Blue Turtle Cruising

Differences living aboard a trawler vs. a sailboat

It’s been roughly a little over a month of living aboard our new (to us) sailboat. So, I’ve decided to put together a few initial thoughts on the differences of living aboard a sailboat vs. a trawler. We spent 9 years living aboard Blue Turtle, our 40’ trawler and have recently bought and moved aboard a 44’ CSY sailboat. The boats are roughly the same size (within 4 feet) but there are some very defining differences straight off the bat. First of all, these differences are not necessarily bad or good, just different. 

As you know, there are many different styles of trawlers so my comparison is based on the 40’ DeFever Passagemaker. To get an idea of our trawler layout you can view a pictorial tour of our trawler here. Sailboats also run the gamut in size, space and layout. Our sailboat is a 44’ CSY center (or mid) cockpit. Below are my initial thoughts (and my own personal opinions) on living aboard a sailboat vs. a trawler.  Differences of cruising and handling will come later once we have had significant experience cruising our new Blue Turtle {sailboat}.


Our sailboat is actually 4’ longer than the trawler but it’s interior actually seems smaller.  The trawler had more boxy, wide open interior space which made it seem bigger. Our sailboat actually has 2 separate cabins that require us to walkover the cockpit to get to each one (this is very specific the the make/model boat we have). Its interior space is divided up more with built-in storage and a large fold-up table. The aft cabin, which is the master stateroom and head, is quite small which affords us to have a large cockpit area in between. One area I didn’t lose any space was the galley. It’s roughly the same size as the trawler but with more storage (more on that in the next item).

Engine room space is another area we lack on the sailboat. I think Randy was a bit spoiled on the trawler with just a single engine and all that room to move around it.


Our sailboat has ample storage room like under the settee cushions

The trawler may win the space category, but it’s the sailboat for the win in the storage category. Our sailboat doesn’t have all that extra open space like a trawler, but it certainly makes the most use of the space it has. In the galley, my cabinet space was tiny on the trawler. I had very little room for dishes, pots and pans and food. On the sailboat, I actually have a few large areas still unoccupied (which is wonderful since we will need that space for provisioning food for long trips). 

On the trawler we did have more outside storage areas on the decks with 2 large dock boxes and under bench seating storage on the bridge. We used this space to store Randy’s tools and spare parts. On the sailboat, we lack that kind of deck storage. We do have a small dock box on the aft deck, but other than that, it left us nowhere to put tools and parts. Add to the fact that the previous owner loaded us up with enough spare parts to support a small West Marine, we had to find storage inside the main cabin for all of everything. Thankfully, our sailboat utilizes the interior space more efficiently than the trawler and we have a ton of space under and behind settee cushions for parts and tools. 


There’s no denying that our trawler had many creature comforts. Of course we had 9 years to tweak and modified things to make her comfortable for us. We removed the built-in bench seating and added a recliner sofa. With the recliner sofa, a large (for a boat) 36” flat screen TV and surround sound soundbar, we had our own personal theater. Space was abundant so we were definitely comfortable. 

A recliner sofa with big screen TV made for a comfortable trawler

The sailboat does not have room for a large TV or really a great comfortable spot to view it from. It does have a very cozy aft master stateroom much like our trawler. We recently custom cut a memory foam mattress for the aft berth which has been wonderful. It came with a small TV/DVD combo and with our Amazon firestick we’re able to stream movies. This is the most comfy space on our new boat.

Obviously, with more open space you have more options for adding creature comforts and I think the trawler wins in this category.

Our cozy aft cabin with memory foam mattress and small TV makes a pretty comfortable retreat

Outdoor livability

Our trawler had large, wide-open decks. It was great having that large aft deck to spread out all of our dive gear when we cruised to the Keys and Dry Tortugas and the large flybridge was great for viewing sunsets with friends and having family gatherings. One thing I didn’t like about the outdoor space on our trawler was how it wasn’t easily accessed from the inside cabin. To go outside, we had to shimmy down a narrow walkway to get to the back decks and bridge. This was really only a problem when needing to carry the dog, beverages, food, etc. around the back of the trawler to hang outside.

For a sailboat, we have nice large decks to walk on as well. We also have a very large cockpit which literally divides our 2 cabins. It’s a great comfortable outside space that’s easily accessible from either cabin which makes it more likely for us to spend time there.

