Duncan Kent reviews a selection of new and used trailer sailer boats that are large enough to accommodate crew for a weekend, but small enough to launch and recover single-handed

The best trailer sailer boats for weekend cruising

If you’re happy just day sailing in fair weather then you won’t really need more than a sprayhood to duck in out of the odd shower or to make a brew.

But many more enthusiasts, especially those with young families or grandchildren, like to get involved in more than just the sailing.

To some, especially youngsters, the ‘camping’ element is crucial to the whole experience.

Yes, many dayboats could support a full cockpit tent for the occasional night on board in the summer, but it soon gets tedious if you try to spend more than one night under canvas without at least some of the basics of home living such as a cooker, running water, electricity, a proper toilet and enough room to stow a few changes of clothes.

Take a step up from the 16-18-footers into a weekender-size boat, say 19-21ft, and you get a lot, lot more to make life not just bearable on board, but in some cases positively comfortable.

New trailer sailer boats

Beneteau First 20

Two men sailing a small white boat out at sea

The Beneteau First 20 is a trailable, modern, mini cruiser race. Credit: Jean Marie Liot/Beneteau

Finot-Conq’s Beneteau First has been around in various guises (210, 211, 21.7 and currently the First 20) for a while.

A modern mini-cruiser/racer, the F20 sports a 7⁄8ths fractional sloop rig with option for a furling asymmetric.

Having no backstay allows the mainsail to be flat-topped, thereby increasing the sail area.

It has also enabled the mast to be shortened, lowering the centre of effort on the sails and resulting in her being noticeably stiffer.

Beneath the waterline sporty, shallow sections extend out to a wide, flat stern.

Twin rudders keep a bite on the water when heeled and windward ability is hugely assisted by her 6ft (1.83m) deep, lifting fin keel.

She has a well-arranged and roomy cockpit and, though she’ll accommodate four adults, the position of the sheets enables her to be easily single-handed.

The F20 only has provision for an outboard but, thanks to the twin rudders, this is positioned centrally on the transom.

While you won’t get any useful prop wash, the outboard can be steered for manoeuvring into tight spaces.

Below she has a spacious and practical open-plan layout with a structural inner moulding creating the furniture, as well as providing enough hull rigidity to do away with bulkheads.

There are bunks for four adults on a vee-berth and settees, and basic facilities for living aboard such as dry stowage, a small galley cabinet and an optional loo.

Headroom is 1.45m (4ft 9in) maximum and there’s a privacy curtain across the forepeak.

Although not as easy to launch and recover as some, due to her keel protrusion when lifted, she is trailerable.

Having fixed ballast adds to the gross towing weight, however, which is a hefty 1,500kg (3,307lb) all up.

Beneteau First 20 specifications:

LOD: 6.25m/20.5ft
Beam: 2.48m/8.1ft
Draught: 0.70-1.78m/2.2ft-5.8ft
Dry weight: 1,245kg/2,744lbs
Ballast: 300kg/661lbs
SA: 25.50m2/274 sq ft
Keel: Lifting
Motor: 10hp outboard
Sail plan: Bermudan sloop
RCD category: C
New price: From £29,350
Used price: From around £20,000
Contact: Beneteau Yachts, www.beneteau.com

Windhunter 19

A small yacht with red sails

The Windhunter 19 is inspired by Bristol Channel working boats

Built in Poland, the design of the gaff-rigged, GRP Windhunter 19 was inspired by the old Bristol Channel working boats.

Though most compact trailer-sailers have gone the swing-, or lifting-keel route, usually with added water ballast, the WH19 has a long, fixed shoal keel containing 400kg (881lb) of lead ballast.

This, plus the additional stability created by her ample beam, results in a stiff boat that is easily capable of cruising northern European coastal waters safely and in comfort.

Being a long keel also adds to her directional stability too, something some of the centre-boarders can lack, and deep bilge-boards mean she can take the ground safely and remain level – in fact she’s pretty much a triple-keeler.

The downside of fixed ballast is extra towing weight which, at around 1.5 tonnes calls for a fairly powerful towing vehicle.

Her deep, self-draining cockpit isn’t huge, but it’s secure with high coamings and all sails can be easily controlled from here with coaming-mounted jib sheet winches and main sheet horse astern.

She has a transom-hung rudder and an outboard well, into which a 5hp motor mounts.

Although the prop is ahead of the rudder, being offset from the centreline does mean you lose the benefit of propwash over the rudder when close- quarter manoeuvring.

