Best all-season boats: 4 reassuringly rugged options from the secondhand market

Our resident used boat expert Nick Burnham picks out four of the best all-season boats on the secondhand market…

Here’s an interesting thing about flybridge boats. Almost nobody drives from the lower helm, ever! Cold, rain, wind – owners are still up on top keeping a good lookout. And here’s something even more intriguing.

Quite a few years ago, one or two manufacturers, upon canvassing their customers to discern exactly how they were using their boats and realising this, started offering flybridge boats without the lower helm, increasing the saloon area.

Inexplicably, the result of doing so was that no-one bought them, because there was no lower helm. All of which brings us to all-season boats because it appears that if you want a boat that people will actually drive from inside, you’d better make it a dedicated internal helm only.

Add a seriously capable hull to deal with more inclement winter sea conditions and you’ll likely end up with something like this month’s quartet of used boats chosen specifically for year-round all-season boating.

4 of the best all-season boats


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Seaward 29

Built: 2000
Price: £65,000

Launched almost 30 years ago, the Seaward 29 is still part of the Seaward new boat fleet with only incremental upgrades along the way (mostly behind the scenes). It is the very epitome of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.

And that is because there is not a single nod to fashion about the whole vessel. It is simply a solid, practical, proper heavy weather motor boat.


A ‘proper motor boat’ is best defined as a vessel designed first and foremost to be a boat, rather than floating accommodation. Hull and decks are optimised for use afloat (indeed Seaward builds many boats for commercial use) and whatever that leaves as an interior is then fitted out simply and solidly.

Which is why the interior of this model lacks frills, and indeed lacks space compared with some circa 30ft offerings because (for example) the wide side decks pinch the cabin a little.

On the lower deck you’ll find vee berths in the forepeak with heads to port and galley to starboard. Step up to the deck saloon and there are a pair of businesslike helm seats, one either side, with guest seating behind them.


Vee berths in the forepeak are relatively spartan but there’s a decent amount of stowage


The dividends for the compact internal volume are paid outside, where you’ll find a deep well-sheltered cockpit aft and wide non-slip side decks sloping gently upward toward the bow. Proper little bollards rather than cleats speak of the commercial roots of this boat.


When Seaward started making ‘baby Nelson’ compact pilot style boats, beginning with the Seaward 23 in 1989, it typically fitted Mermaid diesel engines. Oddly, a niche Japanese market sprang up for these quirky little boats which lead to a fruitful association with Japanese engine manufacturer Yanmar.

As a result, all Seaward 29s were fitted with twin Yanmars, from 160hp to 260hp each. This boat has twin 230hp Yanmars, good for a 20-knot top end.


Helm station, like the rest of the 29, prioritises competence and quality over style


Now we’re getting to the real meat of this boat, and why Seawards are prized by commercial users: the semi-displacement hull. Designed by Arthur Mursell of TT Designs, it is a serious offshore bruiser, out punching almost everything else of its size in rough seas.


LOA: 29ft 4in (9.0m)
Beam: 10ft 0in (3.0m)
Draft: 2ft 10in (0.9m)
Displacement: 7.8 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 700 litres
Engines: Twin Yanmar 4LH 230hp diesel
Location: Burnham-on-Crouch
Contact: BH Boat Sales

Article continues below…


Botnia Targa 27.2GT

Built: 2021
Price: £197,500

There’s a theme to these all-season boatbuilders and it’s one of very gentle model evolution. We once described Botnia as “tending to modernise at roughly the same pace as the Royal Family”.

So the option to fit some of its models with outboard engines, introduced first on the Botnia Targa 25.1 in 2019, was as big a departure for the builder as seeing King Charles with a mohawk. It comes in response to increased demand for the performance, low maintenance costs and ease of use that these power plants offer.


The Botnia Targa 27.2 traces its roots back to the 27 of 1991. The 27.2 of 2018 looked very similar, but sported a new hull with slightly more beam. The internal layout followed the same lines of a heads forward of the wheelhouse with a compact galley next to the helm and a bench seat aft.

Behind that you’ll discover a small cabin with a double berth on one side and two ‘head to head’ single berths on the other.


There’s a perfectly adequate cabin with a double berth and two single berths opposite


Finnish built and with a typically Finnish deck layout, the cockpit is actually in the bow, with a horseshoe of seating containing deck lockers. Twin sliding doors, one each side lead into the wheelhouse, and traditionally the 27.2 has a small three-person external helm built into the trailing edge of the wheelhouse roof.

But this is where the GT designation comes into play because the GT swaps that external helm for a rear sliding door giving direct access from the stern cockpit to the wheelhouse.


Launched with single Volvo Penta diesel engines, choices were all D6 variants, typically 330hp, 370hp or 400hp and latterly the more recent 440hp version. We tested the boat with the D6 400 and achieved a heady 39 knots. The introduction of twin outboards kicked the performance up another notch.

This boat has a pair of Mercury Verado outboards that offer a combined 600hp, pushing the top end into the mid 40-knot arena.


