What kind of boat you should buy depends 100% on how you plan to use it. A lot of first time buyers end up switching boats as they discover more about which features they use most, where they like to go, and what type of activities they enjoy. Sometimes, it takes some time and more than one boat to figure out exactly what works best for you. The goal of this article is to hopefully shortcut that process. Here BoatList catalogs the types of activities boat owners like to engage in and suggests specific boat styles as well as the pros and cons that are inherent with owning that type of boat.
Local Day Trips
Let’s say you plan to keep it simple. You plan to use your boat to explore coastal areas and bays with family and friends to entertain and enjoy various water sports. This might include trips to local restaurants on the water, the local sandbar during the summer and beach-side bbq’s. Maybe you occasionally enjoy wakeboarding, wake surfing or just some casual tubing. You want something you can keep on a trailer or store cost effectively at a marina. And you’re not much into fishing or diving.
Since you’re not planning on spending time in a cabin or sleeping on the boat, and you’ll be towing the boat to the water, a dual console open bow, deck boat between 25 - 30 feet is likely a good solution. The idea is to maximize deck space with an open bow, and open helm deck layout while keeping the boat small enough to trailer easily. Sea Ray, Monterey Boats, Boston Whaler, and Grady White all offer a good selection of quality options.
If you have a bit more budget and towing for water sports is not a priority, then you can go a little bigger and add more creature comforts like air conditioning, a place to store and prep food and drinks, indoor seating areas and possibly a stateroom. For this use case, a stylish cabin cruiser between 28 and 45 feet can be a great option for a day boat — or even a weekender. The trade off is giving up exterior space and taking on maintenance for additional equipment like generators, air conditioners, TV’s and kitchen appliances. You’ll also likely need a marina vs. just a trailer. Check out Van Dutch, Regal, Riva, Tiara, Grady White and Formula.
Wakeboarding and Wake Surfing
If towing a wakeboarder and surfing boat wakes is what you love, there have never been better boats available to support your passion. Wake and ski boats are designed specifically for one purpose, and many new models have sophisticated wakeshaping systems that change ballast and control various tabs to manipulate the wake.
Most proper wake boats are powered by inboard engines and range from 19 - 26 feet in length. They generally feature an arch either with or without a top for shade, and usually have racks to store various boards. If you’re interested in ski or wake boat, take a look at Malibu, Ski Nautique, Axis, MasterCraft, Tigé, Chaparral and Centurion boats among others.
If the idea of catching species like Snook, Tarpon, Seatrout, Snapper and Bluefish appeals to you, then a flats skiff or a bay boat is likely a good option. Most people graduate to flats boats and poling once they become expert fisherman and boaters, so the focus here is going to be on bay boats.
Bay boats are usually between 18 to 27 feet long, and with one or two exceptions run a single outboard motor. They can be easily towed and stored on a trailer. Consider a t-top for shade if you won’t be doing a lot of fly fishing or casting. Poling platforms only work well on light flats boats, so we recommend a trolling motor for bay boats. It is a good idea however to consider a jackplate and a shallow water anchor if you’ll be operating in skinny water. Both are easily added post purchase if they don’t come with the boat.
Bay boats can also tow riders for kneeboarding or tubing. However, their small, thin wake isn’t ideal for wakeboarding or wake surfing. Take a look at bay boats from Pathfinder, Boston Whaler, Hell’s Bay, Mako, Grady White, Yellowfin, SeaVee, and Shearwater.
More people have bought a boat to catch the fish of a lifetime than pretty much any other purpose. Whether you plan on trolling for Marlin or just catching bait, offshore fishing is for the salty and requires a proper boat unless you only plan on fishing slick calm days.
For offshore fishing there are primarily two categories of boat that work — either a center console or sport fisherman. Which one is best suited for your needs depends primarily on your budget, and whether you plan to fish on “Saturday”, or dedicate more time and travel to remote destinations while living aboard.
Most center console boat builders focus on boats between 30 to 40 feet. However, in recent years, outboard engines have become a lot more powerful and reliable, making center consoles beyond 50, or even 60 feet a realistic option. Sport Fisherman and Express boats start at around 35 feet, but we recommend at least 45 feet or bigger if you plan to live onboard for any length of time. In both cases a tower is a good idea if you enjoy sight fishing or competing in tournaments — both are situations where the tower provides the captain with a good view and situational awareness.
