Cabin Cruiser Boats: An Owners Guide

Follow me as I walk through the last 25 years of owning and enjoying cabin cruisers. First, I’ll cover the basics about these types of vessels. Then I’ll share some experiences and travel stories from living aboard various cabin cruiser boats throughout my boating life, on numerous long-term voyages.

What is a Cabin Cruiser?

Cabin Cruisers are a popular class of boats that are power-driven with one or two motors. They are built to cruise long distances, to tour waterways and travel along coastal waters. These types of boats provide comfortable accommodations within the hull of the vessel.

Most cabin cruisers can be towed with a trailer and stored on land and are between 25-45 feet in length, although there are some as short as 17 feet, and some as long as 55 feet. Many boaters choose cabin cruisers as a practical option for long-distance boating trips due to their efficiency, comfort and relative ease of operability.

Cabin cruisers are usually equipped with heating, air conditioning, water heaters, a galley, berths, head (toilet), power generators and electrical systems – all of which make them ideal for spending extended periods of time on the water.

Cruisers are never sail boats, but a few have steading sails for stabilization in rolling waves on large lakes and oceans. Some have stabilizers, or fins that move through the water outside the boat.

It’s important to note that cabin cruisers are not made to sit, without ever leaving a harbor or anchorage. Cruisers that are not used loose their value far more quickly than those that are used frequently.

Now, I’ll walk through some of my own experiences onboard my family’s cabin cruisers over the years.

Our First Cabin Cruiser: “Seawon I” – 1968 to 1972

In 1968, my wife and I started out with our first cabin cruiser. She was a 17-foot, aluminum-hull Starcraft outboard cruiser with a small cuddy cabin for two and a removable pail for fluid wastes. It was easy to cruise up to 100 miles per day at an average 20 miles per hour. She had a full cover to keep the rain out and we slept in sleeping bags. Our young 4-year-old slept on the seat at the stern and our collie was happy on the floor.

1968 Starcraft Cabin Cruiser Seawon I
1968 Starcraft Cabin Cruiser “Seawon I”. Photo: Bob Duthie

Our first long-distance boat trip was a 2-week journey in Ontario – from Brockville (our home port) through the Thousand Islands, over to Trenton and then Northwest on the Trent Severn waterway. We cruised the Georgian Bay Islands where we tied the boat up beside an outcropping on a small uninhabited island and enjoyed some sandwiches.

1968 Starcraft Cabin Cruiser_seawon I
1968 Starcraft Cabin Cruiser “Seawon I”. Photo: Bob Duthie.

One night we tied up to a small houseboat anchored in a bay and became friends with the owners within a few minutes. One of most important cruising lessons we learned that night was: it’s not the boats you meet, but the life-long-friends you’ll make.

Our Second Cabin Cruiser: “Seawon II” – 1972 to 1978

By 1972, we had two boys and needed more space aboard. A friend at our yacht club offered us his 26-foot Norwegian-built cruiser with twin inboard-outboard engines. It was the most beautiful design I’d ever seen – with a bar, v-birth, dinette and head with sink. The helm was on the deck, which sat over the galley.

There was a pass-through to the dinette, but most of the time we had meals on a large folding teak table and a full width padded chair across the back. We generally paired with others on our cruises and did another visit to Georgian Bay.

1970, 26-foot Norwegian Cabin Cruiser Boat Seawon_II
1970, 26-foot Norwegian Cabin Cruiser Boat “Seawon II”. Photo: Bob Duthie.

On one trip, we were accompanied by a 30-foot Bertram Yacht, where we cruised 250 miles together in rough waves on Lake Ontario, over to the Toronto harbor. We found that taking waves on the bow was much more comfortable than taking the waves on the side, across the beam.

Sadly all boating came to an end for us in 1978, when I was transferred to Nashville, Tennessee. I took one look at the muddy Cumberland River and we spent a day on a 20-foot cruiser on Center Hill Lake (with no air-conditioning) and concluded it was not the boating life for us. Thus began a hiatus from boating that lasted over 20 years.

Our Third Cabin Cruiser: “Katy Leigh” – 1999 to 2017

By 1999 our kids were grown up, our business was doing well and we decided it was time to get back into boating – this time with a bigger cabin cruiser! So we purchased a 36-foot 1981 Grand Banks Trawler and named her Katy Leigh. We wanted to do the Great Loop route that we’d been reading about for years. The Great Loop is the 5,500-mile circumnavigation of Eastern North America by water. It is the ultimate dream of many cruisers!