It’s a well-packaged layout with a heads forward of the helm and a small galley to port


A planing hull with a deep vee, all Botnia Targas are adroit at cleaving imperiously through big waves, leaving huge curtains of spray hanging in the air behind them.


LOA: 30ft 1in (9.2m)
Beam: 10ft 2in (3.1m)
Draft: 3ft 6in (1.1m)
Displacement: 4.2 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 530 litres
Engines: Twin Mercury Verado 300hp outboards
Location: Poole
Contact: Wessex Marine

Dale Classic 35

Built: 2014
Price: £345,000

Dale boats are built in South West Wales, with direct access to the often challenging Irish Sea. Like Seaward, Dale turns to Arthur Mursell for the hull design, but the deck and superstructure of this one are worlds apart from the traditional pilot boat style.

This particular Dale Classic 35 was custom designed and built specifically for the original owner.


An open-backed wheelhouse layout means that all of the internal accommodation is on the lower deck, accessed by a beautiful polished wood folding door. The interior was designed to accommodate the owner’s 6ft 5in tall son, so there’s plenty of headroom for us lesser mortals.

As you’d expect from Dale, the American cherry woodwork is traditional but magnificent, with carefully fiddled storage for plates, glasses etc so that nothing becomes displaced at sea. Move forward past the heads to port and galley to starboard and you’ll discover a cozy hoop of seating in the bow that will convert to a double bed.

American cherry adds a touch of class while comfy bow seats convert to a double bed


The flush flat foredeck dominates the look of this boat; even the cleats are folding to ensure as low a profile as possible, and the lack of guardrails was a deliberate choice by the owner who wanted to keep the profile as pure in appearance as he could.

The open backed wheelhouse means that the cockpit runs well forward, creating plenty of sheltered outdoor space. Dominating the helm position are a pair of gorgeous Release Marine chairs imported from the USA, and behind those, a pair of aft facing corner seats.

And apart from an aft bench seat and a nifty table that folds out of the floor, not a lot else, the owner choosing to keep this space as open and versatile as possible.


Unusually for a Mursell design, power from its single Volvo Penta D6-400 engine is delivered through a sterndrive, which gives it terrific agility out on the water. We achieved 33 knots when we tested this actual boat when it was brand new, so 20-25 knots is a comfortable cruising gait.

Open-backed wheelhouse gives the best of both worlds with plenty of socialising space


“Absolutely superb” is how we described the handling, and of course that Mursell hull, honed in the no-nonsense seas off Pembrokeshire can handle the rough stuff too.


LOA: 35ft 0in (11.1m)
Beam: 11ft 8in (3.4m)
Draft: 2ft 9in (0.9m)
Displacement: 6 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 580 litres
Engine: Volvo Penta D6-400 400hp diesel
Location: Beaulieu River
Contact: Dale Motor Yachts


Sargo 31 Explorer

Built: 2020
Price: £300,000

From the all-season boats selected for this article you could easily be forgiven for thinking that the UK and Finland dominate the all-weather boatbuilding genre, and barring a handful of notable exceptions, you wouldn’t be far wrong. For this boat, we’re back to Finland and the ever popular ‘commuter’ style of walkaround wheelhouse boats.


Very Finnish in concept, you’ve got your forward sloping windscreen and your sliding side doors for the wheelhouse, but you’ve also got a door in the rear bulkhead and crucially, a huge sliding roof.

For a wheelhouse boat, this is about as open air an experience as you’re ever likely to get, considering that you can close it all back up in less than 30 seconds – perfect for the British summer!

Two bucket seats nestle at the helm to starboard, a tiny galley in the forward port corner and a dinette behind. Vee berth and heads are on the lower deck forward, and lifting a seat base in the dinette reveals a small but entirely useable separate double guest cabin.

Vee berth on the lower deck forward with heads, and there’s a small double guest cabin too


The ‘Explorer’ spec of this boat accounts for the distinctive grey topsides and wheelhouse roof in place of the standard plain white gelcoat, and many Explorer spec boats get matt black rails too, although the original owner of this boat opted for traditional stainless steel ones.

The walkaround decks are completely stepless, with just a gentle upward slope as you head forward along the safe and well protected side decks. Practical details include a very solid looking D-section rub-rail around the gunwale and bathing platform, and there is a lift section in the platform allowing easy access to the outdrive.


On the cusp of twin engines most of these got a single D6 in 330hp, 370hp or 400hp guise (this boat has the D6-400 for about 32 knots). But there was a single Yanmar V8 370hp option and twin engines were also available – a pair of D4-300s that punt the boat up to 45 knots!

Sliding side doors and sunroof open up the wheelhouse to the elements on warmer days


It’s Finnish, it’s a walkaround, you’d expect it to be good and you’d be right. We described it as “a combination of RIB-baiting agility and prowess through the rough stuff that makes the boat a joy to drive”.


LOA: 32ft 7in (10m)
Beam: 10ft 0in (3.3m)
Draft: 3ft 3in (1m)
Displacement: 5.1 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 500 litres
Engine: Volvo Penta D6-400 400hp diesel
Location: Hamble
Contact: Marco Marine

First published in the January 2024 issue of MBY.

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