Trawlers: A Comprehensive Guide

Although trawlers aren’t the most popular genre of modern powerboats, they do have a very dedicated following. Long-distance cruisers and people who want to spend extended periods of time or possibly even live aboard their boat often find them an ideal solution. And people who have owned a sailboat but decide they want to cruise with a little more speed and comfort also commonly opt for a trawler. So, what makes a boat a trawler in the first place, and why do some people love them so much? Let’s consider:

nordhavn 41 trawler
Trawlers like this Nordhavn 41 are designed for long passages and comfortable living. Photo via Nordhavn.

What is a Trawler

Trawlers are boats with relatively large cabins designed for extended stays aboard and long voyages. Most offer slow but efficient displacement cruising speeds, and while few older trawlers could plane, many new ones do have a bit more “get home power” and speed which can be used when maximizing efficiency isn’t the primary concern. Most trawlers will range from about 30 feet up to 80 feet or so, although there are a few models that fall outside of this size range.

The name “trawler” is derived from fishing vessels that pulled trawl nets. These vessels were made to spend long periods of time at sea while burning as little fuel as possible, so naturally, at some point people decided to eliminate the commercial fishing gear, expand the ratio of cabin space versus open deck space, and use trawler-style vessels for pleasure instead of catching fish.

What are the Different Types of Trawlers

Trawlers come in almost countless flavors, but they can be broken down into several subcategories including:

Cruising Trawler

northern marine 57
This Northern Marine 57 certainly fits the bill for cruising to distant ports. Photo via Seattle Yachts.

Cruising trawlers are your standard-issue trawlers. They can have displacement or semi-displacement hulls, and either one or two engines. Many trawlers have a single straight inboard engine. They have enough space for a couple to spend extended time aboard, will have at least one private stateroom, a full galley, an enclosed head, and a saloon. Some have open cockpits aft, while others may have an aft cabin occupying the stern (and may also be called “aft-cabin” trawlers).

Pilothouse Trawlers

american tug trawler
Many trawlers, like this American Tug, have a pilothouse-style design. Photo via Edwards Yacht Sales.

Pilothouse trawlers are just what they sound like: a trawler, built with a pilothouse design. This consists of a separate helm area, called the pilothouse, which is usually elevated above the other decks on the boat to enhance visibility from the helm.

Slow-Fasts

ranger tug 43 running
Some modern trawlers have more get-up-and-go than one might expect. Photo via Pocket Yacht Company.

The slow-fast (sometimes spelled “slo-fast”) is a type of trawler that usually has twin inboard engines (though there are some with one or twin outboards) and has the ability to get up on plane. This generally forces a sacrifice in slow speed efficiency to some degree, and usually requires eliminating the deep keel many trawlers have to protect the running gear and enhance stability. But, it allows the operator to hit the throttles and go several times faster than displacement speeds when desired.

Trawler Tugs

nordic tug 26
This Nordic Tug 26 has a distinctly tug-like appearance. Photo via Seattle Yachts.

There’s a small but popular genre of trawlers which have the look and feel of classic tug boats. These don’t have any defining characteristics other than that they look similar to tug boats, and perform more or less like other trawlers.

Trawler Yachts

beneteau grand trawler
There are plenty of trawlers out there, including the Beneteau America Grand Trawler 62, which could be considered yachts. Photo via Viage Group.

There’s no set definition for when a trawler becomes a trawler yacht, but suffice it to say that the term can be applied to trawlers of over 60 feet which are luxurious and, well, yachts.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Trawlers

The biggest advantage of a trawler is the combination of long range and comfortable accommodations. That’s what makes them so popular among long-distance cruisers — you can make your way through the Bahamas, from Kennebunkport to Key West, or through the Alaskan Inside Passage, rarely stopping for fuel and taking your “summer home” with you as you go. Some larger trawlers are even capable of ocean crossings. Additionally, most are very stable, seaworthy boats.

The biggest downside to most trawlers is the lack of speed. If you want to get where you’re going at a rapid pace, this isn’t the right sort of boat for you. This is true even of slow-fasts, which burn a lot more fuel when they cruise above planning speeds and rarely can go faster than the mid-20-mph range. Additionally, many trawlers have deep drafts because they have inboard powerplants and often, a keel as well.

