The ideal cockpit for a cruising yacht

Safety and comfort are at the heart of everything we do here at Sirius Yachts. When it comes to the cockpit of our sailboats, they have to be safe and comfortable but they also have to be practical too. From the cockpit you need to be able to control the sails, steer the boat (often for long periods), and at all times be comfortable and well protected. The cockpit has to be a pathway from the transom to the saloon and it also has to store all the equipment you’re likely to need while sailing from one place to another, whether that’s along the coast or across an ocean.

We wrote about choosing between an aft and a centre cockpit in a previous article. Spoiler alert: we prefer aft cockpits. But to summarise, our hull shape is narrower and deeper, allowing our cockpit to be kept lower and closer to the centreline. This means the people in the cockpit experience less motion and are thus more comfortable. Many aft cockpit yachts have cabins under the cockpit, but because we have the mid-cabin option we don’t, so we can lower the cockpit and use the space beneath it for services and stowage.

Why our cockpits are safe, practical and comfortable

Our cockpit are designed to be safe, not wide and open
We designed our cockpit to be safe, not wide and open

In this article, we explain the many ways in which comfort is designed into our cockpits, the safety features and the enormous range of options we offer in the cockpit area. If the choice of options and their consequences seem a bit overwhelming, we are here to advise you every step of the way. We have been building sailing boats for owners like you for more than 50 years. It’s natural to be worried about whether you’re making the right decision, especially if you’ve never had this amount of choice before – and unless you’ve already bought a Sirius yacht, you won’t have. We can talk through any options in detail and explain how they might affect or benefit your yacht.

The right size of cruising cockpit

On a Sirius yacht, it’s often forgotten that there are in fact two cockpits on board, but we call the forward one the saloon. Our saloon serves most of the same purposes as a cockpit, but does it better: it is more sheltered, it can be warmed or cooled, you can steer from there, it has comfier seating, and you can still see out with a 360-degree field of vision and you are just a few steps from any lines that need to be tended.

While the outside cockpit of a Sirius isn’t as broad as on most other boats of the same length, it doesn’t have to be. That said, the wide and ergonomically shaped benches on the 35 DS are 2m (6ft 6in) long and 2.4m (7ft 10in) on the 40 DS. We designed our cockpit to be safe, not wide and open – you don’t need the arms of a gibbon to reach from one grabrail to the next. Instead, you can move around our deep cockpit much more easily without any risk of falling or going over the side. The helmsman can tend the genoa sheets from behind the wheel. All other lines are led back to the cockpit, so it’s a tap on the autopilot button and a step forward and all the lines are in front of you.

Cockpit features at the helm

Helm perfectly positioned at the back of the boat
When mooring up or leaving a berth, the helm is perfectly positioned close to the back of the boat

All our yachts are designed to be easy to sail singlehanded. Even when sailing with your partner or family, there will be times when you’re on deck alone. Having the saloon in front of you makes it easy to communicate with people in there, but if you or your partner is off watch, you don’t have to disturb each other when the sails need adjusting or when you need to check your notes at the chart table. We always recommend owners have an autopilot. While it is possible to do without one, they make short-handed and singlehanded sailing much easier.

Many yachts have cockpits that don’t work well for people who are shorter than average height. Ours do. The deckhouse is between 1.4m (4ft 7in) and 1.45m (4ft 9in) high which is lower than the typical height of a sprayhood, we also raise the cockpit sole at the wheel, so seeing over it over it is rarely a problem for adults. But you can also steer very comfortably standing on a seat, or we can raise the existing step at the helm (which also serves as a bracing point when you’re sitting beside of the wheel).

When mooring up or leaving a berth, the helm is perfectly positioned close to the back of the boat (and her mooring cleats) for you to throw or retrieve lines, or step off the transom and see clearly how close you are to the pontoon or dock. That’s much less easy on a centre cockpit yacht.

