Boats come in all shapes, sizes and styles, designed for a wide variety of uses. In this article, we break down 20 of the most popular types of boat, from rubber-bottomed inflatables to spectacular superyachts, and from fun-loving pontoon boats to go-fast racers...
Rigid Inflatable Boats
Back in the early ’60s, students at South Wales’ Atlantic College came up with the idea of creating a new type of boat by glueing sheets of plywood to a rubber dinghy’s inflatable tubes. The aim? To reduce wear and tear on the boats’ fabric bottoms.
Today, the rigid inflatable boat is the much-loved day runabout of choice for everyone from boating newbies to Navy SEALS and superyacht owners. They’re unsinkable, stable, light, fast, and seaworthy.
Their rigid planing hulls are constructed of everything from GRP, to aluminium, to carbon fibre, with tubes built from PVC, tough Polyurethane, or more sun-resistant Hypalon. Length-wise, they can range from a 2.4m/7.8ft ZAR Mini, to the massive 17.5/57ft from Italy’s Anvera.
Our top choice: Highfield Sport 800
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RIBS are great, but you can’t fold them up and chuck them in your trunk/boot. Or store them on a shelf in your garage. Or squeeze them into your boat’s lazarette.
Inflatables are the more simple, flat-bottomed, less-pricey type of boat. Typically made from PVC, they come in all shapes and sizes; from a cheap, paddleable kids’ toy off Amazon, to kayaks, to paddleboards, to more substantial RIB-style tenders with a solid floor and transom for an outboard.
Sizewise they range from 6.5ft/2m, to monsters capable of riding rapids through the Grand Canyon.
Popular makes include Intex, Sevylor, Sea Eagle, Stryker, Takacat, Zodiac, and Saturn, with prices from under $100/£76 to over $5,000/£3,800
Our top choice: Sea Eagle 126sr
Read PBO’s group test of the best inflatable boats
Aluminium-tube-hulled pontoon boats are for leisurely family cruises around lake, right? Not according to Brad Rowland who, back in 2015, set a Guinness World Record for taking his triple-Merc-powered pontoon racer Tooned In to a top speed of 114mph, making it the world’s fastest pontoon boat.
Perfect as a fishing platform, a family “party barge” with seats for 12, or a tow boat for tubing, water skiing or wakeboarding, the once humble, twin hull pontoon has evolved into a luxury-laden power boat. You can even get them with three hulls – tri-toons – offering the ability to exceed 50 knots.
One of the latest innovations in the pontoon world is Sea-Doo’s brand new Switch, with its PolyTec plastic construction, triple hulls, configurable seating, handlebar controls and supercharged Rotax 170 or 230-hp four-stroke power. It even comes with a trailer included.
Our top choice: Sea-Doo Switch Cruise 21
Read our guide to the best pontoon boats on the market right now
Often confused, there are actually big differences between these two small DIY paddling craft. Canoes, for starters, tend to be open boats where you sit inside on a small bench – you can also kneel – and propel yourself forward with a single-bladed paddle. The earliest canoe – discovered in the Netherlands – dates back to 8200 BC.
Kayaks, on the other hand, tend to have a closed deck, you sit inside with legs stretched out, and use a double-bladed paddle to move. There are also sit-on-top versions that are easier to re-enter after a capsize.
And like canoes, kayaks are as old a dirt, with the Inuit tribes in Alaska, Canada and Greenland first building them from wood and stretched seal skin more than 4,000 years ago.
Today, both canoes and kayaks are hugely popular as fun, affordable ways of hitting the water, with lengths typically ranging from 6ft/1.8m to over 20ft/6m and prices ranging from under $200/£180 for an inflatable, to over $10,000/£7,600 for a hand-made canoe. And many can be powered by a trusty electric trolling motor.
Hammacher Schlemmer 2-person Transparent Canoe-Kayak
The concept is simple; mount the helm in a compact console in the center of an open boat, and you get easy, walkaround access to the bow, stern and sides. Which makes it the perfect type of boat for hooking that 400-pound tuna.
But center consoles have evolved from bare-bones fishing boats typically with a single outboard, to mega-powerful speed machines with cabins and galleys and as many as six 450hp Mercury Verados. The latest all-American 59-foot Cigarette Tirranna packs 2,700hp and costs over $3 million.
Today, center consoles are still arguably the most popular boat design out there, with makers like Boston Whaler, Contender, Grady-White, Pursuit, Scout, Everglades, HCB and Cobia cranking them out in sizes from 16ft/4.58m to 65ft/19.8m, with prices from around $15,000/£11,500, to millions.
