Fitting Out

There are just so many things to think about when it comes to fitting out your perfect yacht. The materials we have collected below cover almost every aspect of designing, building and fitting out a yacht for bluewater sailing. As you will see, KISS (keep it simple, stupid) is in our opinion one of the most important principles on board a sailing boat: what you don't have can't let you down! Some things are important, others are not; hopefully by the time you have finished reading this page you will have a much better idea of which is which.


The best combination would probably be a moderately long keel, separate keel and rudder, rudder mounted on a full or partial skeg, keel weight fixed to keel root with space for small deep bilges, deep V frames forward (for peace down below) and the propeller shaft in the keel root or keel/skeg transition (for protection).

Centre of gravity

Putting the weight in the ends has an unfavourable impact on momentum, so ideally all the weight should be in the middle. In practice this means keep the anchor windlass and chain (as much as 250 kg) as far aft and as low down as possible and site the tanks, batteries and engine amidships. The dinghy should not be kept in the davits while at sea and nor should it or any heavy crates or canisters be stowed in stern lockers. The keel should not be too deep and the rig no larger than necessary (mainsail furling systems are heavy and bulky, increasing both windage and weight aloft).


A robust hull with good local strength will last longer and distort less under load. Round chine aluminium is ideal and is easy to maintain. The hull should not be coated or painted (although obviously you will need some kind of finish on the deck) and the number of through hull fittings (weak points) should be kept to a minimum. You will need to make sure that all seacocks are readily accessible, that the cockpit drains are adequately proportioned, that all welding work is certified, that the ability of the material to absorb dents is satisfactory and that the hull is fully watertight.


Moderate V frames should be used forward to give a profile with plenty of reserve buoyancy. This will help the boat set more gently and deal better with swells and general wave action when fully provisioned.


Draught is not usually a critical factor as most anchorages have plenty of water.


A partially balanced rudder mounted on a partial skeg offers some protection against collision damage while still being fairly easy for an autopilot, windvane gear or helmsperson to control. Be sure to fit a deflector to prevent debris jamming between the skeg and the rudder. A fully balanced rudder gives better steering but is more vulnerable. Generally speaking the larger the distance between the upper and lower bearings, the lighter the steering will be. Three bearings designs are better than two. You will also need to decide whether to seal the rudder post above or below the waterline.


Think about ergonomics: a flat plank of wood is not the most comfortable thing to sit on for prolonged periods. How will you rig the drains so that they work even on the lee side (nobody wants to sit in water). Will a rubber strip (which can become porous) be sufficient to seal the cockpit lockers or do you need a tight fitting design? You will need to be able to close the companionway such that water cannot get in. Doors and washboards (conical) are the two customary options. A vent in the doors or washboards is an advantage in normal use, but you will need to be able to close the vent reliably in really bad weather (spare washboard?). Will you have a bridge deck (safety when the cockpit is full of water)? Is the binnacle firmly anchored (laterally)? Are there attachment points for harnesses and safety equipment?

Boot top

Position the boot top line a little higher than the actual static waterline otherwise the waterline will always look dirty when heeled or unladen.

Righting moment

Somewhere in the region of 110 degrees is enough for coastal sailing, but 130 degrees is more appropriate for bluewater use (note: always measured without the sails).

Rubbing strake

A thick rubbing strake is ideal, otherwise provide some kind of bumper. A fender board is also very important.


Lifelines must be firmly anchored, stanchions should be bolted to the deck and the toe rail.


Two substantial cleats at the bow and two at the stern plus one on each side amidships plus solid fairleads.


A cutter rig with two relatively small headsails can be managed fairly easily by a small crew. The mast can be firmly anchored (backstays) and three sails on deck means less clutter below.


Standard aluminium is OK, carbon is better. Deck-stepped masts (well-supported below deck) are better. Keel-stepped masts are hard to seal at deck level and difficult to jury rig. Never use a double headstay: it is virtually impossible to put enough tension through the rig to keep two headstays tight and without a tight headstay the luff of the headsail will sag terribly. Lead the halyards back to the cockpit for safety's sake.

Roller furling sails

Furling headsails are a must, but a furling main is always a trade-off between convenience and sailability due to poor sail shape and amplified pitching and heel as a result of the greater weight aloft.


UV protection and (removable) lazyjacks are essential. A good wardrobe for bluewater cruising will include a spinnaker or cruising chute in a snuffer, a storm trysail and a main with three reefing points (two using a single line or other fast reefing system plus one traditional setup for heavy weather).

Anchor windlass

A strong and fast windlass is essential. The windlass and anchor locker should be as far aft as possible, as the total weight plus anchor and chain (ideally 50-100 m/160-320 ft, possibly stainless steel) could top 200-300 kg/440-660 lbs. The bow roller unit should be solid (not just a thin sheet of metal). The windlass must be operable by remote control from the cockpit!)

Stainless steel fastenings

Stainless steel fastenings under tension stretch and must be checked and tightened regularly. Stainless steel fastenings subject to transverse loading only (rig) are more stable.

Permanent spray hood

A robust spray hood with a hard top and handrails on the outside is essential to keep the weather out. Soft spray dodgers are quite easily damaged by strong winds and waves.


Mount the engine as near to amidships as possible and use a conventional shaft rather than a Saildrive (the Saildrive has only a rubber collar to close the substantial through hull opening, so if you do have one, make sure you have a good emergency bung to fill the hole). Closed cooling systems are preferable and an exterior cooling solution is useful (consider connecting the hot water circuit). Engine insulation, ventilation and access are all very important.

Propeller shaft

A conventional shaft setup is best with the shaft mounted either in the skeg or its own well (protection for the propeller) and with a thrust bearing in the hull. The shaft will also need a cutter for debris and don't forget decent sized sacrificial anodes on the shaft and rudder.


