Finding that Perfect Boat

Finding that perfect boat is a real undertaking for an experienced boater. It can be a nearly impossible feat for the new or first time boater. To make the task of finding that perfect boat a little easier, we have outlined some basic tips and suggestions for improving the odds that you end up with the right boat to meet your needs.

What is really important?

Choosing the right boat is a matter of understanding what is really important to you. Will you be using the boat primarily for your own use, i.e. fishing boat or just plan cruising, or will you need to take the considerations of others into account such as your family members. Buying a boat that only suits your own personal needs while neglecting the interest of others, can lead to a disappointing experience or reduced time on the water. There’s nothing worse than a boat that’s two small for your families needs or not used enough because your family can’t fit on it. Be sure to think about what is really important to you and those around you.

How often will you use the boat?

Weekends, infrequent use, or use in different locations probably means your boat should easily fit on a trailer. Keep in mind the larger the boat, the more it will cost to operate, maintain and store. These are often overlooked when buying a new or used boat. A general guideline for boat cost is to take the boats monthly payment and double it for estimating your total monthly outlay. Most boaters do not understand that they will spend that due to added cost for gas, insurance, maintenance and mooring or storing the boat. The good news is boats with Galleys (cooking, head and sleeping quarters) do qualify in most states for a write off as a second home. This can be a great benefit when it comes time to pay Uncle Sam. Often times it allows you to get 30% more boat for the same cash outlay. Check with your accountant before you buy a boat to see what the tax implications are.

Where will you use the boat?

If you plan to use your boat on the Great Lakes or Ocean, you must answer one question first. Will you be taking it overnight and/or far off shore, or for day trips close to shore. There is nothing worse than buying too little boat for your use. If you plan to go far from shore or use it overnight you should select a boat designed for that purpose. We would not recommend a boat under 25 ft for comfortable Great Lakes/Ocean cruising or overnight stays. Be sure your boat has a hull designed for rough water. Some boats are not designed for the type of wave patterns experienced on the Great Lakes. Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair due to thier shallow depths create very choppy wave patterns. Boats that do not have deep V hulls will tend to ride rough on these waters. Even day trips can be brutal if you have a boat that is not designed to handle the water you are on. Keep this in mind when selecting your next boat. The oceans present a whole different set of problems. Be sure you talk to fellow sailors before purchasing a boat. It should also be noted that Sailboats tend to work with the wave patterns and do not experience the same problems with discomfort.

What type of boat suits your needs?

Boats typically fall into five categories: Fishing Boats, Power Boats, Sailboats, Personal Watercraft and Self powered boats. Let's look at each one and the various configurations they each have. Keep in mind as to whether you will moor the boat or trailer to your destination.

Category One: Fishing Boats


Fishing boat designs vary quite a bit, as are the places they are used. Boats suited for shallow waters of inland lakes and rivers weren't meant for deep seas and great lakes. They are basic adaptations of more general designs, or designed for no purpose other than fishing. These boats usually have stowage and holders for fishing poles, bait, tackle, and tanks specifically designed to hold live fish. The other design feature all fishing boats seem to share is an open platform where an angler can fight the fish on all sides of the boat. Most fishing boats give up some family comfort in exchange for easy maintenance due to the mess a landed fish can generate.

Types of Fishing Boats

All-Purpose Fishing Boats
For those who fish from a boat for everything that bites, these are "generalist" craft with space for fishing gear, several bench seats or a few pedestal chair-back seats, a simple steering station or steer-by-tiller. They can be aluminum, wood or fiberglass. They are almost always outboard-powered.

  • Sizes range from 15 to low-20's
  • These boats are priced from $1,000-$20,000+
  • They are usually trailerable and hold 1-4 people

Bass Boats

These are specialty craft for getting to the bass, fast. These boats can reach speeds of 60+ mph. They accommodate larger outboards with lots of storage space for rods and gear. There usually is a full complement of electronics and livewells. Most Bass Boats feature a raised-deck casting platform in the bow (and often the stern), with provision for an electric trolling motor. They are most often fiberglass, but aluminum models are available.

  • Sizes range from 16 to mid-20's
  • Price Range: $10,000-$30,000+
  • They are usually trailerable and hold 1-4 people

Center-Console Fishing Boats

These boats allow angling from any place on deck. Since the control station is located in the center access to netting fish is quite easy. These boats have grown in popularity due to their price and versatility. They are generally outboard powered, some have small cabins for the "porta-potty" or to escape a squall. Depending on size they can be used offshore as well as near.

