The Zimmerman 36 at anchor in the Bahamas

On Boats: The Custom Zimmerman 36, Designed by Liveaboard Experts

The classic deadrise Zimmerman 36 is a gorgeous, dependable platform for Bay adventures.

In buying a cruising boat, it’s wise to pick one designed and built by people who love living aboard and have many miles under their keels. That kind of experience provides an education about what is necessary for comfort—and what isn’t. It’s no accident that many long-range power cruisers are built on workboat hulls, shapes that are safe, stable, and secure even in rough seas. They’re also efficient at their cruising speeds, and able to carry the weight of gear that comes with living aboard. It’s also wise to think really carefully about how many people the boat must accommodate for living versus entertaining.

The Zimmerman 36 highlights that line of thinking. The ten semi-custom boats in that fleet are Chesapeake-built classics, turned out between 1994 and 2007 by Zimmerman Marine, Inc. at the company’s headquarters yard on Mobjack Bay’s East River in Mathews County, Virginia. Company President Steve Zimmerman fits the formula of ideal designer and builder, with experience in cruising and delivering customers’ boats, plus more than 40 years of building and maintaining vessels that help their owners “live their dreams.” The same can be said for his deeply experienced and multi-talented crew. 

A flotilla of Zimmerman boats makes a striking addition to any rendezvous (on the end is the classic Z46).

The Z36s are beautiful, able, and efficient, “a sailor’s powerboat,” as Steve likes to classify them. They are designed to make one or two people comfortable on extended cruises, with room to offer a picnic or a day trip for perhaps four more but no overnight guests. The hulls are BHM 36s, drawn by well-known Maine designer Spencer Lincoln as Downeast workboats, with sturdy fiberglass layup to Zimmerman’s specifications by Atlantic Boat Company of Brooklin, Maine. 

Steve Zimmerman told us during an interview that he chose this hull for the Z36 because he is “a big fan of [boat designer] Spencer Lincoln.” He likes the BHM 36’s clipper bow, her sea kindly manners, the “tolerant” way she carries the weight of cruising gear and fluids, and her efficiency at low (7 kt.) and high (14-16 kt.) cruising speeds. 

Steve once explained to us that he set up  the Z36 for that 14-16 kt. high cruising speed because it’s just enough to make the run from Cape May, New Jersey, to New York Harbor in a day, but he doesn’t want the boat to cruise any faster “because her people will miss too much at higher speed.” The 7 kt. “trawler speed” is the one for everyday cruising.

With a full-length, “built-down” keel that protects the running gear and rudder, the hull tracks very well, while flat hull sections aft provide lift for the high cruise and top speed (around 18 knots, depending on engine). Most are fitted with bow and stern thrusters for maneuvering. His preferred engine is John Deere’s 375-hp PowerTech 6068, which he says is compact and narrow for easy service access, with strong low-end torque and rugged construction, helping to make the Z36 “a good cruising platform.”  

Steve laid out the basic accommodations according to his and others’ cruising experience. That said, the yard has built each Z36 for a specific buyer, “with modest custom touches” in features such as cabin sole, joinery, and electronics. The boats each offer a comfortable double berth in the forward cabin, an enclosed head with separate shower stall to starboard, and a full galley opposite to port that is below but open to and in sight of the helm. The pilothouse/salon is bright, including 3600 views, comfortable Stidd helm and companion seats with good sightlines, and sliding doors for quick access to side decks. Aft of them are a dinette/lounge to port and a comfortable reading chair to starboard. 

Details that enhance cruising and living aboard show up in the placement of storage for everything from coffee and canned goods in the galley to space for kayaks and paddleboards on the deckhouse roof, along with available rigging for a dinghy off the transom. Handholds magically appear anywhere one reaches for them in a seaway, including overhead.

The deckhouse top extends over the cockpit, which offers storage in the lazarette, space for a pair of folding chairs, and steps to the side decks. Those are comfortably wide for going forward, with handholds along the deckhouse roof and several options for side rails to the bow pulpit and ground tackle. Most of the Z36s have Dometic air conditioning, Espar heating, and Northern Lights 5kw generators. 

Arguably, the best-known and most widely traveled Z36 is Bee Weems, owned by Peter and Cathie Trogdon, who for many years owned navigation superstore Weems & Plath in Annapolis. She was their company boat, serving as a test bed for many of the company’s products. With her owners now retired, they cruise the Bee Weems even more extensively. Because of the Z36’s relatively narrow beam (12’08”), these boats are easy to ship by truck. Thus, Bee Weems has tasted not only the Atlantic from the Bahamas to Atlantic Canada but also the Great Lakes and the Salish Sea/Alaska Inside Passage from Puget Sound to Glacier Bay and wintered most recently in Anacortes, Washington. 

After 2007, the tooling for the BHM 36 hull deteriorated to the point that it was scrapped, so there will be no more Z36s. People tend to hold onto the ten classics in existence, but one comes up for sale now and then. Zimmerman Marine, now employee-owned with seven yards from Herrington Harbor, MD to Charleston, South Carolina, still occasionally builds custom boats to order. For a cruising couple looking for a new, custom version of this sort of boat, there are plenty of able, efficient Downeast (and Chesapeake) fiberglass workboat hulls available. There are also interesting new options out there, such as compact diesel/hybrid drive systems coupled with high-storage battery banks and new-generation inverters that in some cases can take the place of generators. Nevertheless, Steve Zimmerman and his team set a standard with the Z36 that is worth studying to find out what makes a truly satisfying power cruiser. Who knows? You might even find one of them for sale.       


LOA: 35’10”
LWL: 33’07”
Beam: 12’08”
Draft: 3’11”
Displacement: 17,000/20,000 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 140 gal.
Water Capacity: 110 gal.
Waste Capacity: 40 gal.
Engine: Single Diesel 350-450 hp.
Generator: 5 kW 1,023 words   

Editor at Large John Page Williams is a fishing guide, educator, author and naturalist, saving the Bay since 1973.