If you intend to buy a boat, or simply want to know more about the speeds of some common types of boats, then you’re in the right place.
As we will discuss during this article, the speeds of the most commonly used boats (sailboats, pontoons, and cruisers) are not going to take your breath away. But, knowing what to expect from these boats is important for any new sailor hitting the waters.
When you compare the speeds of these boats to the fastest ever recorded, well, there is no comparison. That was achieved by a speedboat in 1978. The speed? An incredible 317.8 mph or 511 km/h (276 knots).
However, that boat, the Spirit of Australia, was powered by a jet engine, rather than a standard propeller. Therefore, you’re very unlikely to see such speed records like this ever broken with propellers.
Over the years, many boats have been made to run quickly, such as rum-runners and motorboats. With some reaching speeds of 90 mph, you can be forgiven for thinking that modern boats would regularly achieve the same pace.
The truth, however, is not so exciting. Most boats these days will not reach such speeds as they do not need to outrun others as many smuggling rum-runners did.
Let’s find out more about the speeds of pontoons, sailboats, and cruisers below. We will also be looking at the factors that impact the speeds of boats, so you know what to expect out on the water.
Factors That Affect A Boat’s Speed
Before we find out the average speeds of pontoons, sailboats, and cruisers, we want to discuss what can affect how fast, or slow, they go.
The most significant factors that affect a boat’s speed tend to be its hull length and hull length. The less body a boat has in the water, the faster it is typically able to travel. And, the longer the boat’s hull, the faster it will usually go, too.
Overall, the main contributing factors to a boat’s speed are usually its length, its hull type, and the direction and speed of the wind.
Let’s start by taking a look at why the length of a boat’s hull can determine how fast it can go.
A Boat’s Length
The longer a boat, the faster it tends to go. All in all, this is the rule of thumb for just about any boat.
Below are varying lengths of boats and their maximum hull speeds, to give you a better idea:
- Length – 16 feet. Meters – 5. KMH – 9.3. MPH – 5.8. Knots – 5
- Length – 26 feet. Meters – 8. KMH – 12.6. MPH – 7.8. Knots – 6.8
- Length – 36 feet. Meters – 11. KMH – 14.8. MPH – 9.2. Knots – 8
- Length – 40 feet. Meters – 12. KMH – 15.7. MPH – 9.8. Knots – 8.5
- Length – 65 feet. Meters – 20. KMH – 20. MPH – 12.4. Knots – 10.8
- Length – 80 feet. Meters – 24. KMH – 22.2. MPH – 13.8. Knots – 12
- Length – 100 feet. Meters – 30. KMH – 24.8. MPH – 15.4. Knots – 13.4
As you can see, the formula of a longer boat being a faster boat stands up. A 100 feet boat is over twice as fast as one that is just 16 feet. The speed difference may not seem that stark, but in terms of knots, an increase from 5 to 13.4 knots is pretty dramatic.
The Type Of Hull
The hull type is also a significant determining factor in the speed of a boat. Take a sailboat, for example. If it is fitted with a displacement hull or a monohull, it will be able to reach standard speeds between 4.5 mph and 7 mph (4 to 6 knots).
If a speedboat were to use a planing hull instead, however, it will travel at much faster speeds of around 35 to 58 mph (30 to 50 knots).
This is why many sailboats can reach such speeds. Without their planing hulls, they would travel considerably slower across the water.
The Direction And Speed Of Wind
As well as a boat’s length and the type of hull it has, the speed and direction of wind have a huge impact on a boat’s average speed.
When it comes to sailboats, this is especially true, as a strong wind pushing against the sails can slow the boat down by a considerable margin.
If you are sailing the ocean (see also ‘6 Differences Between Sailing On The Ocean Vs. A Lake‘) in a sailboat, the wind’s speed and direction must be taken into consideration along the journey, and before.
Traveling downwind is something you should try to aim for as often as possible when using a sailboat. Moreover, a favorable current can also help the boat travel faster.
Average Boat Speeds
Now we have taken a glimpse of the factors that can affect a boat’s speed, let’s study the average speeds of pontoons, sailboats, and cruisers below.
