A Complete Guide on Boat Types: Which One Is Right for You?
If the water beckons you, you’ve found your people at Germaine Marine. We specialize in all things boats, and we can match you with the kind of boat that lets you spend a day your way on the water. Many people wonder, “What kind of boat should I buy?” And with so many options to choose from, the decision can feel overwhelming. There are dozens of boat types that vary by shape, size, and capacity for everything from sailing to fishing to water sports to daytime and overnight cruising.
As you peruse each boat type below, you will find it easier to choose the right boat for you by considering your use for it, how much time you have to spend on the water, and how many people you regularly bring with you.
Understanding Boat Types and Their Main Functions
Before we delve too deeply into boat types, understand that there are three main categories of boats: man-powered boats, sailboats, and motorboats. Man-powered boats encompass boats like kayaks and canoes, which must be propelled manually with oars or paddles by the occupant. Sailboats are largely powered by the wind, which flows into the sails and pushes the boat forward. Finally, motorized boats are powered by a motor and are the easiest to navigate. Let’s look at examples of each of the different types of boats.
All-Purpose Fishing Boats
Purpose: Multi-species fishing, aquatic activities like skiing, tubing, and day cruising
Ideal for rivers, lakes, bays, and other waters
Easy to maintain
Low operational costs
Affordable for most families
Range of shapes and sizes available
Only holds up to five passengers
Freshwater activities only
An all-purpose fishing boat is an excellent investment in family togetherness. These boats are versatile and allow you and up to four other people to enjoy fishing and many other boating adventures in freshwater bodies, including rivers, lakes, and bays. They come in a range of low-cost materials and models, so you can find one that fits perfectly within your price range. All-purpose fishing boats generally feature compartments and holders for your fishing gear so you can stay organized and keep your hands free.
Aluminum Fishing Boats
Purpose: Angling in shallow, rough, or rocky freshwater bodies, as well as duck hunting and day cruising
No trailer required to transport
Easy to repair and maintain
Subject to corrosion
Don’t ride very smoothly
Few luxury features
Aluminum fishing boats are great for the serious fisherman looking for a cost-effective, easy-to-maneuver boat that makes it easy to focus on fishing. They can be thrown in the back of a truck or strapped on top of any other vehicle type. These rugged boats can handle all the scratches and dings that stumpy, rock-strewn shores are known to cause. They can come in several styles; the first is known as a Jon boat, which has a flat underside and a square bow ideal for calm, shallow water. The other styles, known as the mod-V and the deep-V profiles, have pointed bows and V-shaped bottoms to cut easily through choppy water without compromising the smoothness of the ride.
Purpose: Primarily freshwater bass angling on inland lakes and rivers with limited watersports and cruising capabilities
Large casting deck
Plenty of storage space
Ideal for competitive fishing and catching largemouth bass
Fast and powerful with high horsepower for their weight
Specialized features, including fishfinders, livewells, and bow-mounted trolling motors
One of the most expensive freshwater fishing boat types
Not as good for other types of fishing
Limited space for passengers
For serious bass fishers, these boats are a no-brainer. They’re the most powerful and specialized boats for bass fishing, and their low-profile undersides allow you to move easily through shallow bodies of water. They feature large platforms that give you the freedom to cast your line from the front or back, and you can use the high-end fishfinders to maximize your catches and the large livewells to keep them fresh until you’re ready to dock. If you’re a competitive bass fisher, the amenities in these bass boats will help you and your partner find large concentrations of bass and beat your competition to the hotspots.
Purpose: Fishing in saltwater or freshwater and select offshore excursions
Helps you fish in hard-to-reach spots
Works in saltwater or freshwater
Minimal maintenance costs
Usually built with high-tech materials
Offers a smooth ride
Durable fiberglass bottoms for saltwater fishing
Can be expensive
Not ideal for large bodies of water
Few specialized features
Bay boats have high sides and deep hulls that allow for smooth sailing in choppy, shallow waters, and they’re short in stature to help fishermen easily spot and catch fish that are just beneath the surface of the water. These boats come with powerful engines, but they do burn a significant amount of fuel, which you’ll want to factor into overall ownership costs.
Purpose: Watersports, day cruising, and fishing
Easy to transport
Seats up to 10 people
V-shaped hull for high speeds
Versatile, multipurpose boat
Not ideal for overnight trips
Cannot protect from harsh weather conditions
Requires a trailer to transport
Bowriders, also known as runabout boats, are named for their vast bow regions, and they’re one of the most common and sought-after family powerboats because they’re great for people of all boating skill levels. These versatile boats can seat at least eight passengers and can do just about everything you could do on a lake, ocean, or shallow bay, including water skiing, wakeboarding, day cruising, fishing, and more. The V-shaped bottom promises a smooth and speedy ride across the water in numerous conditions.