We offer two different types of throttle control. The most popular option has a Spinlock throttle control faceplate. The throttle has an eight-pointed winch handle star fitting that accepts a locking winch handle or Spinlock’s smaller handle. When not required, the handle can be removed. The advantages of this are that we can fit the throttle control high enough so it’s easy to use, at an intuitive height to grab without looking and bending down, or reaching around the steering wheel. And without a permanent handle, the seat can be used and there is nothing to snag lines or clothing. The other solution is to use a more conventional throttle control on the binnacle. We can fit side-mounted or surface-mounted throttle controls with cables, or fly-by-wire units.

Comfortable cockpit seating

High coamings offer excellent protection
The high coamings offer excellent protection, provide good lumbar support and are comfortable whichever side you’re sitting on

By its very nature sailing involves a lot of moving around, whether you’re tending sheets, steering or even sitting still, you’re always moving. The seating on a yacht has to serve many purposes; the most obvious is that it has to be comfy to sit on, but it also has to drain and give good grip when you need to stand on the seats or when the yacht heels over.

GRP is a good surface to sit on, especially when compared to a material like aluminium. Even so, we cover the GRP in Flexiteek to make it more comfortable and provide a better grip. GRP doesn’t get excessively hot in the tropics and we round the corners and contour the surfaces so they’re body-kind when you bump into them.

If you look at the seat design of our yachts, you’ll see they are deeper outboard and raise going inboard before dropping away at the edge of the seat. They are contoured like this for your comfort, supporting your legs fully and not rubbing behind the knees (where you’ll often have folds of oilskins). The backrests of the coamings are high and their upper sections lean outboard. The high coamings offer excellent protection, also provide good lumbar support and are comfortable whichever side you’re sitting on; irrespective of the tack you are sailing on.

We mount the winches outboard, recessed into the coaming. If we put the winches on top of the coaming they would be too high to use comfortably when sitting in the cockpit. If you want to stand over the winch and grind like an enthusiastic racer, you can, but if you’d rather stay seated in the cockpit you can do that instead. Putting the winches outboard of the coaming also makes them safer and less attractive to small children’s fingers.

We don’t just have comfortable seating in the cockpit, we can also add seats in the pushpit for relaxing – when enjoying your sundowner or for less experienced crew to stay safe and clear of the cockpit.

Cockpits with curved surfaces, everywhere

The forward of the cockpit is rounded for comfort
We make the forward of the cockpit rounded so it’s equally comfortable whether you are sitting normally or relaxing with your feet up

When you’re moving around the cockpit, the boat’s motion sometimes seems to conspire against you and you’ll bump into corners or other people. For this reason there are no sharp corners on our boats, in the cockpit or anywhere else. If there were, you can guarantee you’d find them the first time the weather is less than perfect.

We also make the forward and aft ends of the cockpit rounded so they are equally comfortable whether you are sitting normally or relaxing with your feet up. That’s not the only reason, though. Having large radius corners enables us to mould our yachts to a higher, more consistent standard and spend more time on the details of the moulding process that really matter, such as making sure that where there are tight corners there are no air bubbles between the gelcoat and glass matting. Gelcoat with air bubbles beneath it is easily damaged and will have to be filled at a later stage.

Excellent cockpit bracing and handholds

High coamings are not only comfortable and more protective, they also make better handholds. Being higher, they raise your centre of gravity when you’re leaning on them to steady or brace yourself.

You won’t slide off our cockpit seats when the yacht heels. Here again, our contoured seating helps. On our 35 DS we extend the stainless-steel supports for the table forward to make good bracing points for any height of sailor. If you choose a tiller, we can make the mainsheet support on the sole longer and achieve the same result. On our 40 DS there is a raised and angled footrest on the sole for better bracing and the cockpit table is mounted on top, providing additional handholds and bracing points. It also contains the liferaft, so that it’s always ready to deploy if needed.

Transiting to or from the companionway is aided by good grab handles. These are located just inside the companionway and on the binnacle of the wheel 40 DS (and 35 DS is you opt for a wheel). The aft overhang of the deck saloon roof also provides the high handhold that many sailors rely on, like a sprayhood on other types of yacht but stronger and more reliable.

Steering options in the cockpit

The wheel allows you to sit out on the coamings or stand on the seats
This wheel has many advantages because it allows you to sit out on the coamings or stand on the seats

All our yachts are available with wheel steering. If you prefer a tiller, we can supply our 35 DS with either wheel or tiller; although, technically, you can choose both if you have an interior helm position with a wheel and a tiller in the cockpit.

