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What Is a Cathedral Hull?

Lori Kilchermann
Lori Kilchermann

A cathedral hull is a type of boat hull design used on a variety of different-sized boats. Looking much like a series of three interlocking V-shaped hulls, it is for this reason that the cathedral hull is often called a tri-hull design. The design actually uses a center V-type hull with a smaller V or sponson located on each side of the center V-hull. This hull design provides a very stable platform for the vessel and uses air trapped between the outer sponsons and inner hull to aid the vessel in coming up on plane, or flattening out on top of the water, once the boat reaches cruising speed. The hull has been used with great success in many types of boats, and while steady and stable, this design is known to ride harshly in rough water, creating noticeable bumping and over-the-bow spray.

By using a design that essentially places three hulls in a series without taking up added space, the cathedral hull is a stable platform for fishing and recreation boats alike. Often used in the manufacture of deck boats, flat-decked boats are used to carry many passengers and allow them to lounge and walk around on deck. This hull provides stability for the vessel even when passengers stand on the edge of the deck. The outer sponson-like hulls provide a superior level of flotation and support when compared to other hull designs.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

The cathedral hull is a single hull manufactured to function much like a double-outrigger canoe. By placing a small hull on each side of a larger hull, the design places a supporting hull in position to prevent tipping and rolling in semi-rough waters. The con to this hull design is that the hull rides very high in the water and creates a pounding effect in rough water as the hull slaps down on the crest of the waves. This slapping action also creates a great deal of spray over the bow of the boat, effectively soaking all passengers on board.

The ability of the cathedral hull to ride on top of the waves, while not a benefit in rough water, often complements the hull's ability to traverse shallow water with little effort. Much like a flat-bottom hull design, this type of hull is able to float in very shallow water, which makes the hull a superior design for river craft. The tendency for the cathedral hull to come up on plane easily makes it a nice choice for a ski boat.

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Discussion Comments


@cloudel – Cathedral hull boats are not bad at all in the right conditions. I often go out on the river with my dad in this type of boat, and as long as there are no rapids, it is a pretty calm ride.

It actually feels like the whole boat is floating above the water. This is a considerable feat, because the river is often only about a foot deep in places. We have never gotten stuck in the mud in this boat, though I can't say the same for our other boats.

If you are just wanting to float downstream or drift around in a pond, this is a great type of boat to have. It wasn't designed for use in water with big waves, and you can blame your bad experience on your friends rather than the cathedral hull.


I rode in a cathedral hull boat with some of my crazy friends, and it was not a good experience! It didn't help that it was a very windy day, because this made the water very wavy.

We bounced up and slammed down on the water over and over, and I begged them to slow down. They were getting a thrill out of it, but it was making me sick.

Finally, I couldn't take it anymore. I vomited on my friend who was driving the boat. That got him to slow down!

I will never ride in a cathedral hull boat again. I realize that it probably wouldn't be so bad in calmer waters, but that experience has colored my opinion of them.


My cousin participates in boat racing, and he has a boat with a cathedral hull design. He races on small lakes, so the water is usually pretty tranquil.

He said that cathedral hull boats can go very fast by relying on that cushion of air trapped between the V-shapes. Some people even call this type of boat a “hydroplane.”

I've seen the bottom of his boat while it was on the trailer behind his truck, and the shape of it is like the outline of a bird flying straight down. It looks like it would be unstable, but it is actually the opposite.

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