No boat type has changed more in the last 30 years than the aptly named bowrider. Drew Maglio picks out 5 of the best bowriders ranging in price from $67,000 to $800,000…
Originally used as a term to denote a particular style of small, runabout boat with seating in the bow and a wraparound windshield with an opening section giving access to the aforementioned bow seating, many subsequent types of boats including deck boats, pontoon boats, power catamarans, and even center consoles, have since integrated bow seating into their designs, muddying the waters of what constitutes a true bowrider.
For the purposes of this article, a bowrider is defined as a recreational open bow pleasure boat of the runabout variety, not geared towards any particular niche like fishing, diving, or tow sports. Although many bowriders may make adequate or even good fishing boats or tow boats respectively, their primary design purpose is to be a utility vessel that is good at everything but not specialised to suit any single on-water activity.
Most bowriders have a modified or deep vee bottom (i.e. typically a deadrise of 17-24 degrees), with a walkthrough glass windshield, dual console helm arrangement with plenty of seating, storage, and many creature comforts—in addition to a swim platform of some sorts.
Bowriders may be either sterndrive, outboard, or even jet-powered. These days, many ‘crossover’ bowriders even feature cabins beneath the deck, although this is typically only found on models that are over 30ft.
Although it is the flavor of the times, I find that outboard power on bowriders undermines their design aesthetic as well as their functionality, in that having a large engine or engines at the stern can compromise the utility and function of the aft seating area and swim deck.
For this reason, I typically would not recommend an outboard-powered bowrider to families with young children or even boaters who plan to spend a lot of time in the aft portion of the vessel. Without further ado, here are five great options for potential bowrider buyers.
6 of the best bowriders on the market
Chris-Craft Launch GT 25
Best classic bowrider
Up first, is what I would classify as the best classic bowrider offered by Chris-Craft. When buying any boat, it is prudent to select a boat offered by a builder with a track record of success at fulfilling their aim and market niche. A builder does this by providing great value—whether that is absolute in the sense of supreme quality, or relative as may be the case in entry-level or so-called ‘price point’ boats, which will not be the best made boats but can have acceptable quality for a great price.
Chris-Craft was founded in 1861 and soon thereafter popularized the mahogany runabout. While the company somewhat lost its way in the 1980s and 1990s, it has experienced a renaissance under the new ownership that purchased and resurrected the company in 2001. Since that time, Chris-Craft has truly returned to its roots as the supreme runabout builder. That said, the company also offers cuddy cabin, center console, and even motor yacht designs.
You can summarize Chris-Craft’s design philosophy as: ‘evolutionary not revolutionary’ and the Chris-Craft Launch GT 25 features beautiful retro lines, a radar arch with an integrated bimini top, a deep vee deadrise angle of 20 degrees at the transom and a relatively sharp bow entry that features ample bow flare to cut through waves while directing spray away from the cockpit.
Like Chris Craft’s other models, the Launch GT 25 is very customizable and is best described as a semi-custom boat. Outboard power is optional although it drastically changes the appearance and profile.
The Launch GT 25 is even offered as a wake surf boat with Volvo Penta’s patented forward-facing outdrive. The Launch GT 25 is one of many similar Launch designs offered by Chris-Craft and there is surely a size or model that will satisfy most buyers, however these ultra-premium products come at a hefty cost, with the Launch GT 25 starting at a base MSRP of just over $209,000.
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Formula 290 BR
Best muscle boat bowrider
Formula took the boating world by storm in the mid-90s with its revolutionary Sun Sport line, which was headlined by the introduction of the 1995 280 Sun Sport. Juxtaposed between a performance cruiser and a performance-oriented, go-fast design, the 280 SS had ample seating, a cabin that can sleep two, an enclosed head, and — most importantly — a low profile and up to 640hp of twin small block V8 power in a 28ft package.
In the wake of its introduction, Sea Ray, Chaparral, Monterey, and others followed suit with their own similar offerings. Bowrider versions of these so-called ‘Sun Sports’ soon followed and the big-water capable, self-bailing, twin-engined 30ft bowrider that dominates pleasure boating today was born.