Her rig is a simple sloop with a high-peaked gaff mainsail and a smallish jib tacked down on a wooden bowsprit.

Her sail area isn’t huge, but this is ideal for those who want easy control when single-handing. Spars can be of either wood or aluminium.

Having a long cabin might reduce cockpit space, but the payback is below, where she feels like a 22-footer at least.

There’s a large vee-berth, a good galley area with a GRP moulding containing sink, hob and stowage and two lengthy quarter berths.

However, if you choose the 3-berth model you get something that is very rare in a boat of this size – a separate, private heads compartment.

Windhunter 19 specifications:

LOD: 5.80m/19.02ft
Beam: 2.20m/7.21ft
Draught: 0.55m/1.80ft
Dry weight: 1,100kg/2,425lbs
Ballast: 450kg/992lbs
SA: 21.50m2/231.42 sq ft
Keel: Fixed
Motor: 5hp outboard
Sail plan: Gaff sloop
RCD category: C
New price: From £27,900
Used price: From £18,000
Contact: Character Boats UK, 07976 406768, www.characterboats.co.uk

Cape Cutter 19

A boat with red sails on the water

Cape Cutter 19: classic looks with all the mod cons

In 2001 Dudley Dix created this traditional, lapstrake-hulled pocket cruiser to be sound enough to take on an ocean passage with confidence.

Though she looks like a classic working gaffer, she boasts all the mod-cons of a modern cruising yacht in a package small enough to trail.

First built in South Africa, she was given a plumb stem and transom to provide the longest waterline possible, while still fitting into a 20ft (6.10m)-long shipping container.

Her hull is a solid GRP laminate, reinforced with stringers, and her balsa-cored deck is bolted to the hull and glassed over.

Three-quarters of her ballast is lead shot, bonded into the bilges. The remainder is provided by her cast-iron centreplate, which hinges up into the saloon using a 6:1 tackle.

Her mast and spars are wood, and she comes with either a high-peaked gaff or Bermudan cutter rig, to keep her sails manageable.

A tabernacle supports the mast safely for rigging and provides a rigid mounting for the boom gooseneck.

Her genoa/yankee is on a furler, anchored to the tip of her 1.40m-long bowsprit, while her hanked-on staysail tack terminates at the stem head.

All lines, including throat and peak halyards, can be controlled using jammers and winches in the deep cockpit.

Below, she is basic, but surprisingly spacious and comfortable. There’s a 1.92m (6ft 3in)-long forepeak vee-berth, under which is a portable toilet.

Then there’s a small GRP moulding each side – one containing the galley sink, the other a small hob.

Aft of these are two 1.90m (6ft 3in)-long settees.

Her performance under sail is impressive for a small boat, thanks to a sleek underwater profile, long waterline and generous sail area.

Her deep centreplate reduces leeway to a minimum and she tacks nimbly.

She can also be motored easily using a 4-6hp outboard in the well, which is positioned forward of the rudder.

Cape Cutter 19 specifications:

LOD: 5.80m/19.02ft
Beam: 2.20m/7.21ft
Draught: 0.45-1.22m/1.47ft-4ft
Dry weight: 1,150kg/2,535lbs
Ballast: 400kg/881lbs
SA: 27.40m2/294.93lbs
Keel: Pivoting centreboard
Motor: 6hp outboard
Sail plan: Gaff or Berm cutter
RCD category: C
New price: From £30,250
Used price: From £16,000
Contact: Cape Cutter Marine, 01377 538110, www.capecutter19.com

Continues below…

Norfolk Gypsy 20

A small trailer sailer boat with two men onboard sailing along the coast

The Norfolk Gypsy 20 has a deep cockpit which can seat six. Credit: Neil Foster/Waterfront Yachting

The Norfolk Gypsy is a classic 20ft (6.10m) gunter-rigged micro-cruiser with a high-peaked gaff, spruce spars, bronze fittings and hardwood trimmings.

Her hull is hand-laid GRP, and for stability combines internal ballast with firm bilges.

A shallow draught and bilge runners enable her to be beached comfortably.

The modest gaff rig offers a fair performance in light airs and strong winds, and she’s easy to handle, even in rough weather.

In gusts, the lightweight, flexible gaff tends to bow around the mast, automatically flattening the sail.

Tweaking the peak halyard also allows you to make useful sail shape adjustments, while the slab-reefed mainsail and genoa furler make reefing easier and safer.

The centreboard is lowered and raised by a winch, with the control rope led into the cockpit for the helmsman.

Her deep cockpit is roomy enough for six, although four is more sensible.

