Nordhavn 56 Motorsailer Review PDF Print E-mail

Nordhavn is bucking the market trend toward power and striking out with a new motorsailer design.  They’re not new to the sailing world since the company built over 250 Mason hulls back in the 80s and 90s but now they’re combining the luxuries of their proven trawlers with the versatility of a sailboat and getting good results.  But what exactly is this trawler with a stick?

Performance & Design
I expected the 56MS to sail like a trawler when we ran a test in the light winds off the West Coast.  But after raising the huge main with the push of a button controlling one of the many power winches, we were suddenly sailing at 6.1 knots in 14 knots true wind at 65 degrees apparent wind angle.  The boat tracked well and when we tacked and headed off to a beam reach, we sailed at 5.4 knots at 90 degrees apparent wind in about 11 knots of true.  The 56MS won’t set records on a buoy course but it delivers respectable performance as a long distance cruiser.

With a bridge clearance of 74 feet, the double spreader, keel stepped Forespar mast is not an afterthought.  In fact, with the standard 100% genoa, the masthead sloop rig supports a sail area of 1217 square feet.  A gennaker is optional and adds about a knot of boat speed. 

The hull is solid glass with coring in the house sides and horizontal surfaces.  There are two water resistant bulkheads forward and the bottom includes a full keel with a skeg hung rudder and 6 foot draft.  An internal lead ballast of 17,500 pounds balances out the big rig. 

Cockpit & Rigging
To manage the rig, there are 7 Lewmar winches in total, the majority of which are hydraulically powered as is the vang, windlass and steering.  The primary winches for the genoa are aft and on the sides of the wheelhouse and the secondaries for the gennaker are in the aft cockpit so there’s no way to control everything from the sailing cockpit and you’ll get a workout unless you sail like most cruisers with an eye toward not spilling a cocktail by doing all that silly trimming.   

The trawleresque aft cockpit has a small swimstep, a walkthrough transom and a fridge, barbecue and a deck shower.  The high freeboard and tall wheelhouse make for significant windage but bow and stern thrusters make it easy to dock in tight spaces.  A 10-foot RIB can be accommodated atop the wheelhouse and is hoisted and lowered via a power winch on the boom. 

Living Aboard
With tons of storage, 6’ 6” headroom, and an abundance of recessed lighting, the MS56 feels like home.  The saloon is on the same level and is open to the pilothouse which makes this a large, comfortable room with a U-shaped settee on starboard and 2 chairs or a bench to port.  Five steps lead down to the galley and U-shaped dinette on starboard, a walkthrough on port and a roomy engine space in the middle.  The engine room can be minimized to the space below the sole and a second settee added. 

The master stateroom is aft with a centerline island bed, a small desk and good storage.


The guest cabin is forward and equally well appointed.  A head and stall shower in each cabin complete the layout for what is functionally a couple’s boat.  

Auxiliary Power & Systems
The main engine is a Lugger 165 HP diesel with excellent access.  An additional hatch aft allows access to the transmission.   Thinking ahead, Nordhavn made sure that the forward cockpit sole can be removed in case a repower is needed down the line.

There is no wing engine like on most Nordhavns because the sails are expected to get you home.  There are no stabilizers as that too is left to the dampening effect of the rig. 

Like on many Nordhavns, the 56MS has an amazing separate machinery space below the sole of the aft cockpit to house extra stores, a generator, inverter, batteries and an additional freezer.  There’s plenty of power available for all the toys in this 24v system with 765 Ah in the house bank.  A12v battery is in the pilothouse to charge cell phones and laptops.

A unique feature is the Hundested variable pitch propeller designed to change with loads on the engine while underway to optimize performance and fuel efficiency.  Under 800 RPM, controls at the helm can vary the pitch of the prop depending on conditions and whether or not the sails are assisting.  The 36” prop can also feather completely when under sail alone.  It’s a nifty system but it’s not cheap – the prop and drive train are responsible for $75,000 of the total $1.6 million base price. 

Nordhavns have always been world cruisers but with the new motorsailer, the horizon is the limit.  Three main fiberglass fuel tanks totaling 750 gallons and a 12 gallon day tank ensure that the 56MS has a 3,000 nautical mile range at 6.5 knots which means the boat can go virtually anywhere in the world.  The 56MS is a nice blend of comfort and performance and might just set the standard for a trawler with a stick.

Norhavn MS 56 Specs
LOA   57’ 5”
LWL   52’ 6”
Beam   16’ 7”
Draft (full)  6’ 0”
Displacement (full) 70,410 lbs
Displacement/Length 216
Fuel Capacity  750 gallons
Water Capacity 250 gallons
Holding Tank    75 gallons
Sail Area  1217 square feet