Our US correspondent Elliott Maurice explains why deck boats are so popular and picks out 5 of the best deck boats on the market right now…
The question I get asked most often by those wishing to get into boating is, what’s the best boat for beginners? The answer, to my mind, is a vessel that is highly versatile, easy to own, easy to drive and doesn’t cost a fortune. Namely, a deck boat.
Boating, for me, is about time on the water, so a first boat should be usable as often as possible and above all roomy enough to entertain friends and family. That’s why deck boats are a great solution.
Think of the deck boat as the Ford F-Series of the boating world – produced in high volume and fitted with everything you need to take your family and friends for a safe and fun day out.
They are easy to launch and drive, offer lots of space and comfort, deliver plenty of performance and safety, and represent great value for money.
The deck boat started life in the 1970s, when Hurricane decided to make a speedboat with an extra wide bow section and a simple helm station moved further aft and over to one side.
This created a layout similar to a pontoon boat with lots of open cockpit space, plenty of seating for family and friends, and a single sociable deck area that allowed the driver and guests to be part of the action.
But importantly, it also drove like a regular speedboat – at this time pontoon boats could not offer a high-performance driving experience.
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The Hurricane deck boat became an immediate success and is still made today, under the Sundeck name. It’s still a good ownership proposition too but it now has competition from mass market and custom builders alike.
So how much do the best deck boats cost and how fast do they go? Well, you can get on the water for as little as $14,775 in the shape of a Bayliner M15 with a 40hp outboard motor and trailer.
This is a perfectly decent boat with reliable mechanics and simple but sturdy build quality; by manufacturing in volume, Bayliner can keep costs down without cutting corners.
At the other end of the scale, you can easily spend upwards of $1million by splashing out on a luxurious Sea Ray SLX400 or, if speed is your thing, a DCB SD30 powercat that will top 120mph straight out the factory!
But these are extremes, in the mid-range segment you can expect to pay around $50,000-$100,000 for a 24ft deck boat with a 150-200hp outboard engine that will run at 30-40mph without burning excessive quantities of fuel. Move into the performance bracket with a 300hp engine and you can expect more than 50mph from the same 24ft hull.
All sounds great so far but where’s the catch? Here’s the compromise. They aren’t great sea boats. With their big open cockpits, squared off bows, low freeboard and shallow M profile hulls, you are in for a wet and bumpy ride through the waves at least until you get over 28ft or so in length.
If you are considering ocean boating, a center console or closed-bow deep V hull is likely to be a better option. However, as a lake or back bay boat, the deck boat is pound for pound as good as it gets.
5 of the best deck boats
Best value deck boat: Bayliner E18
Starting at a penny under $19,000 and topping out fully specced at just over $34,000 with a trailer and 115hp Mercury outboard, the Bayliner E18 has seating for up to nine people and can be optioned to suit almost any day boating need.
This includes a live bait well, rod holders, fishing chairs and trolling motor for a fishing focussed boat, or a sport arch with wakeboard racks for the watersports enthusiast.
The M-shaped hull is stable and quick to plane, while still offering excellent high and low speed handling. With its engine down, the Bayliner E18 only draws 2ft 5in, making it perfect for trips to the sandbar or a day’s cruising with family and friends. Offering excellent value, the Bayliner is a winner in its class.
Best luxury deck boat: Sea Ray SLX 350 Outboard
Although sporting a deep V bow, the $500,000 Sea Ray SLX 350 is still considered one of the very best deck boats, albeit one very much at the luxury end of this segment.
It’s available with twin V8 inboard or outboard drives but the outboard version with its pair of 350hp Mercury Verados is the better choice in my opinion.
With capacity for 18 people and a 50mph top speed, the Sea Ray SLX 350 is an exceptional day boat with the amenities to match its price tag.
A 40ft version is available at nearly twice the price but the 10’6” beam of the SLX 350 makes it trailerable under wide load limits and therefore easier to move around the country.
This is a serious cruising boat with all the usability you’ll find on the best deck boats. Only drawing 2’6” with engines down, the SLX 350 is suited to lounging at the sandbar, or anchoring in shallow spots.
As you’d expect at this price point, a huge inventory of luxurious options is available – these include state of the art twin 9in touchscreen Simrad MFDs, a high-end 3-zone Fusion sound system and more sunshades than a luxury resort.
Optional joystick control makes for easy docking, and a dedicated air-conditioned head, plus a separate day cabin makes her a highly civilised proposition and an excellent allrounder.
Best high-performance deck boat: Eliminator 28 Fundeck
Not your average deck boat but a deck boat nevertheless, the ultra-high-performance Eliminator is available with up to 1,050hp for a top speed of over 120mph. Even the more sedate end of the performance options (single 565hp Mercury Racing inboard/outboard) will still see you crack 80mph.
This boat is a high-performance fun factory with seating for up to eight people. Fitted as standard with ten 6.5in RGB Kicker speakers and twin subwoofers, its sound system is as loud as its straight-through exhausts and custom paint job.
The layout is pure deck boat with open bow loungers, centre walkthrough and large built-in bathing platform. It also has a removable dining table and large cooler under the rear seats.
At a starting price of $180,000, this is an expensive boat but with that much performance on tap and the knowledge that it has been designed and built by a thoroughbred boat builder producing the finest quality hulls and custom finishes, there is very little to match the Eliminator in terms of speed and looks.
Best watersports deck boat: Starcraft SCX I/O 211 Surf
Want to take 12 people wake surfing? Here’s the solution. Out of the box the Starcraft SCX comes with a 1,385lb ballast system to create the perfect wake.
This deck boat is designed as a watersports boat from the keel up. With inboard only power, the stern gear is situated safely under the bathing platform for ease of boarding. Up to 300hp is available for serious punch and the layout could not be better for its purpose.
The starboard helm pod is aft of midships with most of the seating forward in the bow. The wake tower with board racks is also behind the driver, allowing boarders and skiers easy access to their equipment for quicker and safer changeovers.
Starting at around $75,000 and with a six-year warranty, the Starcraft is excellent value as a serious watersports boat, and with its deck boat layout, plenty of internal space and optional high-power Kicker sound system, it’s a great dayboat to boot.
Best all-around deck boat: Hurricane Sun Deck 2200 BC OB
The original Hurricane is still an all-around deck boat king. Starting at just under $70,000, there are inboard options and multiple seating arrangements available in this hull length.
The huge options list allows for a boat tailored to your needs, be it fishing, watersports or just cruising. With up to 250hp available from the big four outboard manufacturers, you can expect a realistic price of $100,000 for a high-spec, near 50mph boat with high-end stereo, Garmin chartplotter, underwater lights and sea mat decking.
Build quality is excellent and Hurricane even offers boating classes to kids. The original and in many ways still the best route to getting the most out of being on the water.