Powerboat Hulls Explained


Power boat hulls are divided into three main types namely, Displacement, Semi-displacement and Planing hulls. Each hull type can have many sub types, which are closer to one or other end of the spectrum. Considering each hull configuration in detail will reveal its benefits and disadvantages, your choice will be influenced by your intended usage and the size of your wallet.

The size of your intended power boat will also be a factor in your choice of hull type; for instance if you are considering a large power boat (large is a relative term) then you will be less likely to choose a full planing hull. Large fast planing hulls require large expensive engines and use large amounts of fuel and operating costs are high. Below are the outlines of the qualities of the various types of power boat hulls.

Starting at the Displacement end of the range, these were the first to be developed and to go back to the beginning of time; the original log canoe and even the ark (as far as we know) were all displacement hulls.


These heavy displacement hulls include such craft as tugs and deep sea trawlers. If you study these boats in profile you will notice that the stern rises above waterline. The mid section of the hull is very full and the midsection is deep in the water. The chine and buttock lines will reveal the full bellied shape usually present in this type of hull. The heavy displacement hull has to be able to carry great loads and in the case of tugs, be able to get a great grip on the water in order to do its job properly. The "hull speed" of this type of vessel is generally less than that of other types. This PCF 40 is a typical full displacement Trawler type hull. This hull is also used as a working trawler.


These hulls include most regular work boats, general fishing boats and the pleasure boats where speeds of 1.34 times the square root of the water line length (or less) are sufficient to fulfil their operating requirements. For instance let us consider a 40 ft / 12.19 M, LOA. motor cruiser with a waterline length of 36 ft / 10.97 M, the square root of the waterline is 6 so multiply this by 1.34 and you arrive at a potential speed of just over 8 knots / 14.8 km/h. This is an economical speed for this vessel taking into account power required and fuel used to drive the vessel at "hull speed". Medium displacement vessels can only exceed the 1.34 rule by adding excessive amounts of power. If you already own an engine that has more horsepower than required to fall within the 1.34 calculation, then consider building a longer hull or one that employs semi-displacement hull characteristics. In a medium displacement hull, the V at the transom is usually fairly flat with anything from 3 to 7 degrees being the norm.

Once the most economical speed is achieved, it takes a considerable amount of power to make a displacement hull go faster. When this type of hull is over driven then the stern will drag in the water and usually create a large stern and bow wave. The boat may reach such an extreme bow high, stern down angle, where water could come in over the stern and swamp the vessel.

Displacement hulls should not be driven much in excess of their "hull speed". For vessels ranging in size from 30 ft / 9.1 M to 60 ft / 18.3 M waterline length, you should consider displacement hulls only if your speed requirement is around the 6 to 11 knot mark respectively. For higher speeds consider Semi-displacement or Planing hulls.

One important factor is that Displacement and Semi-displacement hulls are generally considered better ‘Sea Boats’ and are more suitable for serious offshore cruising than the planing hull type. As with heavy displacement hulls, medium displacement hulls are not so affected by weight as the semi-displacement and planing hull types.


As the names suggest these hulls fit neatly in between the displacement and the planing hull types. The stern of the Semi-displacement hull is lower and designed to be always below the water. The hull can be round bilge form but is generally of the 'Hard chine' type. These hulls have less fullness than a full displacement hull. The chine line runs aft with a small curve from where it enters the water and on back to the transom. The hull sections are moderately Vee'ed

This Waverunner 38 is a typical semi-displacement powerboat. This version performs best at speeds between 8 and 14 knots.

The semi-displacement hull will out perform the displacement ‘Hull Speed’ rules and will accept additional power and convert it to additional speed however there are limits to this benefit. Generally speaking for vessels with 30 ft 9.1 M to 60 ft / 18.3 M waterline length, you should only consider Semi-displacement hulls if your speed requirements do not exceed 12 to 16 knots.

As you have seen with displacement hulls additional power is wasted, however with semi-displacement hulls often the extra power may be utilised to advantage. If you already have access to a certain size of engine; or you already own the engine(s), then this factor may assist you in making the decision as to which type of hull best suits your situation

As with Displacement hulls, Semi-Displacement hulls can be driven harder, but at the expense of greater fuel consumption and again the stern will tend to dig in at higher speeds. Existing semi-displacement hulls can be made to achieve extra speed with the same horsepower by adding trim tabs or planing wedges at the stern. The trim tabs and the wedges will be fixed after trials are completed to establish the best angle. In no case should you try to improve the performance of your hull in this manner without the assistance of professional advice.

If you are building a Semi-Displacement hull, you should try and keep the weight to reasonable levels. The Semi-Displacement hull is a good weight carrier but it takes additional power and fuel to get the best out of an over weight boat of this type.

Finally this is the type I would personally choose when planning to undertake extended cruising, that is cruising that regularly involves cruising distances of over 100 miles from home base.