Everything is to hand for the helmsman, with the mainsheet aft and jib cam cleats atop each coaming.

Being below the waterline it isn’t self-draining, but a manual bilge pump is supplied.

Decks are moulded non-slip, while the cabin top has Treadmaster. The foredeck is lowered to provide a safe working area and there is a stout Samson post.

Below, her sitting room-only interior is cosy with plenty of nice wood, although white deckhead and hull sides plus several portholes brighten it up.

A GRP furniture moulding incorporates the berths, galley and lockers, and a child-size vee-berth adjoins the two adult-length saloon settees.

The centreboard intrudes into the footwell a little, but there’s a swing-out table around the kingpost and a small chart table aft, below which is the optional loo.

There are outboard (6-8hp) and inboard (Yanmar 10hp) motor options. The former in a well ahead of the rudder, the latter situated under the bridge deck.

Norfolk Gypsy 20 specifications:

LOD: 6.10m/20.01ft
Beam: 2.30m/7.5ft
Draught: 0.51-1.20m/1.6ft-3.93ft
Dry weight: 1,300kg/2,866lbs
Ballast: 420kg/925lbs
SA: 19.70m2/212 sq ft
Keel: Pivoting centreboard
Motor: 6hp outboard/10hp inboard
Sail plan: Gaff sloop
RCD category: C
New price: From £50,090
Used price: Around £29,000
Contact: Neil Thompson Boats, 01263 741172, www.neilthompsonboats.co.uk

Bay Cruiser 20

trailer sailer boats - the Bay cruiser 20 with a blue hull and white sails

The Bay Cruiser 20 features high tech construction

Apparently, the initial plan was to fit a cabin to the Bay Raider 20, but it quickly transpired it would require a taller cabin for sufficient headroom, making her less attractive and, more importantly, less stable.

So instead a brand-new hull was developed with a wider beam and higher freeboard.

Construction is an epoxy composite of ply, GRP and Airex polymer foam to produce a very strong, yet very lightweight (451kg dry) boat that can be towed by a saloon car on an unbraked trailer.

Like the BR20 she is water ballasted, storing 400kg of water in two tanks beneath the waterline, which fill automatically when launched. A high- capacity hand pump allows them to be emptied afloat, or they drain by gravity when recovered to the trailer.

The ketch rig enables her to sail in windier conditions under mizzen and jib alone, and means the sails are small and easy to handle.

Unlike the BR20 she comes with a one-piece carbon mast and a conventional boom for easy reefing.

All sail controls lead into the cockpit, which has angled coamings for comfort and is sized to allow the crew to brace against the seat opposite.

An optional sprayhood covers half the cockpit, providing shelter for crew and helmsman alike.

She will accommodate a 6hp outboard in her centreline well, which can be tilted up out of the water when sailing.

On the foredeck raised bulwarks offer security and there are two lockers plus a stout Samson post.

Below, she has a large vee-berth forward and one quarter berth under the cockpit seating to port.

A small galley unit sits between the two, while to starboard is a short settee, allowing for a deep cockpit locker.

The centreboard is disguised by a folding saloon table and there’s room for a portable toilet under the bridge deck.

Storage is underneath the seats and berths, and behind backrests.

A 40-litre, hand-pumped freshwater system is optional, as is cabin lighting, and the layout can be customised to a degree.

Bay Cruiser 20 specifications:

LOD: 6.17m/20.24ft
Beam: 2.32m/7.6ft
Draught: 0.25-1.20m/0.82ft-3.93ft
Dry weight: 451kg/914lbs
Ballast: 380kg/837lbs
SA: 20.60m2/221.7 sq ft
Keel: Pivoting centreboard
Motor: 6hp outboard
Sail plan: Bermudan ketch
RCD category: C
New price: From £40,895
Contact: Swallow Yachts, 01239 615482, www.swallowyachts.com

Cornish Shrimper 19

A boat with a blue hull and white sails on the sea

The popular Cornish Shrimper 19, which has a planking style GRP hull

The Roger Dongray-designed Shrimper 19 has the classic multiple chine with lapstrake planking style GRP hull which, together with her gaff rig, wooden spars, low-profile coachroof, gentle sheer line and raked transom make her a very pretty little boat indeed.

Beneath her waterline is a long, very shallow keel, which is just deep enough to keep her on the straight and narrow downwind.

She has encapsulated internal iron ballast beneath the sole plus a heavy galvanised steel centreplate to keep her powering to windward with the minimum of heel and leeway.

