Trawler Yachts are typically slow speed (8kn cruise) full displacement cruisers suitable for long distance, economical cruising or live aboard. Very popular in the USA, particularly in the mid-70's to the early-90's they are becoming increasingly popular internationally, due to the space / length and economy. Smaller trawlers (30 - 36') with single engines often use only 2 gallons an hour at 7-8 knot cruise.
Less typical are the newer semi-displacement boats which are capable of 16- knots in semi-planing mode (e.g. Beneteau 42 Swift Trawler).
It may appear premature to talk about reasons why not to import a Trawler, but there is a major hurdle if you intend to import to Europe; engine emissions. Almost without exception, no diesel engine older than 2003 will have gas emissions certification available and as such, compliance with the gas emissions requirements of the Recreational Craft Directive (RCD) cannot be claimed. Thus for most Trawlers built before 2003 the boat must be repowered. Please read the separate page on Repower Options for more details. Clearly, if looking at an older trawler finding one with a newer engine or a broken engine makes a better buy.
New vs Old
Whilst the boom years were the 70's and 80's, the resurgence in building continues, particularly with manufacturers like Nordhavn and Selene at premium end of the market. These new craft are often designed to have the range to cross oceans rather than extended coastal cruising. Recent trawlers (i.e. 2000 onwards) attract much higher prices, so are perhaps not typical imports.
Two or Three cabin vs Europa, Sedan, Sundeck, Pilothouse
Traditionally, trawlers have a master cabin aft, one or two cabins forward and a raised saloon (with engine room beneath) in between. Probably 75% of all Trawlers fit this approach, often now referred to as 'Classic' by manufacturers. Grand Banks introduced the Europa style back in the late-80's and this 'Europa' tag is now used by several manufacturers. The Europa differs in that all cabins are forward with an extended saloon aft, complete with an extended flybridge deck. This makes for a larger saloon and more deck space aloft. The deck normally extends to the full beam with supports, giving a covered side deck from midships aft. Though termed 'Europa' there is no evidence that more of these were ever sent or sold to European buyers. They are however sought after (and more rare) and so tend to command a higher price.
Next up is the 'Sedan' which to all intents and purposes appears to be a 'Europa' without the bridge deck extensions or supports. 'Sundeck' or 'Flush aft deck' implies that the aft cabin on a 'Classic' layout extends to the full beam providing both more space in the aft cabin and a larger deck space aft. 'Pilothouse' tends to be used to describe larger Trawlers which have separate wheelhouse arrangement, separated (at least visually) from the saloon.'LRC' is a Long Range Cruiser which can be anything in practice but is often closer to a Motor Yacht style. 'MY' is a Motor Yacht which implies higher speeds, possibly semi-displacement but definately higher fuel consumption (so beware).
We'll look at nearly 120 trawler yachts on our US Trawler Brands and Models page to give you an idea of what might suit your requirements, but for now let consider, what you need to consider...
A brand recognised where you are (eg Europe) will help resale. That said the better known brands may attract a premium when you buy. Everyone has heard of Grand Banks and their reputation is well earned. Many trawlers were (and are) built in Taiwan, China and India with varying success. Generally speaking the skills in all three countries were high, it's just that some manufacturers used better quality timber, construction materials and components (especially metal).
Size - My Tardis
The great thing about a trawler when compared to a sailing yacht is that for the length you get so much more usable space. A 36' Trawler has the accommodation of a 60' sailing yacht in a package where the cost of running a slow speed diesel at 8 knots is likely to be less than the cost of maintaining the sailing rig over time. One of my first Trawler clients was a very experienced sailer, who had gone to the 'dark side' after running the numbers. His 46' Diesel Duck design with a John Deere 135hp averaged 1.67 gph at 7 knots from St Tropez to Sardinia.
Size - how big?
There is a temptation to buy a Trawler the same length as your previous sailing yacht. Don't, unless you need a lot more space. Part of the attraction of a Trawler is that you can downsize without losing comfort. Downsizing applies to draft too so not only will marina charges fall, but you'll find yourself going to places previously too shallow. On this point note that some trawlers have very shallow draft (e.g. the excellent West Indian 36 from Morgan/Hertiage Yachts with a draft of 2'9", see right).
One or two engines
Whether you prefer one or two is your choice. One is more economical (but slower) and makes access in the engine room space much easier. Two gives redundancy (though perhaps not if the fuel supply is a problem) and better manoeverability in Port (though a single with a bow thruster is often as good with practice).
From a supply perspective, more US trawlers have twin engines, hardly surprising when fuel is relatively so cheap.
This is a huge generalisation but a significant majority of Trawlers are fitted with Ford Lehman (120 and 135hp), Cummins (210hp+), Detroit of Catepillar engines. In most cases these engines are used in many non-marine applications eg trucks, fire pumps, generators etc as well as in boats. Typically 6 or 8 cylinder, 4-8 litres displacement and relatively slow speed (eg max power at 2,800 rpm), these engines go on and on. But, most will not be emissions compliant.
Old boats, old systems
Just a cautionary note. Many Trawlers are now 30+ years old and whilst they may well have been well maintained, the systems onboard have had a long life. Everything degrades in the salty atmosphere and it's likely that some systems (or the electrics that power them) will fail. Often owners will replace the larger items, as these are not discretionary. However smaller non-essential components are often left when they fail to operate. Firstly, be sure to test EVERY system and always be wary of a seller who tells you something is an easy fix. If it was they would have done the fix. Often the problem is less with the component/consumer and more the power (eg a bad earth). Lastly, remember that whilst the boat may be at a discounted price, new replacement components are unlikely to appear so....
Osmosis - Friend or Foe
Osmosis can put the fear of God into buyers and sellers alike but the fact is it's something almost all GRP boat owners will have to face up to at some point. Osmosis is like a bad case of achne, nasty to look at up close but otherwise not affecting performance or operation. The structure remains intact but the surface can have blisters ranging from pin pricks to golf balls in size. When can it occur? It depends....
I had an eight year old Bayliner that had early signs of Osmosis with high moisture readings across the hull (under the antifouling). Why? Because the craft had been kept in brackish (ie mostly fresh) water for long periods. Had it been salt wate,r it could have taken several years longer. If the boat had spent longer out of the water, it could have been longer still. The fact is it happens and when it does, there's not much you can do, except wait several years until it gets so bad you reluctantly have the bottom peeled, dried and replaced. Then the cycle starts again. Can you avoid it? Realistically, only by changing to a new boat every few years. The point here is Osmosis is something we have to live with and if you find a boat with Osmosis please don't just run away. Sure, take into account the severity of the condition and take a view on when and how much a peeling job will be. Take account of this in the asking price, but don't run away. In fact in some respects a boat with Osmosis is a good buy, as the seller will take the hit on remedial costs, better than you buying a boat without Osmosis and then finding it's started a couple of years into your ownership.