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Morgan 38: Sought-After Center Cockpit

Many yacht designers would break into a cold sweat if asked to create a center cockpit boat under 40 feet. That’s primarily because the height that the design adds to the profile of a boat can often make it look stubby. That said, center cockpit boats have become very popular for their livability and comfort when cruising. In the mid-1990s, Catalina Yachts took on this comfort/design challenge and created the Morgan 38, to the delight of many.

A Morgan 38 on a pleasant reach.
A Morgan 38 on a pleasant reach.

Charlie Morgan built the first Morgan 38s in the 1960s, and some 100 hulls were launched in total. In 1977, Ted Brewer designed the next few iterations of the aft-cockpit Morgan 38 (382, 383, and 384) and these proved to be so popular that over 500 hulls were built. Catalina Yachts bought Morgan Yachts in 1984, and in 1992 the new Morgan 38, designed by Gerry Douglas, was introduced as the first all-new Morgan in a decade.

A lot of thought went into the design and the boat is actually quite attractive, despite her height. Many elements were used to minimize the boat’s round, high appearance, including a set of steps from the deck to the cabin top. Also, several factory-added touches, including accent striping, helped make the boat look more in proportion. The design has a relatively fine entry and carries her beam (12 feet, four inches maximum) well aft, so she is shapely in all directions.

Exterior stowage is light and could prove to be a challenge for anyone planning a longer-distance cruise. There is one shallow locker on the port side of the cockpit coaming. That locker is very long (big enough for a set of oars), but if you lose something in the aft reaches, it may just have to stay there. A better locker is located aft to starboard.

The deep cockpit is a good size and will accommodate six comfortably. Access to the cockpit from the deck is easy, and the transition is well-designed without obstructions or shin-bangers. The helm seat is raised higher than the rest of the cockpit, which provides excellent visibility forward. There is also a stainless-steel footrest mounted just below the helm seat that makes a great perch when standing. Everything is within reach of the helmsman, including the double-ended mainsheet and the self-tailing Lewmar number 48 primary winches.

The stern is contemporary, with curved, easily maneuvered steps on both port and starboard that lead down to a nice-sized swim step. A large hatch, built into the transom, brings plenty of light and air into the aft cabin. Some owners refer to it as the “picture window.”

On the other end of the boat is an anchor locker with a factory-standard electric windlass, and an open bow pulpit that makes managing the anchor easy. All sail handling lines are led aft beneath the sea hood, and the decks are completely clear and protected by small, molded bulwarks. The double-spreader, masthead rig is deck-stepped, and a rigid vang and split backstay were standard. With a 150 percent genoa on a beam reach, the boat will sail at seven to eight knots in 15 knots of apparent breeze.

The benefits of the center cockpit design are most evident below. The Morgan 38 layout is a modern fore-and-aft cabin design that features six-foot, six-inch headroom. The interior volume is impressive, evidenced by the fact that this 38-footer had much of the same living spaces as a boat 10 feet longer.

The V-berth forward features a small dressing area and decent stowage with drawers below the berth. A large head and shower combination is situated to port and can serve as a day head for guests. A separate sink is to starboard.

In the main saloon, the original layout included a choice of either two seats to starboard, separated by a game table, or a straight settee that made a good sea berth. To port, there is an L-shaped settee that can be pulled out into a double berth and a removable dining table that is wedged next to the mast’s compression post. A small but dedicated navigation station is tucked away to starboard.

The galley is in the port walk-through and features double stainless-steel sinks, a double-burner stove and oven, a refrigerator/freezer, and Corian countertops. It’s a very chef-friendly galley that is perfect for entertaining aboard. To starboard and behind the navigation station is a door to a large head with a separate shower stall. Both the galley and the head lead to the master stateroom aft, which has an island queen berth bordered by seats. This kind of stateroom, with stand-up headroom and good separation from the rest of the living spaces, is what sells center-cockpit boats.

Engine access is via several removable panels and although the engine compartment is not heavily insulated, the sound and vibration under power are not bad at all. Morgan 38s generally came with Yanmar or Westerbeke diesel engines around 40 horsepower. The engine room itself is fairly roomy with a dedicated space directly behind the main engine for a small generator.

The main saloon is finished in a combination of hand-rubbed teak and light ash, with solid teak doors and frames. Combined with the white spaces, the light teak and holly cabin sole, and 12  ports and five opening Lewmar hatches, the boat is very bright and airy.

Catalina eventually retired the Morgan name, preferring to focus on its own designs. However, the Morgan 38 center cockpit models, today about 20 years old, are still sailing and pleasing cruising couples with their spacious layout and their eye-drawing design.

LOA – 38’5″ * Beam – 12’4″ * Draft – 6’6″ or 5’0″ * Displacement – 17,500 lbs. * Sail Area – 700 sq. ft. * Fuel – 50 gal. * Water – 90 gal.

See all Morgan 38 listings.

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,