There’s an outdated notion purported by powerboat enthusiasts that bowriders are all style over substance; a flimsy, lightweight craft that fail to deliver a true seaworthy performance. Nothing could be further from the truth. The bowrider design can offer a feel-good family friendly boating experience at a price within the reach of many sailors.
The hull design maximises both inboard space and fuel efficiency in a package that is stylish, sociable and versatile. In this guide we’ll look at some of the factors to consider when buying a bowrider and consider some of the very best models on the market today.
What is a Bowrider?
As the name would suggest, a typical bowrider features a V-shaped seating section in the bow. Using sterndrive or outboard engines, they typically range from 17ft to 35ft and usually hold between six and ten people. The open bow area in front of the helm has extra seats. The design is well-suited for recreational watersports such as water skiing, tubing and swimming. Although not ideal for heavy seas where the open bow and lower gunwales may cause the craft to take on too much water, they are particularly suitable for lakes and inland water. The area in front of the helm is used for seating and lounging whilst protective rails prevent falls. The flat deck design with non-slip surfaces ensures that people can walk in safety and in comfort. Some bowriders are designed for speed whilst others are intended for casual cruising at a more leisurely pace. The design doesn’t incorporate accommodations such as sleeping space and galleys and is intended as a short-day use craft. They are powered by a variety of engines depending on the size and style of the vessel. One of the main benefits of a bowrider is the excellent unobstructed view from the bow where passengers can catch the breeze and enjoy some light sea spray on their faces.
Some Considerations When Buying a Bowrider
- The V-shaped seating section should have sufficient length to ensure passengers can sit forward in comfort. A gathering space with a bow ladder and a table is also a useful feature as is an infill cushion that can turn the entire bow into a sunbathing area.
- A small bowrider will usually use a full-beam aft bench and feature rotating bucket seats for the driver and navigator. Ideally this should enable five people to face one another over a central table arrangement. The cockpit area should feel secure and feature plenty of well-placed grab rails.
- A built-in seat bolster for the helm and navigator and angled foot braces are a useful addition for those who plan on a more vigorous drive.
- The dash material should ideally be of matte finish and angled to avoid sun glare. Any screens should allow for head space and should preferably be tinted.
- If it’s not a standard feature, it’s well worth considering a lower partition for the walk-through section of the screen to stop the wind blowing the heat away from the driver’s inside leg.
- A power plant with plenty of low-end grunt and an easy-planing hull is needed for water sports.
- Deck lights and speakers are great if you are planning on a “party boat”. A cooler can also be an asset.
- Ensure any under-seat storage is properly drained and of sufficient size for items such as water-skis or wakeboards.
- A deck boat is worthy of consideration. This is simply a beamy bow rider without the bow taper. It carries its beam well forward to a broad, squared off nose which increases the seating space and deck space ahead of the helm.
- Many models of bowrider allow items such as a wakeboard tower to be retro-fitted if the craft does not feature one as part of the standard package. As well as offering an elevated towing eye, they can be useful storage areas too.
- For sun protection it’s worth considering a canvas bimini top.
Top 10 Bowriders
This award winning all-composite constructed craft features a self-bailing cockpit and more interior space than most other boats in the under 20ft class. Very few craft in this class can match the VR5 for comfort and handling. The boat is solid and vibration-free when coming down off waves and is a stiffer and stronger craft than previous models. Its powered by MerCruiser’s 4.5L sterndrive and is capable of cruising at 35mph and topping out at 46mph. A tower and integrated bimini is standard and is far stronger and easier to deal with than a folding bimini. Space wise the VR5 is in a class of its own featuring two loungers, usually unheard of on a craft of similar size. Competitively priced, the VR5 is a blast to drive and is one of the very best bowriders you can buy today. View more Bayliner's.
Formula 270 Bowrider
Featuring a sharp 22-degree deadrise hull and is towable with a half-ton SUV, the Formula 270 is superb for large bodies of water. Size-wise it falls in the middle of Formula’s range and has room for lots of people. A spacious and innovative cockpit seating arrangement is complimented by bountiful bow lounges and it even features a large head. With a beam of 8’ 6” and a length of 27’, it has a 382lt fuel capacity. The 270 Bowrider can be powered by a range of options from 300 to 430hp, either MerCruiser or Volvo Penta. Both helm and passenger backrests easily flip forward and aft ensuring easy conversion. If you’re after a “party boat” then the 270 may be the one for you. It features an integrated glovebox complete with a Clarion stereo, iPod/MP3 and USB ports and a 12V outlet. Four 6” speakers are positioned throughout the cockpit to ensure the party will be swinging long into the night. View more Formula's.
Measuring 23’ 4”, the Calandra features taller hull sides and less deck above the rub rail. The unique windshield design incorporates broad, swept-back side panes and flat front sections contributing to less intrusion into the interior and giving the craft an aesthetically pleasing profile. With power options from MerCruiser and Volvo Penta, the hull design has minimal bow rise and pops right on the plane with ease. The helm can be fitted with an optional Garmin digital display and private-labelled analog gauges. From French-stitched upholstery, a one-piece fibreglass deck and a liner that incorporates the seat bases to the enclosed head and convertible rear sunpad, the Calandra has all the features a bowrider owner could possibly want or need. With a 49-gallon fuel tank and a top speed of 51.5mph, the Calandra has the ideal balance between performance and water-bound luxury. View more Bryant's.
