Racer/Cruiser or Cruiser/Racer?

Now it’s time to buy your own boat. You enjoy sailing around aimlessly or enjoying a quiet cruise with friends and family. And you also enjoy the camaraderie and thrills of racing. Is there a boat out there that can fulfill your needs for cruising and/or racing? Yes. Let’s take a look at the Cruiser Racer or Racer Cruiser.


What’s the Difference?

Some of you may be saying “It’s the same thing” or “It’s just a matter of semantics”. That may well be, but there are definitely differences in the types of boats that fit either category. People tend to lump all these boats into one category and use the names interchangeably. But, what I’ve noticed is that subconsciously, the people that say Racer/Cruiser are more interested or inclined towards the racing side. Those that say Cruiser/Racer are more concerned with the cruising aspects.

This may seem inconsequential, but over my lifetime working in the sailing industry, it has proven to be correct the vast majority of the time. This helped me immeasurably in determining the mindset of the customers and their wants and needs.

In my experience a person that describes himself and his boat as a Cruiser has a strong, seaworthy, comfortable boat. A Cruiser/Racer is more likely to be a seaworthy, comfortable fairly fast boat. And a Racer/Cruiser is a fast, seaworthy, fairly comfortable boat. A Race boat on the other hand is very fast, fairly ocean worthy and very uncomfortable. In other words, compromises are made in different aspects of the boats to suit their purpose.


Racer/Cruiser and Cruiser/Racer can you tell the difference?

For me, a Cruiser/Racer is a boat that is predominantly used for day sailing and short range cruising in home waters. It can also be used to participate in club races for enjoyment as well. These boats have comfortable interiors with one or more separate cabins, a full galley and enclosed Head. They have good water tank capacity, lots of storage and a more than basic electrical system. The boats are fairly shallow draft and have simple not overly powerful rigs and sail plans.


The head sails are most likely on furlers and the mainsail, if not on a furler, is normally in a sail pack with lazy jacks. This makes the boat easy to sail short-handed and can be raced without a large number of crew or lots of sails. Most times they also have fixed Biminis or Dodgers for comfort and protection from sun and spray.

Generally, you can go sailing with a few friends or family for the day or on short cruises in comfort. You can also participate in races with the same amount of crew in the same level of comfort. These boats race without using spinnakers and against similar type boats. Whatever rating or handicap system they race under is normally simplified and easy to work with. No need for lots of specialized sails and other expensive modifications or upgrades.



A Racer/Cruiser then is a boat that’s main purpose is for racing but can also be used to day sail. It is also comfortable enough to do a delivery passage or short cruise. The interior is comfortable though simple with a basic galley and Head and electrical and plumbing systems. These boats generally have deeper keels and more powerful rigs.

J Boats are good Racer/Cruisers.

Because these boats are used mostly for racing, they have more sails. Different sized head sails and spinnakers are needed. They may even have cruising sails and a different set of racing sails. It’s also not very easy to sail these boats short-handed or with unskilled crew.

A lot more work is required by these boats as there are two configurations for the one boat. The cruising or delivery set up with small cruising sails and maybe a removable Dodger and Bimini. This can then be changed into the racing configuration by replacing the delivery sails with the racing sails and striking down the canvas work. Some may go so far as to remove cushions and other paraphernalia from the boat to reduce weight.

Another consideration for racing is the rating or handicap system. There are ways to optimize the boat to get a better measurement and rating. This requires a lot more work and trial and error but is a part of the racing experience. Choosing a boat for its potential rating is not unknown and adds a whole new dimension to boat buying.

What is Right for Me?

The above are just some general observations about boats that I’ve picked up over the years. Choosing the right boat for you has to take so many things into consideration that it can be daunting and confusing. First you have to be clear on what you want to do with your boat.

If you are just starting and want to enjoy your boat with a few friends or family, and maybe enter the odd race or two, then start with a Cruiser/Racer boat. Lots of new sailors start here. The boat is comfortable and has good amenities to make life easy for the crew. It is not complex to rig and sail and offers some protection from the elements while sailing. You can race against similar boats with little extra effort and learn the ropes as you go along. Some older sailors also prefer these type boats as they retire from serious racing.

On the other hand, you may be more experienced now and may know more skilled or experienced sailors. Or, your family and friends have improved and are ready for some excitement. Once you have sufficient crew and time then you may be ready for the Racer/Cruiser type boat.

Bear in mind that this program is going to be more expensive and time-consuming. The boats require more skill and work and are less comfortable. They are still capable of passage making and cruising but with fewer amenities. Speed will become more important to you than comfort but once you enjoy, it means that you may have been bitten by the racing bug. Now is when the trouble starts! Race boats are a whole different animal and will be the subject of a separate blog.

I hope this has been helpful if you are a potential boat buyer. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to leave them below. See you on the water.

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