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Best Family Fishing Boats: A Complete Guide

For many families, boating has become a treasured tradition to make memories, create everlasting bonds, and strengthen relationships. Finding the right family fishing boats to meet your needs is a big part of making those memories. There are many styles of watercraft that can be used as family fishing boats, and each style has unique features that make it suitable for specific types of fishing and family fun. Here is everything you need to know about choosing family fishing boats


fishing boat


Main Requirements for the Best Family Fishing Boats

When trying to find the best family fishing boats, there are a number of things to keep in mind. You will want to choose a boat that has sufficient size and accommodations for everyone, is suitable for the type of area where you intend to use it, and has ample storage space for all your family's necessities. There are also various accessories that you can find for family fishing boats to make the experience even more entertaining. Here are some of the things to look for.



Of course, safety is a top concern for all family boaters. In addition to the mandated safety gear you need aboard, there are minimum construction and safety requirements for boats which are enforced by the US Coast Guard. But these only cover the basic standards. If you’re looking for a boat that’s built to a higher safety level—and most constructed in this day and age are—then you want one that’s certified by the National Marine Manufacturer Association (NMMA).

The NMMA makes factory visits and inspects individual boat models as they’re being built, checking to see if they meet the strict standards of the non-profit American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC). Models that pass are sold with a round “NMMA Certified” sticker on them, so as you shop for boats keep an eye out for it. The NMMA also has a listing of current certifications on their certified boat and yacht manufacturers webpage.


Comfort: from spacious decks to cozy cabin

Choosing family fishing boats that have spacious decks can provide you with many benefits. The open area gives you room for people, gear, bait, and the catch on extended fishing trips, and you can use it as space for entertaining at other times. A big deck area also allows for safer casting and minimizes the chances of fishing lines getting tangled. 

If you plan on overnighting or fishing when the weather is less than ideal, another important element of a family fishing boat is a comfortable cabin. A cabin provides shelter from inclement weather and allows you to spend more time on the water. Some family fishing boats have air-conditioned cabins and full-sized head compartments with a sink and a shower for maximum comfort during multiple-day fishing trips. 

On smaller boats and open day-boats like center consoles and aluminum fishing boats, having a cabin won’t be in the cards. However, the family still needs shelter. T-tops or Bimini tops become critical features, especially for families with young children who may need to get out of the sweltering sun or a driving downpour. Many family members will also consider a head a must-have feature, and fortunately, enclosed head compartments can be found on many boats these days—even some as small as 18 feet long.


Fun: swimming, water skiing, dining, entertaining

When the fish don’t cooperate and the bite is slow, many angling families will ramp up the excitement with watersports. Most fishing boats have a swim platform with a boarding ladder and tow-eyes on either side of the transom, and some have a ski-tow pylon that can be used to tow family members around.

Dining elements can be as simple as having an integrated cooler for your sandwiches and drinks, or as elaborate as built-in onboard electric grills for cooking up the catch. The size and type of the boat will naturally dictate whether or not it has a dedicated galley, and if so, just how extensive it is, but you may also have the option of hauling along a grill that fits into a fishing rod holder mount if you plan to try overnighting aboard a boat with no galley.

Entertainment features are also quite common aboard modern fishing boats. Bluetooth stereo systems are often found even on relatively low-cost models, and many have perks like USB ports and wireless cell phone chargers. Larger boats with cabins big enough for sleeping in usually have televisions as well.


Best Family Fishing Boats by Type

While many types of vessels can be referred to as family fishing boats, some have features that make them more suitable for family fishing trips than others. There are boat models specifically designed for lake or saltwater fishing, day cruising, watersports, and other activities. The best family fishing boats offer all the comforts of a day boat and all the utility of a well-equipped fishing boat. When looking for family fishing boats, here are some types you should keep at the front of your mind. 


Father and son fishing on a boat


Best family fishing boats under $30k

In the modern boat market the $30K mark is quite low but, being significantly less than the cost of most new cars, also represents an expenditure most average American families can handle. So, just what sort of family fishing boats under $30K are on the new boat market today? Most of the choices will be between small fiberglass center console boats under 20 feet, and aluminum boats in the same size range or slightly larger. Family anglers generally will want to have a bit of protection for the kids in case the weather turns, so dual console and fish and ski models (both of which usually have high wraparound windshields) tend to be quite popular.