We have covered this wheel in our videos, it’s a novel and reliable solution for those who want the versatility of a larger wheel but also the convenience of greater space offered by a small wheel. An 80cm canting wheel can very effectively replace a 2.5m fixed wheel. It’s a very reliable, clever design from the world’s leading steering system manufacturer, Jefa Steering. The wheel is mounted on a binnacle that is pivoted below the deck and can be set in any of three positions, canting to port or starboard or fixed vertically. There is a foot paddle that, when pressed, retracts the stop in the base of the pedestal. You can then move the pedestal one way or the other and you’ll hear a reassuring thud when the stop locates in the next hole. This wheel has many advantages because it allows you to sit out on the coamings or stand on the seats, steering from leeward or windward with small – not exaggerated – turns of the wheel. It gives a better view forward while sailing or manoeuvring, then you can swing it out of the way when you’re moored up in port to give you a clear route between transom and saloon. It also means that someone coming to join you at the helm doesn’t have to squeeze around a large wheel that blocks their path. We mount a fixed pedestal forward of the canting wheel to support the instruments and mainsheet.

A canting wheel might not be the ideal solution for you. If that’s the case we offer the options of a fixed or folding wheel. The Lewmar folding wheel allows the sides of the wheel to fold inwards when in port, making passage through the cockpit easier.

Ease of moving through the cockpit

Safely walk straight from the transom, to the cockpit, to the saloon
On a Sirius you can simply and safely walk straight from the transom, to the cockpit, to the saloon and galley whilst carrying your bags of shopping or kit

The lower the cockpit is, the less movement those sitting in it will experience while sailing. Keeping the cockpit low has other advantages too. When its at the same level as the saloon, it makes using the yacht much easier, and not just when you’re sailing. Every time you enter the boat, from the dock or dinghy, you’ll be moving along one level. You’re not clambering over guardrails, shuffling along narrowing sidedecks – littered with sheets, tracks and genoa cars – then stepping over coamings. You’re not lifting bags up side decks and into the cockpit and then taking them individually down steep companionway steps to the galley. On a Sirius you can simply and safely walk straight from the transom, to the cockpit, to the saloon and galley whilst carrying your bags of shopping or kit. On other yachts, it helps to have someone in the galley to take the bags as you pass them down, but when you’re single-handed you’ll keep running up and down the companion way steps. On a Sirius, you don’t have that problem.

A choice of cockpit tables

On all our boats we offer many different types of cockpit table. Whether you’d like a removable table that rotates to give the best access, a folding table that is ready to use at a moment’s notice, one that attaches to the binnacle, or a permanently fixed table with stowage inside, we have made many different options.

You may not even want a cockpit table, or you might just want one that suits your needs for dining, entertaining or stowage. As always, the choice is yours.

On our 40 DS, we fit a cockpit table with stowage inside as standard. It sits on a mounded GRP footrest on the cockpit sole. Even so, we have added more framework to the base of the cockpit table for better bracing for all the crew, not just the taller members. This table can be customised to make its leaves wider or the legs taller or shorter and we can add handrails to it as well.

On the Sirius 35 DS, our two-in-one cockpit tables are often chosen. The first table is part of the binnacle, its fiddle serves as a grab rail and it’s ideal for holding small items while sailing. The much larger second table, which lives in a special drawer in the top of the starboard cockpit locker, clicks cleverly on top of the smaller one and then its leaves fold out, providing a full crew with plenty of space for al fresco dining.

No cockpit sprayhood necessary

As our cockpit is low and our coachroof is high, we don’t need a sprayhood (or dodger if you are stateside). Many people ask ‘how can you stay protected and still see where you are going?’, to which we reply that unless the sprayhood has a glass windscreen to look through, looking through the saloon and two sections of glass will be clearer that trying to look through aged vinyl windows that may be scratched, sun-damaged or opaque. Also, while not part of the cockpit, it’s worth highlighting that the overhang above the forward-facing deckhouse windows prevents the spray from being blown over the coachroof, stopping it in its tracks before it gets anywhere near you.

