The Practical Sailor's Evaluation of Three 22 Footers

[Volume 7, Number 23 December 1, 1981]
In the last issue of the Practical Sailor we offered an overview of smaller cruising boats, those under about 26'. Continuing that study, we evaluated in this issue three of the more popular small boats on the market, all 22 footers: the Catalina, O'Day and Tanzer 22s. In separate treatment of each boat we tried to avoid making direct comparisons. Any such comparisons would inevitably be invidious. Yet we did arrive at some conclusions about these boats that would be applicable to many other boats of similar size, type and price.

The impression of size

The most lingering impression we have of these three boats is that the Tanzer seems to be a small boat enlarged for interior space whereas the Catalina and O'Day suggest larger boats scaled down. Generally, of course, they are the same -- 22' boats with approximately the same dimensions. The impression is subjective; others looking at the boats might get just the opposite impression.
We also looked at upwards of a dozen other boats of about the same size. We found that they create similar impressions about their size, utilizing a variety of subtle techniques including some that have nothing to do with actual dimensions. Scaling, proportions, and styling all contribute. Buyers should not pick one because it looks bigger. use a tape measure, check by lying on berths, sitting in the cockpit, walking forward on the deck and so forth. In the same way, do not try to judge speed or performance by looks; there are objective criteria (rating handicaps, for instance) that have more validity.
In any boat as small as these performance may not live up to expectations or hopes. It didn't for us. Of the three evaluated, the Tanzer 22 is a better sailing boat than the O'Day or the Catalina. As performance is important to us, that is where we would look first.
Related to performance is the question of drop or swing keels and centerboards. The swing keel is often a complex engineering problem. In the Catalina 22, the keel weighs more than 500 pounds and must be raised and lowered as well as supported during trailering, beaching and sailing. Add to these drawbacks the reduced stability, lowered performance, more difficult maintenance, and where there is an option, the higher price, of either a swing keel or centerboard. In the end we think the fixed keel is the answer unless trailerability is a major priority.
Speaking of weight, a word of warning is in order about the weight or displacement figures in builder specifications, in particular where the boat is being marketed for her trailerability. There is no standard for what the term displacement represents. It can mean weight of the basic boat alone, it can mean the weight of the basic boat plus some optional equipment or it can even include food, water, and personal belongings of the crew. Of the three boats in our evaluation, only O'Day breaks down the published weights; hull and deck only, minimum trailering weight, and sailing weight with four persons aboard.
Whatever the case, prospective buyers should realize that the published weight is not likely to reflect the actual weight of the boat on a trailer. For such a figure, estimated at best, add about 10% to the specified weight. Then add the weight of the trailer itself. This is what the car will actually be pulling. We once trailered a 23 footer several hundred miles and back, the total weight of the boat fitted and stocked for cruising plus the weight of the trailer was more than 1000 lbs. over the advertised weight of the boat alone, an increase of about 30%. PS will deal more extensively with this discrepancy in an upcoming article specifically on trailering.

About Cockpits

All three of the boats in this evaluation have a generous beam carried well aft, an important feature. Beam at the cockpit helps stability and, of course, it affords cockpit roominess. Equally important is that the beam gives buoyancy to the after end. The weight of four adults in the cockpit of a boat the size of these could amount to 600 pounds, 25% to the displacement. Then there is the weight of an outboard on the transom and a gas tank. Unsupported this weight would make the stern squat in the water and reduce performance drastically. Beam gives this support. None of these three boats suffers excessively from cockpit loading.
Although cockpit roominess is a virtue, it can also be a fault. Despite the fact that all three cockpits are self-bailing and the boats self-righting from a knockdown, all three would be in real jeopardy if the cockpit filled with water as high as the seats. The three boats all have sills lower than seat level. They will keep incidental cockpit water out of the interior but not major flooding. Moreover, none has a lower hatchboard that can be fixed or locked in place. Owners of boats with low sills and no bridgedeck should make this provision and keep the lower hatchboard in place while sailing.
Worst in this respect is the Catalina. As is typical of most of the boats from Catalina, it has a wide companionway with substantial taper. A hatchboard needs to be raised only a couple of inches before it comes out of the channels on each side. Interestingly the sailing photos of the 22 in Catalina's brochure on the boat show all hatchboards in place and the companionway slide closed despite the relatively benign conditions in which it is being sailed.


