Duncan Kent chooses the best and most suitable sail and motor boats under 40ft for those buying a yacht for the first time

Best first boat guide: sail and power under 40ft

Before starting the search for your dream boat, think carefully about the type of sailing you want to do.

This will make the process of selecting and buying much easier.

While single-handed ocean crossing might be the ultimate fantasy for some, many will simply want to enjoy fine weather cruising along the coast with their family on board.

Two people sailing in a Hawk 20 trailer sailer

Decide on the type of sailing you want to do, before buying your boat. Creidt: David Harding

Buying the right boat is key to ensuring everyone stays happy.

Trying to learn the basics of sailing in a big, heavy displacement, ocean-going yacht will actually make the process much harder, and more expensive.

So it’s probably better to gain that initial experience in a smaller, cheaper boat that can take the odd ding without worry and not cost a small fortune to run, moor and maintain.

Trailer boating

Trailer boating can be a comparatively inexpensive way to gain experience at minimum cost.

Often the biggest expense for boat owners is the mooring charges, so if you can simply hitch the boat up to your car and take it home with you you’ll have more money left to spend on vital equipment and maintenance.

Inshore and coastal cruising

Those who opt to sail during daylight hours and berth in a marina in the evening to use the shoreside facilities won’t need a sophisticated galley or a large heads with shower, just comfortable berths.

Others looking to coastal cruise further afield might prefer to look for a more substantial boat that can handle a wider variety of weather and sea conditions, and enable them to anchor ‘off grid’ in comfort.

A white yacht by some trees

If you are planning to mainly sail along the coast, you do not need to spec your boat for an offshore voyage. Keep it simple

Just be careful not to over-specify your requirements.

Some prospective boat owners mistakenly feel they need an ocean-going yacht just to cope with the occasional spot of stormy weather, but with careful planning you’re unlikely to get caught out in really bad conditions when coastal cruising, particularly if you’ve planned plenty of ‘fall-back’ refuges.

Offshore and ocean sailing

For one reason or another, some folk suddenly decide, out of the blue, to embark on a life-changing expedition and go straight out to buy a bluewater cruising yacht before they really know what they need, or even want.

It might be tempting but it’s usually better to get used to sailing in a smaller coastal boat first, as it’ll give you a better idea about what boat and equipment you’ll really need for long-term cruising.

20-25ft LOA Sailing yachts

The Red Fox is a lightweight trailer-sailer that’s great fun to sail.

Originally composite, it later changed to the all-GRP RF200E in which the freeboard was raised by 3in/75mm to increase headroom and she was given a moulded inner headlining.

The RF200 is quick and close-winded, thanks to her leeboards.

Despite the need to swap them each tack, they enable her to take the ground flat and ease launch and retrieval from/to a trailer.

She has better accommodation than most 20ft boats, including an enclosed heads in some models, and the stretched RF200 Vision (23ft 5in LOA) boasted a full 6ft 1in/1.85m headroom.

A similar 20ft micro-cruiser is Swallow Boats’ Bay Cruiser 20.

Though ketch-, rather than sloop-rigged, her water ballast, deep outboard well and ample sail area make the BC20 a sprightly performer as well as a cosy weekend cruiser.

The Parker 235 is one of my favourite trailerable cruisers and is ideal for learning to sail on.

Sporting a lifting, ballasted keel with cockpit-led control lines, she is easy to tow, rig and launch while being fast, stiff and stable under sail.

A 21ft version was made but it lacked the separate heads and galley of the 235.

A 21 ft yacht with white sails - the Viko 21 which makes it onto Practical Boat Owner best first boat list

The Viko 21 is a four-berth weekender, with impressive sailing performance. Credit: David Harding

The Polish-built Viko S21 is straightforward to tow and launch, plus her modern fractional rig and single-line reefing make her easy to sail single-handed, although her large cockpit enables the whole family to be on deck both underway and at anchor.

The sailing performance exceeds that of most 21ft trailer-sailers, thanks to modern, shallow underwater sections and her wide beam not only increases her waterline, but also provides increased form stability.

Viko offers a pivoting centreboard or a deep lifting keel with ballast bulb, both with a swing-up transom-mounted rudder.