  • Sizes range from mid-teens to low-30s.
  • Price Range: $12,000-$60,000+
  • Most are trailerable and can hold 1-6 people

Offshore Sportfishing Boats

These boats combine the comforts of motor yachts and the functionality of large aft cockpits to work trophy fish and bring them aboard. What makes these boats ideal for big water is their durable deep-vee hulls in fiberglass and aluminum. They often come with twin inboards, large fuel capacities for long range and sophisticated electronics, often including radar. There is a cabin space for crew and guests. These boats also double as recreational family boats when fishing isn’t the purpose.

  • Sizes range from the mid-30s to 60s.
  • Price Range: $40,000-$500,000+
  • These boats are not trailerable but can hold 6 or more guests.

Category Two: Power Boats


Power boats

are the most popular boats sold. Their designs are as varied as their uses. Those with seating in the front are called bowriders. Many of these boats are used for towing skiers or rafts. Many of these boats can also be used for occasional fishing. Want to do both? There are ski and fish combinations that let you do both.

Types of Powerboats

Inflatable Boats

Short five- and six-footers are used as dinghies. Mid-sized models in the 12- to 18-ft. range are more durable, have more interior space, and can handle an outboard; such mid-sized models can carry several passengers and serve as runabouts. Newer, hard-hull (or rigid) types of 20 ft. and over take moderate power and work well near and offshore. The "smalls" are easily transported; the bigger models can be trailered.

  • Sizes range from four ft. to low-20s.
  • Price Range: $1,000-$20,000+
  • Most are compact and don't require a trailer and can hold 1-4 people

Bow Riders

All-purpose runabouts with extra seats and forward access to the bow, a convenient spot to relax, socialize and sun. Outboard or stern-drive power. Smaller versions are fine for water skiing; larger versions allow some camping. All are suited to short-distance cruising. This boat is not recommended for frequent large water cruising.

  • Sizes range from mid-teens to upper 20's.
  • Price Range: $5,000-$30,000+
  • Most are trailerable and can hold 1-5 people

Runabouts

Feature open or closed bows, outboard or stern-drive power, and mostly vee-hulls. Fun for water skiing and wakeboarding, fishing, cruising, sunning throughout the day. Some add camper canvas to allow overnights. Probably the most popular fiberglass boat made, though some are aluminum construction. This boat is better designed for large water due to the deep-v hull design, which allows it to cruise more comfortably in rough water.

  • Sizes range from mid-teens to upper 20's.
  • Price Range: $10,000-$40,000+
  • Most are trailerable and can hold up to 8 people

Pontoon Boats

A pontoon boat is ideal for someone who likes to party. Large and stable, pontoon boats are most often used for parties and fishing. Two tubes, usually aluminum, under a stable deck surrounded by railings and powered most often with outboards. Often covered with a canopy, featuring plenty of seating space (sometimes convertible to sleepers). Good for fishing, swimming and sunning. This boat is not recommended for the Great Lakes for Ocean use.

  • Sizes range from mid-teens to low-30s.
  • Price Range: $10,000-$40,000+
  • Most are not recommended for trailering and can hold up to 10 people

Deck Boats

Feature a one-level deck throughout and often rails or gunnels all around, all built on a performance hull. This type of craft serves anglers, swimmers, sunbathers, evening social cruisers, and folks at the dock. These are stable craft. A number of guests will find room to enjoy being aboard; six friends on smaller versions, eight to ten on larger ones. Some have small cabins. Most often outboard powered, though some feature stern drives. These are similar to pontoon boats in functionality but much are faster at top cruising speed.

  • Sizes range from mid-teens to low-30s.
  • Price Range: $15,000-$40,000+
  • Most are trailerable and can hold up to 10 people

Cuddy Cabins

Small cruisers with compact cabins to camp, do some simple cooking, and get out of the weather. Outboard or stern-drive power. Great day cruisers and overnighters for small groups. Also used on big water for trolling for fish. These boats can qualify for tax benefits as a second home (check with your accountant). Great for families that want to make boating more like a vacation rather than just day trips.

