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Best Boat Brands for Beginners: Power, Sail, Pontoon & Fish

If you’re considering buying a boat then it’s likely that you’ve dabbled in the exciting world of boating at some point before. Perhaps you’ve been out on friends’ boats, or rented or chartered boats for the day. But it can feel like a huge next step to buy your own boat. Fear not, every boat owner out there has had to take that plunge into new boat ownership, and we’re here to help you along the way. 

Buying a boat is a thrilling prospect and will lead to a pastime that the whole family can enjoy. You can look forward to active weekends together, in the fresh air, seeing new places, unwinding, and learning new skills. Here at Rightboat we have a huge library of advice and guidance to help you, from our Ultimate Guide to Buying a Boat, to knowing what qualifications and licenses you need. 

In this article we take a look at the boats themselves. What makes a good beginner boat? What options do you have? And which are the best brands to consider?


What Makes a Boat Ideal for Beginners?

There are many types of boats on the market, both brand new and used. You’ll find everything from traditional sailboats to speedy power boats, trusty fishing vessels, spacious pontoons, and just about every variation in between, so choosing the right first boat can seem overwhelming. Begin your search by narrowing down what you want the boat for and where you’re going to use it. Is it for days on the lake? Weekend coastal cruises? For inland fishing? For family watersports? Defining this will narrow down your choices. 

While there is no hard and fast rule to which first boat you should buy, the best advice we can offer is to keep it simple. Boating has a steep learning curve and there’s nothing that will put you off more than a boat you’re struggling to handle. Keeping it simple will allow you to enjoy your time on your new purchase, feel confident taking friends and family out, and allow you to learn the ropes on an easy-to-manage boat. Other features to look for in a beginner boat include:

  • Stability: A stable boat will put your mind at ease as you become a more proficient boater and gain your “sea legs.” A boat that does a lot of rocking and rolling, however, will be tough to get used to right from the start.
  • Versatility: As you learn what you and your family enjoy doing on the water it’s a good idea to buy a multi-purpose boat which allows for a variety of activities. These might include cruising, sun lounging, watersports, or fishing. 
  • Cost: Think back to when you learned to drive a car. There were inevitable scrapes and bumps as you perfected the art. The same is true for boating, and there’s nothing worse than scraping the side of an extremely expensive boat while you’re learning how to dock it. It adds stress to a situation unnecessarily. So starting out with a relatively inexpensive boat is usually a smart move.
  • Performance: Once again, it’s unlikely your first ever car was a lightning-fast sports car. The same applies here, and buying a first boat that has modest horsepower will allow you to safely learn to handle it before upgrading to something more powerful.
  • Resale Value: It’s unlikely your first boat will be your last boat. As you learn to handle it and get into the swing of boating, it’s likely you’ll want to upgrade. Having a boat that maintains a good value and is easy to sell will make that process much easier. 


Powerboats for Beginners

The term powerboat covers a huge gamut of styles, from center consoles to dual consoles, deck boats, watersports boats, cruisers and more. When selecting your first power boat our advice is to go for a smaller model with lower horsepower as you get to grips with the handling and maneuvering. While powerboats are fairly simple to handle, larger models can be very complex to operate. There are many small styles which can accommodate lots of passengers and offer a wealth of comforts without being overwhelmingly powerful or challenging to maintain. 


Best Powerboat Brands

  1. Bayliner: This popular brand has a big range of compact deck, center console, and bowrider boats, as well as larger cabin cruisers. Models such as the M15, M17, and M19 have an M-shaped hull for good stability and predictable handling, as well as being incredibly lightweight for easy trailering and handling. Bayliner boats for sale.
  2. Grady-White: A stalwart of the powerboat industry, Grady-White offers a range of dual- and center-consoles as well as larger cabin boats, all of which are powered by outboard engines. Its smaller models such as the Fisherman 180 or Freedom 215 are geared for fishing and family fun, and are renowned for their seakeeping abilities. They’re high-end and on the expensive side for a beginner boat, but ideal for someone who wants quality from the start. Grady-White boats for sale
  3. Boston Whaler: While Boston Whalers can be pricey their construction makes them unsinkable, giving both new boaters and old salts added confidence. Small models from the Super Sport and Montauk ranges make for ideal first boats thanks to their simplicity, robustness, versatility, and safety. Boston Whaler boats for sale
  4. Regal Boats: If you’re willing to try a larger or more powerful power boat, Regal’s Express range is an ideal first weekend cruiser. Compact (the smallest model is just 26 feet long) yet packed with features, it has all the comforts without being overwhelming. Regal boats for sale


Power Boat Grady White

There are many styles of power boat to choose from including small models with lower horsepower which are ideal for beginners. Grady-White photo.