Key Trawler Features

In addition to the traits we’ve already mentioned, most trawlers have everything needed for self-contained living. For boaters in southern climates, for example, air conditioning would be considered a key feature. For those travelling the Pacific Northwest, air conditioning might be low on the list but a good heating system would be critical.

Another important item for trawlers is a good generator, especially since they may be anchoring out instead of plugging into an electric source at the dock at the end of the day. In fact, it’s rare to find a trawler without a generator. This is changing, however, as more and more modern boats are adapting new LiFePO4 battery technologies coupled with inverters to provide the power.

beneteau grand trawler galley
Since extended time is spent aboard, there’s often a strong emphasis on integrating a large, comprehensive galley. Photo (Beneteau Grand Trawler) via Denison Yachting.

Gallies are also considered a key feature on trawlers, more so than on most other types of boats since virtually all your meals will be prepared aboard. While a 35-foot cruiser might have a single burner stove top and a dorm-sized refrigerator, for example, a trawler of an equivalent size might have a four-burner cook-top and at least double the refrigeration space.

Every boater will have his or her own favorites, but some of the top trawler brands in production today include:

Beneteau

beneteau swift 35
The Beneteau line begins with the Swift 35. Photo via Cape Yachts.

Beneteau is the world’s largest boatbuilder and trawlers are just one of their many offerings, but their Swift line of trawlers has proven very popular through the years. The lineup currently includes 35-, 41-, and 48-foot trawlers plus the Grand Trawler 62. These have semi-displacement hulls and would be considered slow-fasts by most boaters, with the ability to exceed 20 mph.

See Beneteau trawler boats for sale on Boat Trader.

Grand Banks

grand banks trawler
Many people consider older Grand Banks (this is a 2014 model) classic trawlers. Photo via DiMillo’s Yacht Sales.

Years ago Grand Banks was known for building very traditional trawlers, but today their model line (including 54, 60, and 85 footers) are slow-fasts that can in some cases exceed 30 knots. They’re quite high end, with lavish interiors and long lists of features and comfort-adding accessories.

See Grand Banks trawler boats for sale on Boat Trader.

Nordhavn

nordhavn n71
This rendering of Nordhavn’s N 71 represents their latest endeavor. Illustration via Nordhavn.

Nordhavn is one of the few builders of trawlers today that retains the core concept of maximizing efficiency at the cost of speed. They design and build displacement hulls from a 41-footer to a whopping 148-foot trawler yacht. With 900 gallons of fuel capacity and a fuel burn around 0.7 to 0.8 gph at six knots, even the smallest Nordhavn has transatlantic capabilities

Nordic Tugs

nordic tugs 44
The Nordic Tugs 44 sits in the middle of this builder’s lineup. Photo via Seattle Yachts.

Nordic Tugs builds a wide range of models, from 26 feet all the way up to 54 feet. Most have a nostalgic tug boat look, and while the smallest model may be a bit tight, it does still fulfill the requirements to make it a true trawler. Their largest model, on the other hand, pushes into trawler yacht territory with two separate staterooms, a utility room, a very well outfitted galley, and a flybridge sitting atop a pilot house.

Ranger Tugs

ranger tugs r-23
The Ranger Tugs R-23 is one of the smallest boats around, and one of the few outboard boats, that self-identifies as a trawler. Photo via Pocket Yacht Company.

As one might guess from the name, Ranger Tugs is another builder of tug-style trawlers. These boats do push the definition of a trawler a bit, with models as small as 23 feet which have outboards for power and fully planning hulls. There’s less argument over the larger models, which land squarely in the slow-fast category.

Trawlers have changed a lot over the years, and purists might argue that some modern versions aren’t really trawlers at all. But one look at the classic lines and comprehensive accommodations should erase any doubt — today’s trawlers are far better than those of yesteryear in any number of ways. And if you want to go long-distance cruising or even live aboard a boat, few types will prove better than a trawler.

Written by: Lenny Rudow

With over two decades of experience in marine journalism, Lenny Rudow has contributed to publications including YachtWorld, boats.com, Boating Magazine, Marlin Magazine, Boating World, Saltwater Sportsman, Texas Fish & Game, and many others. Lenny is a graduate of the Westlawn School of Yacht Design, and he has won numerous BWI and OWAA writing awards.

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