While our standard call for performance first and comfort second, we did not ignore accommodations. After all, these three boats are cruising boats. In this respect, we think the O'Day 22 is the best. She has the two best berths, usable forward berths (for little folk), and best of all, an enclosed head that incorporates a semblance of privacy not only for the head but also between the two sleeping facilities.
Nevertheless, expectations for overnight comfort for more than two people aboard are unrealistic. A major part of the limitation is the stowage, a vital matter in boats if this size where anything lying about will be in the way. All three boats rely almost entirely on scuttles located under the berths. Not only is this space awkward o get to, but the space is dank, probably even wet. The bilges of these boats are shallow. Any water that gets below will tend to slosh under the liner/sole into the spaces below the berths. And even if water does not come in from outside, these are places where condensation will occur, encouraging dampness, mustiness, and mildew.
Although we like the O'Day's berths, the Catalina gets high grades for her decor, which has to be the envy of builders trying to compete with that firm. For sheer space (or at least the illusion of spaciousness) the choice is the Tanzer; there's nothing like carrying the cabin house out to the sheer to create roominess and the maximum amount of headroom even if it is just sitting headroom.

What about auxiliary power?

Most owners of these three boats will, sooner or later, want some form of auxiliary power. All three are designed to take an outboard motor mounted on an optional lift-up bracket on the transom. A long-shaft 4.5 hp motor is adequate for owners who would sail in anything but a flat calm. However, for powering against any kind of wind or chop the minimum of a 7.5 hp motor is needed and then don't expect powerboat speed or handling. In purchasing an outboard, select one serviced locally and suited for installation on a sailboat.
Inboard engines including the suspect Saildrive make a hefty investment for a boat the size and price of these. Such an engine with its capacity for generating electricity, dependability, power, and convenience does make it appealing. However, you should consider installing one only if the boat is a long time purchase and powering an important consideration. And plan for a cost including installation to run three times that of an outboard.

Rigs, sails and rudders

In any boat of this size and type the mast should be capable of being raised and lowered without recourse to a crane. All three of these boats have hinged mast steps on deck for this purpose. Success in hoisting or lowering a mast with these systems depends on smooth water, a gentle breeze and an experienced crew of at least two. The masts weigh at least 40 pounds and range from 25' to 30' in length, so getting them up and down requires some care and planning.
All three boats come equipped with a mainsail and working jib (or lapper) as standard. The standard sails are all of routine quality, made to a price commensurate with the price of the boat. Unfortunately it is doubtful if buyers can negotiate enough of a rebate on these sails to justify getting better quality on a custom order with a sailmaker. Again, this is a matter of how high a priority an owner places on performance and how long he expects to keep the boat.
Of the three boats only Catalina lists a pivoting or kick-up rudder as available. The pivoting rudder lets the draft of the rudder match the draft of the boat with the keel retracted. Such rudders are expensive ($125 from Catalina), subject to wear and corrosion, and of dubious value for anyone but the sailor most interested in ramp hauling and beaching.

