If you want to go out on the water, you need to have a vehicle that can take you there. In other words, you need a boat!
Boats are relatively small watercraft, distinct from larger craft such as yachts and ships. They aren’t designed for long voyages or for people to live on them. In general, a boat is used for day trips in order to go fishing or take part in water sports.
Here I’m going to list some of the more common types of recreational boats, what they are used for, and who might be interested in buying one.
Fishing is a popular, beloved water-based activity. While these days it’s more fashionable to put the fish you catch back in the water after taking a photo, some people still eat what they catch.
Fishing boats come in a wide variety of designs but are unified by features that make fishing easier. They often have a large open deck section to make fishing convenient. Built-in containers to keep fish and bait alive are common for some of the larger craft. There are also fishing boats with enough amenities to allow night-fishing and a sleepover, giving you access to fishing waters that would not be possible with just a day trip from the shore.
Game boats are the vehicle of choice for serious fishermen looking to catch game fish such as marlin, swordfish, and tuna. These boats are some of the best-equipped recreational watercraft money can buy. They are designed to let you stay out at sea for days, with sleeping space, a galley, and plumbing so you can answer nature’s calls.
These are, as you can imagine, big and expensive boats. Most often the hull will be made from fiberglass and a brawny gasoline or diesel engine provides the power.
Center Console Boat
This is another very common fishing boat design. It has an open deck with a center console to house the boat’s controls. These boats have a distinctive canopy that provides shade to the pilot, and they usually include plenty of fishing amenities.
For example, there’s likely to be a built-in icebox for the fish you catch, as well as a place to safely keep your bait. Secure mounts for rods and tackle are also par for the course here.
Center console boats are designed for rough waters out at sea and provide the perfect platform for a serious fishing trip where you’ll be coming back to port on the same day.
Cruising boats are all about the boat ride itself. It’s about taking a trip on the water and relaxing. Maybe you’d want to use them as a base from which to swim or do some very casual catch-and-release fishing.
Some cruising boats are actually fancy enough to include a spot to sleep, which means you could spend the night on them. In the case of the houseboat, well, you could live in it permanently if you’re happy with a dwelling of its size.
Motor yachts push against the absolute boundary of what I would think of as a ‘boat”, with lengths that start at about twelve meters and go up from there. These are the playthings of the rich and famous, but if you can afford one it’s hard to imagine a better time on the water.
A motor yacht can sustain its passengers for days or weeks, if fully stocked. You’ll find multiple berths, electricity, air conditioning, proper plumbing, and the other comforts of home – present and correct.
With its large size and powerful engines, these boats make easy work of the open ocean and other large bodies of water. If you have to ask how much they cost, well, then you probably can’t afford one.
The layout of a pontoon boat is unmistakable, with its multihull design and large flat deck. The eponymous pontoons look like tubes and the boat uses them to provide flotation.
This boat type is incredibly popular all over the world thanks to the awesome additions designers can install on their large decks. In fact, I went on a river cruise for my honeymoon and the pontoon boat we rode on sported a large canopy, rows and rows of viewing chairs, and a fair bit of power.
Pontoon boats have improved a lot in the last few years. They support much more power now, are made from modern materials, and can be outfitted with plenty of luxuries. While they are not designed as fishing boats, the open deck nature of the basic pontoon design is fine for casual fishing.
Pontoon boats, even modern ones, are not exactly nimble, however, and you can only use them on relatively calm waters. This generally means large, calm river sections and lakes. The ocean or rapid rivers are out of the question, and windy conditions can mean staying on the shore that day.
A sailboat is one that’s powered by the wind, although, of course, a sailboat can also have an engine as a backup or additional power. There is a large variety of sailboat designs out there, so it’s hard to put it all into one category.
One thing that these boats all have in common, however, is the need for sailing skills. This is not the sort of boat that a novice can use. You need a knowledge of ropes, knots, rigging, sails, wind – and the list goes on. Apart from much better materials, the basic art of sailing hasn’t changed in centuries. The class of sailing boats that you can operate by yourself is also relatively small. You’ll quickly find yourself in need of a larger crew to keep everything ship-shape.
Nevertheless, plenty of people find sailing to be a fulfilling pastime in its own right, with the need for skills and knowledge, as well as the physical challenge, making for an irresistible combination.
This is a style of boat you’ll often see zipping about recreational water spaces; they’re often lumped in with the general class of runabout boats. For the most part, bow-riders are popular thanks to how much room they have for seated passengers. This is a great little boat for family and friends; having enough seating for as many as ten people is pretty typical.
This type of boat, like a proper runabout, can also do decent duty as a watersport machine, but it’s best for taking your buddies out for a trip that may or may not include going in the water.
These boats are the luxury option within the boat class. As the name says, you get a fully featured cabin on these boats. This includes a galley, a place to sleep, and a place to go to the bathroom
Features such as air conditioning and electrical outlets are possible with cabin cruisers, which also means you can stay out on the water overnight. If you want to cruise in style, this is where your shopping list should start.
Inflatable boats are quite possibly the most common type of boat you’ll see on the water. This is actually a term that applies to any boat that uses inflatable sections as part of its construction. So you get roll-up floor inflatables that are essentially a giant pool toy as well as hard-floor inflatables that are more durable and can do more serious jobs.
What most people think about when you refer to an inflatable boat is the rigid inflatable boat, or RIB. This has a solid hull made from a material such as fiberglass, with inflatable bladders on either side to aid in buoyancy and stability. RIBs often have outboard motors and can be some of the fastest craft on the water if you use a motor with serious horsepower.
In fact, there is so much variety in the world of inflatable boats that it deserves its own article, which is why I wrote one! Here I’ll just say that the RIB style of inflatable boat is one of the most versatile, affordable, and reliable types of boat you can buy. Whatever your use case, make sure to seriously consider an inflatable as one of your options.
The title of this category should be pretty self-explanatory, but just in case you’re still wondering, this is the broad category of boat meant to support popular watersport forms. This usually means wakeboarding and skiing, with the person in question towed behind the boat.
Watersport boats have features that fit with the type of sport they’re meant for, and they usually have more powerful motors to make towing easier.
The runabout is a general-purpose boat that’s steered from the front via a steering wheel. This is a very popular entry level boat, but I’ve put it under watersports boats because it’s commonly used as a cheap way to fish or even tow skiers and wakeboarders. These boats are open, having no cabin space and only a small stow area.
These boats aren’t designed specifically for one use but can be adapted to various roles. Many affordable boat designs are included in this category and it’s essentially a category for boats I could not fit neatly into other categories.
As the name suggests, these are essentially floating houses. Think of this as the boat version of a caravan or RV. The idea isn’t for people to stay on this boat only for a few days, but to spend a few weeks or make it a permanent residence.
Houseboats are mobile, but obviously aren’t going to compete with small, nimble craft. I think of them as general purpose mainly because you can fish from them, cruise, and use them as a platform for swimming and other more pedestrian water recreational activities. Houseboats are not suitable for the ocean and you’ll mainly find them on rivers and lakes.
That’s A-boat It
This is by no means an exhaustive list of boat types. In fact, people seem to be inventing more and more types of boats every year (like the personal submarines and underwater scooters we also talked about).
The idea here isn’t so much to be comprehensive, but to open your mind to the fact that the perfect type of boat for your needs is out there somewhere. Start by defining your use case, then decide on your budget. The boat of your dreams will soon emerge from the many choices on offer.