There are quite a few center console boat builders, as this is probably the most popular category of boat. We recommend looking at SeaVee, Yellowfin, Freeman, Contender, Regulator and Valhalla, although there are many more quality builders available.
For Sport Fisherman we recommend Viking and Tiara for production boats, and Spencer, Rybovitch, Weaver, Willis, Garlington and F&S for custom builders. Again, there are many more quality builders out there.
If fishing is too passive and boring, maybe speed is more your thing. High performance speed boats have split primarily into two categories — monohulls and catamarans. Both designs have fierce advocates and we think it’s more of a personal choice as to which one suits you best.
Inshore speed boats and go fast boats include the classics under 30 feet in length as well as some of the smaller high performance catamarans. These boats are lightweight and extremely fast. They don’t like rough water and generally don’t offer much in terms of accommodations. These are truly toys that do one thing only — but they do it really well when conditions are right.
For fun offshore poker runs and high speed boating with friends fast is important, but so is a comfortable boat that rides well and doesn’t beat your guests up too much. High speed catamarans are usually 35’ to 45’ long and tend to be more extreme, tend to run outboards and usually have an enclosed cockpit. There are a few exceptions that run inboards, and they tend to be even more extreme.
Monohull high performance speed boats usually have an open cockpit and are powered by inboards with stern drives or Arneson drives, although there are exceptions which are fully enclosed — as well as boats that run outboards. Most true monohull offshore speed boats have a cabin located in the bow. The high performance center consoles are generally open bow designs and have quad, quint or sextet high performance racing outboards.
If you’re in the market for a speed boat, BoatList recommends looking at classics like Cigarette, Donzi and Fountain, as well as newer brands like Midnight Express, MTI and Nor-Tech.
A lot of dive boats were fishing boats in their previous lives. Dive boats definitely need fewer rod holders, but you’ll want to make sure there’s a few around up high for the dive flag.
The center console layout works well for diving when multiple people are gearing up or handing their catch up to friends onboard. It’s easy to walk to every corner of the boat and divers can drop over the sides from almost anywhere. However, for a dive boat to be ergonomically ideal, the convenience of a hull-side door cannot be overstated.
Center console boats between 35 and 40 feet are ideal dive boats. They are generally large enough to have a hull-side door and also have plenty of space for your crew to put on their gear. There’s plenty of space to store dive tanks, pole spears and spearguns, but the boat isn’t too big to where you’re pushing around a lot of unnecessary weight. Yet it has the necessary size for offshore trips with multiple divers onboard.
For offshore dive boats consider a slightly older Intrepid, SeaVee or Scout, as many have hull-side doors. For inshore dive boats a 13 or 15 foot Boston Whaler with low freeboard for hopping in and out is hard to beat.
They say the best way to become a millionaire is to start out as a billionaire and buy a yacht to travel the world. All kidding aside, cruising outside the country with your own boat pretty much requires a yacht and crew. The only real exception is an experienced owner / operator couple running a large cabin cruiser themselves — and that’s a lot of work.
Owning a yacht is a full-time job. If you’re just starting out in yachting, it’s not that different from running a small business. There’s hiring, training, payroll, booking reservations at upcoming destinations, stocking provisions, feeding guests and crew 3x daily (while at sea), tracking expenses and scheduling maintenance. As a result, an experienced Captain and crew are invaluable — especially if you’ll be cruising in unfamiliar waters. Consider outsourcing the job to a yacht management company if your Captain and crew only work part-time.
When it comes to yachts and the interior layout, the number of staterooms and the way crew and guest accommodations are separated are of key importance. The more staterooms you need, the bigger the yacht — and therefore the bigger the crew.
To get that feeling of privacy, most yachts have crew quarters that are separated from the owners and guests living onboard. Crew living in proximity to owners and guests, or crew quarters that lack common areas and therefore force the crew up into the galley and onto the decks tend to create tension among both cohorts. Consider the crew’s needs as much as your own when selecting a yacht if you prefer to avoid managing crew conflicts while cruising.
BoatList focuses mostly on production and semi-custom yachts for the sake of model comparison and pricing consistency. For yachts we recommend you consider Azimut, Pershing, Princess, Riva, Van Dutch and Sunseeker. There are many, many other great brands as well, including custom built yachts built specifically for exploration, fishing or specific areas of the globe.