Below she boasts 5ft 5in/1.65m headroom, a large aft double berth, a roomy vee-berth forward, a dedicated heads, compact galley and drop-leaf saloon table.

Westerly’s Pageant 23 was first launched in 1970 as a sturdy coastal/offshore cruising boat.

With an impressive 49% ballast ratio, twin keels, and spade rudder, she soon earned the reputation of being predictable and safe in almost all conditions.

Boasting 6ft headroom below, she has a separate forecabin and heads, and can sleep five with the dinette table lowered, making her an ideal compact family cruiser.

Another compact offshore cruiser, this time from the renowned Hurley stable, is the steadfast Hurley 22.

A genuine offshore cruiser that many have safely sailed around the world, she has a deep fin or bilge keels, with inboard or outboard (in a well) engine, the former preferable for offshore passage making.

Despite her size, her motion is that of a much larger boat.

She’s pretty basic inside, although she has a vee berth (with toilet under), small galley and long, straight saloon sea berths.

20-25ft LOA Motorboats

British Hunter’s Landau 20 Cruiser is an outboard-powered, semi-displacement, inshore/coastal launch with a protective pilothouse and external helm station.

She came with a full cockpit tent that kept the helm dry and provided an additional sheltered living area at anchor.

A blue motor boat moored next to a windmill

The Landau 20 is ade of bi-directional rovings behind a gelcoat and skin coat of isophthalic resin, helping to keep the weight down. Credit: Dr Bill Jones

Below she has two long, straight berths in the saloon, a rudimentary galley with sink and single ring cooker, and a private heads in the forepeak.

Usually powered by a 50hp outboard, her wake is minimal at cruising speeds thanks to her clever twin tunnel hull design and at higher speeds she offers a stable ride with superb handling at sea or on inland waterways.

26-30ft LOA Sailing yachts

Westerly’s ubiquitous 26ft Centaur has been the choice of many newcomers to sailing since its launch in 1969.

Ruggedly built from solid GRP, the Centaur offers sedate, yet stable coastal cruising to couples or small families and, being quite forgiving, is a great introduction to cruiser sailing.

All had 3ft/0.9m bilge keels and a conservative Bermudan sloop rig.

Although there were many different interior layouts over the years, all offered 6ft+ headroom, private heads, a roomy saloon and comfortable berths for 4/5 adults.

two people sitting in a yacht sailing

The deep cockpit with side benches to brace against makes crew feel safe and secure while sailing the Westerly Centaur. Credit: Bob Aylott

Derived from the popular American Catalina 270, but built in Essex, the equally popular Jaguar 27 is an ideal starter boat for coastal cruising.

Originally a fin keeler with transom-hung rudder, she was later offered with twin keels and a swept spade rudder to alleviate weather helm.

The solid GRP hull has substantial reinforcement around the keel, while the deck and coachroof are balsa cored.

A massive, metre-square main hatch is its most prominent feature.

The design is traditional, with sweeping sheer and bow overhang, yet the deep, fine entry gives her a gentle motion in a sea whilst her well-stayed, deck-stepped, masthead rig offers a good sailing performance.

Three layouts were available below, including a dinette version, with internal GRP mouldings forming the furniture bases.

The Sadler 29 is still a much sought-after starter yacht.

A boat with white hull and white sails

The ‘unsinkable’ Sadler 29. Credit: Richard Langdon/Ocean Images

Available with deep/shoal fin or bilge keels, she has a well-protected cockpit and is easily handled under sail in most weather conditions.

A full depth skeg both protects her transom-hung rudder and aids directional stability.

Probably her most attractive feature, though, is her ‘unsinkability’. Her double-skinned hull is filled with closed-cell foam that keeps her afloat, even if totally flooded.

Below, the layout is traditional and packs a lot into a relatively small area by pushing the furniture out against the hull.

She features 5/6 berths in the forepeak, saloon and a narrow quarterberth, but has limited stowage.

For those wanting something more modern, the Polish-built Sedna 26 is worth checking out.

Though outboard powered and light/small enough to tow, she is definitely more of a coastal cruiser than a lightweight dayboat.

