Walking around your local boat show this year, youre going to see hundreds of boats of all different shapes and sizes. Choosing the right one is a daunting task---and considering how much fun could be on your horizon, you surely want to make the best decision. So, which boat is right for your needs? What kind will serve your purposes best?
The secret to answering these questions is twofold. First, you need to think about exactly how youll use your boat. And second, you need to identify the type of boat that best fits the bill.
How youll use your boat is a question we cant help you with, so spend some time thinking about how often youll go cruising, how much water skiing or wakeboarding the future will hold, what percentage of the time the boat might be used for fishing, and so on. When it comes to figuring out what type of boat best fits those uses, however, we can lend a hand. Use this guide, and youll know everything you need to make the right decisions, as you check out the different boats at the show.
BASS BOATS - Dedicated anglers who pursue largemouth bass---the most popular freshwater gamefish in lakes, reservoirs, and rivers across the country---are going to choose a bass boat. Many of these boats are designed to fit the needs of both casual anglers and tournament fishermen, so they offer high-speed performance, multiple livewells, and elevated casting decks. Every inch of a bass boat is designed with casting, jigging, and flippin in mind, so few other types of boats are so highly specified. As a result, you need to remember that if you plan to use your boat for activities other than bass fishing, youll probably want to consider some different options. That said, if youre a dedicated basser, there simply are no other options.
Those with bigger budgets will probably want to consider fiberglass versions, which can accommodate larger powerplants and more built-in features. But if money is a concern, dont hesitate to choose an aluminum bass boat. Their performance may not be quite as spectacular and most dont have as many bells and whistles as a high-end fiberglass bass boat, but a good aluminum rig will get the job done.
BAY BOATS - Saltwater anglers plying the bays, canals, inlets, and backwaters of the Texas coastline for species like redfish and speckled trout will find bay boats are a prime choice. They offer shallow draft, raised casting decks, and the ability to handle a chop when the wind kicks up. Most also have fishing features like livewells, built-in tackleboxes, and plenty of rodholders. When it comes to inshore fishing these boats are tough to beat, but as is true with many specialty-oriented boats, their design tweaks make them limited in scope, so these shouldnt be considered ideal for other activities, like watersports or cruising. On the other hand, many bay boats are substantial enough and versatile enough to also take into the Gulf, when the weather allows.
CANOES and KAYAKS - Paddle-sports enthusiasts, this is your obvious choice. But many other people may want to consider canoes and kayaks since they represent the least expensive way to get into boating. Plus, they can go places other boats cant, like narrow creeks and shallow ponds. Anglers will discover that there are many new models designed for their favorite sport, which cost a lot less than full-blown fishboats; some even have fishfinders, rodholders, and built-in tackleboxes. Another distinct advantage of considering a canoe or kayak is the ability to haul them on a car-top or in a pick-up, without the need for a trailer.
CENTER CONSOLES - These saltwater fishing boats have come a long way since they were first developed, and today, you can find models with head compartments, gobs of comfortable seating, and many built-in accessories. Although on first glimpse it may seem that these boats are purely for angling, dont be fooled---those that offer the aforementioned accouterments make excellent family boats, as well, though they lack the protection of a cabin.
Many center consoles are designed for long runs in open water, so in some cases, you will have to trade off stability to get better wave-handling ability, particularly when it comes to offshore-oriented models. Note the boats transom deadrise for an indication. Those with deeper V-s in the 21 to 24 degree range are designed to slice through rough seas, while those with fewer degrees of deadrise usually have better stability but may ride rougher in a head sea. How each model is outfitted also varies quite a bit, and often features that one family member or another wants (you can really use your imagination here, as youll see everything from simple extending sunshades to built-in electric grills) will be options that can drive up cost. The bottom line? Center consoles can be used in both fresh and salt water for everything from fishing to towing water-toys, but you have to closely take note of each models specific design characteristics and features, and make sure they match up with the way you plan to use your boat.
