GULFSTAR 50: An Affordable Big Boat

10 Jun

Gulfstar 50 under sail

Gulfstar Yachts was founded in 1970 by Vince Lazzara, an industry pioneer who in the early 1950s helped make a success of Aeromarine, one of the very first fiberglass boatbuilders. In the early 1960s he did the same at Columbia Yachts, which became the world’s biggest sailboat builder in its day. Early on Gulfstar emphasized low price and maximum interior space over build quality and sailing ability, but in the mid-1970s the company shifted gears and worked to deliver a more high-end product. The most notable manifestation of this was the Gulfstar 50, a large center-cockpit cruiser first introduced in 1975. The GS 50 was the best boat Gulfstar ever built and also the most popular, with 172 hulls launched during a six-year production run that ended in 1980. Designed by Lazzara himself, the GS 50 boasts superior interior joinery, generous accommodations, robust construction, and a well proportioned hull and rig. These days it is one of the best values on the brokerage market in a larger center-cockpit boat.

Though better built than most Gulfstars, the GS 50 is not without its faults. Construction is simple and straightforward, with a solid hull laminate composed of multiple layers of mat and woven roving. (Note, however, a few hulls may be cored with balsa.) The hull is stiffened, not with liners, but with full bulkheads and furniture components that are tabbed in place. The deck is balsa-cored, with a through-bolted joint glassed over from below. The full-length rudder skeg is also bolted in place. The ballast, which consists of lead chunks embedded in concrete slurry, is encapsulated within the long fin keel.

Problems over the years have included hull blisters, which normally are just cosmetic, but in some cases have involved saturated cavities surrounding the ballast. These must be drained and flushed before they are filled in. The mainmast step, an iron plate in the bilge directly over the keel, is subject to corrosion, while the mizzen step on ketch-rigged boats may have crushed the deck core beneath it. Leaking deck fixtures, hatches, and port windows are other common complaints. In some boats the bronze stern tube housing the rudderstock may eventually separate from the surrounding hull laminate and must then be rebonded in place. There have also been reports of loose tabs around bulkheads and sub-floor structures that also need rebonding. The good news is that many owners value their GS 50s enough that they are willing to make repairs. Well-maintained boats are not hard to find; boats in poor condition are priced accordingly and normally are worthy of reconstruction.

For most owners the boat’s most attractive feature is its interior. The more popular layout, originally developed for the charter trade, features three staterooms and works very well for families. The master stateroom aft with an en suite head and separate shower boasts an enormous U-shaped double berth with enough space for a couple to sleep together athwartship while in harbor or separately in lateral positions while at sea. The forward stateroom, which shares a head with the saloon, has a large V-berth that fills in to form a double, and the third stateroom, midship to starboard, has two single bunks with yet another small en suite head. The L-shaped galley runs down the walk-through alley under the center cockpit to port, with twin sinks close enough to the centerline to drain on either tack. The saloon has a dinette to port and a settee plus a pilot berth to starboard. In the two-stateroom layout, which is more appropriate for a cruising couple entertaining occasional guests, instead of the midship stateroom there is a fabulous wrap-around nav station and expanded engine space beneath the cockpit.

Gulfstar 50 companionway

In the saloon looking aft. This is the “charter” layout, with an extra stateroom on the starboard side opposite the walk-through galley

Gulfstar 50 saloon

The saloon looking forward. The dinette table, you’ll note, is not very large

Gulfstar 50 aft stateroom

The owner’s stateroom aft features an en suite head and a very large versatile U-shaped berth

In a seaway the GS 50 is very well mannered. Its forefoot has enough bite and its bilges are deep enough that it does not slam much in a chop. It is relatively narrow with a moderate hull form and does not gripe when sailing to weather. All tanks are below the floorboards, which keeps the center of gravity low, sweetens the motion, and also creates extra storage space under berths and settees.

The sail plan is not particularly large, in either the ketch or sloop configurations, and I would advise against a roller-furling mainsail if you value sailing performance. A number of GS 50s were fitted with early after-market behind-the-mast mainsail furlers and these in particular should be avoided or quickly replaced. Sheeting angles are not very narrow, as the mast spreaders are wide and the chainplates are set nearly all the way outboard. Most owners report the boat will not sail well to windward unless the apparent wind angle is 45 degrees or greater.

Still, the GS 50 is not exactly a slouch when it comes to speed, though it does like moderate to heavy weather better than the light stuff. It’s not hard to keep the boat moving at 7 knots or better under working sail if the wind is blowing over 12 knots; below that you’ll need to break out spinnakers and mizzen staysails to maintain good speed.

Gulfstar 50 sloop

A well-maintained sloop rigged GS 50 flying an A-sail

If you like to motorsail, bear in mind the original engine on most GS 50s was a 62-hp Perkins diesel which, though reliable, is not quite powerful enough to push the boat hard into a head sea. Later on an 85-hp Perkins engine was offered as an option and this does a much better job of driving the boat to speed. Several boats now on the market have been repowered–turbo-charged Yanmar diesels seem to be a popular replacement engine–and these may command a significant premium.

The standard fuel capacity, 100 gallons, is a bit low for a boat this size, so if you plan to do some long-range cruising you may want to carry some jerry jugs on deck or expand capacity a bit. The fuel tank is quite low in the boat, which forces the engine’s fuel pump to work hard, so adding a day tank higher in the boat with an effective transfer link to the main tank would be an excellent upgrade. Many GS 50s were delivered new with Onan generators installed. These are notorious troublemakers (on one boat I once cruised aboard we referred to ours as Onan the Barbarian) and should probably be replaced sooner rather than later.