The planing hull is recognised by the straight run of the chine and buttock lines from midships aft. The chine and the bottom of the hull V will generally run parallel to the waterline. The V in section will generally be constant from just aft of midships to the stem The angle between the baseline and the bottom of the V will be in the range of 12 to 20 degrees at the transom. As with other types of hulls there is a great range of planing hull variations. Usually there is a planing strake or flat at the chine and often several planing stakes on the bottom of the hull.   This steel Waverunner 44 was built in Oman as a Fisheries Patrol vessel. This is one of many examples of this design. The hull is shown here to illustrate the planing flats of the chine that are necessary to help these larger steel boats up onto a plane.

You will often hear the terms 'Deep V' or 'Moderate V'. These terms are meant to convey the amount of V at the transom and in addition to this they do express two different types of hull. A true 'Deep V' hull will have 20 to 24 degrees of V at the transom while a Moderate V hull is one with around 15 degrees of V at the transom. The area in between 16 and 19 degrees can be described either way by the particular designer or builder of the particular boat. Suffice to say that a hull with a V at the transom or 20 degrees or over can be safely classified as a deep V and in my opinion should not be described as a long distance or passage making cruising powerboat.

When deep V hulls were introduced they were touted as the last word in planing hull design. These hulls do perform well at high speeds in rough water which is one reason that they are so successful as racing powerboats. Deep V planing hulls, depending on the particular design, can be driven at speeds in excess of 50 knots, however most are designed to cruise at speeds between 30 to 35 knots. Modern computers can accurately estimate the power requirements and speed expectations of all hull types and are especially helpful in the case deciding the power needed for individual planing hulls.

Planing hulls are very popular, they make great pleasure boats if you are prepared to install sufficient power and pay the larger fuel bills. Planing hulls do not like being operated at low speeds; they throw a most unfriendly bow wave. Planing hulls are not the best of sea boats especially in severe conditions. For local and coastal cruising it is worth noting that a planing hull may allow you to get home before the bad weather arrives. If your type of cruising lends itself to the advantages of a planing and if the disadvantages including high cost of operation do not bother you, then by all means consider this type. In this case a moderate V hull is recommended. On no account select a planing hull if you intend to operate your boat in the canal systems of USA or Europe. These hulls are not suitable if your cruising area is restricted to low speed operation.

Our stance here at Fine Line Boat Design is that with the large amount of fuel and resultant pollution caused by planing hulls when compared to the displacement hull form shape is unacceptable and thus we no longer sell planing hulls.



Almost all planing powerboat hulls are of single chine configuration and most have 'chine flats' or 'planing chines' and occasionally 'planing strakes' that assist with getting onto, and maintaining the planing attitude. It is my opinion that chine flats are desirable on all planing craft. Intermediate planing strakes may not be worthwhile on boats intended to perform at less than 30 knots. Planing chines or flats, will start with a small or no flat, at, or near the bow and the width of the flat will gradually increase, until it reaches its widest point somewhere just aft of amidships and maintains this width through to the stern. The efficiency of the 'chine flat,' may be improved by canting it downward by say 2 to 4 degrees throughout its length.

Hulls that are intended for passage making will most likely be of the round bilge hull form. It is possible to design a semi-displacement round bilge or round chine hull but the type is more suited to the chine hull configuration. Round bilge can be used for any displacement type hull especially those that are to be used for long distance voyaging. One area we are exploring is the design of steel radius chine power boat hulls; our ideas are at the developmental stage and I believe that this idea is worth further investigation.

These boats are becoming increasingly popular and come in a variety of hull configurations. It is possible to design displacement, semi-displacement and planing hulls to be used with the catamaran concept. Semi-displacement power catamarans offer promise as comfortable, roomy and economical cruising powerboats and we are investigating this concept and already designing boats in this configuration.


Horsepower Vs Speed


Displacement and Planing Hulls

DesignHull TypeDisplacementEngine H.P.Speed
  Longboat 21Displacement3000136020 to 406  to 8
  Waverunner 22Semi-Displ.6500300020 to30+6  to 10
  Waverunner 25Semi-Displ.9800445033 to 757  to 12
  Coastworker 25Semi-Displ.85003860100 to 13010 to 12
  Coastworker 25Displacement85003860508
  Waverunner 28Semi-Displ.10000455033 to 1208   to 12
  Coastworker 30Displacement14480657065 to 1008   to 10
  Coastworker 30 Mk IISemi-Displ.13850630085 to 1808   to 13
  Waverunner 34Semi-Displ.17000771050 to 1508   to 12
  Waverunner 38Semi-Displ.3000013610120 to 1859  to 12
  Cat 39 Power/SailorTwin Hulled24640112002x50 to 2x1808  to 25
  Waverunner 40/42Displacement280001272780 to 1008  to 10
  Waverunner 44Semi-Displ.4400020000120 to 25010  to 14
  Waverunner 45Semi-Displ.4600020865120 to 25010  to 15
  Custom Cat 46Twin Hulled34000154202x80 to 2x35012  to 24
  Waverunner 52Semi-Displ.5800026310250 to 45010  to 14
  Waverunner 55Semi-Displ.5760026130260 to 45010  to 15
  Waverunner 65Semi-Displ.8154037000250 to 50010  to 16

Displacement is an AVERAGE ESTIMATED DISPLACEMENT of a amateur built vessel.