The 2023 290 BR offered by Formula is a continuation of the performance-oriented family utility vessel that was begun almost 30 years ago — and it is arguably the best example. With 22 degrees of deadrise and total LOA of nearly 32ft, suffice it to say if the 290 BR cannot handle it, you probably don’t want to be out there anyway.
Other features include a large enclosed head with a shower, wet bar with optional fridge, radar arch with integrated Bimini top and canvas attachment points, numerous removable tables and lounge seats, ample storage, and a magnificent swim deck.
With power packages featuring up to twin 430hp engines mated to dual counter-rotating drives offered by Mercury, Volvo, and Ilmor, there is an option that will satisfy all but the most demanding speed freak, but a boat like this won’t come cheaply as its MSRP starts in the low $300,000 range, with options that can take this vessel to the mid-$400,000 range. The sweet spot is probably somewhere in the middle, but I personally wouldn’t sacrifice raw horsepower to lower cost.
Chaparral 280 OSX
Chaparral has been in business for nearly 60 years at this point and has a track record — along with Sea Ray, Formula, and a few others — of being one of the most successful pleasure boat builders ever. Accordingly, Chaparral has been a trendsetter at many points in its history. In the 1980s, Chaparral’s Laser was a true performance cruiser with groundbreaking lines for the time, while its Villain lineup made the performance boat affordable for normal people (along with the Pachanga line offered by Sea Ray).
In the 1990s, the SS lineup improved performance and efficiency with a unique Extended V-Plane hull design, which effectively lengthened a given hull by extending the underwater running surface past the transom, while the 2835 SS — introduced in 1998 — was the most ergonomic and practical in terms of cost and layout of all the so-called ‘Sun Sport’ designs.
In a similar way, the current 280 OSX is a truly revolutionary design in the pleasure boating market, as it is one of the only open bow pleasure boats designed around outboard power, rather than a sterndrive. While it is true many current bowriders are offered with outboard power, this seems an afterthought. With the Chaparral 280 OSX, this is not the case as the boat is only offered with outboard power and that signals a true break from boating tradition in the non-fishing, pleasure boat market.
As a result, the 280 OSX is a sleek and beautiful vessel whose appearance is enhanced by the addition of two large outboards. Its stern features a wrap-around swim deck that essentially acts as a double swim platform. A hardtop is optional, but the boat’s functionality and appearance is greatly enhanced by this large, fully solid design. Pricing starts at $245,000, which is a very good value relatively speaking.
Yamaha SX 250
Best jet-powered bowrider
Yamaha has been making jet boats for over 20 years now and has a track record of success in making what began as a supersized jet ski into a proper boat, inventing a whole new market segment in the process. While the SX 250 is not a premium bowrider, it is very versatile, fun, capable, and affordable—making it especially appealing to new boaters who are looking for a safe, family-friendly option to get their feet wet.
While jet boats are not known for tracking or handling rough water especially well, buyers should consider that there are groups of jetboaters that make the trek from South Florida to the Bahamas every summer without incident in a number of flotillas, demonstrating the capabilities of these jet boats offered by Yamaha (and others).
Compared to conventional boats, jet boats like the SX 250 offer faster planing, better shallow water operational capability, a safer swimming experience, especially for children, better responsiveness, much easier winterization than sterndrives without a single-point drain system, in addition to more storage and a better stern layout due to the fact that jet boats feature much smaller engines when compared to a conventional sterndrive.
Jet boats are also typically designed for salt water and feature premium aluminum alloys in their jet pumps and engine blocks that resist corrosion better than cast iron, especially when utilizing the included engine flush ports. Jet boats do this at the expense of generally higher fuel consumption, worse low speed handling, more engine noise, and an increased incidence of sucking up sand or debris because of the internal impeller inside of the jet pump.
Some of these endemic issues have been addressed by Yamaha, two examples of which are clean-out ports for manually removing debris from the jet intakes and its articulating keel, which is essentially a keel-mounted rudder designed to aid tracking and low speed responsiveness.