Cobalt 26SD Switch Hitter
For those who value sleek lines over passenger capacity, and performance over size, the 26SD blends the function of a deck boat with the looks of a runabout. The 26SD maximises interior space with a port-side lounge which converts to an aft-facing lounge and a rear bench that converts to an aft-facing chaise wide enough for three people. The helm is wide enough for two and features a “blade-style” windshield which helps create less intrusion into the interior space. The dash features illuminated stainless steel switches and labelled gauges in both analog and digital within the same dial. Behind the helm is a mini-galley and there’s space for an optional fridge. There’s additional functionality at the bow where the starboard lounge easily converts into a jump seat whilst the portside has a conventional lounge complete with armrests and backrest. At the stern the 26SD comes with Cobalt’s patented swim-step which is far superior to a ladder and makes getting in and out of the water a breeze. The engine options range from a 300hp small-block to a 430hp big-block and pretty much everything in-between. View more Cobalt's.
Four Winns Horizon F190
An entry level runabout craft that costs around the same amount as an average midsized car which is both simple and straightforward. The cockpit features a small bow seating area, swivel bucket seats for the driver and navigator and a full width rear bench. The gunwales are kept thin to help maximise interior space. There is an ample-sized swim platform which comes with an offset three-step telescopic swim ladder. The stable V-shaped hull enables the boat to pop onto the plane with ease even with the standard 3lt engine. It handles like a go-cart and tracks and turns as if on rails. The stowage compartments in the bow are finished in positive-moulded gelcoated fibreglass and the bow storage features a solid composite hatch with ventilation. A great introduction to the thrills of bowrider ownership. View more Four Winns.
Larson LXH 190
Not the cheapest bowrider on the market in either its outboard or sterndrive incarnations, but one of the smoothest whilst still offering a relatively high degree of luxury. The LXH 190 has an exceptionally comfortable helm with a flip-down bolster, thick arm rests and plenty of padding. The transom and swim platform are padded with SeaDek (a closed cell EVA) which is comfortable underfoot whilst the bow cockpit seating has flip down armrests. The helm features a slick black dash with gauges and automotive styled rocker switches. The 19ft craft can be powered by either sterndrive or outboard. The difference being most apparent in the aft arrangements. The outboard version features a split swim platform whilst the sterndrive’s runs the entire beam of the craft. The sterndrive also has a big sunpad on the motorbox however, the outboard offers more stowage space. The outboard has better handling at slower speeds. That said, both options deliver one of the smoothest riding bowriders on the water. View more Larson's.
A simple low cost bowrider well-suited for watersports and day-cruises, the Element is a 16’ 2” long, 7’ 5” wide craft that is best described as a mash-up of jet boat, runabout and deckboat. The M-shaped hull offers exceptional stability and passenger comfort whether at rest or under power. The M design alleviates the pitch and yaw common in V-shaped hulls as well as making it easy to put the boat on a standard trailer. The hull is mated to a one-piece, self-bailing fibreglass deck which is ideal for clean-ups and maintenance. The seat bases being moulded into the deck itself whilst the helm and both port seats are scalloped into the deck thus creating a conversion friendly space. All three seats share the same base cushion whilst the port seats have identical backrests. The optional filler cushions at the bow convert the U-shaped bench into one big playpen. There are two swim platforms scalloped into the stern and extended platforms flank the outboard. Simplicity is the key theme of the craft and Bayliner offer a water sports package which replaces the standard 60hp Mercury Four Stroke outboard with the Big Foot variation which offers a higher ratio gearcase. This will push the boat onto a plane in around 4.75 seconds and deliver a top speed of around 31mph. View more Bayliner's.
Ebbtide 2240 Extreme Bow Rider
A boat that looks fast even when it's standing still. The Ebbtide 2240 features sleek looks, vibrant gelcoat colours and a racy tinted Plexiglass windshield. However, all this doesn’t come at the expense of family-friendly features and practicality. The bow area has a deep seating area which features stainless steel grab rails and a telescopic ladder which aids boarding and leaving the craft when it’s beached. The 2240 comes with an extended swim platform at the stern with another telescopic ladder. The options include a stereo controller at the stern and a transom-mounted trim switch. The stern sunpad also features a covered passenger walk-through which converts to a lounge headrest in an instant. The engine options range from a 350hp MerCruiser 5.7lt or a 270hp Volvo Penta 5.0lt. Weighing in at less than 3,500 pounds and capable of carrying 45gallons of fuel, the 2240 is a great boat for family and friends. View more Ebbtide's.
The 184FS is the smallest hull Monterey make but it has all the style of the larger craft. The 184S interior space features twin swivel bucket seats with flip-up thigh bolsters and individual jump seats either side of the motorbox. Engine options range from the standard 135hp MerCruiser four cylinder to the 220hp 4.3lt Volvo Penta. The optional FSX package offers a choice of hullside colours, a deck stripe and an onyx windshield frame. The package also includes stainless steel grab handles, pull up cleats, and docking lights, an onyx swim platform and a choice of SeaDek to protect the swim platform from damage from ski fins and suchlike. This allows the entry-level buyer to appreciate features usually found on far more expensive craft. View more Monterey's.
Stingray 215LR Sport Deck Bowrider
The 215LR delivers a lot of boat wrapped up in a smaller package. It features the utility and practicability of a deckboat, the lines of a runabout mixed up with the performance we’ve learned to expect from Stingray. With a wide beam, a deep cockpit and ease of boarding both fore and aft, the 215LR offers two forward facing lounges with angled backrests and grab bars and concealed cupholders in speaker enclosures. There’s a locker under the bow step than can double up as wet stowage or as a cooler. It comes with a bimini top, flip thigh bolsters and a removable dinette table. Tilt steering is standard, but a transom-mounted trim switch is an optional extra. The standard power plant is a 220hp 4.3lt MerCruiser V6. The boat also comes with a head compartment and has the option of coloured gelcoat on the hull. With the 215LR, Stingray have packaged a lot of boat into a fairly budget friendly package. View more Stingray's.
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