Her hull shape and shallow underwater sections are modern, but more traditional above the waterline, where she is not as beamy as some.

Two people sailing a boat with a brown hull

The Sedna 26 has plenty of internal volume with good sailing performance and the benefits of a fully-retractable centreplate. Credit: David Harding

Generous internal iron ballast, in addition to her centreboard, keeps her well-mannered, stiff and stable under sail.

High topsides boost the interior volume and headroom (6ft/1.83m+) and she has a huge double berth beneath the cockpit.

A curtain separates the forecabin vee berth and she has a spacious, GRP-moulded heads.

Less of a trailer-sailer and more of a coastal/offshore family cruiser, the Dutch-built Winner 900 is a fast, sea-kindly, well-constructed yacht.

Her bulkheads are bonded to the hull and deck for maximum integrity, while a steel floor grid around the keel area offers supreme stiffness.

Her topsides are weight reducing foam-sandwich and a watertight forward bulkhead offers protection from hitting a semi-submerged object.

She was offered with a choice of three keels: standard, shallow, or deep. All had cast-iron ballast bulbs.

Three levels of interior fit-out were offered. Basic: designed to get you on the water quickly; Performance, featuring the deep T-keel and top-spec rig and sails; and Classic, with all the comforts for long-term cruising.

The American-designed Legend 295 was built for inshore/coastal cruising in moderate conditions.

Her wide-open cockpit is great at anchor but can be vulnerable to big seas, and some of her deck gear is a little lightweight for challenging conditions.

All Legends feature the backstay-less B&R rig, which can result in gybing downwind due to the very swept spreaders limiting boom movement.

But to windward, she’s fast and agile through tacks, thanks to her large mainsail and slippery hull. Below, the open-plan saloon is bright and airy, and the facilities are much better than in most 30-footers, especially the heads and the vast double berth aft.

26-30ft LOA Motorboats

Jeanneau’s Merry Fisher 795 is a very popular, all-round sports cruiser that is just about trailer-able, yet spacious enough for family outings.

A good size forepeak double berth and a private heads/shower compartment ensuite make her very comfy for a weekend aboard, while her sizeable wheelhouse boasts a small galley and a spacious 4+ seat dinette with a clever reversible seatback forming a double navigator’s seat underway.

The cockpit is also a good size with removable seats should it be necessary, when fishing for example.

Two transom platforms and a boarding ladder are ideal for swimming off.

Outboard motor (250hp max) driven, the 795 is quick to get on the plane and is happy to cruise at 25 knots continuously, with a confidence-boosting, stable motion even in choppy seas.

31-35ft LOA Sailing yachts

Often compared to the renowned Contessa 32, the Sadler 32 shared many specifications and dimensions, including fin keel draught (5ft 6in/1.67m), ballast ratio and LWL (24ft/7.3m).

Their conservative masthead rigs were also similar.

The Sadler’s wider beam gave her a little more form stability, though, and higher topsides kept her drier when beating hard.

She has a deep, narrow cockpit and most were tiller steered.

A woman sailing a Sadler 32 yacht under a blue sky

The Sadler 32 is a comfortable, dry boat in a blow. She’s a good choice for a couple or family who want to cruise in UK and north European waters. Credit: Graham Snook/YM

Like all Sadlers, her foam sandwich hull makes her unsinkable.

The Sadler 32 is a bit more spacious below thanks to a foot extra beam. She can sleep six in two cabins and the saloon, although the quarterberth is ‘snug’.

Her galley is seamanlike and well equipped, if a little compact, but the nav station opposite is good.

Headroom is 6ft/1.83m and stowage is plentiful, making her eminently suitable for family cruising.

The centre-cockpit Seahawk 34 was one of Westerly’s most enduring designs from which five different models (Falcon, Kestrel, Oceandream, Oceanquest, and Riviera) were conceived.

Two people on the cockpit of a yacht with a white hull

The Westerly Seahawk is built for comfort rather than speed, and the boat’s displacement/LWL ratio of 317 puts her firmly into the heavy cruiser bracket. Credit: Colin Work

She was available with fin or bilge keels and considered quite beamy for her day. In 1988 she was extended with a ‘sugar scoop’ and renamed the Seahawk 35.