1981 Grand Banks Trawler
1981 Grand Banks Trawler “Katy Leigh”. Photo: Bob Duthie.

I bought the boat in Erie PA in April 1999 and we headed straight out onto Lake Erie, heading West into some fairly big waves. What I didn’t know at the time was that the waves were churning up old dirt in the fuel tanks (the vessel had been sitting for awhile), which caused our fuel filters to clog and resulted in the engine quitting on us. My son was onboard with us and he tried to install new filters, but had to give up as the rolling motion made him seasick. Finally, I dropped the anchor which reduced the rolling and we called the U.S. Coast Guard to rescue us.

Upon placing the call, I learned that all the marinas in the area had closed for the season. The Coast Guard said they had to tow us 20 miles or so to the nearest harbor who could accommodate our vessel. When we arrived at the harbor, the owner of the marina was ready for us, and he helped us tie up for the night.

The next day the contaminated dirty diesel fuel was pumped out of our tanks, and fresh diesel was installed. I learned two important lessons from this incident: 1) never go out on the boat with dirty fuel filters, and 2) don’t go out if the marinas nearby are not open.

A third and more complex fuel issue was discovered: not all the fuel that went through the engine was burnt up, and unfortunately that unused fuel went straight back to the starboard tank. If the valves are improperly open (which they were), the unused fuel inadvertently got mixed with the fresh fuel from both tanks and contaminated the main fuel source.

After fixing all of these issues, our cruiser went the rest of the initial trip – all the way up to a Detroit Marina. There we were supposed to get everything else we’d found on the first journey fixed up. We left the boat for a month and eventually returned in May to discover the service department at the marina had diagnosed a new drive shaft was required. Needless to say, this had to be custom-fabricated and installed, so we had to delay our planned trip.

1981 Grand Banks Trawler Interior
1981 Grand Banks Trawler Interior. Photo: Bob Duthie.

While we waited, we decided to stay onboard the boat and use the 15-gallon waste tank. When it filled up, I had to remove it and carry it to the wash room. After awhile we decided we had enough of that lifestyle, and went to a nearby hotel to await the repair. This turned out to be another mistake – horrible centipedes sped all around the floor at night that scared the life out of us.

Finally the repair was complete, and we headed on our way. That trip ended up having two more major incidents. On the way down the Illinois River, the water was very high and the locks were wide open, so we flew right along. The gauges on the water depth could not be read, and the height of one bridge could not be determined accurately. At one bridge we came across, I went up on the flybridge and estimated we had enough clearance to make it through. As it turns out, I was wrong.

We hit the bridge and dragged our mast down 6 inches or so, to the port side. The mast light was smashed and we sustained additional minor damage. We did what we could to put the mast backup, eventually reaching the Mississippi River mid-day. Then we decided to go into harbor at St. Genevieve which had lots of water, where we tied up for the night and enjoyed a dockside dinner, then walked to town.

The next morning, we left early and had planned to stop at a harbor of sorts – at the Ohio River junction. When we arrived, I didn’t like the look of the harbor. The air-conditioning was not working and a captain friend (who was along with us for a stint), suggested we head upstream to Paducah and dock there.

When we arrived in Paducah we discovered the dock had been wiped out. We slowed down in the Ohio River to make dinner and were suddenly hit with a violent storm that reduced vision to zero. The wind was so strong it knocked the dinghy off the mounts and onto the deck.

For the next hour I managed to use our 1981 radar to keep us on the river during the storm, going around in circles to avoid coming too close to other boats and the treacherous shore. The rain eventually cleared and we were able to head up the Tennessee River to the lock at Kentucky Dam. The dockmaster said we would have to wait until 3:00AM because of other traffic.

Finally, the dockmaster let us tie up to the bollards at the lock entrance. This was a relief as there is no way you can get an anchor to hold in the river and we kept drifting. After a time, he opened the lock and we chose a bollard in the middle of the lock, which was another big mistake. Here we learned another valuable lesson: never choose a position in the lock without first consulting the lock master. The middle of that particular lock had such violent currents, it was all we could do just to hang on.

After that, we enjoyed a glorious moment out on Kentucky Lake. Our plan was to dock at the Kentucky Dam marina, but there were no empty slips. So we had to manage with just a short nap on anchor and then move on. We decided to keep going 22 miles further to Kenlake Marina, which was our final stop.

We got there at 7:00AM, had a great breakfast, and were guided to our slip where we immediately fell asleep until the afternoon. That trip was at an end, and we’d completed 1/3 of the Great Loop.

We spent the next two years making our plans to do the rest of the Great Loop. We planned to do it in 4 stages starting in 2003 down in Florida in the Fall. We figured we’d make it up to Chesapeake Bay by the early spring, Oxford Yacht Agency in the Fall of 2004, and Winter Harbor in the winter. Then we would do the Great Lakes and back to Kentucky Lake by the end of June 2005.