A folding propeller is best (with a fixed propeller as a spare).)


Essential, especially with a metal hull, in order to prevent condensation problems


Essential: the more hatches there are to open, the more comfortable your boat will be (but hatches should be at least 1m from the outer skin). Large diameter dorade vents and adjustable wind scoops can make a big difference in the tropics.

Mosquito nets

Essential - mosquitoes will find a way in through any opening, including the companionway, and one is quite enough to spoil your night's sleep. Velcro is excellent for holding nets in place.


Non-electrical hot air heating transports moisture out of the boat - even in tropical climates.


Sun and teak are uneasy bedfellows, while glued cork decks have been known to come loose. A poured-epoxy-coated deck (like the OVERDECK system, is ideal.

Hull colour

The hull should be a pale colour, preferably white. Pale hulls absorb less heat from the sun and hide damage and imperfections better.

Deck colour

The deck should also be pale (less heat absorption), but the glare from a white deck can be too much for the eyes. Shades of light grey or pale yellowy-green are ideal.

Deck layout

The deck should ideally be free of trip hazards and obvious places to stub your toes! Nobody wants to have to wear shoes just to move around the boat. Good handrails on the coachroof are important. Webbing jackstays (wire is too slippery) should run the length of the deck.

Bulkheads for GRP yachts

Do you want the bulkheads laminated into the hull or glued/riveted? Should the chainplates be bolted to a special frame to distribute loads to the hull/bulkhead or is it sufficient to bolt them through the deck? What about the plate for the babystay - is the deck designed to distribute these loads as well?

Collision bulkheads

These can be a good security measure. Solid doors with a rubber seal are adequate, as the water pressure will never be too extreme.

Tiller steering

Tiller steering is the best choice even for larger yachts (up to around 13 m/44 ft). It gives better feedback on trimming errors, better handling when manoeuvring and better conditions for a windvane steering gear while at the same time being much simpler (and therefore more reliable - remember KISS) than any wheel system.

Wheel steering

If wheel steering is unavoidable, go for a mechanical system with large pulleys and a tensioning system for the wires that you can access easily for visual inspection. Hydraulic steering should be avoided unless the size of the boat and/or rudder leaves you no choice. Be aware that leaked oil will almost always be circulating in the hydraulic cylinder even if you fit a shutoff valve (bad news for autopilot steering and utterly incompatible with any windvane gear that steers through the main rudder).


Radar is essential. Mounting the radar antennas on the mast is less than ideal (weight aloft, chafing on the headsail leech and loss if mast fails). A structure at the stern to carry all your antennas is a much better idea (the GPS antenna can be mounted here too, which will save it being used as a handle).

Solar panels

These are essential. Rigid panels can be fitted on the coachroof, flexible ones at the stern.

Wind generator

Recommended, but make sure the turbine blades are well above head height to prevent serious injury.

Shaft generator

Not a terribly good idea if you have a folding propeller!

Auxiliary generator

An auxiliary generator is not essential on yachts under about 14 m/46 ft.


A fundamental requirement - and make sure that it is properly and permanently installed.


Standard equipment


Essential. A tubular-sided RIB with a GRP floor is preferable and you will need an outboard of at least 5 hp and preferably 8 hp to make sure you can always find your way back to the boat against the wind and tide (i.e. must be able to plane).

Bathing platform

This is a basic requirement, as the dinghy will often be your only link to shore and the easiest way to board, leave, load and unload the dinghy is over the stern. A bathing platform also affords a windvane steering system some protection against ambush from the rear. And you can even use it for swimming too! The bathing platform should be
about 50-60 cm/20-24 in above the static waterline.


Another basic requirement, as they are the safest place to store a dinghy overnight when in harbour. The dinghy should not be left in the davits when at sea as it will be too vulnerable to rogue waves and may interfere with the vanegear.


A bimini is the only way to keep the sun off effectively and is thus essential for any kind of long-distance sailing. A good bimini will be strong and fairly rigid so that it can be kept in place all the time (the sides should be approx. 8 cm/3&Mac184; in lower than the centre). It may be integrated into the equipment rack at the stern.

Water maker

Extremely useful - be sure to pick a strong, high capacity model (operates when the engine is running))

Radar reflector

Essential. A spherical multifaceted reflector mounted on a spreader is ideal.

Lee cloths

A basic requirement even for double berths. The best place to sleep is amidships.


Handrails are essential below deck and there should always be at least one within easy reach wherever you find yourself.


A U-shaped galley is convenient for preparing meals at sea. The (gas) cooker should be gimballed and should be installed with the oven door facing across the centreline of the boat. The sink should be deep and needs two pumps, one for seawater and one for fresh. All worktops need a tough surface coating. A large refrigerator is very useful (and should be accessed from above, as less cold air is lost this way).


The wet locker should ideally be situated in the companionway area so as to be as accessible as possible in bad weather. The toilet bowl should be mounted facing forward or aft rather than sideways. Install a swan-neck if the bowl is below the waterline (quick shut valve?).


Rubbish and waste should be stored in a strong, washable box

Building your own boat

can turn into a nightmare unless
- you live fairly close to the boatyard
- you have the full support of your family or significant other
- you have time to spare from your day job
- you have a fairly good level of technical expertise
- you have a reasonable amount of capital and
- you accept that you might not necessarily be saving a fortune over a production boat

One-off construction

only makes sense if
- you know exactly (in the most minute detail) what you want/need
- you have plenty of money available
- you are able to keep a very close eye on the work (ideally several visits a week)
- you are able to draw up and agree thorough and realistic plans and
- you have the services of a good boatbuilder

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and are based on his experience of bluewater sailing and bluewater sailors. The list makes no claim to be a complete and definitive prescription!