Purpose: Daytime and overnight cruising, fishing, and watersports
Spacious, protective cabin for sleeping
Newer models are more fuel-efficient and have high-tech controls
Allow for long-term trips for 4+ people
Can be challenging to transport
Costlier than alternative cruiser types
Slow compared to other powerboats
If you prefer to stay out on the water overnight, a cabin cruiser is for you. These boats have terrific amenities, such as a built-in galley (depending on the size you get) and power hookups that make it convenient and comfortable to stay in for long periods of time. Even if you opt for a small cabin cruiser, you can still spend a full weekend on your boat doing some island hopping. Most cabin cruisers have platforms and ladders for swimming as well as deck space for fishing or sunbathing. The possibilities with these boats are plentiful!
Center Console Boats
Purpose: Fishing, watersports, and day cruising
Ample storage space
Navigates well in rough waters
Few amenities in older models
Center console boats are reliable and durable water crafts generally meant for saltwater fishing and can range drastically in size. They’re named after the covered location of the steering wheel and are generally sailed in offshore waters in oceans, lakes, and rivers. While many older versions weren’t very cushy, newer models today are quite comfortable and may include features like luxury seating, a television, or built-in grills.
Purpose: Day cruising, watersports, and freshwater fishing
Spacious seating areas
Plenty of storage space
A more costly choice than other cruisers
No protective cover for rainy days
Deck boats, similar to bowriders, are named after their large deck spaces that offer even more storage and seating space than bowriders for small groups of people, generally measuring between 25 and 35 feet in length. The flat hull keeps these boats stable while in the water, making them excellent for families with young kids. These boats can be taken out on lakes, bays, and oceans for social joyrides, fishing, swimming, or watersports and usually seat up to 12 people.
Purpose: Hauling people or equipment to or from a larger watercraft
Very affordable compared to other boats
Can navigate tight areas in the water
Easy to deflate and store at home
Limited seating (five or less)
Very small (usually around 6 to 8 feet)
A dinghy is a small watercraft that is usually used to transport goods to larger vessels. Some are propelled by outboard engines or sails while others are man-powered. While they’re largely utility crafts, they can also be used for fishing and recreation in lakes, rivers, and other shallow bodies of water. Dinghies can be inflatable or constructed from aluminum, rubber, fiberglass, or marine plywood.
Purpose: Day cruising and offshore boating
Fun to drive and ride in
Ideal for watersports
Fast and versatile
Little seating capacity
Ranges on the expensive side
Costly to insure
High-performance boats are like the sports cars of the boating world. They’re sleek, powerful, stylish, and fast — perfect for the thrill-seekers of watersports. Boating enthusiasts love the ability to customize the interior and exterior of high-performance boats. These boats can range from 20 to 50 feet in length and usually sport a V-shaped bottom. Compact sport catamarans with outboard engines and performance center console boats fall into this category.
Purpose: Freshwater and saltwater fishing, offshore boating, day cruising, overnight cruising
High-speed racing capabilities
Cannot navigate tight waterways
Can come with a high price tag
Expensive to store and maintain
Longer sail times without motor
Multi-hulled watercraft are named after their two equally sized hulls that are parallel to each other. Catamarans are a great example of a multi-hulled boat; they have higher displacement, lower hull volume, and shallower draft and are great for fishing and leisure cruising. Some even have motors for greater performance, and these usually don’t have a ballast to drag through the water which also makes them fuel-efficient. Pontoons, or open-deck boats, can also be categorized as multi-hulled because they sit on two metal flotation tubes. Two-hulled boats are popular for their spacious decks and cabins and their stability on the water.
Purpose: Day cruising and racing
Can reach high racing speeds
Easy to transport
Often difficult to navigate and steer
Longer cruising time
Not suited for shallow waters
May be costly to store and maintain
Sailboats aren’t for boating novices; sailing is a skill that requires experience and knowledge. If you know how to manipulate the sails of a boat to navigate the seas, you have a wide variety of designs to choose from, depending on your preferences. There are models offering lightweight, multihull designs, heavy cruising capabilities, and more.
Ski Boats/Wake Boats
Purpose: Wakeboarding, water skiing, tubing, kneeboarding, wake surfing, and day cruising
Newer models hold many passengers
No protection from inclement weather
Wake boats are not for the faint of heart. If you want to do some leisurely fishing or cruising, this kind of boat may prove to be a little more than you bargained for. But if you’re ready to crank up the waves and try out some new stunts on your wakeboard, ski boats and wake boats are calling your name. These boats can tow up to eight passengers and are excellent for summer weekends filled with swimming, chatting, cruising, lounging, and catching thrills. Wake boats and ski boats look very similar, but they perform a little differently; wake boats have deep hulls and a V-drive engine system to create massive wakes for the boarder whereas ski boats minimize wakes and focus instead on acceleration capabilities.
