The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Of Cockpits, Wheelhouses And Engine Rooms

Some years ago, my friend Frank Luke, of Paul E. Luke Inc. in East Boothbay Maine, told me a story: Frank was at a boat show and the proud owner of a new boat wanted to buy a Luke-made stove, propeller, and anchor. First the buyer insisted that he needed the items in just a few weeks; not a trivial request in that they are all custom made. After the order was all filled in, the guy then asked for a discount because he was buying several items at once. Frank, I suspect, gave him that look that only a Maine craftsman confronted with an unreasonable request can produce, and said, “You got your quality, you got your delivery, and you got your price; pick any two”.

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Philip Waterman

Sorry – I am tagging on to this rather late in the day. Nevertheless it seems like the right thread for my request for “education”.

I am interested in opinions/thoughts from sailors who have experience of deck saloon (DS) layouts – more specifically, raised deck saloons where from the primary cabin seating and navstation you can actually see out of the cabin windows.

I have never sailed one, but I am thinking along the lines of the larger Nordship, Regina/CR and Sirius designs or the Rustler 44.

I am sure that there are some eminent North American designs with similar layouts.

I am drawn to this layout for the following reasons :

➢ Space – the additional level seems to liberate more useful space from the relatively small foot-print of 36-44 foot design. Notably allowing an additional cabin, or in the case of our wish list, more storage under the raised main cabin sole.

➢ Views – given that the idea is to go to places of stunning natural beauty and undoubtedly inclement weather, being able to appreciate the surroundings from inside, without having to stand on tip-toe and peer through a letter-box seems like a good idea

➢ Safety – whilst sailing single or short-handed you can keep a weather eye on the situation whilst brewing the coffee or working at the navstation. Also, if you are abruptly shaken from your slumbers you can quickly assess what is going on without necessarily donning oilies and going out in to the cockpit (with a suitably placed pilot berth of course – certain Scandinavian designers take note!). In a battened-down, storm situation, you should have a better apreciation of what is going on without taking the risk of going on deck.

➢ Conviviality – I have spent many days at the helm in poor weather glancing down through the companionway into the gloom wondering who is winning at cards and whether anyone is interested if I am still aboard! The raised salon layout seem to make for a more participative experience, with some safety benefits to boot.

➢ Anti seasickness – this may just be me, but having the horizon in the corner of my eye whilst at the navstation or doing anything else in the cabin is the best preventative I have found for the dreaded mal-de-mer.

➢ Stability – assuming that you keep the water out, all that high-up cabin volume appears to increase the energy required to rotate to the point of vanishing stability. In some designs, for example the Moody 45DS (perhaps more of a pilothouse) there is no inverted stability at all.


➢ Saloon deck looks are not to everyone’s taste. I do not expect Ferrari levels of beauty (or in deed performance) from an 8 seater SUV, so for my purposes, I would not put looks that high on my list. However, you have to have a good relationship with (or perhaps even love) your boat, so personally, I would draw the line at a pilot/dog house arrangement à la Nauticat – sorry if I have offended anyone.

➢ Windage – inevitably there is more freeboard. I have a natural aversion to bow/stern thrusters for reasons of cost, reliability, complexity, power requirements and the possible compromise of hull integrity and hydrodynamics. I know that they seem to be de rigeur on any sailboat above 12m these days. Is the extra 60cm (24”) of the saloon really felt in a windy marina? And, what about a bare poles situation?

➢ Safety with big seas falling from on high – my target vessels all have category A (unlimited ocean) certification. I am sure that several tonnes of water landing on 25mm (1”) of bullet proof polycarbonate is not going to break the “glass”….. but what about the surrounding coach roof – perhaps weakened by the panoramic orifices?

➢ Stability – notwithstanding my previous positive comment, 5 square meters of 25mm of polycarbonate is going to weight some 170kg. Plus the additional polyester/vinylester and fiber (or indeed Al or steel) that makes up the hightened coach roof and the higher up furniture and fittings. Acting at perhaps >2.5m above the center of buoyancy this has got to have some effect. Is this going to be significant in a knockdown or potential capsize situation? Perhaps one would expect this to be dialed out by the keel design – but then some DS designs (Sirius for example) have swing or dual keels……..?

➢ Stability again – so you fail to keep the water out in a knock down/ capsize. What is the effect going to be of a ton of water sloshing around those panoramic windows?

➢ Heat/cold – how do the large windows effect the environment in the cabin? In theory, polycarbonate is a much better insulator than glass reinforced polyester (0.2 W/m.K vs. 1.2 W/m.K). Perhaps then, a deck saloon with 270 degree panoramic views is better insulated from the external temperature than a cabin with an unlined GRP low profile coach roof….but what about the heating effects of sun-light? I suspect that curtains do little to abate this and heat/light reflective coatings do not survive long in a marine environment. Can anyone who has done a 0º to 70º N or S with this layout comment?