Sailboats for Beginners

Learning to sail is more of a challenge than learning how to handle a power boat, and so it’s even more important to keep things simple for your first sailboat. While it’s tempting to buy a large model that can take you further and accommodate more passengers (and even feel more stable), it will also be harder to handle. Choose a sailboat with an easy rig and simple sails while you gain experience, and it’s worth considering a sailboat with a tiller rather than a steering wheel to allow you to really get a feel for the boat. Models that are widely available also make good beginner boats as it’s easier to buy spare parts and find online resources to help you sail and maintain it. Some of the best types of sailboats for beginners include dinghies, small catamarans, small sloops, and trailerable sailboats. See our guide to choosing a beginner sailboat for more advice. 


The Best Sailboat Brands for Beginners

  1. Catalina: This is one of the best-known brands of weekend sailboats and their range is extensive. Opt for a model such as the 16.5 for its simple set-up and its retractable keel for easy trailering, or the 22 which offers a cabin for four as well as a simple fractional rig with a mainsail and a roller-furling jib. Catalina boats for sale
  2. Marlow Hunter: Marlow Hunter is a popular brand (formerly Hunter in the US and Legend in the UK) with an extensive lineup of used sailboats on the market. Beginner boats include the lightweight, trailerable daysailer range between 15 and 22 feet, or their mid-sized keelboats which are hard-wearing, offer a simple rig, and deliver good use of space for a smaller length boat. Marlow Hunter boats for sale
  3. Hartley Boats: Built in the UK, this is a brand of small sailing dinghies that are ideal for learning the skills you need before upgrading to a weekend cruiser. The 16-foot Wayfarer is renowned as being one of the most stable models on the market and can accommodate up to 6 people for a day of cruising. 
  4. Hobie: No list of beginner sailboats is complete without Hobie, one of the best-known brands for small, simple beach catamarans. They are made of fiberglass or polyethylene, are trailerable, can be launched with ease off the beach, are exceptionally safe and stable, and perfect for learning the ropes of sailing especially for children. The Hobie 16, designed in 1970, remains an international racing class. 

If you think a small sailboat would be ideal, learn more about your options by checking out 11 Best Small Sailboat Brands: How to Choose Your Next Daysailer or Pocket Cruiser.


Sailboat Hartley

Small sailboats are ideal for learning the art of sailing and dinghies allow everyone in the family to get involved. Hartley Boats photo.


Pontoon Boats for Beginners

Pontoon boats have long been favorites on lakes and coastal bays in the United States, popular for their comfort, ease of handling, versatility, and stability. Families with children or those wanting to accommodate lots of friends on a small boat find pontoons ideal first boats thanks to their resistance to rolling and exceptional stability. They offer great versatility, with lounging, cruising, swimming, and even watersports possible on some faster models. Equipped with a range of simple features, intuitive and uncluttered helms, comfortable seats, overall easy maintenance, and all at an attractive price, they are trusty, sensible, and undoubtedly fun first boats. 


Best Pontoon Boat Brands

  1. Pond King: Manufacturing possibly the smallest pontoons on the market is Pond King, whose simple two-man mini models are just 8 feet in length and weigh a mere 220lbs (in fact there’s even a 4-foot, one-made model made for fishing). It also has a range of small pontoon boats which are up to 13 feet in length and can accommodate 5 passengers. 
  2. Sun Tracker: Sun Tracker’s big range of pontoons includes fishing models and their Party Barge range, all of which offer highly compact and low-cost models down to 16 feet in length. These allow for easy trailering and come complete with a range of activity-specific accessories. Sun Tracker boats for sale
  3. Sea-Doo: Known for their fast and fun Jetskis, Sea-Doo has turned its engineering to putting the same speed and agility into its range of Switch pontoon boats. All of its jet-powered models are equipped for watersports and unlike all other pontoon boats, these are steered via handlebar controls rather than a steering wheel. Sea-Doo boats for sale
  4. SunChaser: SunChaser specialize in family pontoon boats which put an emphasis on watersports. Its range of models—which offer a range of layouts—have big swim platforms, powerful outboards, tow pylons, and more, making them highly capable sports boats with the space that only a pontoon can offer. SunChaser boats for sale

Check out Best Pontoon Boat Brands for Parties, Performance, Fishing, and Chilling Out to see more top options.


