The Cheapest, Smallest Boat to Sail Around the World

Written by Matej Stepan in Sailing Guides

You want to sail around the world! I'm excited. Let me help you with this glorious mission. You want to know what's the least costly way to go about it, within reasonable safety limits of course. Great. This article will tell you how small and how cheap you can go when circumnavigating.

What is the cheapest, smallest boat to sail around the world?

The most appropriate small and cheap boat to sail around the world is the Hurley 22. At around $3,000 it is a lot of boat for the money. Fully equipped as a liveaboard for a couple, it is seaworthy enough to cross oceans. It is time-tested and has many very happy owners.

Let's look at this beauty in more detail so that you understand what it means to circumnavigate it.

First off, let's see what makes for a good bluewater cruiser. Many people think a proper seaworthy vessel has to be a large one. But as hinted in our article 'How Big Should a Sailboat Be to Sail Around the World', size doesn't really matter that much, when it comes to determining seaworthiness. The smallest boat to ever circumnavigate the world was a touch over five feet. Think about that the next time you feel your 20 something footer is small. So what are the aspects that make a boat seaworthy? Although this is a somewhat subjective matter, opinions on which will differ slightly based on who you ask, here are my two cents.

What Makes a Bluewater Boat?

Now don't you worry, I will give you a concrete, specific tip on the cheapest, smallest, seaworthy beast, but in case you don't like my choice, let's discuss a bit what makes a sailboat capable of ocean crossings so that you are well equipped to choose your own.

Stability is a big one. The main reason you wouldn't take your dinghy out of the harbor is that once the big waves start coming, you don't want to be able to flip easily. The boat's ability to right itself after a wave or a wind gust is a priority. So you want something with a wide beam and a low center of gravity - things that will influence the stability the most.

Buoyancy. This is something I wouldn't mention if we weren't talking about small boats specifically, but since small boats are lighter, the weight of all your gear, crew, food, and water will be a significant addition to the weight overall. And you need a lot of gear and water for long crossings that happen in circumnavigations. If you are on a 20 footer, the weight of the above might easily become 10-20 percent of the boat weight, which impacts performance, maneuverability, and, if not stored carefully, stability. In short, you want to make sure your boat can take the load.

Speed matters too, even if you are a relaxed cruising type. Not just for outrunning bad weather, but also for making passages as short as possible. Long passages mean the need for more food and water, as well as more chances of things breaking down, thus more maintenance.

Last but definitely not least, resistance to being sunk - or rather lack of it. If things go south, water gets in, the hull gets damaged and so on, you want the boat to be able to stay afloat for as long as possible. That happens either thanks to clever compartmentalization or some sort of flotation elements in the hull. If I were you, I'd carefully look into the boat's design to see its standing in this regard. Foam in the hull or waterproof compartments mean more weight, but also more peace of mind.

Sailing on Small Boats

Since we are going for smaller, cheaper boats, it is worthy to review the pros and cons of such an endeavor.

Pros of small boats

Low prices are a definite plus. You'll see this not just in the buying cost, but also in what you'd have to pay for spare parts and repairs. Smaller sails, fewer and thinner lines, lower mooring, and marina costs... All of this adds up to a lower overall bill. Which means more accessibility for your everyday Joe.

Easier operation. We won't be looking at newer models made easy to sail, rather we'll be aiming at older, less costly boats made in the tough old days for the tough old sailors. So the smaller the boat, the easier it will be to run around and do all the work necessary to sail.

Simpler repairs belong here too. Not only is the boat physically smaller so the repairs tend to be easier, but the onboard systems will be simpler too. No electric winches, perhaps no hot showers, no complex plumbing, or electronics. I'm not saying a wrench and a hammer will be all you need to fix everything, but you won't have to become a professional engineer either.

Cons of small boats

Prepare for a bumpy ride. Small, lighter hulls, will be influenced by the sea swells more than a big boat. Make sure you aren't seasick, or afraid of rollercoasters, this will be a test.

Don't plan on taking a large crew along. Small boats just can't accommodate that many people, especially with all the extra equipment and provisions you have to have on board for long crossings. That ties into the comfort of a large living space, which on a small boat won't exist. So make sure you are okay with spending some time in a tiny space without much company.

All of those things can be gotten used to and matter little to many. Except for speed. Because of a phenomenon called 'hull speed', smaller sailboats simply can't get to speeds the bigger ones can. If you are interested in how exactly that works, check out our video on the topic. Long story short, on a 20 footer, you might have to count on needing even twice the time for a crossing as on an 80 footer. Why that can be an issue was covered above.

The Best Small Cheap Bluewater Boat

With all that in mind, let's reveal the winner of this race, the best boat to choose when you want to sail around the world and want to go as small and as cheap as possible. And the award goes to… Hurley 22.

Why? Well, first of all, it is cheap. Very cheap. Forget the $10,000 price mark, this one can be yours for around $3,000. Some googling around will get you even lower prices, but ones that are in a reasonable state that doesn't need fixing before setting sail are around this price mark. This means that statistically speaking, your current savings can likely get you not only this boat but also enough provisions to get on that circumnavigation journey right now. Or within a few months.

Now make no mistake, this low price doesn't mean the boat isn't seaworthy, it doesn't mean it isn't equipped to live on for months, or that it isn't fabulous enough to make you very happy.

At nearly 22 feet, it surely is a small boat, but one built in a way that every inch of that space is used effectively. The interior is economical, but it features a galley, enough room to sleep three or even four people, (though the place will get very crowded) a large enough table and plenty of storage space. Some versions even have a proper toilet, instead of the tiny chemical ones. This means that those long crossings will be in the maximum comfort this size and price can give you.

Despite that low price mark, you'll be getting a lot of boat for your money. It was a very successful model back in its day around 1970, producing boats for its native, English market, as well as for export. The owners report feeling like “this boat is your friend” and indeed, it gives you a sense of comfort and safety, as well as structural reliability, which is exactly what you want from a boat you want to call your home for months on end. It feels like a bigger goat, it even acts like one in rough waters, there is no question about her seaworthiness. The Hurley 22 was also made in a long keel version, which supposedly impacts the handling positively.

If you google owners' experiences, you will find a lot of very happy people who had nothing but a blast with this boat, regardless if they used it to cross an ocean or sailed it in coastal waters only. They generally report troubles with the inboard engine that tends to choke itself. So apparently using an outboard works way better. There were also quite a few issues with the mast fitting, so be sure to have a close look at that if you consider buying one. But other than these two prevalent issues, the boat is expected to over-deliver and get you just about anywhere in the world, which, for $3 000, is nearly a miracle.

If you know about a better seaworthy boat for this money, let me know. But as far as I know, this one is the champion that will have your back even in tricky situations.

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