Every summer, the country’s lakes come alive with all manner of craft. From the Great Lakes to the Ozarks, the inland waters offer calm conditions, plenty of adventure and a buzzing social scene. Whether you prefer to venture to off-the-beaten-track destinations for a spot of quiet fishing or back-to-nature adventure, or enjoy the excitement of watersports and shoreside amenities then there’s a spot for you.
The type of lake boat you choose to buy will depend very much on your choice of activity, and the choices are as varied as the lakes themselves. So here we take a look at some of the most popular types of lake boats and what they can offer.
Types of Lake Boats
The trusty float boat is a common feature on the lakes in summer. With lots of space for large families and groups of friends thanks to its flat layout, they come in sizes ranging from 16 feet to over 25 feet, with prices starting from $7,000. You’ll find them with waterslides coming off the side, stand-up bars, sun pads, BBQs and expansive lounge areas, and they’re popular for choices for those who enjoy fishing and watersports. While the pontoon boat was never thought of as particularly sexy, a whole new breed of ultra-fast, ultra-sleek pontoon boat is whizzing across the inland waterways that are very James Bond. The choice of pontoon boats are simply huge, from budget options such as the lightweight Bennington S 188 SL up to the luxury 12 foot Premier Escalante with two enormous 425-hp outboards on the back and a waterslide curling down from a second story deck.
- Lots of interior and deck space
- Very stable in the water and easy to handle
- Not as fast or efficient as a boat with a planning hull and also won’t handle rough water as well
- Can be more difficult to load onto a trailer and tow
Deck boats are defined by their spacious decks for their size and are practical family runabout boats often compared to bowriders. They have a V-shaped hull and usually range from 12 to 30 feet in length. On lakes, these are becoming increasingly popular as they offer the elegance of a day cruiser with lightweight portability. For those who want to get out on the water for a day of socializing then deck boats can accommodate up to 14 passengers in comfort, but they also have great fishing attributes too. The range is huge, with prices for boats such as the Starcraft Marine Limited IO 2000 around $27,000, while larger models such as the Stingray 212SC Deck Boat offers everything from stereo systems to changing rooms and sells for around $45,000.
- Their lighter weight makes them ideal for beach trips, family fishing, and simple watersports
- Easy to tow and launch
- Many options available so they can fit into most budgets
- They are not designed for rough waters
- They aren’t the easiest type of boat to board so can be tricky for those with reduced mobility
- Due to their small size they have small fuel tanks and so can’t be used for long trips
Photo credit: Sringray Boats
Jon boats are rough, rugged, seemingly indestructible and downright All-American. These slim-line, flat-bottomed utility vessels favored across the US as the perfect, robust fishing boat. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from simple small models such as the 10 foot Lund 1040 starting around $1200, which have nothing more than room for you and some fishing gear, to larger models such as the 18 foot centre-console Roughneck 1860 by Lowe Boats starting at $27,000 equipped with an impressive range of accessories – we’re talking casting decks, swivel seats and livewells.
- Can be used in shallow lake areas
- Well-equipped for fishing
- Easy to trailer, tow and store
- No shelter
- No suited to very rough waters
Photo credit: Lowe Boats
Practical and sturdy, fishing boats are designed with all things fishing in mind, from their seat configurations to their livewells, trolling motor, rod holders and accessories. They tend of have a V-shaped hull and high sides, with enough deck space to reel in your catch. The choice of freshwater fishing boats on the market is simply enormous, from simple entry level fishing boats such as the Carolina Skiff 17LS starting at around $35000, to Boston Whaler’s stunning flagship 420 Outrage which retails for over $1 million.
- They can be used for different activities such as day cruising and some watersports
- Can be towed and launched with ease
- Geared around fishing, so fewer sun lounging areas than similar sized motorboats
- Storage areas are taken up with livewells and coolers
Photo credit: Carolina Skiff
As the name implies watersports boats (also known as tow boats) are designed to tow waterskis and wakeboards with their powerful engines. While they’re predominantly focused on watersports they are also popular for fishing and as day boats on the lakes. Characteristics tend to include good visibility of the skier/wakeboarder from the helm, an inboard engine, and plenty of storage space for skis, wakeboards and equipment. Boats tend to be activity-specific, with slalom skiers looking for small wakes, while wakeboard riders and wakesurfers wanting big ones for example. They vary hugely in size from smaller models such as the ultra-speedy, compact MasterCraft NXT 20 which can seat 14 people, to larger models such as the popular Malibu M Series M235.