  • Sizes range from mid-teens to low-30s.
  • Price Range: $15,000-$60,000+
  • Most are trailerable and can hold 1-5 people

Waterski Boats

Powered by inboards, these "throw" a perfect wake for very serious water skiers and wake boarders. Used at tournaments and for training. Passengers usually include the driver and a "spotter." Range from about 18 ft. to the mid-20s. (Trailerable; 1-5 people) You must really love to ski with these boats since they do not lend themselves very well to entertaining.

  • Sizes range from mid-teens to mid 20's.
  • Price Range: $15,000-$50,000+
  • Most are trailerable and can hold 1-5 people

Fish and Skis

Interior layouts of these craft allow boaters to enjoy the two most popular on-water activities. Have enough power, usually outboard, to pull a skier or two, and to get to the fishing spot in short order. Storage allows taking skis and tackle. Three or four can ride and fish in lengths from teens to upper 20s. Often these boats appeal to the family that likes to use their boat for various recreations. (Trailerable; 1-5 people)

  • Sizes range from mid-teens to mid 20's.
  • Price Range: $10,000-$30,000+
  • Most are trailerable and can hold 1-5 people

High-Performance Boats

Designed for speed, these can be deep-vee or catamaran-hulled craft with big power. Creature comforts are included in the cockpit and below decks; fishing craft are more spartan. Outboard and stern-drive power, often sophisticated engines, can push even larger craft to speeds in the 60-mph range, sometimes faster. Be prepared to spend more on fuel monthly than your boat payment. These boats like gas and can also have high maintenance cost as well. Great for speed demons!

  • Sizes range from mid-20's to 50+.
  • Price Range: $40,000-$400,000+
  • Some are trailerable, but most should be moored.
  • They can hold up to 6 people

House Boats

These are the recreational vehicles of the water, with wide beams and cabins that cover most of the deck. Inside are private staterooms, a head or two (with shower), a big galley, and eating and entertainment areas. Generally used on calm bodies of water, though some with modified vee-hulls are found on big rivers and the Great Lakes. Fiberglass or steel hulls are common. Even the small house boats that start about 30 ft. are spacious. These boats move slow compared to cruisers but with all the amenities on board, who cares about getting anywhere fast.

  • Sizes range from 30 to over 70 ft.
  • Price Range: $40,000-$600,000+
  • These are not trailerable and can hold 10 or more people

Motor Yachts

All the amenities of home in a traditional vee-hulled craft for gracious cruising or entertaining at the dock. A number of design variations offer more aft deck space for fishing, private aft cabins, sunning space on flybridges or on front decks. Fiberglass and aluminum hulls, sophisticated electronics, choice of gas or diesel inboard power in singles or twins.

  • Sizes range from mid-30's to over 70 ft.
  • Price Range: $60,000-$1,000,000+
  • These are not trailerable and can hold 8-12 people

Trawlers

Trawlers sit high in the water, atop stable hulls that get there in comfort, leisurely. Boast big cabins and all the creature comforts. Handle big rivers, lakes and oceans on moderate days. These boats are ideally suited for cruising great distances up and down the inter-coastal or around the Great Lakes. They tend to be more spacious than Motor Yachts, but typically cruise slower with diesel engines.

  • Sizes range from mid-30's to over 60 ft.
  • Price Range: $60,000-$1,000,000+
  • These are not trailerable and can hold 6-12 people

Category Three: Sailboats


Learning to pilot a Sailboat can be challenging, but very rewarding. Sailboats rely on the wind and the knowledge of their skipper. They require more skill and knowledge to operate, but are considered more rewarding once mastered. The single-masted sloop is the most popular design. Catboats, daysailers, and dinghys are small and often trailerable for the occasional sailer.

Types of Sailboats

Sailboards

Surfboard with a sail for those who like to work waves and wind for an "athletic" form of solo sailing. Like water and snow skis, sailboards and sails are specialized for different windsurfing styles and skill levels, from easy gliding to stunts and jumps. Wider, more stable options are user-friendly to beginners.

  • Sizes range from 8-12 ft.
  • Price Range: $1,000-$3,000+
  • Most can only hold 1 person

Dinghies

Small sailboats with a centerboard (a retractable fin) for use off the beach, around the harbor, or for small-lake sailing and racing. Mostly open-cockpit boats commonly come with just one sail (a mainsail) under 12 ft.; above that they are likely to have two sails and a covered foredeck area for gear stowage. Many dinghies race in popular "one design classes" where all boats in a class are of the exact type and measurement and sailed with equal crews (from one to four).

