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5 Sailboats with Exceptional Cockpits

The argument could be made that the cockpit is the heart of a sailboat. We relax there and for the most part, we steer the boat from there. It’s the most frequently occupied place aboard, and the layout and ergonomics of this space dictate how we use and enjoy a boat. Here are five takes on creative cockpits that will make you rethink what a cockpit could be.

Oceanis 48 (and sister models)

oceanis 48
The transom of the Beneteau Oceanis 48 is one of a kind.

The Oceanis 48 is the middle sister in the new Beneteau line that includes models from 31 to 60 feet. This Finot-Conq design has kept the plumb bow and sleek profile that are signature Beneteau features, but has turned the concept of an accessible cockpit on its ear. The push-button electric transom drops down, transforming the aft bench seat into an extended playground. With the transom down, the cockpit opens up with a clean flow from the companionway, past the dual helms, all the way aft and into the water. It has good feng shui and will work well for anyone donning dive gear or stepping aboard from a dock. It also makes boarding from a dinghy easy and even provides a teak beach of sorts, for kids playing in or near the water. When the Beneteau electric transom was first introduced, it literally stopped boat show visitors in their tracks.

Sheet boxes are built into the coaming at each wheel to keep line clutter contained. There is a centerline drop-leaf table with built-in, self-draining ice boxes that also hold the swivel mount for a Simrad multi-function display, which may be turned toward either of the helms. This is a cockpit that will be comfortable at anchor and workable under sail, especially if you add electric primary winches and an electric halyard winch on the cabintop.

Like its sisters, the Beneteau 48 has a large arch that serves as the attachment point for the dodger and lifts the mainsheet up and out of the way of cockpit traffic, while still providing the enhanced control of end-boom sheeting. There is no traveller, since the mainsheet connects directly to the arch.

See current listings for the Beneteau Oceanis 48.

Hylas 56

Additional size is what allowed Hylas to expand this cockpit.

Hylas is known for their premier ocean-going semi-custom cruising boats, and their models can be found just about anywhere in the world. Whether passage-making or gunkholing, cruisers practically live in their cockpits, so a good design is imperative. Here, Hylas improved on their already very popular 54-foot model by adding two feet to the overall design—and it’s all in the cockpit.

The cockpit on this Hylas 56 was extended 24 inches fore and aft and its beam was increased by eight inches. This allowed Hylas to install a cockpit table that accommodates six guests; the previous drop-down folding table only sat four for dining. A large binnacle serves as the electronics pod, and additional wind instruments may be installed over the companionway, which makes them easy to read even at night.

Since this is a center-cockpit vessel, a well-designed full enclosure can be crafted to make the cockpit into another “room” aboard, which is most welcome when living aboard and cruising climates in the four corners of the world.

See current listings for Hylas sailboats.

Sense 50

beneteau sense 50
The Beneteau Sense 50 has a cockpit so spacious, new words had to be created to describe it.

When the Sense 50 by Beneteau was introduced, it required a whole different word to describe it: monomaran. That’s a monohull with a cockpit so wide, it feels like you’re on a catamaran.

The yacht design group of Berret-Racoupeau tossed out any preconceived notions of what a cruising monohull should be and started fresh, somehow succeeding in making the Sense 50 look both imposing and inviting. It’s a massive platform with a 49’ LOA and 15’ 11” on the beam, a dimension that is carried well aft. This width is what allowed the construction of an almost catamaran-like cockpit, with an easy entry off a broad swim platform and only one step up to the twin wheels. Visibility forward from the helm stations is excellent, and there’s plenty of room for sailing instruments to one side and a chartplotter on the other.

The seats behind each helm station lift up and out to open up the entire transom, creating an inviting terrace. A U-shaped settee is to starboard, with a table that can be either folded and lowered to a cocktail table; made into a sunpad; or used as an outdoor berth for two. To port is a straight bench that lifts to reveal a large stowage space, which can also be an optional bunk for children or crew.

Two electric primary winches are within easy reach of the wheels. Farther forward, but also on the cockpit coaming, are two more winches with rope clutches to control the reefing lines and halyards. Built-in sheet boxes provide line stowage and the arch over the companionway secures the mainsheet, allowing for efficient end-boom sheeting. When integrated with a small white dodger, the arch is hardly noticeable and blends nicely into the lines of the boat.

The cockpit sole lifts up to reveal access to all the machinery, allowing easy maintenance. This was done to keep all the noise-making equipment well away from the living areas. Instead of hatch boards, an optional electric lift brings up the companionway door to any level so the “doorway” can be as open or closed as conditions dictate.

If you can’t picture yourself as a cat owner but love the outdoor space multihulls provide, the Sense 50 may be the best of both worlds.

See current listings for the Beneteau Sense 50.

Catalina 275

catalina 275
The boat is small, but the Catalina 275 still earns points for its spacious cockpit.

It’s easier to get a large cockpit on a large boat, but on the opposite end of the big cruising boat spectrum is the sporty Catalina 275. This sailboat builds a clever cockpit into much less space. Designer Gerry Douglas has always understood the importance of a sizeable cockpit, and he paid extra attention to it on the smallest boat in the 5 Series fleet.

Boarding from a dinghy is easy at the open transom. where a folding ladder also provides access directly to/from the water. The cushions are designed for the seats as well as the aft deck, so you can sit atop the sides for a better view of the headsail. The cushions even overlap and cover the center traveler track, so you can stretch out in comfort when lounging in the cockpit.

The mainsheet traveler divides the cockpit and is easy to manage when racing. It also integrates two swiveling cup holders. When perpendicular to the traveler Douglas jokes they’re in cruising mode, and when tucked neatly next to the traveler and out of the way, they’re in racing mode.

The Catalina 275 has tiller steering and with a tiller extension, it’s nice to steer while seated on the coaming, out of the way of the swing of the long tiller. High cabin trunk bulkheads provide plenty of back support for anyone lounging at the forward end.

See current listings for the Catalina 275.

Bali 4.5 Open Space

There aren’t many sailboats around with a cockpit on the bow, but the Bali 3.5 Open Space pulls it off.

Admittedly, this one is cheating a bit since the Bali 4.5 is actually a catamaran—and unlike most monohulls, cats are already known for giant cockpits, perfect for accommodating a crowd. That said, Bali (built by Catana) tossed out the traditional approach to deck layout and created something completely new with this 45-foot model.

Designer Olivier Poncin incorporated a difference that is striking, even from the dock. Cats tend to keep the forward deck light by incorporating bracing beams connected only by netting, but the 4.5 Open Space eschews the front trampoline for a cushion-covered deck and a lounge that has been dubbed “the patio.”

The large vertically-sliding windshield in the cabintop is great for airflow and connects the saloon with the patio for easy indoor/outdoor living. Food and drinks can be passed forward without ever leaving the galley, connecting the boat completely from one end to the other. If you are a traditionalist, there is also a second, more conventional cockpit aft.

Now that’s outdoor living.

See current listings for the Bali 4.5 Open Space.

Written by Zuzana Prochazka

Written by: Zuzana Prochazka

Zuzana Prochazka is a writer and photographer who freelances for a dozen boating magazines and websites. A USCG 100 Ton Master, Zuzana has cruised, chartered and skippered flotillas in many parts of the world and serves as a presenter on charter destinations and topics. She is the Chair of the New Product Awards committee, judging innovative boats and gear at NMMA and NMEA shows, and currently serves as immediate past president of Boating Writers International. She contributes to and, and also blogs regularly on her boat review site,