Our top choice: Pursuit S 358 Sport
As family fun boats go, the bowrider is about as good as it gets. The key here is that big open bow with its comfy seating and access from the cockpit, typically, through a fold-back section of windscreen. Add to that, a U-shaped bench at the back, and you can head out with all the gang.
Hugely popular in the 1970s, with makers like Sea Ray, Bayliner and Glastron cranking out sterndrive-powered 17ft/5.2m to 24ft/7.3m examples, today’s bowrider has taken on a new level of sophistication.
Take Formula Boats’ new 500 Super Sport Crossover with its bowrider open bow seating coupled with an enclosed salon and quad Mercury 600hp V12 Verado outboard power.
Or Sea Ray’s innovative new Sundancer 370 Outboard with its huge open bow reached through an oversized offset window in the hardtop. Take your pick from a 16ft/4.9m Bayliner 160 for just over $17,000/£13,000, to over $3m/ £2.3m for that Formula 500 SSC.
Our top choice: Sea Ray Sundancer 370 Outboard
Read our guide to the best bowriders on the market right now
Picture an open-bow bowrider on steroids, with all the deck space and people-carrying capability of a pontoon boat. Plus a kitchen sink.
Perfect for every waterborne activity, from fishing, to skiing, to tubing, to swimming, to picnicking, to just hanging out on a sand bar, deck boats are best suited for cruising lakes and rivers and calm bays.
The concept dates back to the 1970s, when Indiana-based Hurricane Boats created a bowrider with an extra-wide bow section and wide beam, and crammed-in as much seating as possible.
Today, major players in the deckboat market still include Hurricane, along with Four Winns, Sea Ray, Bayliner, Starcraft, with the sweet spot of sizes ranging from 18ft/5.4m to 30ft/9m and pricing stretching from under $20,000/£15,300 to upwards of a million.
Our top pick: Hurricane Sun Deck 217 OB
Read our guide to the best deck boats on the market right now
One thing you need to know about bass boats: they’re not designed just for chasing bass. Anything you can hook from this low-in-the-water, lean, mean, fishing machine is fair game for this type of boat.
The key design features here include a super-low freeboard, super shallow draft, and super stability for reeling-in the “big one”. And typically a high-powered outboard to get you to that secret fishing hole fast, plus a bow-mounted electric trolling motor to move around in stealthy silence.
Also key is a spacious forward deck, live wells for bait, rod holders galore, and the latest in sonar fish finders. It’s down to personal choice whether you go for a lightweight aluminium or GRP hull, and how many horses for the outboard.
Top makers these days include Lund, Nitro, Crestliner, Puma, Bass Cat, and Tracker, with sizes ranging from 18ft/5.5m to 22ft/6.7m, with prices ranging from under $15,000/£11,500 to up to $100,000/£77,000.
Our top choice: Bass Cat Puma STS
Read our guide to the best bass boats on the market right now
Welcome to the future of boating. The pace at which electric boats, large and small, are being developed is only rivalled by that of electric cars.
And now, with fuel prices going through the roof and boaters liking the idea of zero-emission cruising, the appeal of nautical plug and play is only increasing.
Yes, limited range, and a lack of high-speed charging, is giving many boat buyers a wait-and-see approach. But a number of electric boats have been showing considerable promise.
Boats like the electric foiling Candela C-7, the Rand Escape 30, the X-Shore Eelex 8000, the Navier N27, the General Motors-backed Pure Watercraft Pontoon, the solar-paneled Silent Yachts 60, and Torqeedo-powered Zin Z2R.
Lengths for this type of boat range from the 18ft/5.5m Magonis Wave e-550 at €33,485 to the Silent Yachts 60 at €2m.
Our top choice: Candela C-8
Read our guide to the best electric boats on the market right now
On paper, powercats make the perfect cruiser. They’re wide and stable, with acres of live-aboard space. They’re fast and efficient too. And more of them are using solar energy or banks of batteries for zero emission power.
Yes, their expansive beam can make snagging a marina slip challenging and pricey. But smart boaters are finding that powercat positives far outweigh the negatives.
And with new entries seemingly appearing every week, take your pick from newcomers ranging from the open-deck Aquila 32 and Fountaine Pajot’s new MY4S, to the truly massive Sunreef Power 100 and upcoming solar-powered Silent 120 Explorer.
Pricing ranges from under $14,000/£10,700 for the crazy, two-seat CraigCat, to around $31m/£24m for the Porsche Designed 41m/134ft Royal Falcon One.
