Cruising Range: Is bigger always better?

Cruising Range chart for performance yachts

Cruising range is one of those numbers on the yacht specification sheet where bigger seems better. However, depending on where you intend to berth your yacht, and how you intend to use it, a smaller cruising range need not be a dealbreaker.


A cruising range of 350 nautical miles (nm), for example, can provide over a week’s worth of cruising without stopping to refuel. If this is all the cruising capacity that you need, then it may make sense to adjust your search criteria to include lower cruising ranges.


First-time owners often underestimate what their new yacht is capable of. New nautical terms and  cruising distances expressed in different units can make what would be relatively easy on land seem quite difficult to calibrate. 


Anybody contemplating the purchase of a new Tesla car, for example, would relatively easily work out whether its range between charges would meet their needs. Experience tells us that new owners of yachts with similar ranges often struggle to translate available range into cruising possibilities.



What is a cruising range?


Cruising range is the distance the yacht can travel without needing to refuel and is measured in nautical miles.


Nautical miles (nm) are based on the circumference of the earth and are not equal to statute miles.


(1nm = 1.1508 miles = 1.852km).


They are the nautical measure of distance and define the yacht’s speed which is given in knots (kts):


1 knot (kt) is 1nm per hour.


Knowing the yacht’s range is one thing, understanding what you can do within that limit is another.


It helps to consider an example.



Cruising the Balearic Islands


Unlike the Canary Islands, the winter months in the Balearics can get quite cold with water temperatures dropping below 18C. The rest of the year offers a typical Mediterranean climate with June – September being peak season. With numerous islets and hidden beaches only accessible by yacht, the four islands provide numerous opportunities to get away from the crowds. This can make them a good choice of home port.


There are approximately 100nm between the mainland and the northern tip of Mallorca, and only 65nm between the western coast of Ibiza and the Cap de la Nau. This means that the Balearics are well located even for those berthed on Spanish coast.


Cruising Range Map of Balearics

A circumnavigation of Ibiza is just over 60nm: around four hours at a conservative 15kts, with a good weather forecast.


Formentera, the smallest of the islands, sits off the south coast of Ibiza. A day trip from Ibiza Town to one of its nearest islets can be done in a 30nm round trip.


The crossing from Ibiza Town to Palma de Mallorca is approximately 76nm, although there are closer points between the two islands. As the biggest island, a full circumnavigation of Mallorca is 180nm. Though there are numerous protected moorings on the east coast, the west coast offers little protection other than the harbour of Port de Soller. The nature reserve of Cabrera is located 10nm off the southern coast of Mallorca.


From Alcudía on the northern coast of Mallorca, to Ciutadella on the island of Menorca, is approximately 34nm. A circumnavigation of Menorca is 85nm with its north and south coasts offering distinctly different landscapes.


Does the lower end of the cruising range provide outsized value?


In short, yes. With a range of 350nm providing over a week’s worth of island cruising, the range does not have to be a limit to enjoying time on your yacht. Although the range is given for an economical speed, with many marinas and facilities available around the islands, even those looking to use their horsepower will not find themselves restricted.


Generally, yachts with larger cruising ranges are, well, larger. It is not only the purchase price that increases with size. Running costs, maintenance costs, berthing fees, and crew wages all increase exponentially with even modest increases in yacht length and gross tonnage. If the lower end of the cruising range meets your requirements, why increase your operating costs buying a larger yacht than you need?


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