While the humble bowrider has undoubtedly grown in both amenities and size over the years, there has never been a better time to find an affordable, safe, and value-oriented runabout boat…
It is a bit of a misnomer to classify bowriders as ‘entry-level,’ as these runabouts often feature amenities that some premium offerings lacked 30 years ago. The best runabouts are also still fairly large – a 23ft boat is still plenty of boat for most boaters.
Runabouts today are also built to a higher structural standard than they used to be with almost all bowriders featuring self-bailing fiberglass decks that ensures any water that comes on board swiftly drains out.
The lack of wood structural members (i.e. decks, transoms, and stringers) is also a major benefit and would be enough to make me favor buying a 21st century boat over an older one.
Put bluntly, wood rot used to be a major scourge in the boating industry, which has gradually been conquered over time with better design, engineering, and composite materials. Owning and operating a boat repair business, I personally witness the fallout of rotten wood on boats 15 years or older all the time.
What buyers should look for in this affordable 19-24ft category of runabout boats is good structural quality, reputation, and amenities — coupled with enough reliable power for the type of boating you intend to do.
Other concerns like a good seating and deck layout are of heightened importance in this class, where virtues and vices are amplified due to a lack of overall size. In my opinion — especially with the boom in boat financing — price should be of secondary concern after all the above criteria are satisfactorily met.
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Best bowriders: 6 top options over 25ft for versatile open deck cruising
Best deck boats: Latest models show why this is such a popular starter boat style
6 of the best runabouts under 25ft
Most spacious runabout
Based in Orlando, FL, Regal Boats has been building recreational pleasure boats with above-average quality at relatively affordable prices since 1969.
Essentially all Regal boats built since the early 2000s feature their patented, FASTRAC stepped hull design that claims to create more lift and less drag, resulting in increased speed and efficiency when compared to a standard, non-stepped hull.
With a very open deck layout with a mid-transom walkthrough, the LS4 is a very spacious boat for its length (24ft 6in) and is well-suited to boaters who routinely take more than half a dozen guests out on the water.
The LS4 features aft-facing chaise longue seats, which — when coupled with a spacious, low swim platform and open transom — creates a stern that is perfect for swimming, lounging, and tow sports.
The helm features dual 9in displays for instrumentation and navigation. The upholstery and beach-weave flooring are ultra-premium for the class. And to top it all off, the LS4 can be equipped with an optional retractable hardtop that can be electrically lowered for towing or transiting low bridges.
The LS4 is sleek, sporty, luxurious, and feature-packed, with an impressive 21 degree deadrise stepped hull. Prices start around $100,000, but if you want to spec up your LS4 as a wake surf boat with Volvo Penta’s forward facing drive, prices can stretch just north of $150,000.
Best value runabout
The R4 by Cobalt is a wonderful premium option in the sub-25ft bowrider class. For decades, Cobalt has been considered to be at the pinnacle of pleasure boat building (along with the likes of post-2001 Chris-Craft, Formula, and few others) and the R4 is no exception.
Sporting a Kevlar-reinforced hull, electric swim step, and glass dash with dual 7in displays, the R4 has a bevy of amenities and features that are sure to greatly enhance your boating experience.
Still, the R4 is mostly a no-frills design with no wet bar or fridge, and none of the largely unnecessary bells and whistles that drive the price up with little benefit to day boaters. As a result, prices for the Cobalt R4 begin at just under $130,000.
There are however, some very useful optional features that buyers may want to explore, including: an automatic fire extinguishing system, trim tabs, a windlass with an all-chain rode and a battery charger.
While the R4 does come in an optional wake surfing trim, the regular R4 will be more than capable for most tow sports. It’s a bit disappointing that the R4 only sports 50 gallons of fuel capacity, as this could potentially limit cruising range on large lakes and coastal waterways.
Typically you’d expect to see 70-80 gallons of fuel capacity in a 24ft runabout, as these boats usually only get 2.5-3.5 mpg at cruising speeds of 30-35 mph.
Yamaha AR 220
Best jet powered runabout
For their intended purpose, Yamaha’s jet boats are very difficult to beat. While they will not look, feel, or ride like a premium vessel, Yamaha boats are affordable, fun, safe, capable, and reliable.