Each time we stopped for a break we had major work done on the boat. Work included: Teak rails, new bottom, bow thruster, new outside hull paint, new Bimini canvas, cracked windows replaced and new heads and larger holding tanks. As we learned, it is very important to keep up with all of this maintenance as you use the vessel.

I won’t get into all the details of that trip. Suffice to say, we had all the major bugs eliminated and I knew far more about boating than the previous trips we’d taken around the Tennessee River and the Cumberland River. After finishing the loop, we got new chart plotters, an AIS, rail mount barbecue, new fridge, iron tanks cleaned, and many other “had-to-have” devices that I would suggest all long-term cruising boaters purchase.

After 2005, we had a system of opening the boat out on March 15, and closing it up on November 15. We winterized it every November 15, which I would also recommend every boater do – in order to preserve and extend the life of the vessel. This gave us a boating season that lasted 8 months, or two-thirds of the year. Most importantly, we made life long friends at both our marina and the other marinas on the lakes.

For awhile, all was going well, until the owner of our marina passed away and left the business to his daughter who unfortunately had no interest in continuing the business. Eventually all of our friends went to other marinas and my wife and I decided to sell the boat and start a new lifestyle. We hit upon the idea of going back to Brockville and buying a condo in the Tall Ships Landing that had recently opened.

For years we enjoyed the condo life, however, everyday I looked out our 9th floor windows and watched the St. Laurence River, wishing I could be back out there cruising and relaxing. I realized we would have to buy a boat.

Our Fourth Cabin Cruiser: “Seawon III” – 2018 to Current

All through 2018 I studied the smaller cabin cruisers and eventually settled on a Limestone 24 cruiser. This boat would be big enough to handle the large waves that are often found in the area, yet small enough to trailer easily and simplify storage. While I found one in the harbor nearby, it was not for sale. I did get a nice ride on it, and was convinced it was the right cruiser for me. Then in December I discovered the Rossiter 23 in a magazine and it looked even better than the Limestone.

This boat had an outboard engine, a swim platform and nine comfortable seats for passengers. It was a true cabin cruiser with a small cuddy cabin, a real toilet with a freshwater pump, a holding tank and best of all – no pail like Seawon I! The build-quality was outstanding and in the same league as the Hinckley Picnic Yachts. The Rossiters are made in Canada in Ontario and the local Hucks is the dealer that sold me the first Seawon 51 years earlier.

2017 Rossiter 23 Cabin Cruiser Boat
2017 Rossiter 23 Cabin Cruiser Boat “Seawon III”. Photo: Bob Duthie.

They call the Rossiter 23 a classic day boat. There are no used boats on the market that I could find – only new ones. Of course, the advantages of buying a new boat are that you get to pick your options! For example, I saw no need for head lights. They just get in other boaters’ eyes when you approach at night. What I did need was what I called a “Geezer Support”. They didn’t like that name for marketing purposes – they call it “Starboard Passenger Assist”. Call it what you may, but it’s very valuable for people with any kind of balance problem trying to board the boat! Rossiter boats are made in Markdale, ON, near Owen Sound and Georgian Bay, so it’s an area I know well from Seawon I and II.

I ordered the cruiser in January and it was delivered in mid-June. I spent all day on June 17th with the Rossiter CEO and a dealer, who wanted to see that everything was functioning properly. We did a sea trial cruise on the river and everything was in perfect condition. The next day a friend helped me move the boat about 20 miles to the Brockville Yacht Club.

Because of the trash in the river we cruised at 10 miles per hour and got to the club without incident. However, I did have some problems with docking the boat in such a tight space. I learned another valuable lesson: docking an outboard is a lot different than an inboard on a Grand Banks. I decided to take two lessons, and now I’m able to dock perfectly.

There are so many things to learn about boating that it keeps me busy – reading books, testing out various things and snoozing in the cabin. Life has been good to us, and I expect to get a few more years with the Seawon III before giving up again for good.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the difference between a cabin cruiser and a yacht?

Unlike a yacht, cabin cruisers generally do not require a professional crew and can be operated by a single captain. However, due to their size and design they offer many of the same amenities as larger yachts including a stable ride in open water.

What are the best cabin cruiser boat brands?

Some of the best-known cabin cruiser boat manufacturers are: Cruiser Yachts, Four Winns, Sea Ray, Tiara, Aspen, Pursuit, Riva, Sabre, Hunt, Prestige and Grand Banks, to name a few. Visit Boat Trader to see a complete list of Cabin Cruiser Brands and Boats For Sale for sale.

How much does a cabin cruiser weigh?

Cabin cruisers generally weigh around 150 lbs per foot, dry-weight. Of course a vessels can weigh substantially more with full gas tanks, fluids, ballasts equipment, food, supplies and passengers.

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