The SX 250 in particular has a number of features worth noting, including its very modern helm with integrated display which houses all necessary functions in one intuitive package. Additionally the SX 250 has plentiful seating and a wonderful stern design which makes the boat a very versatile watersports and swimming platform.
With twin 1.8L HO engines, the SX 250 will be able to hit the 50mph mark in ideal conditions, but at this speed you’ll find yourself using up the 75-gallon fuel capacity quite quickly. While there are higher-end options from Yamaha in the 25ft size bracket, I would personally encourage buyers to seek value per dollar spent, which leads me to recommend the SX 250 — with an MSRP of around $67,000 — as I don’t feel the more expensive options merit the increased cost.
Chaparral 347 SSX
Best value crossover bowrider/weekender
In recent years, the so-called hybrid or crossover bowrider market has redefined what it means for a boat to be a large bowrider. Before 2000, it meant having Yacht Certified seating capacity, twin sterndrive engines, a large head with a Vacuflush system and a small vanity unit, coming in at a length of around 28ft. To be one of the best bowriders over 30ft these days, a vessel must also feature a below-deck cabin, complete with a twin berth, head with shower, optional A/C and generator—and even a TV!
These designs have essentially made the closed-bow Sun Sport cuddy cabin obsolete for most boat buyers. Boats like these are made by Chaparral, Formula, Monterey, and others, but I believe the 347 SSX built by Chaparral to be the best option in this relatively new class of boat.
Buyers of this boat will need a healthy budget, but can expect the latest in integrated technology and luxury for this type of vessel. Just looking at the list of potential features is dizzying: full hardtop with integrated lights, speakers, sunroof, wet bar with fridge, dual Simrad displays for instrumentation and navigation, double-wide helm seating, numerous cockpit tables, large head with shower, cockpit and cabin air conditioning with reverse cycle heat, generator, retractable sun shade, recessed trim tabs, and much more!
While the cabin on the Chaparral 347 SSX is not very large, I do believe it is passable for weekending, but as a spot to get out of the elements, it is wonderful. With a 22 degree deadrise, large windshield, and the ability to close off the bow, the 347 SSX is a wonderful boat when the going gets rough as well.
While the 347 SSX is a wonderful, versatile vessel, I must warn potential buyers of the downsides of buying an underpowered model. As a personal anecdote: one of my clients purchased a 347 SSX with only twin 5.7L small block V8 power and the boat is woefully underpowered, barely hitting 40mph at full throttle and taking forever to plane with ~12-15 degrees of bow rise!
To get the most out of this magnificent boat, I highly recommend selecting an option that takes advantage of the entirety of the available horsepower (860hp), as this hefty >12,000lb boat is difficult to move through the water! While far from affordable, the Chaparral 347 SSX starts at $403,000, which is a lot of boat for the money in the current market.
Sea Ray SLX 400
Most futuristic luxury bowrider
The Sea Ray SLX 400 represents what I think the future of outboard-powered pleasure boating will look like. Sleek, stylish, and functional in a premium package, the SLX 400 boasts a key feature that is rapidly taking over this section of the market.
For decades, the critique of outboard-powered pleasure boats has been: why would anyone want large outboards to mar the stern area and swim platform of a vessel that is designed for lounging, swimming, and watersports?
Enter the SLX 400 with its modular side swim platform that rivals, and even defeats, most large conventional swim platforms that have — until this point — made sterndrive bowriders largely superior in both usability and ergonomics.
Beyond that star feature, the SLX 400 is a beautiful, sleek vessel with premium upholstery and teak decking throughout. From a large and aesthetically pleasing hardtop, to an expansive wet bar with optional dual grills, and two large Simard multifunction displays at the helm, the SLX 400 is incredibly well-equipped.
As if that wasn’t enough, the SLX 400 also features a roomy cabin with a queen-size berth and head with shower, making it one of the best crossover bowriders as well. While the SLX 400 also comes with twin sterndrives, the MSRP for the triple outboard-powered option starts at around $867,000.