacious, but not so wide as to have you falling about at sea, and moving around the deck is greatly aided by sensibly placed handrails and excellent non-slip surfaces.

Tiller steering is standard, although the ingenious Etap Vertical Steering system (EVS) was also an option.

She came with a self-tacking jib and all sail controls, bar the mainsheet, led to two coachroof-mounted, self-tailing winches.

Her rig is a 7/8ths fractional, deck-stepped mast with swept spreaders and a gas-sprung kicker. There’s no backstay, which allows for plenty of roach in the mainsail.

The 28S is great fun to sail being well balanced, light on the helm and easy to sail single-handed, which is important for families with youngsters.

Her self-tacking jib has a tight sheeting angle, allowing her to point high, but the main power is from the large mainsail, which gives her a decent turn of speed.

With the bulk of her ballast at the foot of the keel she’s stiff too, even with the tandem shoal keel that reduces her draught to just 1.1m/3ft 7in.


The Saga 26HT is a small, semi-displacement family cruiser that has that typical woody and warm Scandinavian feel to the interior.

Despite having a hard top with large windows and a hatch above, the wheelhouse is open to the cockpit and, as such, is typically only protected by the canvas cockpit tent.

The cockpit is a good size with a U-shaped seating area capable of accommodating six to eight people comfortably, making it ideal for social or family gatherings, especially with the canvas removed in good weather.

There’s also a reasonably well-equipped galley within the cockpit area.

A power boat with a red canopy

The Saga 26HT has trim tabs, although the boat is nicely balanced for most sea conditions

Going forward, the cabin is a very decent size and houses a dinette with seating for six, that easily converts into a spacious double berth.

There’s plenty of useful, vented stowage too, both for clothes and other items, along with a compact heads compartment including a hot water shower.

There’s a long single berth in the cabin that runs back under the wheelhouse and, of course, the possibility of two further berths in the cockpit on warm summer days.

Outside she has a full-width bathing platform with wet lockers, a deck shower and a boarding ladder, which is ideal for family days at anchor.

She is powered by a single, shaft-drive diesel, which was the turbocharged 85hp Yanmar 4JH2 DTE as standard.

This has plenty of grunt for this size boat and allows her to cruise quietly and economically at around 11 knots, giving a range of around 140 miles.

The top speed is 15-16 knots.

Best boats for a family: 31-35ft LOA

Sailing yachts

The American-built Catalina 320 was launched in 1993 but remains modern looking.

Hulls were constructed by hand using vinylester resins to create a solid GRP hull with balsa-cored decks.

The shoe box-style hull-deck joint overlaps and is through-bolted and bonded. She was available with a shallow draught wing keel or a deep fin keel, both incorporating lead ballast.

Substantial inner mouldings were bonded-in to add considerable strength and integrity.

She is beamy and spacious inside, with accommodation for up to seven in two cabins and the saloon.

The light, airy interior feels quite open with the lack of any divisions between the galley, nav station and saloon.

In addition to a huge, full width transverse berth, the aft ‘master suite’ includes a dressing area with a seat, hanging locker and over 1.8m/6ft headroom.

The forecabin contains a comfy vee-berth plus ample stowage too.

Best boats for a family - a yacht with white hull

Best boats for a family: The Catalina 320 was offered with either a shallow draught wing keel or deep fin keel. Credit: Graham Snook/Yachting Monthly

Her large, U-shaped galley contains a full-size cooker, a large fridge, two deep sinks, and plenty of stowage. On deck, the cockpit is wide, and the coamings are low and sloped.

There’s good non-slip on every horizontal surface, however.

The wheel and pedestal are fairly large but set well aft. She is masthead rigged with a traditional deck layout.

The primary winches are substantial and the mainsheet double-ended for simplicity.

The UK standard was a slab reef mainsail, but the ‘Dutchman’ mainsail system which replaces lazyjacks and operates rather like a Venetian blind, was optional.

It works well, provided the lines are slackened off once the main is hoisted to allow the sail to take shape.

The sail plan is powerful, which is helpful as her displacement is quite high, but the 37% ballast ratio helps keep her stiff.

Upwind she points well, is light on the helm and easy to sail single-handed. She is responsive and agile and flips through tacks smartly.

Off the wind she is no slouch either, thanks to her slippery hull.