CRUISERS - Are you one of those people who believe half the fun of visiting somewhere new is the journey? If so, a cruiser can make that voyage both comfortable and exciting. Although these boats can pricey---the sky is the limit---there are plenty of affordable models which are small enough to trailer, yet are large enough for two couples or an entire family to sleep aboard. Most come equipped with all the comforts of home, ranging from entertainment systems with flat-screen TVs to microwave ovens. "Roughing it" is no longer necessary, on most modern cruising powerboats.
When considering cruisers, remember that many are outfitted with different powerplants than those you might be used to. While smaller boats and fishing boats commonly rely on outboards, most cruisers have stern-drive powerplants. As is true of most anything on a boat, there are trade-offs involved with having stern drives versus outboards: they tend to be larger, heavier, louder, and take up more room than most modern outboards, but on the other hand, theyre usually based on common engine blocks and people who are accustomed to working on their own vehicles sometimes prefer them, since they know how to troubleshoot and possibly fix the engines. Also remember that these larger boats, with their larger powerplants, cost more to run than their smaller brethren. Higher mooring fees, maintenance, fuel, and insurance costs should all be expected.
CUDDY CABINS - Boats with small cabins, usually called "cuddy" cabins, provide the minimum accommodations needed for two people to go weekending aboard, or for cruising farther and longer than a runabout allows. Look into one of these if you enjoy camping and long weekend adventures. The cabin also provides some weather protection and a place to rest, though in reality, most boaters find that the cuddy usually becomes a stowage area during day-trips.
Most cuddy boats provide some form of MSD (marine sanitation device, often a Porta-pottie), a V-berth, and in some cases, limited cooking abilities. If you have the option of getting a model with all three, its a smart move---you may be able to deduct the interest you pay on the loan from your tax bill, because the boat will qualify as a second home under the tax code.
DUAL CONSOLES - This type of boat serves equally well as a fishing boat or a runabout, and youll have no problem finding different models which focus more or less on each activity. Theyre a good choice for anglers who might like a center console but want more protection for their passengers, and for families that have both anglers and non-anglers in the mix. Traditionally dual consoles were limited to boats 24 or less, but in the past few year some super-sized DCs have hit the market. Today, you can even find dual consoles with cabins and/or fully-enclosed head compartments.
INFLATABLES - Although inflatables and RIBs (rigid bottom inflatables) have caught on as recreational boating platforms in some other countries, here at home, they mostly serve those in need of tenders. Inflatables are ideal for transporting gear to and from boats at anchor, can be deflated for easy storage, and can be safely towed from port to port behind many other types of boats. They do also provide an alternative to runabouts or skiffs to some degree, though the inflatable collar cuts down on their interior volume, when compared to traditional boats.
PONTOON BOATS - Pontoons have been one of the fastest-growing segments of the marine market for several years, and its no wonder: theyre versatile, comfortable, and the entire family can find ways to enjoy them. Take a pontoon out in the morning and its a roomy fishing boat. Pull off the dock in the afternoon, and its a water skiing boat. Beach it on an island in the evening for the perfect swim---there are few boating activities you cant do with a pontoon.
On top of that awesome versatility, pontoon technology has come a long way recently. More complex hullforms, the addition of a third pontoon (call them "tri-toons"), and advanced outboard engines are a few of the factors that have brought pontoon boat performance far ahead of yester-year. Note, however, that there are still plenty of inexpensive, simple pontoons on the market. While these are great for casual use in protected lakes and rivers, they arent the best choice for boaters who intend to venture into open waters. One other consideration to bear in mind: if youd like to use your boat in both fresh and salt water, make sure youre looking at the appropriate models. Some are constructed for use in both environments, but some are not---be sure to ask the dealer.
PWC - Obviously, PWCs (personal watercraft) are not an option for those who are looking for a boat that serves multiple purposes and large numbers of people. On the other hand, its impossible to deny how much fun it is to go zipping across the lake or bay, jumping wakes on one of these "waterbikes". Note also that theres a wide range of PWCs these days, from single-rider high-performance models to "cruising" versions which seat several people, and have enough fuel capacity to cruise for miles at a time.