Below, they have a walk-through corridor to a large master cabin aft.

The downside is it makes the cockpit sole quite high up, restricting the view forward under her large genoa.

Unlike the European boatyards, which were developing inner mouldings to speed up the build and reduce costs, the Seahawk still had traditional hand-built furniture, giving a smarter finish below.

The 35ft Trapper 700 was solidly built with a heavy layup, although the deck and coachroof are balsa sandwich, and was available with a fin keel or centreboard that retracts entirely into a shallow (1.29m/4ft 3in), ballasted stub keel without intruding into the accommodation.

Driven mainly by her large, overlapping genoa she is reasonably quick, although the swing keeler is easily over-canvassed due to the lack of deep-down ballast.

Despite this, her semi-balanced rudder keeps the helm light and positive.

Below, a typical late 1980s layout provides six berths, including a small quarterberth and the saloon dinette.

In 2008, Bavaria launched a new, more stylish and modern Bavaria 32 to replace the previous model.

Changes included a plumb stem, wider stern, sleek coachroof and taller rig.

Roomy choices

On deck, her cockpit is roomy and a table is standard, while her transom has a drop-down platform with a boarding ladder.

Her side decks are hazard-free and there are stout handrails.

This MkII Bavaria 32 is light, pleasantly responsive, and quick (7 knots+) even in light airs.

A boat with a white hull and white sails being sailed out at sea

The helm position of the Bavaria 32 is high, making it good for looking ahead, but does make the helm fairly exposed. Credit: Graham Snook/YM

Her small jib tacks easily and she points high until over-canvassed, when the lack of a mainsheet track makes spilling gusts tricky.

Though spacious, the interior layout remains traditional. An L-shaped dinette seats six around a drop-leaf table, while the 2m-long settee makes a useful sea berth.

Galley and heads are perfectly adequate for long cruises, although easily accessible stowage is limited.

Replacing the 331, Beneteau’s Océanis Clipper 343, meanwhile, featured a new hull, deck and interior.

Underwater she is sleek and slippery, while fine bows lead aft to a shallower and quite beamy stern, adding buoyancy, form stability and interior volume.

Three keels were offered: shoal; deep (standard); and lifting. The latter reduced the draught to just 1.2m when raised.

Her 9/10ths fractional rig offers potential for tweaking, while swept spreaders enable a close headsail sheeting angle.

The single line reefing, lazy jacks, zipped sail bag and high boom are definitely aimed at the family cruising market.

Plentiful freeboard and a high coachroof provide generous headroom below, where 2-, or 3-cabin layouts were available.

The former offer one large double aft and a deep cockpit locker, the latter two smaller double cabins.

Her slick hull allows rapid acceleration and close-hauled she points well, losing little to leeway.

If her powerful genoa is left fully deployed for too long, however, her beamy stern can force the rudder to break free.

Sailed within her limits, though, she is light on the helm, responsive and nicely balanced.

31-35ft LOA Motorboats

A Broom 33 motorboat being driven at sea. A Broom 33 is included in Practical Boat Owner's best first boat guide

The Broom 33 came with a variety of twin shaftdrive diesels, usually between 180hp and 230hp, although the basic boat came with 100hp TAMD31s

The Broom 33 is a practical, spacious and comfortable all-round cruiser, ideal for extended coastal cruises but also popular on UK inland waterways and rivers.

Sporting twin, shaft-drive Volvo or Mercruiser diesels up to 200hp with dual helm stations, she cruises efficiently and economically at around 12-15 knots, while remaining easy enough to handle at close quarters and in marinas.

Large windows make for a very light, airy and spacious wheelhouse saloon that is well appointed and as spacious as many 38-footers.

Below, the high freeboard allows full standing headroom in her saloon, well-equipped U-shaped galley and truly sumptuous sleeping quarters that include a large owner’s suite aft and vee berth forward.

36-40ft LOA Sailing yachts

Though the Southerly 110 was the first to sport twin rudders and a plumb bow, she retained the yard’s trademark ballasted swing keel that allows her to safely take the ground, with her draught reduced to just 0.7m/2ft 4in.

