Best cabin cruisers: 5 of the most versatile options under 30ft

Serial boat owner Elliott Maurice picks out 5 of the best cabin cruisers and explains what makes them stand out in this highly competitive market…

Some of the most successful cabin cruiser designs can trace their lineage back to the ‘weekender’ style boats from the likes of Chris-Craft, which originated in 1960s America with the aim of accommodating a whole family for a weekend away.

The 1960 Chris Craft Cavalier 25 offered a galley, complete with a sink and gas hob, enclosed head, a forward V berth cabin and convertible saloon with a drop-down table creating a midships berth suitable for children.

Allowing weekends away with facilities only previously available from larger purpose-built motor yachts, the cabin cruiser concept took off.

The 1980s saw some excellent boats appear from the likes of Fairline with models such as the Mirage 29 Aft Cabin and the Holiday 23. These boats brought weekend cruising comfort to the rivers, estuaries, and coastlines of Europe in huge numbers.

Now over 50 years later the choice of small family cabin cruisers is excellent, with offerings from both sides of the Atlantic providing the ideal solution, even offering extended liveaboard cruising in a trailerable sized boat.

When considering what is the best cabin cruiser boat for you, there are a few key things to consider. Where do you plan to use it? A coastal boat will require significantly more horsepower than a river boat.

How long will you spend on board? Liveaboard cabin cruisers will prioritize interior comfort over outside lounging space. Personal style and price will also be key guiding factors.

I have selected what I consider to be some of the best weekender and compact cabin cruisers available on the market today.

5 of the best cabin cruisers available right now

The Marlin version of the Jeanneau Merry Fisher 895 won our 2020 Motor Board Award for Best Wheelhouse or Cockpit Cruiser

Jeanneau Merry Fisher 895 Sport

Best all-round cabin cruiser

A great starting point and overall, a great boat. This nearly 29ft long cabin cruiser (including pulpit and outboard) offers everything a small family could want for weekends away, with two light and comfortable berths in separate double cabins, an excellent helm and cockpit with a comfortable dinette seating four.

You also get full standing headroom in the ensuite, with a pullout shower, and all of this is accommodated in a sturdy and capable hull. Power options range from a single 175hp outboard up to twin 250hp engines, so the Merry Fisher can be powered to suit both inland river and coastal conditions.

Extras include bow thruster, reverse cycle heat and air air-conditioning and, as the name suggests, plenty of fishing options. The light and airy Jeanneau can be upgraded significantly to well over $160,000. However even at the starting price of $130,000 the 895 Sport makes an excellent and versatile small family cabin cruiser.

Read our full review of the Jeanneau Merry Fisher 895

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Ranger Tug R29S

Best liveaboard cabin cruiser

A modern American classic, the R29S is a marvel for its size. Designed more as a small ship than a normal pleasure boat, the R29 is only offered with a single 320hp Volvo D4 diesel engine. Bow and stern thrusters are fitted as standard for easy docking.

The Ranger is an expensive option starting at a lofty $350,000, however it is capable of comfortably taking a couple bluewater cruising around the Bahamas or on the 5,500-mile trip around the American Great Loop. Featuring curved glass wheelhouse windows with opening glass roof hatches, the R29S has an excellent helm with superb visibility and a robust, seaworthy hull.

Accommodation can be heated or air conditioned for cruising comfort, all the while the D4 is sipping just 2gph at 7 knots, giving a cruising range of 500 miles. But there’s enough top end to punch a tide when you need to – the top speed on the R29S is a healthy 23.4 knots.

The comprehensive standard inventory includes 12in Garmin MFD, AIS and xHD radar, while optional extras include dingy and davits, generator, solar panels, ice maker, TVs in the saloon and master, and even an aft docking station.

Although the Ranger can sleep up to six, it is built to accommodate two in long distance comfort usually only equalled by boats in the 40ft+ class.


We likened the Pilot 8 to a seagoing SUV in our 2020 review

Finnmaster Pilot 8

Best high performance cabin cruiser

Due to the tough local weather conditions, Scandinavian boats are built to a higher standard than most brands, and the Finnmaster is no exception. Exceptionally rugged, the Pilot 8 is an extremely capable and fast sea boat, with accommodation for up to six people.

The 27ft 6in Pilot 8 can reach a speed of 43.5 knots flat out, with power coming from twin 200hp outboard engines. Starting at around €150,000, the Pilot 8 is top notch in terms of its fit and finish throughout.

With its 18in Garmin MFD, optional joystick control, rugged forward canting windscreen and bucket helm seat, the helm of the Pilot 8 is well suited to making the most of the boat’s performance capabilities.

What’s more, a handy side door leading off the asymmetric wheelhouse to a wide side deck provides excellent access to the fore deck for docking maneuvers.

More compact and performance orientated than its French rivals, the Finnmaster is still capable of accommodating four people in comfort, with a cockpit galley that features a diesel-powered hob, microwave, sink and refrigerator.

A decent enclosed heads with pull out shower and two separate sleeping cabins bely the boat’s performance capabilities, and with options like a high-end Fusion stereo, diesel heating and HD radar, the Finnmaster offers a lot of flexibility.

Read our full review of the Finnmaster Pilot 8


Regal 28 Express

Best warm weather cabin cruiser

Better suited to warmer climes, the Regal is more of a mini-Med style cabin cruiser than its all-weather rivals. When it comes to outdoor lounging and sun worshipping, the Regal does things better than most.

Accommodation is far more open below – the air-conditioned cabin includes a double berth situated aft under the cockpit and a forward double berth created by dropping the forward table and adding an infill cushion, while the enclosed head boasts 6ft of standing headroom and a pull-out shower.

The lower galley comes equipped with an electric hob, microwave, refrigerator and sink that can easily cater for simple meals and breakfast on board.

Where the Regal offers a different approach is in its open cockpit design with multiple sunbathing spaces, seating that converts into a sun pad and an outdoor wet bar. With power up to a 380hp Volvo petrol sterndrive, the 28 Express is capable of just under 32 knots flat out.

The Regal can cope with fair weather coastal navigation between marinas, and it is ideal for lounging at a sandbar or anchored off a beach. With the optional 32in TV in the saloon and a large wraparound sofa, family weekends away are easily accommodated. And as a handy bonus, the radar arch can be lowered electrically to reduce bridge clearance when towing.


The Beneteau Antares 8 comes in Cruising and Fishing variants

Beneteau Antares 8

Best value cabin cruiser

Starting at an exceptionally low $88,000 the Antares 8 should definitely be in the mix if you’re searching for the best cabin cruiser on a budget. Although cost savings are evident compared to some of the boats mentioned above, the Antares is an excellent small weekender.

Power starts with a super quiet 200hp Mercury V6 outboard, or you can upgrade to the 250hp V8 single outboard. Options include an electric head, 12in Garmin MFD and Fusion sound system and, for fishing lovers, roof mounted rocket launcher style rod holders.

This two-cabin boat accommodates four using the convertible upper saloon as a double berth as well as the forward twin cabin, with the midships area reserved for storage.

A side door allows safe boarding for children off the dock, and at a compact 26ft 5in, this small cabin cruiser is well equipped for short family cruises.

A small but usable galley with a choice of gas or electric cooking, refrigeration, and plenty of seating for four people can be found in the convertible saloon.

The well-equipped helm with power steering, digital controls and optional bow thruster make the Antares an excellent starter boat, and with the optional lithium-ion air conditioning unit and large aft cockpit the Antares would work just as well in warmer climates as well as cooler ones.

Watch our yacht tour video of the Beneteau Antares 8


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