Our top choice: Lagoon Sixty 7
If your idea of a houseboat is some run-down, ramshackle rusty steel barge sitting on the mud in some urban backwater, think again. Today’s houseboats are often super-luxury floating homes in some of the world’s most-coveted locations. Think London, Paris, Amsterdam, Miami.
One jaw-dropper is the $5.5m/£4.2m Arkup four-bedroom, 4,350-sq-ft/404 sq m, 75ft/23m-long floating villa that can raise itself up on four hydraulic stilts, and move from location to location under its own power.
Equally luxurious are some of the cruising houseboats plying America’s calm, freshwater lakes and rivers. Monsters like Bravada Yachts’ latest 80ft/24m, glass-sided Atlas V-Series with five bedrooms, 3,200-sq-ft/297 sq m of space and twin V8 Mercruisers. All for around $2 million/£1.5m.
Best-suited for placid lakes and genteel rivers, this type of boat tends to be flat-bottomed and tall-sided, so avoid wind and waves. But the attraction is huge interior space and more bedrooms than a Holiday Inn.
Our top choice: Bravada Atlas V-Series
Tell someone you’ve just bought a new trawler and you can see them conjuring up mental images of George Clooney behind the helm of the Andrea Gail in The Perfect Storm.
Yet the concept is still the same; motoryachts designed primarily for comfortable long-distance, liveaboard cruising, usually at a more leisurely, more economical pace.
Nothing captures this new trawler thinking better than Beneteau’s impressive new $2m/£1.53m Grand Trawler 62. Designed to cruise at 8-to-10 knots, it has the power hit 20 when gnarly weather approaches. Inside, there’s huge interior volume, and cabins for six with a cavernous owner’s cabin.
The multitude of trawler options range from Ranger Tugs’ teeny 23ft/ R-23 from $146,000/£112,000 to Marlow Yacht’s multi-million dollar 100ft/30m Voyager.
Our top choice: Beneteau Grand Trawler 62
How do you define a superyacht? Certainly length has plenty to do with it. But is the world’s biggest floating palace, the 590-ft/180m Azzam, a superyacht, or a megayacht? Maybe even a gigayacht.
What tends to cause a little confusion is how long a luxury yacht has to be to qualify for superyacht status? Some say 80 feet or 24 meters. Others think 100 feet or 30 meters.
We’ll go with 80 feet, though 100 leaves you in no doubt that you’re stepping aboard a true superyacht. That said, even that 100-footer should have elements of customization, have truly bespoke features, plenty of over-the-top luxury, and be operated by a captain and crew.
All we know is that superyachts just keep getting bigger, and grander and more luxurious.
Our top choice: The 50m/164ft Heesen Home
Mention of the word “sportfisher” and it’s hard not to conjure-up images of Papa Hemingway fighting a feisty marlin or tuna off the coast of Cuba in his trusty fishing boat Pilar.
Unlike bare-bones Pilar, today’s sport fishing yachts focus as much on creature comforts and luxury as they do on fighting chairs, rod holders, tuna towers and outriggers.
But pretty much all of them feature the enduring lines of the classic bluewater “battlewagons”, with their soaring bows and curved shear lines, huge foredecks devoid of stanchions and guard rails, low gunwales along the cockpit and black-mask cabin windows. And all come with huge engines to get you to those remote fishing grounds fast.
Ranging in size from 35 feet to the low 100s, the best are from builders like Viking, Bertram, Buddy Davis, Hatteras, Merritt Cabo, and Jarrett Bay, with pricing from under $1 million, to tens of millions.
Our top choice: Viking 64C
Read our guide to the best sportfish boats
It’s all about the wave. Water skiers tend to prefer flatter, smoother water to perfect their big turns, aerial stunts and slaloms, while wake boarders crave the biggest wave possible. Ideally, that means two very different types of boats.
The best purpose-built ski boats have their high-torque engine mounted in the middle, with a shaft-drive and small-diameter prop for instant acceleration, minimum turbulence and low wake.
The best boats for wakeboarders and their wake-surfing cousins, have rear-mounted V-drive inboards along with ballast tanks or wake plates to keep the transom low and the wake big and shapely.
Top ski-boat makers include MasterCraft, Malibu and Ski Nautique, while the biggest wakes are thrown up from boats by Moomba, Supra, Tigé, Centurion and Axis Wake.
The sweet-spot sizewise is around 23ft/7m, with prices ranging from around $40,000/£30,600 up to $200,000/£153,000 for the ultimate wavemaker.