The bottom line

Price is important. The Catalina and O'Day 22s clearly are built with a low price in mind. Sales of the Tanzer 22 are hurt by her higher price. Base price of the Catalina 22 is about $6500, for the Tanzer, over $10,000. With add-ons to make the Catalina a "sailaway" the price runs to over $10,000. Outfitted comparably the O'Day goes for $11,000 and the Tanzer for $12,500.
Wistfully we wish most buyers had some criteria other than price even in this rather modest price range. An additional $1500 or so would make all three of these boats better boats; not necessarily bigger but better appointed, outfitted and built. But they would not sell as well (if at all). In our opinion the higher priced Tanzer is a better product than either the O'Day or the Catalina. In looking at a number of other small boats similar to these the same premise seems to hold true for most of them: the more you pay, the more you get. Or for about the same price a buyer can trade off specific features. For instance, the same $10,000 will buy sparkling performance and whopping cockpit for daysailing in the 22' S2 Grand Slam 6.7 but at the expense of accommodations and interior space. The same is rue of the snappy 23' Sonar for fleet racing.
As initial cost is important, so is resale value. It is especially important because most owners of the 22 footers in our evaluation are not likely to keep their boats for more than a few years. Then sail of the 22 is apt to represent a down payment on a larger, more expensive boat and return of at least most of the dollar value of the original investment.
The value of such a boat for resale is based on many of the same factors that appealed to the owner when the boat was new -- price, cosmetics, decor, suitability for the expected use, etc. Maintaining the boat, repairing damage, and adding amenities all serve to protect the investment. With the number of such sized boats on the used boat market, we find that owners of all three of the boats we evaluated are facing a buyers' market.
In investigating used boat prices for the earliest boats built we find the Tanzer 22 has appreciated in value the most; 10-year old boats in good condition are selling for twice what they sold for new, appreciation more than offsetting the inflation rate. The cheaper original Catalina and O'Day 22s have more than maintained their dollar value, with the boats in better condition bringing about 30% more than the 1971 selling price, but losing to the inflation rate during those ten years.
Clearly the strong owners' associations for the Tanzer and Catalina help in maintaining the resale market. They are strong marketing allies not only of the builders but of boat owners. Suggestion: if you buy a boat with such an organization, join it and stay in touch with their activities even if you do not take part in them.
Dealers for the three boats are a mixed bag; there are good cooperative ones and lousy ones. PS had a favorable experience with one, unfavorable with another; neither was indicative of the [sic] how anyone else might be treated nor would we let the experiences form any judgment about he dealer network of any of the three builders. Certainly Catalina dealers are far more numerous and geographically widespread than are O'Day and Tanzer dealers, a reflection of the vastly greater number of boats sold. One does not have to look very hard around water to find Catalinas; one might have to call Tanzer to find the nearest dealer or, away from the East Coast, call O'Day for its local dealer.
Owners of boats in this size and price range making warranty claims, seeking answers to questions, or asking for special service on orders or service should realize that the relatively low markup on small boats such as these does not make dealers stand at attention. Trial sails, financing, trades up from smaller boats, special options, and so forth are similarly treated. In general, however, the owners of these three boats report satisfactory treatment by dealers and builders.

And a final thought

The choice of the Catalina, O'Day and Tanzer 22 for this evaluation was based on their popularity, longevity, similarities in use, their close price range, their size and the number of characteristics they have in common with other boats of their size, price and type. There are others we considered, including the San Juan 23, the Sirius, and the MacGregor (Venture 22), to name a few. Some of the smaller, lighter cruisers will be included in an article specifically about trailering and trailers. Another, the 20' Flicka, will be the subject of its own evaluation in an upcoming issue.
We tried to avoid comparing apples and Oranges; to the extent that we have made comparisons, they are of the similar features of the three boats and their ilk. -- JS

We Grade the Three Boats

At the end of our evaluation of the three boats and after looking at a number of other boats, we graded qualities of each. In arriving at the grades below, we considered how these boats compare with each other as well as comparing each with others of the same type, size, purpose, and prices.
Catalina 22 O'Day 22 Tanzer 22
Performance C- C- A
Accommodations D B C-
Styling (exterior) B A B
Styling (interior) B+ D B-
Finish B C B-
Stowage D C C
Cockpit Comfort B B- B
Cockpit Safety C C C
Construction C B- B
Hardware D B+ B
Rig D B+ B
Maintenance C B B-
Geographical Distribution A D C-
Owner Assoc. yes no yes
Racing Potential (mixed fleet) D D B
Price A B C