Attributes of a Coastal Cruiser
When I think of a coastal cruiser, there are a number attributes that I ideally look for. While a lot of boats can be made to work for coastal cruising, in my mind the ideal coastal cruiser would be configured as folows:
Good wide berths, at with enough seaberths for at least half of the crew for that night run back to make work the next day. I am looking for a well-equipped galley that has adequate space to prepare meals for a larger crew or a raft-up. Refrigeration is less important.
A comfortable cockpit for lounging is important. It should be larger than an offshore boat to accommodate a larger number of people which is OK since pooping is less likely to occur doing coastal work.
While gear for offshore boats need to be simple and very robust, coastal cruisers need to be able to quickly adapt to changing conditions. Greater purchase, lower friction hardware, easy to reach cockpit-lead control lines, all make for quicker and easier adjustments to the changes in wind speed and angle that occur with greater frequency. There is a big difference in the gear needed when ‘we’ll tack tomorrow or the next day vs. auto-tacking or short tacking up a creek.
Keel and Rudder types:
I would say unequivocally that a fin keel is the right way to go for coastal cruising. The greater speed, lesser leeway, higher stability and ability to stand to an efficient sail plan, greater maneuverability and superior windward performance of a fin keel with spade rudder (either skeg or post hung) are invaluable for coastal work. Besides fin keels/bulb keels are much easier to un-stick in a grounding. In shallower venues a daggerboard with a bulb or a keel/centerboard is also a good way to go.
Good ground tackle and rode-handling gear is important but all-chain rodes and massive hurricane proof anchors are not.
At least on the US East Coast, (where I sail and so am most familiar with) light air performance and the ability to change gears quickly is important. It means more sailing time vs. motoring time and the ability to adjust to the ''if you don''t like the weather, wait a minute'' which is typical of East Coast sailing. If you are going to gunkhole under sail, maneuverability and windward and off wind performance is extremely important.
With all of that in mind I would suggest that a fractional sloop rig with a generous standing sail plan, non- or minimally overlapping jibs, and an easy to use backstay adjuster is ideal. This combination is easy to tack and trim and change gears on. I would want two-line slab reefing for quick, on the fly, reefing. I would want an easy to deploy spinnaker as well.
I think that speed is especially important to coastal cruising. To me speed relates to range and range relates to more diverse opportunities. To explain, with speed comes a greater range that is comfortable for the crew to sail in a given day. In the sailing venues that I have typically sailed in, being able to sail farther in a day means a lot more options in terms of places that can be reached under sail without flogging the crew or running the engine. That extra speed will often put you safely at anchor rather than fighting a storm in the confined passages that are more frequently associated with coastal cruising.
Good ventilation is very critical. Operable ports, hatches, dorades are very important. While offshore, small openings are structurally a good idea, but for coastal work this is less of an issue.
-Visibility and a comfortable helm station:
You are more likely to be hand steering in the more frequently changing conditions found onshore, and through the higher traffic found in coastal cruising as well.
Storage and Tankage:
There is a perception that coastal cruisers so not need storage. I disagree with that. Coastal cruisers need different kinds of storage than an offshore boat but not necessarily less storage. Good storage is needed to accommodate the larger crowds that are more likely to cruise on a short trip. Good water and holding tankage is important because people use water more liberally inshore assuming a nearby fill up, but with a larger crew this takes a toll quickly. Holding tanks are not needed offshore but they are being inspected with greater frequency in crowded harbors and there are few things worse than cruising with a full holding tank and no way to empty it.