Our top choice: Malibu Wakesetter 24 MXZ
Read our guide to the best wake surf boats on the market right now
The problem with propellers and rudders hanging down below a boat is they can hit stuff. Like rocks. And logs. When your boating is done in lots of skinny water, then a sound alternative is a jet boat.
With the boat’s engine spinning an impeller mounted inside a tunnel, water is sucked in through a hull opening, and blasted out through a narrow, steerable nozzle mounted on the transom. Think of them as super-sized Jet Skis.
Advantages include no prop or rudder hanging below the boat, so safer running in shallow water. There’s also less drag, which means higher speeds and lower fuel consumption. And having no prop makes them safer for water skiers and wake-surfers.
Negatives include trickier low-speed maneuvering, and challenging reversing – there’s no reverse gear, just a bucket that drops down to redirect the thrust under the boat.
Top makers of this type of boat include Yamaha, Chaparral, and Scarab, with Hinckley at the very top end. Sizes range from 19ft/ to 28ft/ and pricing from around $30k/£23k. to over $150k/£115k.
Our top choice: Scarab Jet 285 ID
Read our guide to the best jet boats on the market
As we know so well, not all boating is blue skies, warm breezes and SPF30. In northern climes especially, the weather can often turn ugly, cold and downright miserable.
Which is why the tall-windowed wheelhouse cruiser, with its cosy, upright, protected pilothouse, inside helm and deep, walk-around side decks, has gained so much popularity.
Inspired by salty, old-school fishing boats, this type of boat took-off with the arrival of Jeanneau’s venerable Merry Fisher, and has been growing ever since.
Strong sellers include the likes of Jeanneau‘s latest line-up of Merry Fishers, Botnia‘s Targa range, Sargo‘s speedy 31, 33 and 36, Rodman‘s 890 and Finland’s big-windowed Aquador 35 AQ. Prices run anywhere between $150k/£115k and $1m/£750k.
All provide weekend accommodation, compact galleys, inside seating and well-sized decks when you want to bring out the fishing gear. And, most important, they’ll keep you warm and dry.
Our top choice: Jeanneau Merry Fisher 895 Marlin
Go-fast performance boats
Want to go fast? No, really fast? Missouri’s Marine Technology Inc. will happily build you one of its 52 Race super-cats, powered by twin 1,750-hp Mercury inboards that can hit a top speed of 200mph.
For slightly less-intense on-water performance, Miami-based Cigarette Racing is still king of the go-fast boats. Its latest Tirranna 59 can be optioned with six Mercury Racing 450Rs – that’s a total of 2,700-hp – to give easy 100mph+ cruising. All for around $3 million.
The roots of this type of boat dates back to Miami and the early ’60s and a rogue called Don Aronow. He was behind such iconic brands as Formula Marine, Donzi, Magnum and Cigarette, winning over 350 offshore races in the process.
Today, many of the original players are still around, with the addition of builders like Midnight Express, Mystic, Marine Technology, Fountain, Eliminator, Skater, and HCB. Sizes range anywhere from 30ft/ to over 60ft/ with prices from $200k/£155k to over $3m/£2.3m
Our top choice: Midnight Express 52 Vitesse
What they all have in common is sleek, sporty design, a fast, deep-vee planing hull with lots of power, spacious accommodation, and plenty of entertaining space. And coupe rather than flybridge styling with GRP construction.
Sportscruisers range in size from under 30 feet to over 80, and everything in between, with 40-to-50-feet being the sweet spot. Latest innovations include oversize hullside windows, retractable roofs, and acres of lounging space in the cockpit and on the bow. Pricing can easily run to $2m/£1.5m.
Our top choice: Princess V50
When the sun has got its hat on, why be cooped (or maybe coupe’d) up inside when you can be steering and lounging up on a flybridge?
Adding an upper helm lets everyone aboard enjoy the great outdoors, revel in 360-degree panoramas and, for the helmsperson, enjoy much better visibility when parking.
A flybridge also adds more entertaining space along with a wetbar and grille, and on bigger flybridge models, space for a crane and tender.
And for non-sun-worshippers, shade is available from either a folding bimini top, or more substantial hardtop with the option of an Eisenglass enclosure for protection against the elements.
A multitude of flybridge models are on offer, typically from around 30 feet to over 100 with key players like Sunseeker with its Manhattan line-up, Princess with its F models, Fairline with its Squadrons, and Azimut with its Flybridge collection spanning 50 feet to 78.
Pricing for this type of boat runs anywhere from around $390k/£300k for a 35ft Beneteau or Galeon to many millions for a 100ft plus yacht from the like of Sunseeker, Princess or Ferretti.
Our top choice: Sunseeker Manhattan 55
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