Every summer the country’s lakes come alive with all manner of craft. From the Great Lakes to the Ozarks, inland waters offer calm conditions, plenty of adventure, and a buzzing social scene. Whether you prefer to venture to off-the-beaten-track destinations, look for a quiet fishing spot, or enjoy the excitement of watersports and shoreside amenities, there’s a spot for you. The type of 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 pontoon boat is a common feature on lakes in the summer. With lots of space for large families and groups of friends thanks to the boxy layout, they come in sizes ranging from 15 feet to over 30 feet, with prices for boat-motor-trailer packages starting for less than the cost of a compact car and ranging up to the price of a house. You’ll find them with waterslides coming off the side, wet bars, sun pads, BBQs, and expansive lounge areas, and they’re popular 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. The choices of pontoon boats are simply huge, from budget options such as the lightweight Bennington S 188 SL (starting for around $30,000) up to the luxury 33 foot Premier Escalante (which costs several hundred thousand dollars) with two enormous 450-hp outboards on the back and a waterslide curling down from the second story deck.
- Lots of interior and deck space
- Very stable in the water
- Doesn’t handle rough water as well as a monohull
- Tall aluminum “fence” ringing the boat creates lots of windage, so maneuvering can be difficult in a breeze
Deck boats carry most or all of their beam all the way to the bow instead of narrowing to a point, and are practical family runabout boats often compared to bowriders. Most have a V-shaped hull and usually range from 12 to 30 feet in length. On lakes, these are popular as they maximize the seating and interior space per foot of boat. For those who want to get out on the water for a day of socializing deck boats can accommodate plenty of passengers in comfort, and many also have great fishing attributes. The range is huge, with prices for used boats such as the Starcraft Marine Limited IO 2000 around $27,000, while larger and newer models such as the Sea Ray SDX 290 offer everything from stereo systems to an enclosed head compartment and sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. See the article deck boat vs pontoon boat.
- Maximum interior room boosts seating capacity
- Many options available so they can fit into most budgets
- Good for all sorts of activities ranging from watersports to cruising
- Some people don’t love their boxy, rectangular looks
- Some deck boats (though not all) tend to have a bumpy ride
Photo credit: Sea Ray
Jon boats are rough, rugged, seemingly indestructible, and downright All-American. These flat-bottomed utility vessels are favored across the US as the perfect robust fishing or hunting boat. Most are aluminum and they come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from simple small models such as the 10 foot Lund 1040 starting around $1200 (without power), which have nothing more than room for you and some fishing gear, to larger models such as the 18 foot center-console Roughneck 1860 CC by Lowe Boats, which starts at $27,000 equipped with an impressive range of accessories – we’re talking casting decks, swivel seats and livewells. Find more on our guide about the best jon boat brands.
- One of the most inexpensive types of boats
- Well-suited for fishing and/or hunting
- Relatively light for their LOA so they require smaller engines and are easy to trailer, load, and launch
- No shelter
- Flat bottom is not well-suited to 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. Note that there are versions of fishing boats based on many different styles and designs, including the deck boats and Jon boats we’ve already talked about as well as center consoles, dual consoles, and more. The choice of freshwater fishing boats on the market is simply enormous, from simple, small fishing models such as the Tracker Pro Guide V-16 SC (which starts in the mid-$20,000 range), to Boston Whaler’s stunning flagship 420 Outrage which retails for over $1 million. Article: Best small fishing boat brands.
- Loaded with fishing-centric gear and accouterments
- Geared around fishing, so fewer sun lounging areas or sofa-like seating than most other similar sized boats
- Some storage areas are taken up with livewells and fishboxes
Photo credit: Boston Whaler
As the name implies watersports boats (also known as tow boats) are designed to tow waterskis and wakeboards. Characteristics tend to include good visibility of the skier/wakeboarder from the helm, an inboard engine, towers or poles with elevated tow points, 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 want big ones. Most are between 19 and 25 feet and range from models like the ultra-speedy, compact, MasterCraft NXT 20, to larger models such as the popular Malibu M Series M235. As a rule, dedicated watersports boats are very expensive; few cost less than $100,000 and many start at twice that amount. There are also some outboard-powered versions for amateur-level watersports called “Fish-and-Ski” boats, that can be used for fishing and as day boats as well.