An integral 2.2 tonne cast-iron bottom plate adds considerable ballast to the 1.1 tonne centreboard, to keep her stiff in a blow, while the extended 2.18m draught gives her an impressive windward performance.

A man sailing in a white yacht

The Southerly 110 has responsive steering. Credit: Colin Work

Although the hull is solid below the waterline, and double thickness around the ballast plate, her topsides and decks are balsa/GRP sandwich.

All bulkheads are fully bonded, and the deck is bolted and bonded to the hull.

Although she’s not quite as stiff as a boat with a deep bulbed fin, her huge ballast plate makes her a good deal stiffer than most centreboarders.

Her modern underwater shape also means she’s no slouch and light, responsive steering makes her easy to handle.

Below, huge windows and light woodwork give her a light and airy feel.

There’s enough room for six to dine and her galley would suffice in a 50-footer. The aft cabin is roomy with ample stowage, but headroom under the cockpit sole is limited.

She does, however, have an excellent heads compartment.

Continues below…

Built to Lloyd’s certification, 118 Moody 36 MkIIs were built at Plymouth-based Marine Projects between 1996-2000.

This late Dixon design featured a near plumb stem, retroussé stern, and an attractive, teak-capped sheer despite high topsides.

The hulls were hand laid-up using waterproof resin and stiffened with balsa-cored frames and stringers.

Bulkheads and floors were bonded in too for extra strength.

The deck is balsa-cored, with all strong points featuring laminated plywood backing plates.

Though mainly intended for family cruising, she offered a sailing performance not yet seen in Moody’s cruiser range.

Below, headroom is over 1.83m/6ft in the saloon and galley, and she is very well appointed, with a practical galley, roomy heads and sumptuous berths, particularly in her huge aft cabin.

The corridor aft also forms a small passage cabin, while the opposite side houses spacious heads, opening to both the saloon and aft cabin.

First unveiled in 2007, the Finot Conq-designed Beneteau Océanis 37 improved comfort and performance over its predecessor, the Clipper 373.

Her freeboard is conservative, and she has a gently raked stem and a low, streamlined coachroof, giving her a very modern look.

She also has redesigned underwater sections, making her faster and more stable than her predecessor.

Spacious living

On deck, she’s beamy with a wide cockpit, ideal for lounging about at anchor but not so user-friendly under way.

The sturdy cockpit table would break your fall, however, should you lose your balance.

Cockpit design includes a combined gas compartment and liferaft locker beneath the quarter seat, and a helm seat that also lifts to provide easy access to the swimming platform.

Below she sports a smart, woody interior. The layout holds no surprises but puts a priority on comfortable family living over reasonable periods of time.

A Beneteau Oceanis 37 yacht with a white hull and white sails goos make an idea best first boat

The Beneteau Océanis 37 has a fractional rig and is fast under sail. Credit: Beneteau

The two-cabin model has a large aft cabin, huge double berth and very spacious heads, whereas the three-cabin model has two regular double aft cabins.

Her galley is well-appointed with plenty of worktop area and, along with the saloon, has 1.95m (6ft 5in) headroom.

The 37 sports a fractional rig with quality deck gear, including two-speed primaries and halyard winches.

The standard sail plan includes a semi-battened mainsail with two single-line reefs led aft, plus a 110% furling genoa.

Under sail, she is speedy, well-mannered, and exciting to sail.

36-40ft LOA Motorboats

A very modern yacht for the time, the Fairline Phantom 38 flybridge cruiser was considered the height of luxury with its huge owner’s cabin forward and second ensuite heads.

Smart, shiny cherry or maple joinery was the thing back then so for those who like plenty of solid wood around them, this boat is perfect.

A motor boat being driven offshore

The Phantom 38 is renowned for its build quality and durability

In addition to her sumptuous accommodation, the Phantom was fitted with powerful 370hp Volvo diesels, giving her a top speed of just over 30 knots and an economical cruising speed of around 20-22 knots.

The shaft drives and tunnelled propellers give her a stable performance but she’s not the most agile when manoeuvring around in tight spaces.

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