A boat watcher’s guide to pleasure craft commonly spotted in the Pacific NW

Powerboats Commonly Seen
in the Pacific NW

A factor that often makes boating discussions slightly confusing is the lack of an iron-clad standard for classifying powerboats. Five different manufacturers might market very similar vessels in five different categories. Arguments can (and do) erupt among aficionados splitting hairs over whether a boat might be (for example) a trawler or a sport tug. Fortunately, there are some general terms that apply to broad categories of boats. Even if every other boater might not share the same opinion about the proper classification of a boat, nearly everyone will recognize the following terms and general characteristics.

Runabouts

Boats in the runabout category normally feature a lot of open deck space. They tend to be speedy, (after all, we don’t refer to them as “walkabouts”). Many will be under 20-feet in length, and no more than 8’6″ wide to facilitate legal trailering. Runabouts are nearly always powered by an outboard motor or an inboard motor with an outdrive. There are two primary subcategories in the runabout class. Bowriders have open seating instead of a covered foredeck forward of the windshield. Cuddy cabins feature small cabin enclosures with very basic amenities under the foredeck.

In the Pacific NW, runabouts are more commonly encountered on freshwater lakes than on Puget Sound, but they are certainly suitable for use on the sound during fair weather. Runabouts are often used to tow water skiers and wake boarders.

Sportfishers

In the Pacific NW, this term is commonly used to refer to smaller boats designed and rigged primarily for fishing. (The “Sportfisherman” vessels more popular on the east coast are larger vessels designed for long, high speed runs in the open ocean). Sportfishers often use small, fold-up seats that permit a rapid clearing of the deck when fishing. The “center console” is a popular choice, as it allows an angler with a fish on the line to move freely around the edge of the boat as the fish “runs” in various directions.

Many sportfishers are suitable for trailering. Some larger versions will include enclosed cabins and amenities suitable for extended weekend or vacation cruising.

Express Cruisers

Speedy powerboats with open cockpits, the steering station on the main deck, and well appointed interior compartments under an extended foredeck fall into the express cruiser category. Normally larger than a runabout, express cruisers are more likely to be moored or dry-stored than trailered. Some express cruisers are moderately priced, but a greater portion are lavishly furnished and equipped. Express cruisers are usually twin screw, using either large displacement gas engines or high performance diesels. In the Pacific NW, the “hardtop” express cruiser, offering at least partial coverage aft of the steering station is sometimes preferred to an entirely open cockpit or a canvas top.

Hardtop and Flybridge Sedans

Sedans are frequently planing hulls, offering a good turn of speed. They differ from express cruisers primarily because there are enclosed cabin compartments on the main deck. Sedans will have cockpits and accommodations below the foredeck, but open deck space is deemphasized, (compared to an express cruiser) to provide more cabin room.

Sedans without an upper helm station are considered “hardtop” sedans, while boats with an upper station are considered “flybridge” sedans. Flybridge sedans may, or may not, have a second steering station in the main cabin.

Trawlers

A variety of boats are called trawlers, but they share some specific characteristics. They normally have substantial superstructure, with lots of compartments above the main deck. Trawlers use hulls that are similar in design and appearance to small commercial fishing vessels. Common subcategories include “aft cabin”, “sedan”, and “Europa”. Aft cabin trawlers typically have no cockpit, with the master stateroom in an enlarged compartment extending back to the transom. Sedan trawlers will feature a long main cabin, with or without a flybridge. “Europa” style trawlers have cabin tops that extend over the side decks and to protect deckhands from inclement weather.

Trawlers traditionally travel at or slightly above hull speed, (7-10 knots). Some builders have created models with much larger engines that will put the vessel up on plane.

Sport Tugs

Sport tugs originated in the Pacific NW, and although they are now sold all over the world most boats in this category are still built near Puget Sound. Sport tugs are closely related to trawlers, but conform more closely to a single design concept. Sport tugs will virtually always feature a short trunk cabin on the foredeck, a pronounced pilothouse, and an extended main cabin aft. These vessels are deliberately styled to resemble small tugboats. Like trawlers, sport tugs were originally displacement speed vessels. Customer demand in recent years has inspired the builders to offer higher horsepower engines that permit substantially faster cruising.

