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Types of Popular Recreational Boats

By Don Seibert

Before you can select the proper boat for your family to enjoy, it pays to be aware of the various types of boats that are used for family fun. Let's take a look at some of the most popular types of boats.


Typically from 18 to 26 feet in length, a typical runabout today is constructed of molded fiberglass and is powered by either an outboard engine or an inboard/outboard engine (I/O), which is most common. Most runabouts are what are called 'bowriders' since they are designed for some number of people to ride in the bow of the boat (forward of the driver). Runabouts usually have seating for 6 to 10 people and provide storage for all of the gear that you might need on a day long outing. Runabouts are, by far, the most popular recreational boat in the U.S. because of the ease with which they can be trailered from one body of water to another.


Similar in design to a runabout, towboats are specifically designed to tow water skiers and wakeboarders. Towboats are often referred to as 'ski boats' or 'wakeboard boats' and their hulls are designed to enhance their performance in this area. Towboats are often equipped with metal towing 'towers' so that the towrope can be attached to the top of the tower to provide wakeboarders with a high towing point to facilitate aerial maneuvers. While many boats are capable of pulling skiers and wakeboarders, no other type does these tasks quite as well as a towboat. Most towboats can also double a runabouts, although their riding characteristics for general purpose cruising are not quite as good.

Fishing Boats

As their name implies, fishing boats are designed to support the ability to fish for various species of fish and to cast bait or to troll for fish most efficiently. Among the fishing boat category are Bass Boats which are rather shallow draft, high speed, outboard powered fishing platforms designed for use on inland waters in pursuit of largemouth and smallmouth bass. Smaller, flat bottom aluminum boats are more utility in nature and generally do not provide the creature comforts for bass fishing as do the bass boats, although they are dramatically less expensive. Gaining in popularity today are the 'center console fishing boat' which can easily be used to fish on inland waters and have a high enough freeboard and self draining floors that enable them to venture out into the ocean, Great Lake, or Gulf of Mexico. As you step up, deep sea fishing boats are the great granddaddy of the fishing boat category with flying bridges, outriggers, fighting chairs, dual engines and electronics that are need to support real deep sea fishing excursions.


From small daysailing boats of 12-14 feet in length up to ocean going sailboats of 40-50 feet (or longer) in length, sailboats are for the person schooled and trained in navigating under sail and capturing the available wind, much like Magellan and Christopher Columbus. Avid sailors abhor the use of engines and generally will only deploy their engines when entering or leaving the harbor, preferring to use their sailing skills at all other times to reach the desired speed and direction, regardless of the wind direction. This can be very enjoyable and challenging and is not typically for the beginning boater.

Cabin Cruisers

For those who wish to venture out for a day, an evening, or for an extended stay, today's cabin cruisers provide many of the comforts of home while on your favorite lake, waterway, or ocean. Cruisers range in size from about 24 feet and larger and typically provide sleeping accommodations for 4 adults. Most have a complete galley with refrigerator, stove and microwave as well ad a full head with toilet and shower. Most cruisers today have air conditioning and heating as well as hot and cold running water. Sewage is stored in a holding tank for eventual disposal in a 'pump out station' at a local marina. The practice of discharging raw sewage into the waters of the U.S. has been outlawed for vessels within 3 miles of the U. S. Coastline.

Pontoon Boats

Generally constructed of aluminum pontoons (shaped like large aluminum 'logs') with a metal or wooden carpeted deck with surrounding railings, pontoons are quickly becoming the choice of many boaters on America's lakes and streams (wherever the need for rough water handling is not an issue). Pontoons are able to accommodate larger groups of people than runabouts, typically 10-20 persons plus equipment, and they are powered by large outboard and I/O engines to push them along at more than 30 miles per hour for skiing and tubing. Pontoon boats tend to be thought of as 'party platforms'!

I am hopeful that this helps you to determine the best boat to meet the needs of your boating family. Whatever boat you choose, be sure to partake in a U S Coast Guard or Power Squadron Safe Boating class and be sure that there is always a 'designated captain' available if you intend to partake of the spirits. You must also be aware of State laws regarding Personal Flotation Devices (PFD's) and other safety equipment that's needed for safe operation. Have a great voyage!

Resources: Don Seibert is a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard and has operated a large marina and boat dealership for the past 10 years. Don has been boating for more than 50 years.

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