  • Sizes range from 8-14 ft.
  • Price Range: $2,000-$6,000+
  • Most are trailerable and can hold 1-3 people

Day Sailers

Small sailboats suited for short day outings on small lakes or calmer waters, ranging from dinghies (with a centerboard) to more substantial boats with a fixed keel. At about 20 ft., day sailers often include a small cabin or "below decks" area for dry storage. So-called "pocket cruisers" range from 21 to about 29 ft., have cabins ample enough to accommodate berths and amenities for basic overnighting.

  • Sizes range from mid-teens to low-30's.
  • Price Range: $10,000-$40,000+
  • Most are trailerable and can hold 1-5 people

Multihulls

Called "catamarans" when they have two hulls and "trimarans" if they have three. Come in a variety of sizes, ranging from the popular 14-ft. and up "cats" launched from the beach, to high-speed ocean racers of 70-ft. or better. The lightweight hulls make these boats quicker under sail and well-suited to cruising and anchoring in shallow waters. Wide cockpit and deck layout in the back and "trampolines" in front provide lots of lounging options. Larger multihulls come with substantial cabins.

  • Sizes range from mid-teens to over 70 ft.
  • Price Range: $3,000-$1,000,000+
  • Most are trailerable up to 20 ft. and can hold 1-10 people

Racing Sailboats

Span a wide variety of possibilities from high-performance dinghies with spinnakers and trapezes to a newer crop of offshore one-design classes, ranging from 30 to 70 ft. These performance-oriented boats trade off weight and luxury for speed and maneuverability, and are generally more spartan below decks with utility berths, head and galley equipment available over 22 ft.

  • Sizes range from 30 to over 70 ft.
  • Price Range: $50,000-$1,000,000+
  • These are not trailerable and can hold up to 8 people

Cruising Sailboats

Bring the comforts of home and engine-powered travel options to sailboats, offering open-cockpit seating for entertaining above decks and one or more cabins below decks to accommodate family and friends on overnight or extended cruises. Cruising sailboats start at about 30 ft. and keep going up to the "yacht" range at about 60 ft.

  • Sizes range from 30 to over 70 ft.
  • Price Range: $40,000-$1,000,000+
  • These are not trailerable and can hold up to 8 people

Category Four: Personal Watercraft


Rugged individualists may prefer a Personal Watercraft. Personal watercraft are growing in popularity and size. Beside holding up to four riders, some can tow skiers and wakeboarders. More specialized watercraft can be pedaled or sailed by a single individual. More often known by brand names such as "Jet Skis" or "Sea Doos." Two varieties include stand-on or sit-on; latest versions have gotten a bit bigger to accommodate up to four adults. Fun, fast, wet.

  • Sizes range from 6 to 10 ft.
  • Price Range: $5,000-$20,000+
  • Most are trailerable and can hold 1-4 people

Category Five: Self Powered Boats


Types of Self Powered Boats

Canoes

Paddle-powered craft for exploring shallows to running white water. Great for fishing techniques. All-purpose aluminum to high-tech composites. Some are still made of wood. Easy to use and enjoy. Not recommended for large lakes where waves prevail.

  • Sizes range from 10 to low-20's.
  • Price Range: $1,000-$5,000+
  • Most are trailerable and can hold 1-3 people

Dinghies, Rowing

Rather fish than sail? Get the rowing dinghy to get around the harbor and wet a line. Small, car-topable. These boats are often used with larger boats as source of transportation around harbors.

  • Sizes range from eight to 10 ft.
  • Price Range: $1,000-$4,000+
  • Most are trailerable and can hold 1-3 people

Kayaks

One- or two-person craft traditionally used for short- distance transportation, now expanded to include whitewater rapids duty and some for "sea kayaking" on bigger lakes and along coasts.

  • Sizes range from 8 to 12 ft.
  • Price Range: $1,000-$5,000+
  • Most are trailerable and can hold 1 or 2 people

Pedal Boats

Leg-powered, two- or three-seaters for lazy small- water excursions. Classic lake boat, great diversion for the kids and not-so-serious anglers. Not recommended for large water use unless close to shore.

  • Sizes range from eight to 12 ft.
  • Price Range: $1,000-$5,000+
  • Most are trailerable and can hold 1-3 people

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