Pond King Ultra

Pontoon boats are stable and safe lake and coastal boats which are easy to handle and can accommodate lots of passengers for a day of fun. Pond King photo. 


Fishing Boats for Beginners

Fishing is one of the most common activities to enjoy on a boat, and if angling is your main reason for buying your first boat then looking for a small, simple, affordable fishing vessel equipped with all the accessories you could need will set you up for success. There are many types of fishing boats out there, from small aluminum models, to center console fishing boats, bass boats, fish and ski models, and large offshore sportfishing models. The latter tend to have huge horsepower and come with a high price tag and are less suited to first-time buyers. 


Best Fishing Boat Brands

  1. Crestliner: Robust aluminum fishing and fish-and-ski boats are made by this company. In particular the Fish Hawk range offers a compact, well-built boat with everything you need to get you started. Crestliner boats for sale
  2. Lund: Known for building versatile, family-friendly, compact fishing boats, the simple and affordable Fury range and the multi-activity Adventure range are both great model lines for beginners. Lund boats for sale
  3. Ranger Boats: The fiberglass and aluminum fishing boats made by Ranger will withstand a few bumps and scrapes. Smaller aluminum models such as the VS1665T have a respectable but easy to handle 40 hp, tiller steering, and are easy to trailer and launch. Ranger boats for sale
  4. Lowe Boats: Models such as the 18 Bay, an all-welded center console bay boat, make for ideal first boats thanks to their ease of maintenance and easy handling. Lowe’s fish and ski range is also well-suited to new boat owners thanks to its versatility and comfort. Lowe boats for sale

Also see our roundup of fishing boats, Best Fishing Boat Brands: A Comprehensive Guide.


Fishing Ranger Boats

Fishing is one of the top activities to do on a boat, and small, sturdy models with a range of angling accessories make for successful first boats. Ranger Boats photo.


Bowrider Boats for Beginners

Bowriders are the quintessential powerboat, offering an exhilarating ride, tapered bow, and plenty of seating in a compact-sized boat. The bowrider is characterized by its bow seating, which maximizes space, although it comes at a compromise on deck space. As such they’re popular family boats, or for those wanting to enjoy watersports.Bowriders are multi-functional and fun, and there are many excellent brands offering small, lower-powered yet highly capable bowriders ideal for beginners.


Best Bowrider Brands

  1. Sea Ray: The iconic brand Sea Ray starts their line small with a pair of 19- and 21-footers which are comfortable, family friendly, and sporty. They aren’t inexpensive but are always in demand, so they retain their resale value better than most brands. Sea Ray boats for sale
  2. Stingray: Stingray builds a good selection of compact, affordable bowriders that allow families to get out on the water. Despite the lower prices than some competitors, they have a good range of comforts as standard. Its smaller sized models offer a manageable 90HP and are pleasantly easy to maintain. Stingray boats for sale 
  3. Tahoe: Tahoe is another brand building versatile, straightforward, and fun bowriders which are ideal for those buying their first boat. Models such as the T16 and T18 can be popped on a trailer, offer 90HP, and are efficient watersports tow boats. Tahoe boats for sale
  4. Yamaha: Yamaha’s jetboats are a lot of fun and offer a great option for first time bowrider buyers. They manage to be affordable, fun, safe, capable, and reliable, with models such as the AR 220 also a competent watersports tow boat with a versatile tower/Bimini top. Plus, many beginner boaters gravitate towards jet boats, since there’s no spinning propeller in the water to worry about. Yamaha boats for sale


Stingray Boats

Bowrider boats such as the 173 Center Console by Stingray Boats have space for multiple passengers in a compact, versatile, and easy-to-handle package. Stingray Boats photo


Okay, are you ready to take that plunge and become a first-time boat owner? Maybe, and maybe not. Either way, remember one thing: once you do pull the trigger, you’re almost certain to agree that life is better with a boat.


Written By: Samantha Wilson

Samantha Wilson has spent her entire life on and around boats, from tiny sailing dinghies all the way up to superyachts. She writes for many boating and yachting publications, top charter agencies, and some of the largest travel businesses in the industry, combining her knowledge and passion of boating, travel and writing to create topical, useful and engaging content.

Get in touch:Linkedin

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