Designed by Tony Smith (Telstar trimaran creator), the original Gemini catamaran went through numerous updates, finally evolving into the Gemini 105Mc in the mid-1990s.

For a catamaran she is narrow, her beam just 40% of her length, so she occupies the same area as the equivalent length motorboat.

Her teardrop-shaped, flat-bottomed hulls are unlike the more common vee-shaped production catamaran hulls and reduce the wetted surface area together with the associated drag.

To prevent any additional leeway she has kick-up centreboards that, fully raised, give her a mere 0.45m/1ft 6in draught.

An interior moulding offers a superior finish and generous headroom inside. The cockpit-level saloon contains a large, U-shaped dinette with panoramic views.

She can sleep six in three double cabins, or eight including the dinette conversion.

Each hull has a spacious double cabin aft, with dressing area, lockers and drawers.

The inside of a catamaran boat

A one-piece glassfibre moulding forms the basis of the interior of the Gemini 105Mc. Credit: Duncan Kent

The centre of the port hull houses the chart table, while forward is a large head and shower. The starboard hull contains a well-equipped galley.

Hull headroom is 1.88m/6ft 2in. The master cabin encompasses the area forward of the saloon and across into the starboard hull.

Occupants of the roomy double berth enjoy fantastic views through large windows.

The open cockpit has ample seating and there’s a good view ahead from the helm, either through the windows or along the side decks.

The rigid bimini has hatches for checking mainsail trim, plus cockpit tent attachments.

A 27hp inboard diesel sits centrally under the aft seat, and the steerable drive leg is raised and lowered hydraulically.

The 105Mc is fractionally rigged with a large, fully battened, slab reef mainsail. The mainsheet track runs across the aft deck, while the genoa sheets are led to coachroof winches.

Cruising catamarans can struggle to sail upwind and often suffer excessive leeway.

However, the Gemini’s asymmetrical centreboards noticeably improve her windward performance.

Before tacking, though, someone needs to go below to winch one board up and the other down, so when short tacking it’s best to leave both down.


The single-, or twin-engined, semi-displacement Nimbus 320 Coupe is typical of this renowned Swedish boatyard, innovative in design terms, yet still soundly built using top quality materials to a traditional recipe.

Inside the bright saloon is a sumptuous blend of warm wood, smooth curves and a serene ambience.

The single helm seat is positioned perfectly to give a clear view all round and access to the wide array of instruments on the console.

On the opposite side is a comfortable twin navigator/passenger bench that can be reversed to use as extra saloon seating.

The dinette features a large, twin-leaf dining table with seating for five to six, and opposite is an extensive galley with sufficient stowage for extended cruises, all neatly hidden away inside a delightful wooden cabinet when not in use.

A power boat being driven at sea

Best boats for a family: The Nimbus 320 Coupe’s shaft drive and long skeg means the boat keeps its course well. Credit: Nimbus Boats

The main sleeping cabin is forward after a couple of steps down and features a large double berth and plenty of easy access stowage.

It’s very light and airy, thanks to numerous portlights and hatches, and the roomy heads is immediately outside the cabin door.

In the most popular single engine model, the guest double berth is located beneath the saloon and has opening ports for light and ventilation.

The dinette can also be converted into a double berth.

Nimbus has had a long affiliation with Volvo, so it’s somewhat predictable that the 320 should offer Volvo Penta diesels.

The single 260hp D4 offers an economical cruising speed of around 16 knots at 2,500rpm, and 22 knots at full chat.

The alternative was the 230hp Yanmar 4LH-STE. The engine installation is first-class, and the soundproofing is so efficient that it’s hard to know if the engine is idling or not.

She’s instantly responsive, planing quickly, and is easy to manoeuvre at all speeds.

Best boats for a family: 36-40ft LOA

Sailing yachts

Very few 35ft yachts were offered with twin/bilge keels, which made the UK-built Legend 36 quite unusual.

With additional ballast, however, the bilge keel version sails almost as well as the deep fin hull, with the bonus of being able to sneak up shallow creeks or take the ground.

Based on the American Hunter Legend 356, the 36 is a wide-bodied family cruiser with a voluminous interior.

The hull is solid GRP below the waterline, with Kevlar reinforcement around the keel and bow areas, changing to balsa core sandwich for the topsides and decks.