Gulfstar 50 drawing


LOA: 50’0″
LWL: 39’8″
Beam: 13’8″
Draft: 6’0″
Ballast: 10,500 lbs.
Displacement: 35,000 lbs.
Sail area
-Sloop: 895 sq.ft.
-Ketch: 963 sq.ft.
Fuel: 100 gal.
Water: 210 gal.
D/L ratio: 250
SA/D ratio
-Sloop: 13.35
-Ketch: 14.37
Comfort ratio: 38.56
Capsize screening: 1.67
Nominal hull speed: 9.3 knots
Typical asking prices: $60K-220K


  1. Margaret

    Hi Charles!
    What is your opinion on the GS 50 ketch as a true offshore boat? For example crossing the Tasman Sea? Or Indian Ocean? Im more concerning about strength and construction than interior space etc. My last boat was S & S Scia 52 ft deep fin keel Marconi Schooner Margaret,(experienced ocean sailor and single-hander)

  2. Bryan Aasted

    Hi, It’s Capt Bryan and his Trusty mate Parrish! We bought a gulfstar 50 in Aug 2017, we got a good price at auction but the boat had been stripped of EVERYTHING! They even took all the doors!, As it turns out though, it may have been for the better. We have refit everything! The cabin roof is flormica instead of cloth with insulation. We converted our stateroom to a king size bed. With 8 in thick memory foam you sink in and don’t move! All standing rigging and running rigging has been replaced with the very best.
    We named the boat “Jimmy Jacked” we thought it fit with our dark blue Hull and Black Sails, No I didn’t studder, you herd me right BLACK! Including the spinniker! Well about another month and we will be on our way to a adventure that will go till the end of days!! I have run commercial fishing boats for the last 35 years and the last 15 with my wife so we are more than enough experience, look for us on youtube . Till then good weather my friend!

  3. Sean O'Malley

    Has anyone added a staysail to their ketch rigged Gulfstar 50? I’m researching it as I believe it could be good (combined with a reefed mizzen sail) in a strong blow.

  4. Phil Enarson

    Hello Bruce Padgett,

    Does Moondance have the 3rd Stateroom aft of the starboard Navigation station?…or does she have the alternate expanded engine room?

    Also, does she have the original Perkins engine or has the engine been upgraded?

    A curious admirier of Moondance.


  5. Øyvind Hogsnes

    The Beautiful boat are CE registered as the only one 50ft ketch and also registered in NOR Norwegian ship registry in the world. It is one of a kind and due to hard work I will keep it for a 100 years more.

  6. ricardo detopanga

    we’re looking at a gs 50 for coastal and possible circumnav. one
    big plus, keel stepped masts. deck stepping is, imo, a huge trade-
    off for space. also, this boat can earn its own living, wish us luck!

  7. Edgar

    I am currently looking into a GS50 sloop built in 1986
    Has been without sailing or being cared for in two years. What would be a reasonable as is sale price. The boat is in the caribean

  8. Greg Bridges

    Øyvind Hogsnes- I recently purchased a 77 GS50 and have all the original paperwork. I can scan the GS stuff for you if you still need it. Reply with an email. Cheers.

  9. Øyvind Hogsnes

    Hi, I am a new owner of an Gulfstar 50 Ketch 1976. She is now almost done with the CE certification needed for European registration. However I am missing the Owners manual. Do anyone have one for sale?

  10. Gunar

    We bought our G50 back in October and have been refitting it since. We are a live aboard family cruising the Caribbean and had to upgrade from a 40 as the kids grow. I can’t say enough great things about this yacht. I love that it’s vintage. It is solid, strong, and safe. It looks beautiful and the interior is large, spacious, and interesting. We couldn’t deal with the symmetrical layout of the Beneteaus. Once we are done fixing her up we will hopefully take off for a Caribbean loop and perhaps after that, through the canal and into the Pacific.

  11. Robert D.

    Thank you for the very informative post. What did we do before the internet! My partner and I are planning to film a trip around the world in a sailing yacht for a television show we are working on and hoping to chronicle our trip. We are novice sailors and are looking to get advice from people who have done this or; at least, taken long sailing trips. We plan to do a more conservative venture first to really know our boat (which we are looking for now and hoping to buy a Gulfstar) and to understand what we will need. We are interested in living aboard (of course) and taking the boat off the grid utilizing the latest technology in solar and wind power. ANY and ALL advice from you and your contributors would be super helpful as we are true novices. Our trip will be to raise money for three nonprofit organizations that we hold near and dear to our hearts. THANK YOU in advance.

  12. Bruce Padgett

    We bought our 77 GS50 in Seattle in 2004, immediately took her south. Steering chain broke off Cape Mendocino,returned to Eureka where we bought a heave duty Harley chain (Check your old steering chain before heavy weather!)Since then SoCal, Mexico and back to Oregon with few problems. Fastest speed surfing downhill 13.6 knots.
    We keep listing Moondance, then the sun comes out, the wind comes up and we and we decide to keep her…

  13. John T

    I closed my purchase of a GS 50 in Alameda CA 12/13/2013. A pristine example (except engine) of (in my opinion) one of the finest Sailing Yachts ever produced. The test sail and advanced electronics blew me away. Sailing under the bay bridge around Alcatraz Island and back was a dream. offshore on a blustery cold day for the offshore delivery begged us to keep going west and not come back. Currently I am repowering it with a new Yanmar 4JH4TE/ZF30M transmission and a matching prop 24×14 3-Blade. The old Perkins was dripping from every seal and underpowered for its 35,000 lbs. This will cost me nearly $40K extra by the time it is done.

  14. Charles Bradley

    Wow! That was really a huge boat! I think when you are in the inside of that boat, you feel a relaxing and cool ambiance. It is simply because the interior is so beautiful as what you have expected. Very nice boat!

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