- Offer ideal wakes and performance for watersports
- 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, 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 is a great example of a compact cabin cruiser. At 30 feet, 10 inches (including the outboard) it’s relatively small, but it still has a cabin with a V-berth, a dinette that converts into another berth, a galley, and an enclosed head compartment. Starting cost is around $160,000. At the other end of the spectrum are boats like the Cruisers Yachts 50 Cantius, which has three private staterooms, two heads, a full galley, a saloon, and a price tag that starts well over $1 million. Article: Types of boats with cabins
- Offers the luxury of a superyacht with smaller price tag
- Packed with all the comforts of home
- They can have a high fuel consumption for their size due to their weight
- Only the smallest models can be trailered
Photo credit: Cutwater
As one of the most popular boats bought in the US every year, the bowrider is identified by its seating section in the bow. Using sterndrive or outboard engines, most range from 17 to 30 feet but there are some larger versions. The design is well-suited for recreational watersports such as water skiing, tubing and swimming. The 18 foot Bayliner VR4 is the perfect example of a simple to handle, inexpensive ($37,730 starting price) bowrider which promises fun days on the lakes. Larger models like the Monterey 305 Super Sport pack a punch with twin outboard engines up to 500 total horsepower, luxurious seating, and a head. Price can push the $300,000 mark depending on how it’s outfitted. Guide: Best bowrider boat brands for every boater.
- Well-suited for recreational watersports
- Lots of seating in bow and stern cockpits
- Easy to handle and maneuver
- Little to no protection so not ideal for use in inclement weather conditions
- Less space than a comparably sized deckboat (which also generally features bow seating)
Photo credit: Bayliner
RIBs and Inflatables
RIBs (rigid inflatable boats) and inflatables 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 less than $2000 (without power), or at the other end of the price spectrum are Maxi RIBs such as the 47 foot Rebel 47 by SACS Marine which costs around $1 million. A midrange 23 to 26 foot used model will be in the $50,000 -$75,000 range. RIBs of all sizes and shapes 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 many boats of the same size
- 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 of like they would other boats. They hold one to three people and range from beginner models like the $7000 Sea-Doo Spark, up to high-powered watercraft such as the Kawasaki Jet Ski® Ultra 310 series costing over $20,000. The appeal with personal watercraft is the thrill of riding at high speed over the water atop what amounts to a waterborne motorcycle.
- Sporty maneuverability
- Provide lots of high adrenaline fun
- Easy to trailer
- Can only accommodate one to three people
- Tend to be used in warm weather only (you will get wet!)
- Not comfortable for extended use
No list of different types of lake boats would be complete without sailboats. Sailing is one of the great pleasures of being on the water, and this category offers tremendous variation, from tiny bathtub-sized sailing dinghies to beautiful sailing yachts, and much in between. Sailboats can cost as little as a few thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and can be as simple as a sail and rudder or as complex as luxurious home-away-from-home cruisers. Check out our guide to Different Types of Sailboats.
- Fun, adventurous, and back-to-basics sailing
- Offers the opportunity to learn new skills
- Cost effective to use
- 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 with waterfront views, plus all the amenities and comforts of home. Most modern houseboats are built on a custom basis so it’s tough to nail down a price range, but there’s a wide range of options available on the used boat market if commissioning a new construction sounds like a bigger job than you’d like to tackle. Article: The best boats to live on full time
- Huge amount of interior space with all the comforts of a home
- Creative interior design styles and customization
- Slow cruising speeds
- Larger size can mean finding a berth is difficult and costly
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