- Offer high speeds and excellent maneuverability
- Have plenty of seating for their size
- They can be limited in their use as they very activity-specific
- They are expensive for their size
Photo credit: MasterCraft
The perfect weekend or overnight boat, cabin cruisers are wonderfully versatile and allow you to sleep, cook, lounge on deck, enjoy some simple watersports, and entertain friends. At their most simple a cabin cruiser is just that, a motorboat with a cabin, but the more budget you have the more luxury and space you get. At the top end of the market luxury cabin cruisers are reminiscent of mini superyachts. The Grady-White Marlin 300 is a great example of a compact cabin cruiser. At 30 feet it is a good all-rounder, offering a walk around deck which is perfect for fishing, as well as a cozy cabin, compact galley and head. At the other end of the spectrum, models such as Grand Banks GB54 offer a beautiful, spacious interior, with huge deck spaces and comfortable seating.
- Offer the luxury of a superyacht with smaller price tag
- Versatile and easy to handle
- Packed with home comforts
- They can have a high fuel consumption for their size due to their weight
- Only the smallest models can be trailered
Photo credit: Grand Banks
As one of the most popular boats bought in the US every year, the bowrider is identified by its V-shaped seating section in the bow. Using sterndrive or outboard engines, they range from 17ft to 35ft and usually hold between six and ten people. The design is well-suited for recreational watersports such as water skiing, tubing and swimming. The pocket 15 feet Bayliner M15 is the perfect example of a lightweight, simple to handle bowrider which promises fun days on the lakes, while the Monterey 305 Super Sport packs a punch with 500 horsepower engines, luxurious seating and a head.
- Well-suited for recreational watersports
- Unobstructed view from the bow seating
- Easy to handle and maneuver
- Not ideal for use in inclement weather conditions
- Limited storage space
- Few facilities so best for short outings
Photo credit: Bayliner
RIBs (rigid inflatable boats) are the perfect towing boat, and can vary in size from tiny, budget-friendly two person boats with a small outboard on the back, to ultra-luxurious, high speed Maxi RIBs with cabins and a whole host of amenities. You can pick up a small, simple RIB such as a 10 foot Zodiac Cadet Aero fully inflatable boat for as little as $1000, or at the other end of the price spectrum are Maxi RIBs such as the 47 feet Rebel 47 by SACS Marine which costs around $1 million, but a mid-range 23-26 feet used model will be in the $50,000 -$75,000 range. RIBs of all size and shape are renowned for their hardiness and make for versatile and fun lake boats.
- Strong and durable
- Easy to load onto a trailer and tow
- Less seating than sports boats
- No rear swim platform
Personal watercraft buzz across the lakes all season long, and are a standard feature on the boating circuit. They are generally defined as recreational watercraft that the rider sits or stands on rather than rides inside like they would a boat. The most popular personal watercraft are Jet Skis and water scooters, and these can range from entry level Jet Skis such as the Sea-Doo GTI 130 costing around $10,000, up to high-powered watercraft such as the Kawasaki Jet Ski® Ultra 310 series costing over $22,000. The appeal with personal watercraft is how easy they are to transport, as they can be transported on a simple trailer and stored in your yard.
- Easy to maneuver
- Provide lots of high adrenaline fun
- Easy to trailer
- Can only accommodate one or two people
- Tend to be used in warm weather only
- Maintenance costs can be high
No list of different types of lake boats would be complete without sailing boats. Sailing is one of the great pleasures of being on the water, and this category offers the greatest variation, from tiny bathtub sized sailing dinghies, to beautiful sailing yachts and much in between. Sailboats can cost as little as a few hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and be as simple as a sail and rudder to luxurious home-from-home cruisers. Check out our guide to different Types of Sailboats.
- Fun, adventurous and back-to-basics sailing
- Offer the opportunity to learn new skills
- Cost effective to run
- Environmentally friendly
- They have deep drafts which can be limiting on lakes
- You require training and experience to operate a sailboat
- More physically demanding to operate than a motorboat
Powered houseboats are self-propelled residential vessels which come in many guises. While some will be limited in the distance they can travel and be more reminiscent of static houseboats, others have plenty of cruising power and are ready for adventures. With a squarer silhouette, powered houseboats can accommodate an impressive amount of living space for their length and offer big windows, and all the amenities and home comforts you want. From the American Houseboat ‘The Zion’, which resembles a true floating house with two bedrooms and a full kitchen, to the Bravada Yachts Atlas V-Series which resemble a sleek superyacht, designers have unleashed their creativity when it comes to houseboats.
- Huge amount of interior space with all the comforts of a home
- Creative interior design styles
- Slow cruising speeds
- Larger size can mean finding a berth is more difficult and costly
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