Here are the average speeds of these vessels:
- Pontoon – Average Speed: 15 mph to 30 mph. Top Speed: 35 mph
- Sailboat – Average Speed: 8 mph. Top Speed: 12 mph
- Cruiser – Average Speed: 16 mph to 30 mph. Top Speed: 50 mph
Pontoon Average Speed
Pontoon boats may look ideal for a relaxing escape on the water (and they are), but they can reach very fast speeds when the conditions are right.
Under certain circumstances, pontoon boats can travel at over 30 mph quite easily. If their engine is powerful and large enough, pontoons can even reach 35 mph. Take a pontoon with a 90HP motor, for example.
This will easily move at over 30 mph. Cut this motor to only 60HP and the speed is cut in half to just 15 mph.
Even with passengers weighing a pontoon down, a pontoon with a 90HP engine can reach 25 mph.
There are exceptions to the rule, however. In March 2018, Brad Rowland managed a speed of 114 mph (99 knots) in his South Bay 925CR pontoon. To this day, this remains a world record.
Sailboat Average Speed
If you want your sailboat to travel faster, you need to harness the power of the wind. In fact, this is one of the most important skills required to move a sailboat at a faster speed.
In general, the average cruising speed of a sailboat sits at around 8 mph to 12 mph. But, this wouldn’t make for very exciting races. That is why many sailboats can achieve much faster speeds.
In 2012, Paul Larsen, an Australian sailor, broke the world record for the fastest sailboat as he managed a top speed of 75 mph (65.45 knots) in his custom-built Vesta Sailrocket 2. That’s fast!
Throughout the centuries, the average speed of sailboats has remained similar.
Ships of the 15th Century, such as Christopher Columbus’ Santa Maria, had an average cruising speed of approximately 4 mph (4 knots). The top speeds of such boats were around 9 mph (8 knots).
Cruiser Average Speed
Cruisers are popular boats, owned by families throughout the U.S. AS the name suggests, these are ideal for cruising on lakes and large bodies of water, and when they travel at moderate speeds, they are capable of going over 800 miles without needing to refuel.
Don’t we wish our cars were like that? We sure do!
Cruisers vary in their build and design. Therefore, the speed of one cruiser may be different to the next.
But, in general, the slowest cruising speed for these types of boats tends to be approximately 16 mph. But, if this slower speed means you save money on refueling, you’ll be happy to travel like this at all times!
If that’s a bit too slow for you, you could try sailing a sports cruiser. These are the fastest of all cruisers, managing top speeds of about 50 mph and a cruising speed of 30 mph.
Sometimes, it’s not about how fast you go, but how long it takes you to get to a destination.
If you have a journey that is going to take a week or so, a larger motorboat is a better option. Like sports cruisers, these tend to have an average cruising speed of about 30 mph. Any slower, and journeys could take too long.
Boat Speed Laws And Regulations
Just because a boat can reach a certain speed, it doesn’t mean you can travel that quickly everywhere you go. Like on our roads, there are certain laws that you must adhere to when sailing (see also ‘A Complete Guide On Tacking And How To Tack A Sailboat‘).
When on the water, it’s certainly a little trickier to find out the speed limit of where you are compared to driving on the roads. As you can imagine, there are not always speed limit signs telling you the speed limit on the water.
The speed limits tend to change in waters for a variety of reasons. The time of day or night, your type of boat, the type of waterway, and many other factors can affect the speed limit.
And, unlike on our roads, the speed limit of boats is not always a specific number.
When you’re sailing on the sea or ocean’s open water, or you’re on a large lake, you can usually travel at top speeds, as long as your outlook is safe and clear ahead of you.
But, things become stricter as you get closer to the shore. When sailing in a bay or on a river, you need to be more cautious of what is around you because of the restricted area.
In such circumstances, you must look out for “No Wake Zones.” These are found in many bodies of water, especially close to the shore, marinas, docks, and in canals.
To comply with No Wake Zone rules, your boat must move slow enough to not produce a large swell that could be a danger to others around you.
These include swimmers, other sailors, and animals. Traveling through a No Wake Zone can be a little tiresome, but these restrictions are in place for the safety of you and for others.
Now you know the average boat speeds of pontoons (15 mph to 30 mph), sailboats (8 mph), and cruisers (16 mph to 30 mph).
Whilst there are places to travel at faster speeds, always be aware of everything around you and stick to the laws of the water you are sailing in.