RUNABOUTS and BOWRIDERS - These are do-everything, do-anything boats, which are among the most versatile on the water. Many can be outfitted with accessories ranging from tow bars to livewells, making them adaptable to different activities. Naturally, you shouldnt expect a runabout to make the best wakeboarding boat nor the best fishing boat on the water. But with the proper equipment, these boats can do a fine job at both jobs.
Runabouts serve as starter boats for many families, because of that versatility. It allows you to try your hand at many different forms of boating, until you decide which you like the most. There are also plenty of relatively low-cost runabouts on the market, in both outboard and stern drive configurations. For the first-time boat buyer, runabouts and bowriders are a great way to get out on the water.
SKI, WAKEBOARD, and TOW BOATS - This genre of boat encompasses another slice of the boating world which is highly specialized. Dedicated ski boats are usually straight inboards which make a minimal wake, while dedicate wakeboard boats often are weighted and outfitted with tabs or other devices to create the maximum wake. Many boats built for general towing watersports are fitted with ballast systems, so the size and shape of the wake they create can be changed to match the riders requirements---at the press of a button.
As a result of such specialized designs, these boats shouldnt be considered for all-around uses. On the other hand, if watersports are your passion, then youll clearly be best served by choosing one of these types of boats.
SKIFFS are simple boats with few bells and whistles, but for some people, this is exactly what they need. Theyre easy to clean, easy to trailer, inexpensive, and versatile. These characteristics make them a great choice for boaters who have limited time and resources, and just want to be able to get out on the water now and again. This also makes skiffs a good choice for people who are hard on their boats, and dont want to spend a lot of time on maintenance. No, a skiff isnt going to be the beauty queen in the fleet, but for many of us thats just not the most important factor to consider.
Excerpted from the official buyers guide for the Houston International Boat, Sport and Travel Show produced this year by Texas Fish & Game.
The 56th Houston Boat Show runs January 4-13 at the Reliant Center.
For information about the show, visit the official website:
Several of these types of boats can be found in either aluminum or fiberglass versions. Which is the best for you? To make that decision, youll need to look at the traits of each, and the UPs and DOWNs those traits create.
...are lighter than fiberglass.
UP: That means they require smaller engines, and thus burn less fuel. That light weight also makes them easier to push free if you run aground, easier to tow, and easier to man-handle at the dock.
DOWN: That lighter weight means youll be subject to a faster drift, when the wind blows. Stability in rough seas and wave-handling ability are also hampered by light weight.
...are tough to damage
UP: Drive into a dock or hit a tree stump, and the boat will probably bounce right off. In the worst case, it will get a dent.
DOWN: Dents are hard to fix, and if you do hit something hard enough to dent the boat, repair jobs can be expensive.
...cost less than fiberglass boats of the same size and type.
UP: Youll leave the boats show with enough money left over to fill the fuel tank all season long.
DOWN: Theres a down-side to this trait???
...look better than aluminum.
UP: Although the modern baked-enamel paint jobs found on high-end aluminums look sharp, most people feel that aluminum boats just dont look as attractive as gel coated fiberglass.
DOWN: Keeping that shiny new look takes work---prepare yourself for weekly wash-downs and monthly wax jobs.
...are easy to work with for DIY jobs.
UP: If you need to fill holes that were drilled into the dash, relocate accessories that were bolted in place, or close off an open compartment, its easy with fiberglass. On an aluminum boat, once a hole has been drilled its there to stay.
DOWN: Gel coat colors are hard to match, and often, repairs that are structurally solid are visibly different from the rest of the boat.
...handle waves and perform better than aluminum, in many cases.
UP: This is partially a reflection of weight, but fiberglass also has an advantage here because its easier for manufacturers to mold the hull into more complex shapes and forms, such as variable-degree deadrise (the amount of V in the bottom). Such complex shapes are very difficult or altogether impossible to create, when working with aluminum.
DOWN: The more complex a hull is, the more cost goes up.