Like all Legends, the 36 comes with the Bergstrom & Ridder (B&R) backstay-less rig.

The topsides are high, but clever styling manages to provide ample headroom below, without her looking top heavy.

A boat being sailed off the coast

The Legend 36 points well due to the narrow headsail sheeting angle. Credit: Bob Aylott

Legends’ sumptuous interiors are popular with families. The two double cabins feature massive berths with deep mattresses and plentiful stowage.

Thanks to her ample beam, high topsides and numerous windows and hatches, the saloon is wide, airy and spacious and headroom is over 6ft.

There’s a large dinette with a settee opposite, providing enough space for six to eight to sit around the table in comfort.

The galley is bigger than most apartment kitchens and equally well-equipped, while the huge heads features a separate shower stall.

Pressurised hot water was standard. She has a big cockpit, ideal for entertaining and eating al fresco.

The genoa winches are right by the helm with the mainsheet traveller lines also to hand. All other lines terminate on the coachroof.

With no backstay the mainsail is big and therefore the primary power.

Sailing her in a near gale required a deep reef to keep her reasonably upright, but she still managed to point well, probably due to the narrow headsail sheeting angle.

Though I have every confidence in the B&R rig’s integrity, the lack of a backstay has some drawbacks – its inability to sail downwind beyond a broad reach due to very swept spreaders and the lack of a means to retain tension in the forestay.

The Hanse 400 is the epitome of a modern family cruiser but with a sparkling performance to boot.

She is sleek looking with her plumb ends, long waterline, shallow bilges and a broad beam.

She’s not only comfortable and easy to sail, however, but tough enough to cope with most offshore conditions as well.

The 400’s hull is heavily reinforced using a foam stringer and floor beam framework, while weight is minimised by using balsa core above the waterline.

Hanse offered a more expensive epoxy (e) version which increased the hull strength, reduced displacement, and made her virtually osmosis-proof.

Below, she is unashamedly modern and somewhat minimalist, rather like a modern city apartment.

Hanse offered no less than 16 different layouts and 99 options, so few are the same inside.

A yacht moored

The Hanse 400 has a heavily reinforced hull with a lighter balsa core above the waterline. Credit: Andrew Pickersgill

There was a choice between one or two aft cabins, and a large, ensuite forecabin with central or offset double.

Either way, she has a fantastic galley, large, luxurious heads and a really comfortable saloon with acres of space for family living.

The cockpit is wide and a fold-down transom platform provides a deck shower and easy boarding from the sea.

She benefits from a sporty, high-aspect fractional rig.

A self-tacking jib makes tacking simple and quick, and with the primaries by the helm, you can sail single-handed with ease.

A fully battened main and lazyjacks also make sail handling a doddle. The 400 is quick, responsive, drama-free and stiff in a good blow.

The rod steering is quite precise but still offers enough feedback to keep you in the groove.


A slightly rare beast in the UK but an excellent alternative to the usual offerings, the Polish-built Galeon 380 Fly has bags of space for a large family and friends, both on deck and down below.

Her beautifully appointed, warm and woody accommodation had either two or three cabins.

The latter had a small, single cabin under the main saloon, which resulted in the galley being relocated up a level, onto the main deck area.

The master suite forward has a huge island berth and there’s stowage galore, with the toilet and shower in separate compartments, both easily accessible from all cabins.

The main saloon has positively sumptuous lounging and dining areas, with a raised helm station forward.

A powerboat at sea

The Galeon 380 Fly was offered with the option of stern or shaft drive. Credit: Nick Burnham

The cockpit is a good size with seating all round and level, walk-through access to a large bathing platform.

Steps lead up to the side decks, which are pleasingly wide but with solid handrails for the full hull length.

A large sun pad on the foredeck is perfect for those keen on soaking up the sun.

Ascending the enclosed stairway from the cockpit takes you to the large flybridge, which offers comfortable seating for six along with uninterrupted views.

There’s a full set of engine and navigation instruments and controls, plus a twin helm seat.

A fully planing flybridge motoryacht, the 12m 380 was offered with twin Volvo diesels, either the 300hp D4 or 435hp D6, connected to shaft drives.

Maximum speed is 35 knots, but she cruises reasonably economically at around 24 knots.

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