Purpose: Long-distance cruising (daytime and overnight)
Features a displacement hull
Comfortable and leisurely
Slower and less powerful than other boat types
Costs more to purchase and maintain
Trawlers are powerboats modeled after commercial fishing trawlers. While they were once based on practicality, models of today are designed for homey, long-distance expeditions at a relaxed pace. Most have full galleys, saloons, staterooms, and all the amenities you need to enjoy the ride. Some of these fuel-efficient vessels feature multiple decks and aft cabins under the boat. If you’ve got a weekend to sail from port to port, trawlers allow you to soak in every view along the way.
Purpose: Freshwater and saltwater fishing, offshore boating, and day cruising
Keeps your gear dry
Ideal for fishing
Can be basic or luxurious
Heavy to haul with a trailer
Slower than center console boats
Dwindling in popularity
A walkaround boat, which is sometimes known as a walkaround cuddy, is primarily a fishing boat that allows you to fish from any point on the outskirts of the boat. It has a small cabin inside with a commode for protection from the weather, storing gear, or staying the night in. These boats can be basic or luxurious, depending on the designs and features. Overall, they’re a good option for people who want plenty of fishing space but who also want a cabin area.
Purpose: Saltwater fishing, offshore boating, day cruising, and overnight cruising
Endless cruising possibilities
Can’t be pulled by a trailer
Costly maintenance and storage
Yachts are the height of luxury in the boating world; they’re primarily for leisure and they come in several variations with sails and motors, including day sailing yachts, cruising yachts, luxury sailing yachts, and weekender yachts. These boats typically range from 40 to 100 feet in length and can cruise farther for longer than most boats. Yachts may feature several staterooms, allowing you to host up to 20 people at once, and at least one bathroom, a kitchen, a saloon, a walk-in utility space, an indoor/outdoor dining area, and a flybridge.
What Boat Is Right for Me?
Now that you’re familiar with the common types of boats, you can figure out which kind of boat type is right for you by determining your use for the boat, your price range, the boat size you want, the engine power you need, and the best boat type for where you live. These things will be especially important to know if this is your first boat purchase.
There are boats made for all kinds of activities, so before you buy, make sure you know what you’ll be using your boat for. If your primary purpose in buying a boat is to fish, for example, a center console boat, a cabin cruiser, or a classic pontoon are all made to be ideal for fishing.
As a first-time boat buyer, you’re likely still learning the ropes, so don’t make the mistake of buying something so large and complicated that you’re too intimidated to use it. Instead, start with something small and simple. Once you master it, you can upgrade to something bigger and better down the road. Unless you have something specific in mind, we recommend bowriders, center consoles, pontoons, and cabin cruisers for beginners. These boats are intuitive and easy to use — the ideal combination for any beginner.
A common mistake beginners make is buying a boat without enough horsepower. Consider your needs: Will you be using your boat for watersports? How many passengers and how much equipment will you be carrying? Boats generally have one of four engine types — outboards, diesel inboards, water jet propellers, and gas sterndrives. For watersports, choose an engine type that doesn’t run at maximum capacity to perform the way you want it to. Choose an engine that is rated toward the top of your boat’s capacity.
Just like a car, the sticker price isn’t the only amount you’ll pay for your boat. You also have to factor in maintenance, fuel, storage, insurance, and registration costs. If your boat type requires a trailer, you’ll have to buy one of those as well. As a first-timer, it would be wise to choose one of the low-maintenance boat options described above as you’re learning to care for a boat — especially if you have a smaller budget.
People living in cold-weather states that sail primarily on lakes probably won’t be buying the same kinds of boats as those in warm states near the ocean. Those who live in Cape Cod, for example, would be better off with a boat that has cabin space, like a cabin cruiser, to shield them from the cold whereas someone living in Fort Lauderdale may enjoy a deck boat with more lounging space for warm-weather sunbathing.
Invest in a High-Quality Watercraft Today
If you have more questions about what kind of boat is right for you or you’d like to test-drive a boat, talk to Germaine Marine. We serve the new and used boat needs of Utah, California, and Arizona, and we have a massive inventory for you to browse with top-quality brands such as Sea Ray, Monterrey, ATX, Tige, Apex, Avalon, and more!
If you’re ready to purchase but haven’t secured the entire amount of the boat, we also offer financing options so you don’t have to wait any longer to get your boat out on the water. Apply online now via our safe and secure financing application to see if you qualify.
We can’t wait to make your boating dreams come true. Contact us today!