In the sub-25ft bowrider class, the Yamaha AR 220 is an excellent all-around entry-level option. I’d recommend the AR 220 over the SX 220 because for only around $2,000 more, buyers get a very nice and sturdy wakeboarding tower that doubles as an attachment point for a bimini top and wakeboard racks.
The tower may also be used to mount aftermarket LED lights and/or speakers. For a negligible price difference, this seems a no brainer unless there are height clearance restrictions to consider.
For a base MSRP of around $56,000, buyers get a 22ft boat with twin engines mounted to jet drives, 70 gallon fuel capacity, a sleek helm with 5in instrument display and phone storage, a best-in class stern seating and swim platform design, and ample seating and storage.
Chaparral 247 SSX
Most stylish runabout
The 247 SSX by Chaparral might just be the finest looking runabout in this size bracket — especially when decked out with optional faux teak Sea Dek decking and the ‘cayenne’ interior color, a luxurious orange brown upholstery that looks ultra-premium.
Featuring dual 7in Simrad displays at the helm, the 247 SSX is thoroughly modern through and through. An optional, fold-down arch is also available to increase the vessel’s towing and entertaining capabilities.
One of the neatest features of the 247 SSX is the swim platform, which folds down into steps. This design creates a very neat and usable swim step, removing the need for a traditional swim ladder, while keeping the props out of harm’s way .
As we have come to expect from Chaparral over the years, the seating design is ergonomic and well thought out, with ample storage and room to move around. And with an MSRP of around $126,000, the 247 SSX is very competitively priced.
Pursuit DC 246
Best dual console runabout
The Pursuit DC 246 is an interesting option for bowrider buyers, as it is not quite a conventional bowrider. An interesting trend in the boating industry for the last 10-15 years is the dual console design — with one side (usually starboard) for the helm and the other for passengers, either side of an opening windshield and central walkthrough.
While originally more rugged with additional freeboard, bow flare, and self-bailing decks, many modern bowriders now sport this dual console design, which is better suited to saltwater uses like fishing and diving.
This distinction between the dual console and traditional bowrider has, however, been blurring to such a degree that a modern dual console and bowrider are nearly indistinguishable — and the result is Pursuit’s DC 246. Sleek, stylish, and luxurious, the DC 246 is a wonderful option for boaters who require an offshore bowrider.
Unlike many contemporary outboard-powered bowriders that look like they were designed for sterndrive power, the DC 246 was designed from the ground up to sport 300 ponies of outboard power, and its recessed swim platform design, which opens up both sides of the vessel, is a prime example of outboard power done right.
On the DC 246, seating is ample and plush, but the stern seats can also be stowed away, while the bow seats feature pop-up arm rests: a very ergonomic and luxurious touch.
The boat features a proper integrated hardtop that doesn’t seem like an afterthought, as many bolt-on aluminum arches can do. The windshield features a premium glass and stainless steel construction — long gone are the days of dual console boats with shoddy looking plexiglass windshields.
Amidships there is even a door to close off the bow seating from the rest of the cockpit, yet another recent premium bowrider feature added to the dual console recipe. The DC 246 even has a wet bar, head, chaise longue and a flip-up helm bolster.
And while it’s true the DC 246 isn’t quite as plush or luxurious as some bowriders on the market, that is a small price to pay for additional deadrise (21 degrees), bow flare, a sharper bow entry, a 15 gallon livewell, an ice box for fish storage, four rod holders, and greater fuel capacity (118 gallons).
If you want a bowrider that offers a bit more functionality, look no further than the DC 246, which has a base MSRP of around $162,000.
Best budget runabout
The final boat on our list is designed and marketed as a very affordable, entry-level beginners’ boat. While the VR5 is a Bayliner, this Bayliner is not the Bayliner of yesteryear: there is no unsealed wood or shoddy upholstery on this model.
What you do get is a lot of boat for the money and a sharp focus on the things that really matter to first time owners. An example of this is the helm, which is very nicely finished in carbon fiber with good quality analogue gauges and switches. While this may not be quite as sophisticated as the multifunction displays seen on more upmarket craft, there is something to be said for the simplicity and reliability of traditional gauges and manual switches in a marine environment.
Other features of note on the VR5 include a transom walkthrough, integrated and insulated cooler that drains overboard, and optional snap-in faux teak decking. All in all — and at a base MSRP of only $41,000 — the VR5 brings a lot to the table.