I would be very happy if readers could add to the pros and cons of the DS layout. Clearly vessels of this type are in the minority, so I must be missing a lot of negatives. I am also looking for positives – sorry, but love at first sight with a twin cabin Nordship 430DS, sigh………..

Thanks in advance for any inputs . And compliments to AAC for bringing together such interesting and experienced bunch of contributors.


Steve A

Aesthetically pleasing, safe, and fully functional wheelhouses on sailboats are very rare. (And aesthetics are very subjective) Seems difficult to do on a vessel under 43′. We spend 1/2 the year in rainy & often windless SE Alaska, where a cozy wheelhouse while motoring or anchored and viewing the scenery and wildlife is a nice feature. And we prefer not to bake in the tropical sun all day when cruising. Many boats that we looked at had wheelhouse seating that was too low to allow you to even see out the windows or over the bow. After probably hundreds of hours of measuring, drawing, and building mockups we were able to create one in an unfinished Van de Stadt Samoa we purchased- without modifying the exterior lines or cockpit in any way. The wheelhouse deck was dropped several inches, but not too difficult to do with an unfinished aluminum boat. Enter through a watertight door and down 2 full size “building code” stairs to a snug 4 person pilothouse with 6’2″ of headroom, then down 2 more full size stairs to the salon & galley. No steep ladder to fall down, but very expensive heavy duty DiamondSeaGlaze windows. No walk around engine room, but good access all around, a sit down work area with a vice in the engine room, and a stand up work bench outside the engine room. The pilothouse also divides the space so that the salon does not seat 8 people. So as you pointed out there are always compromises.

Marc Dacey

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I guess, but I have a steel cutter with a step down pilothouse, in which there is a 4 x 2 foot hatch into the engine bay with 360 degrees of engine access, and a further two steps down to a saloon with seven feet of headroom. The workshop is in front of a collision bulkhead where the V-berth would be. All on 41 feet. I think the seaberths and the single head would put people off, but we spend most of the time on the high aft deck, or in the pilothouse. I could live with less windage, but I like the pilothouse and the ability to do work on something other than the dining table. Our boat’s been described as “very Dutch, very North Sea” or, less charitably, as a Land Rover with a hull, but we can’t all afford the alternatives, which in my case would be a Swan 53, a Saga 48 or even a J/160. So I get to voyage at 5.5 knots instead of 8.

Brandon Reese

Sounds like my kind of boat “a Land Rover with a hull.”

Mark Doets

I have a doghouse boat with the engine under the cockpit floor behind the companionway. What is good is that the access to the engine room is really good via removable panels in wooden frames. What is not good is that the panels provide very poor acoustic insulation. Does anyone have some suggestions on the design and construction of removable engine room panels in a way that they are sound proof when closed but still remain easily removable? Regards, Mark

Marc Dacey

Well, one of the secondary rationales for installing an AquaDrive setup in our steel boat was that the “soft” engine mounts and the universal coupler/thrust bearing not only mitigated alignment issues, but the engine noise is significantly reduced from what I recall of the old, smaller diesel with “hard” mounts and a solid coupler. I note Morgan’s Cloud has a very familiar-looking similar AquaDrive setup and I assume you, John, can speak to the improvement in reducing engine noise. Further to this, over the winter, I intend to finish my “North Sea” (as per Dave Gerr) exhaust system, which, like yours, is designed to make the “lift” of the water/exhaust relatively short, and to lessen back pressure. Not all boats will allow, of course, exhaust out both sides, but it is an element of a quieter engine experience, as, I presume, is your “water drop”.

Mark Doets

Just bought a new Perkins M92B engine to replace our old 1991 Perkins M90 (4.236) engine. Will make good use of all the info on the ACC site! Very little room for an AquaDrive system; hope to be able to squeeze it in. In addition to redoing the insulation of the engine room, I will now also consider redoing the exhaust system, but also want to avoid that the project becomes bigger and bigger as these projects always do..

Marc Dacey

That’s understandable, however, having done an engine replacement, there is no better time to rethink the space than in the absence of a motor. You’d be surprised at the opportunity to make the entire setup more reliable and rational.

Mark Doets

Thanks for the comment. Indeed, a simple flexible coupling may be better in my situation. I considered your water separation exhaust system but I think I will go for a regular wet exhaust system with a Vetus gooseneck, muffler and waterlock. I do no have a mid engine and I would hate to drill another hole in my hull..

I really like your extra control panel in the engine room; will do the same and try to use my old perkins control panel for that. I currently have a wet exhaust in combination with keel cooling. I plan not to use the keel cooling with the new engine because servicing the coolant was a pain, the headertanks were either empty or overflowing and I am concerned that the keelcooling may not provide sufficient cooling when we sail to the carib. Will perhaps adapt to keel cooling again when we want to overwinter in Norway or Greenland in 5 years or so. Did you ever experience a need for keel cooling when you sailed in Greenland and Norway?