Around 40 feet is ideal for a liveaboard sailboat for most people in general. This size is a good compromise between living space, cost, and ease of handling at sea. There is also an excellent selection of sailboats in this size range at a competitive price, making it a popular and safe choice for the average person or couple.
The question of the ideal size for a liveaboard sailboat gets discussed quite often, and it can be difficult to specify one size that suits everyone’s needs. In my last few years of sailing around the world, I have met and talked to many people living in different types of sailboats of various sizes. It is, however, easy to see a trend in what size most people choose for various reasons.
Whether you intend to sail around the world or cruise in a particular area, a sailboat of around 40 feet will serve you well in most situations.
However, there are several deciding factors to take into account that may lead you towards a smaller or bigger boat. If you mainly plan on living by yourself onboard, stepping down in size might be the right choice for you. Check out this article on how big of a boat you can sail solo.
For those who want to have several visitors or crew frequently, I recommend considering a sailboat at least 40 feet or bigger, depending on the number of people you plan on having onboard. But don’t go too big. There is a good saying that most experienced sailors agree with: Don’t buy a bigger boat than you need.
How big of a sailboat do you actually need?
Different people have different needs and preferences when it comes to comfort. While some thrive well in smaller spaces, others may require more space around them. I like to think of different sailboats as different tools. You want to find the right tool for the right job.
The boat you need is big enough to satisfy your needs and intended use but small enough to fit your budget and your handling abilities at sea.
First, you need to decide what you will use your sailboat for. And be realistic about your capabilities and budget.
Let us take a closer look at some of the most popular sizes.
A sailboat around 30 feet is large enough to fit 1-2 persons who don’t mind living in a tiny space. Having a guest onboard won’t be a problem if you don’t mind the lack of privacy. Sleeping and storage space is minimal, and motion at sea is rough in heavier weather.
Around 30 feet is about the smallest boat recommended for offshore sailing, although some do it in smaller boats.
Expect prices to start at around 20000$ for a boat in good condition.
A sailboat around 35 feet comfortably fits 1-2 persons and gives you decent interior volume. Having 1 to 2 guests onboard isn’t a problem, and boats at this size often have at least two separate cabins for sleeping and a good amount of storage space.
Motion at sea will be significant in heavy weather, but you can easily sail this boat by yourself.
Expect prices to start at around 35000$ for a boat in good condition.
A sailboat around 40 feet is excellent for 1-3 persons and typically has 2-3 decent-sized cabins with double bunks, making it comfortable to have several guests onboard. Storage space is generous, and a boat in this size range handles offshore conditions well.
You will be faster and more comfortable than the smaller boats in most situations and still be able to sail single-handed.
Expect prices to start at around 50000$ for a boat in good condition.
A sailboat around 45 feet is great for 2-4 persons and gives you excellent living and storage space. There is a vast selection of different layouts, whether you prioritize storage or a higher number of cabins for your guests.
The boat will easily handle offshore conditions while making good speed but might be a handful for less experienced sailors to handle alone.
Expect prices to start at around 75000$ for a boat in good condition.
A sailboat around 50 feet is big and spacious enough for a family of 3-5 to live onboard comfortably. You can easily invite many friends and still enjoy some privacy. When you get into this size range, the boat will handle heavy weather exceptionally well, but in many cases, it will be hard for a single person to handle.
There are exceptions, however, as many modern boats come with systems to aid you in operating the vessel. Fifty feet is the largest sailboat I recommend for one person to sail alone unless you are very experienced.
Expect prices to start at around 150000$ for a boat in good condition.
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A sailboat is always a compromise
As you can see in the comparison above, a sailboat is always a compromise. A bigger boat will give you more space, speed, and effortless motion at sea, but it will be more expensive to buy and maintain. Once you get past 45 feet, you get into the size range where you might even struggle to handle the boat alone.
I want to show you a few examples from friends currently living aboard and cruising full-time on their boats.
Living on small-sized sailboats
I have one good friend who lives onboard his Forgus 31-footer and is currently sailing in the Caribbean. He sometimes has 1-2 crew members with him, and he tells me that it can get a bit cramped, but it is doable. That same boat sailed from Norway a few years back with a crew of 4!
Another friend lives on and sails the 35-foot boat he built himself. His comment on the question about the size of his sailboat is that it is OK for one person to live on, but he wants a bigger boat if there were two onboard full-time.
Living on medium-sized sailboats
I live on Ellidah, as you probably know, and she is a 41-foot Jeanneau. Initially, I found her intimidating to handle alone as I started without experience. My skills grew with time, and I now find her simple to sail solo.
She easily accommodates three guests and has treated me well in all conditions we have sailed in during the past 10.000 nautical miles.
You can read more about us here.
Living on big-sized sailboats
Two friends of mine are currently living onboard their Beneteau 46. They sail mostly by themself and appreciate the ample space onboard, mainly because of their German shepherd.
You should check out their website: Sailing Sunday
At last, I know a couple from South Africa who are out sailing around the world on their 53-foot Amel. A great boat designed to be sailed short-handed, but they tell me the vessel is a handful to manage for one person. However, both of them are experienced sailors and say it is a perfect fit for them.
Whether you decide to buy a big, small, or medium-sized sailboat to live aboard, consider the things we have looked at in this article, and remember that a sailboat is always a compromise.
Take your time to look at boats, get onboard a few as crew, and get a feel for what is suitable for you. Yachtworld is an excellent place to look at different crafts. Do not rush your decision to figure out what you want to do with your sailboat and calculate a realistic budget.
Then, you can narrow it down to a more specific size range and even start to look at the various types of sailboats available on the market in your price range.
Finally, you can decide what the ideal size for a liveaboard sailboat is for you.