Motor Yachts

The largest and grandest private powerboats are classified as motor yachts. Smaller boats have been labeled “Motor Yacht” by a variety of builders, but a purist would seldom consider boats under 40 or 45 feet to be properly described as such. Motor yachts typically include substantial cabin areas above the main deck and feature several staterooms. Equipment and furnishings normally lean toward the most lavish and deluxe. Boats with a dedicated wheelhouse may be referred to in a major subcategory, “pilothouse motor yacht”.


Sailboats Commonly Seen in the Pacific NW

Unlike powerboats, (where a specific model can fall into more than one category), sailboats are more easily distinguished. The Pacific NW fleet of sailboats can be divided into a few general types, and each type can be additionally divided by the manner in which a boat has been rigged. Sailboat types are primarily determined by the number, as well as the location of the masts.

Sloop

The majority of sailboats in the Pacific NW are sloops. A sloop is easy to recognize, as it has only one mast. The mast will usually be near the center of the boat. Sloops are normally rigged with two sails. The mainsail is spread between the mast and a boom, while the jib is attached to the forestay running between the bow and the masthead. Sloops use tall, triangular sails, a shape that enables a boat to sail more efficiently upwind. The combination of a triangular main and jib is considered a “Bermuda” rig.

Sloops are often broken out into racing and cruising classes. Racing sloops can have larger sails and often feature minimal accommodations to reduce weight and improve performance. The fast handling of large sails in a competitive situation can require a larger crew, and a simplified deck plan allows more room to reef and furl as required.

Cruising sloops will usually feature higher profile cabins, and will be equipped for comfortable living underway.

Racing or cruising sloops where the jib extends all the way to the top of the mainmast are considered “masthead” sloops. “Fractional rigs” will use smaller jibs that extend only partway up the forestay. The mainsail will be somewhat larger on a fractional rig in order to maintain sail area.

Catboat

In a manner similar to a sloop, the less commonly encountered catboat has only one mast. The catboat mast is set decidedly forward, near the bow. Catboats use only one sail. The mainsail may be footed to a traditional boom, or it can be left loose and connected to a specialized “wishbone” boom at the aft corner. Catboats are more easily handled than a sloop. Cat rigs are commonly used for racing dinghies, where the single sail is more easily handled than would be a Bermuda rig.

Ketch

A ketch is a sailboat with two masts. The mainmast may be set slightly forward of the position it would command on a sloop, and the second or “mizzen” mast, set well aft, (but forward of the rudder post) will be smaller. A ketch will typically have about the same sail area as a sloop of similar size, but with two masts and a jib the sails can be individually smaller and easier to handle. Sailors who enjoy a ketch appreciate a wider variety of available sail combinations, In winds that are considered too strong for the large mainsail of a sloop, a ketch will often do very well under the smaller jib and mizzen with the mainsail furled. The mizzen sail can be used to steer the boat in the event that the rudder becomes inoperable.

Sloops are somewhat more popular than ketches. The construction costs are higher on any vessel with more than one mast, there are more sails to buy and maintain, and the sloop rig is normally faster than a ketch.

Yawl

A sailboat with a mizzen mast abaft the rudder post is a “yawl”. Similar to a ketch, the yawl offers more potential sail combinations than a sloop. The mizzen sail on a yawl is often considered less powerful than the mizzen sail of a ketch, but the positioning of the mizzen on a yawl makes the sail more useful as a “steadying sail” to help reduce the amount of rocking at anchor.

Schooners

Schooners are sailing vessels with at least two masts, with the second mast set forward of the mainmast rather than aft. Larger schooners will have three, or even four masts. Most schooners are larger than a typical private yacht, and will normally require a crew for efficient sail handling. There are some historic schooners sailing the Pacific NW, including the gaff-rigged “Adventuress”

Unlike the Bermuda rigs seen on sloops, catboats, ketches, and yawls, gaff-rigged boat use four-sided sails. The top side of the sail is supported by a gaff, (describable as an “upper boom”), and this increases the sail area substantially.