Companionway door, not washboards in our cockpit

Companionway door
Unlike washboards that have to be removed and stowed, the door just opens and is permanently attached

We often get comments about our companionway door. This, like our hull windows, is ballistics grade polycarbonate. It has a rubber seal around the frame to keep water out. Unlike washboards that have to be removed and stowed, the door just opens and is permanently attached. If it starts to rain or the weather deteriorates, you just close the door.

Some online commentators have questioned what would happen if the boat were to invert. Many of our yachts have crossed oceans and sailed around the world, and we’re yet to hear of one inverting. Unlike wider-hulled yachts with low coachroofs and huge flat decks, which can remain stable when inverted, thanks to the buoyancy within the deck saloon a Sirius has not only a much higher angle of vanishing stability, she is also completely unstable when inverted. The yacht will right herself up immediately. If you are thinking of going ocean cruising, we can also make sure all areas (including the under-floor lockers) can be secured when needed.

While we’re talking about circumstances we hope will never happen, should the cockpit be filled with water there is a sill for the companionway door and the water pressure would again compress the rubber seal, keeping it closed. As the footwell of the cockpit isn’t large, it holds only a small amount of water which will drain quickly through the oversized cockpit drains and clearance around the bathing platform door.

Mainsheet location

Mainsheet attached to an arch over the cockpit
We can attach the mainsheet to an arch over the cockpit

The mainsheet of a Sirius yacht can be attached in one of four different places. The most popular is for the mainsheet to be sheeted to the top of the binnacle in front of the wheel, keeping it within easy reach of the helm. We use a 10mm bar welded to thick-walled 3in tubing that is attached to a subframe beneath the cockpit. What many critics on the Internet forget is that the pin for the shackle supplied by mainsheet block manufacturers is 5-6mm in diameter and will always fail before the mainsheet attachment. We do understand that the binnacle isn’t the ideal place for everyone, though. If you’re opting for a tiller, you won’t have a binnacle so we attach the mainsheet to a smaller structure on the cockpit sole.

Some sailors feel that having the mainsheet in the cockpit creates a hazard for the crew and it also makes fitting a bimini more problematic. You could of course have the helm shaded with a rear bimini, but if you’re contemplating cruising the tropics you might consider removing the mainsheet from the cockpit completely. We can attach the mainsheet to an arch over the cockpit, which still gives the helmsman full control by leading the sheet down one side of the arch. The other option is to fit a targa-style arch on the coachroof, over the companionway. The two overhead options can be led back to the cockpit with a variant of the German mainsheet system. This is led onto an additional electric rewind winch that allows you to sheet it in or ease it out from the helm. If you’re unsure which mainsheet system is best for you, contact us for a chat.

Stowage, stowage everywhere in the cockpit

Hull-depth cockpit lockers
We also have hull-depth cockpit lockers. These can be on one side of the boat or both, depending on your chosen layout

Wherever you need to keep something in the cockpit, there is a place for it. There are rope bins at the forward end of the cockpit for the lines on the coachroof. There are cubby holes for the genoa sheets next to the winches and these also give you a handy place for small items like winch handles, sun tan lotion, cameras and phones. We have liferaft stowage near the transom so a liferaft can easily be launched without having to untie its painter. On the 35 DS there is a dedicated locker under the helm seat, and on the 40 DS we build the liferaft stowage into the support of the cockpit table.

We also have hull-depth cockpit lockers. These can be on one side of the boat or both, depending on your chosen layout. Not only are they deep, we typically add shelves with slide-out boxes and hangers to make the best possible use of the space available. We can also add brackets for outboard motors, areas dedicated to tools or spares, or partition a locker to best suit an owner’s specific needs. If your mainsheet is in the cockpit, it can be used (with the boom secured) to lift out heavier items such as a dinghy or outboard that are stored inside the lockers.

As you can probably tell from the length of this article, there are a lot of features in our cockpits that are not instantly apparent to the casual observer. Many of these features you simply won’t find on any other yachts, but you can have them if you buy a Sirius.