We had large open decks on the trawler
(Left) View from forward cabin looking at the cockpit that divides the aft from the forward cabin. (Right) We have a nice comfortable outdoor space now.

Boarding the boat

Getting on and off the boat is varies from trawler to sailboat. With both boats we use a portable fiberglass step that helps us board the boat from the dock. On the trawler, all it took was a single step from the fiberglass steps and you were on the boat. Boarding the sailboat is a little more difficult. Because we have rigging lines that run down the sides of the boat we have to be careful to step over them when getting on the boat. Then, to get to the cabins we have to duck under the cockpit bimini, step onto the seat and and into the cockpit. Thankfully, Randy and I are in good shape and it doesn’t effect us too much but it does make it harder to board with groceries and other items you want to carry onto the boat.

Nimble feet are a must wehn boarding the sailboat

Other differences we’ve noticed

In our first week living on the sailboat and moving our stuff onto it, Randy and I both agreed that living on a sailboat is harder. This probably had to do with the fact that it was 90 degrees outside, we were moving large dock carts full of our stuff onto the boat and we had the air conditioning on so the main cabin was closed. Climbing onto the boat (stepping over the lines and ducking into the cockpit) with arms full and then having to open 3 separate doors/hatches to get inside the salon proved to be a bit more cumbersome than it would’ve been on the trawler. We also had to get used to less power on board. On the trawler we used 50 amps, on the sailboat we only have 30 amps. Trying to run an underpowered AC with anything else was a challenge. Seems like it would be worse to move onto the sailboat after the ease of the trawler, but what we realized was that this sailboat isn’t meant to be stuck on a dock. It was built for cruising and everything it may lack compared to the trawler, it more than makes up for it in cruising capability. Thankfully, we plan to do a lot of cruising in the future.  And now that temperatures have finally dropped below scorching, our power and AC issues have subsided and we are beginning to fully enjoy our new boat. 

Tula’s Endless Summer has a great sailboat vs. trawler comparison on Youtube that brings up other good points. Be sure to check it out.

2 thoughts on “Differences living aboard a trawler vs. a sailboat”

  1. I don’t own a trawler yet, but have been looking into them for some time. I did own a sailboat for 12 years and put 35,000 nautical miles on it, so I know about sailing. Here are some things you didn’t mention.
    Cost to move. If you are on a trawler and want to move it will cost you. Three gallons, or $15 per hour. On the other hand sailboats cost very little, I sailed from San Diego to la paz Mexico and only burned 20 gallons, about 1300 miles.
    Trawlers have inadequate anchor gear. My sailboat weighed 12,000 lbs and had a 35 lb anchor with three eighths chain. I have seen trawlers that weigh 25,000 lbs with the same gear, way to small. And the windage on a trawler is huge. But then I rarely see them anchored out.
    Passages with a sailboat are very uncomfortable a lot of the time. You need wind to sail and wind causes waves so you will be looking for the opposite in weather over a trawler.
    Sailboats to me are for long passages and even crossing oceans. Trawlers are better along the coast. Each has it’s advantages and failings. Good luck to you in the future.

    • Hi Michael,

      Thanks for your comment. I agree with some of what you’ve mentioned. When I wrote this post it was more about differences living aboard not necessarily cruising. Because of the space, trawlers are definitely more comfortable (unless you have a catamaran). The reason we traded our trawler for a sailboat was because we planned and are now cruising full time and we wanted the option of sailing to save on fuel. With that said, on our trip to the Chesapeake Bay this summer we cruised the ICW most of the time due to lack of wind. We spent almost as much on fuel as we would have in our single engine trawler. We are hoping to be able to sail more when we head north again this spring. For full-time cruising (no home port and little marina stays) the sailboat is the best choice. Eventually, we plan to go back to a trawler because they are so much more comfortable than sailboats for coastal cruising. Also, not all trawlers have inadequate tackle. We had alot more anchor for our vessel when we had the trawler and we anchored out a lot. We used to joke about the sailboats that would come in and anchor next to us with tiny anchors and only rode (no chain). We’ve seen many sailboats drag in Dry Tortugas with inadequate ground tackle. We upgraded our anchor on our 44′ sailboat to a 73lb Rocna. We see a lot of trawlers and power boats anchor near us with no issues. It really comes down to the experience of the captain, crew and confidence they have. Obviously if they don’t anchor out much and end up dragging, they will be more comfortable in marinas. You are right that each has it’s advantages and failings.




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