If you consider a cabin and the amenities that go with it (such as a galley and sleeping accommodations) must-haves, you’ll find some options in this price range on the used boat market. Be forewarned that most will be rather old and may take some work to get into good shape. Choose wisely, however, and it’s possible to find inexpensive older boats that run perfectly well. Fortunately, Rightboat has a large selection of new and used boats to choose from at a wide range of prices to suit different budgets. 


Best family freshwater fishing boats

Some say that the best freshwater boat for fishing and family fun is the “fish and ski” boat. With these boats, your family can chase fish in the morning and then end the day with water skiing, wakeboarding, or another watersport. These boats are available over a wide price range that typically depends on the boat's size and amenities.

Designed mostly for use on inland waterways, fish and ski boats are often based on dual console designs with helm and passenger’s consoles protected by a tall wraparound windshield, plus the additions that make them suitable for both angling and watersports. Most have tow-sports equipment like a ski-tow pylon and ski lockers, as well as fishing features like livewells, rod holders, and a trolling motor. There are also some that are based on premium boats and have more features and deluxe appointments.

Pontoon boats are another popular boat choice for family fishing trips. For recreational fishing on freshwater lakes, rivers, and relatively calm bays, pontoon boats are exceptionally stable and comfortable enough for lounging on the water for lengthy periods of time. Their rectangular shape maximizes fishing space and most model lines are offered with fishing versions that include basics like rod holders and livewells.

Pontoon boats often come with powerful engines that can move the boats fast enough to pull a water skier, but many are also sold with small powerplants that don’t have the oomph to pull a skier out of the hole. They can still be used for pulling tow-toys like kneeboards and tubes, but if water skiing is in the plans, you’ll want to make sure the boats you consider are up to the job.


Family fishing Bennington pontoon boat

Photo credit: Bennington Marine


Best family saltwater fishing boats

The majority of the saltwater fishing boats used by family anglers these days fall into three categories: center consoles, dual consoles, and cabin boats. Center consoles are the most popular, in no small part because they’re such versatile boats. You can cast a line, cruise to a restaurant, pull watertoys, or just kick back and relax on the water on a center console—and you’ll find the boat is equally capable at every task. Most have a private head compartment inside the console but many of today’s larger models have full cabins hidden away in there. And just about all the center consoles over 20 or so feet have lots of seating plus amenities like sunpads and loungers.

Dual consoles are preferred by some, because they have full windshields spanning the boat which offer everyone in the cockpit protection from the wind and spray. Most over 22 feet also have a head compartment integrated into the passenger’s side console. They’re slightly less fishy in comparison to a center console because that second console does eat up some deck space, and you can’t always wield a fishing rod 360-degrees around the boat. Still, for most types of fishing they get the job done while helping to keep a smile on every family member’s face.

Cabin boats have lost popularity as compared to day boats in the modern age, as fewer families have the time or inclination for weekending aboard or making extended cruises. Still, some people—especially those in cooler climates—prefer having the full protection from the weather that only a cabin can afford. It can be challenging to find cabin boats under 26 feet as many builders have stopped producing them in favor of center and dual console models, but there are plenty on the used market and a handful still being built today. 

If you’re looking at larger boats you’ll find plenty with cabins, and an interesting trend in recent years has been a shift to designs with both forward and aft cockpits, and a cabin in-between. These bring the benefits of both day boats and cabin boats, though naturally the cabin is smaller because the bow remains open.

More information: Saltwater Boats vs Freshwater Boats: What’s the Difference?


Choose a Family Fishing Boat to Suit Everyone

Spending time on the water is a great way to draw your family closer together, so when looking for a family fishing boat, focus on finding the one that will make everyone in the family happy. Just what sort of boat that will be differs from one family to the next, and of course the needs of a family with small children will be different from the needs of a family with kids who are all grown up. So involve everyone in the boat-buying process and consider lots of different makes and styles with an open mind. Eventually, you’ll find the one that’s perfect for you – all of you.


Related article: Best Fishing Boat Brands and Best Family Boats.



Written By: Toi Williams

Toi grew up in coastal New England, Her parents had a second home on Newfound Lake, in New Hampshire. Because of this, Toi was able to enjoy boating at sea as well as in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire. Today, she regularly wakeboards and waterskis on her Malibu wake surfing boat. She also sailed at sea in Maine, and taken many trips to the Isles of Shoals.

More from: Toi Williams

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