As standard, she has an offset well for a 5-6hp outboard motor, although unusually for a 19ft (5.79m) boat, the Shrimper 19 offers the option of having an inboard 9hp Yanmar diesel engine and shaft driven prop – though this increases the towing weight.

She has a long and deep, self-draining cockpit with tall seat backs and all the sheets and centreplate tackle are within easy reach of the helm for single-handing.
Below she offers two layout choices –classic, with two quarter berths and a large galley in the forepeak, or 4-berth vee-berth and a smaller galley.

The latter has space for a portaloo under the vee-berth.

She is available as the traditional Shrimper, with a high-peaked gaff mainsail and spruce mast and spars.

Alternatively, there’s the Adventure 19 with alloy spars and a modern Bermudan sloop rig.

Cornish Shrimper 19 specifications:

LOD: 5.86m/19.22ft
Beam: 2.18m/7.15ft
Draught: 0.45-1.20m/1.47ft-3.93ft
Dry weight: 1,500kg/3,306lbs
Ballast: 440kg/970lbs
SA: 18.02m2/193.96 sq ft
Keel: Pivoting centreboard
Motor: 6hp outboard/9hp inboard
Sail plan: Gaff sloop
RCD category: C
New price: From £32,1200
Used price: From £9,000
Contact: Cornish Crabbers, 01208 862666, www.cornishcrabbers.co.uk

Secondhand trailer sailer boats

Red Fox 200

People sailing a small boat towing a dinghy

Red Fox was a David Thomas design. Credit: David Lewin

The 1993 David Thomas-designed Red Fox 200 was available as the RF200/200E (cruising version), the RF200S (sport, larger cockpit, lower coachroof, twin rudders), the RF200T (twin fixed keels) and, after Select Yachts took it over, the Hunter 20.

The twin daggerboard design was the same in all except the 200T and greatly simplified launching and recovering, as did the mast A-frame.

She had a solid GRP hull and a sheathed plywood deck, later changed to a GRP/foam sandwich. Internal ballast is bonded in beneath the floor.

A vertical stem and transom gives her the volume of a 25-footer, further boosted by the lack of a keel box.

The open-plan layout has a small vee-berth and two adult settee berths.

Headroom is a generous 1.83m (6ft) under the hatch and she even boasts a private heads.

She has a modern fractional sloop rig with alloy mast and boom. Under sail she’s quick, with minimal leeway.

The boards are asymmetric, providing lift and allowing her to point higher. Downwind you can lift both halfway to reduce drag.

While swapping boards adds another procedure to tacking, the reward is worth it.

Depending on model the outboard is either mounted off-centre on the transom, or in an outboard well ahead of the rudder.

Red Fox 200 specifications:

LOD: 6.17m/20.24ft
Beam: 2.50m/8.2ft
Draught: 0.20-0.89m/0.65ft-2.91ft
Dry weight: 1,160kg/2,557lbs
Ballast: 400kg/881lbs
SA: 18.70 m2/201.2 sq ft
Keel: Twin daggerboard
Motor: 6hp outboard /9hp inboard
Sail plan: Bermudan sloop
RCD category: C
Used price: £7,500-£12,500

Jeanneau Sun 2000

Trailer sailer boats - a Jeanneau Sun 200 sailing past an island

No frills, but fast – the Jeanneau Sun 2000. Credit: David Harding

This modern, ‘no frills’ centreboarder had a sailing performance to match many racing yachts in her time.

Just under 22ft (6.71m) and 1,150kg (2,535lb), she is trailerable with a large car, but you might need help at the slipway.

Though good value, the standard spec was rudimentary.

Owners wanting to race usually bought better sails than the standard Dacron wardrobe, but skimped on an outboard.

She’s so slippery, however, that just 4hp is enough to reach hull speed.

Below she has just 1.3m (4ft 3in) headroom, a child-sized vee-berth and two adult quarterberths.

Between the two there’s a small sink and a galley unit, but stowage is limited to beneath the berths.

The ‘Comfort Pack’ included ‘luxuries’ such as water tank, portable loo, battery, lights, saloon table, etc.

A large forehatch lets in light and air, and is also ideal for quickly dumping the spinnaker.

Her self-draining cockpit is 2.4m (7ft 10in) long, with stowage under the seats. Side decks are wide, and she even has an anchor locker and bow roller.

With her 7⁄8ths fractional sloop rig, swept-back spreaders, adjustable backstay and removable bowsprit, she’s well set up for sailing.

The mainsheet is easily reached by the helm, but the genoa winches are on the coachroof, which isn’t ideal.

Under sail, speeds of over 6 knots are common, planing downwind at 10 knots not unheard of!

Jeanneau Sun 2000 specifications:

LOD: 6.64m/21.7ft
Beam: 2.55m/8.36ft
Draught: 0.30-1.60m/0.9ft-5.24ft
Dry weight: 1,150kg/2,535lbs
Ballast: 390kg/859lbs
SA: 23.10 m2/227.1 sq ft
Keel: Pivoting centreboard
Motor: 6hp outboard/9hp inboard
Sail plan: Bermudan sloop
RCD category: C
Used price: £7,500 -£15,000

Others trailer sailer boats to consider

  • Caravela 22
  • Jaguar 21/22
  • Hunter Sonata 21
  • Etap 20
  • Prelude 19
  • Pippin 20
  • Seal 22
  • Galion 22
  • Mirror Offshore (19)
  • Westerly Nimrod 18
  • Teliga 20
  • Dehler 22

Towing laws

Apart from the legal regulations you must adhere to there’s a good deal more to towing a large load than just knowing the figures add up.

Some vehicles tow well, others don’t, even though they might look the part. Thought should also be given to launching and recovering the boat.

Your large saloon might be able to tow her without problems on the highway but could well be useless down a steep and slippery launch ramp.

Many of these boats weigh up to 1,500kg (3,306lb) when they’ve got everything strapped onto them.

A jeep hooked up to a trailer with a small boat on it

Choose your tow vehicle wisely – not all are up to the job. Credit: Roy Procter

Then there’s the extra gear you’ll have in the car, such as fuel tanks, outboard, provisions, etc.

In all, you’ll be driving a pretty heavy load along the highway and if you’ve never tried it before then a little bit of training might be in order.

There are trailer-training schools all over the UK that’ll give invaluable advice and safety tips.

Take your own trailer fully loaded and they’ll advise you on how best it should be balanced.

License notes

The rules on what you can tow are different depending on when you passed your driving test.

In England, Scotland and Wales, if you passed your car driving test before 1 January 1997 you can:

  • Drive a vehicle and trailer combination up to 8,250kg maximum authorised mass (MAM). View your driving licence information to check.
  • You’re also allowed to drive a minibus with a trailer over 750kg MAM

If you passed your car driving test from 1 January 1997 onwards you can:

  • tow trailers up to 3,500kg MAM.

The law on towing was updated on 16 December 2021. Details here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/new-rules-for-towing-a-trailer-or-caravan-with-a-car-from-autumn-2021

There are different rule for towing if you live in Northern Ireland

Important rules for towing trailer sailer boats

There are myriad rules and regulations regarding the towing of trailers in the UK and Europe.

A typical single axle braked trailer which can be used for moving trailer sailer boats

A typical single axle braked trailer

Here is a summary of the most important rules you must heed and the commonly used acronyms referring to them:

  • MAM – Maximum Authorised Mass is the maximum weight a vehicle or trailer is designed to carry. It includes the vehicle or trailer weight plus its load.
  • MGW – Maximum Gross Weight is the maximum total weight as set by the manufacturer.
  • GTW – Gross Train Weight is the maximum weight a vehicle can move on a road and should be engraved on the vehicle’s VIN plate.
  • MTL – Maximum Towing Limit is the total weight the vehicle can move from a 12% hill start. The vehicle must be able to repeat this procedure five times in five minutes. This limit must never be exceeded and should not be used as a guide to your vehicle’s towing ability. GVW – Gross Vehicle Weight is the total weight (load and trailer all-up) a vehicle is designed to carry.
  • KW – Kerbside Weight is the weight of the towing vehicle without passengers, but with 90% fuel and oil. In the EU this includes the weight of the driver plus 7kg of luggage.
  • Nose weight – the maximum downward pressure on your trailer’s tow-hitch. The maximum must be no greater than that stated in your vehicle’s handbook and is usually between 50-100kg (typically 75kg).
  • Car to Caravan weight ratio – It is strongly recommended that you do not exceed an 85% trailer to car weight ratio, ie. your fully-loaded trailer should not be more than 85% of your car’s KW (or maximum tow weight if this is lower).
  • Maximum Trailer Width for any towing vehicle is 2.55m.
  • Maximum Trailer Length (not including the A-frame) when towed by a vehicle weighing up to 3,500kg is 7m.
  • Towing Mirrors must be fitted if your trailer is wider than the rear of your car.
  • Brakes – Your trailer must have a working brake system if the fully-loaded trailer weighs over 750kg.

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