Our resident used boat expert Nick Burnham picks out for of the best boats for beginners from the likes of Regal, Beneteau, Channel Island and Karnic.
It’s March, the evenings are beginning to get a touch lighter, we might be through the worst of the cold and the rain, and spring is finally beginning to creep into view over the horizon. Which means only one thing. Boat season cometh!
And not having, or never having had, a boat shouldn’t be seen as an impediment because there are loads of great ways of getting on the water for the first time.
I’ve lined up four of the best boats for beginners for you: a perfect little sportscruiser that will allow you to overnight in comfort; a sporty open dayboat built for fast blasts to the beach and back; a lovely solid twin diesel semi-displacement cruiser; and a cuddy cabin sportsboat that’s great for watersports but also has somewhere to put your head down. This is the year – take your pick and join us on the water!
4 of the best boats for beginners
Regal 28 Express
The 25ft to 30ft sportscruiser is the nautical equivalent of the “hot hatch” – the VW Golf GTI of the boat world. The Regal 28 Express is a beginner’s boat designed to do it all – be a practical family cruiser but with a healthy dash of style and performance. And, like the hot hatch, if it’s done right it really can tick a lot of boxes. The analogy doesn’t end there because it’s also easy to handle and a manageable size – good news if you’re new to boating.
The layout of this type of boat is completely ubiquitous. Manufacturers worked out decades ago what works best in this category so they all have a U-shaped dinette forward that converts to a double berth, a galley to port, heads to starboard and a double berth running transversely beneath the front of the cockpit.
Where they vary is in the details, and the 28 Express is particularly strong in this regard. Check out the dinette backrests – they are sculptured to create a perfect fit for the infill so that you don’t need separate infill cushions cluttering up the interior. Even the table has a dedicated storage slot out of the way beneath the forward seat base.
Again, although the layout is conventional, it’s the details that mark out the Regal. The aft seat backrest cantilevers forward, locking into several positions to create an aft-facing backrest or dropping completely flat to extend the sunpad to full length. A useful option is the “Power Tower”, a motorised radar arch that drops at the touch of a button to reduce its air draft under when sneaking under bridges.
The standard engine is a Mercruiser 5.0 litre V8 petrol, but since the larger 5.7 litre V8 Mercruiser 350 Magnum at 300hp was an inexpensive upgrade, most boats got it, including this one. It lifts the top speed to about 33 knots.
Prop cavitation (nautical wheelspin – another link to hot hatches?) can be an issue under hard acceleration but once up on the plane the 28 Express runs fast and well.
LOA: 28ft 8in (8.7m)
Beam: 8ft 6in (2.6m)
Draught: 3ft 0in (1.0m)
Displacement: 3.5 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 276 litres
Engine: Mercruiser 350 Magnum 300hp petrol engine
Contact: One Marine
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Beneteau Flyer 7.7 SPACEdeck
Beneteau’s latest Flyer series was introduced to us in 2014, when the company launched the six-and-a-half-metre 6.6 in three versions, offering choice and value for beginner boaters.
Since then the Flyer range has grown in both size and popularity, with a range spanning about 5m through to 10m. This 7.7 model offers a good compromise between space, performance and running costs.
Most Flyer models were originally launched as three distinct versions based on the same hull; SPACEdeck, SUNdeck and SPORTdeck. SUNdeck has the helm in the centre, a cockpit aft and a cuddy cabin forward with vee berths and a loo. The cabin’s foredeck is laid with sunbathing cushions, hence the name.
The SPACEdeck you see here has a centre console and walkaround decks the full length of the boat giving masses of space for day boating but no cuddy cabin for overnighting. The aft seat hides a cool box and storage, and also unfolds, doubling in size to become a sunpad.
There are infills to convert the seating forward of the console into a further sunpad. Cunningly, the centre console hides a small toilet compartment adding welcome convenience to an otherwise alfresco experience. The SPORTdeck had a more conventional layout with bench seats to port and starboard ahead of the low dark tinted screen and swivel bucket seats behind consoles either side.
Single or twin outboard engines were offered. With the single 250hp Suzuki outboard fitted to this vessel, you can expect a 35-knot top speed.
An Air Step 2 hull provides a decent ride and is pretty good at spray deflection too. The hull steps also improve performance by introducing air to the underside, reducing drag.
LOA: 25ft 1in (7.6m)
Beam: 8ft 9in (2.7m)
Draught: 3ft 4in (1.0m)
Displacement: 2.1 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 280 litres
Engine: Suzuki 250hp outboard engine
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Channel Island 22
Silva Yates Plastics was a Jersey-based industrial moulding company, and the Channel Island 22 was commissioned by the owner, Silva Yates, as nothing more than a project to keep staff busy during quiet periods.
The original intention was simply to mould hull and deck units for local yards to fit out but the boat became such a success that Silva Yates began building complete boats to satisfy demand. It launched in 1974 and ran for 18 years with over 400 built.
The cabin is dead simple: a vee-shaped dinette that converts to a double bed by dropping the table and a basic galley and compact heads at the aft end. Big windows provide plenty of light and view and it’s entirely fit for purpose.
Shaft drive puts the engine or engines (single- and twin-engine versions were built) well forward. This example being a twin, the engine boxes double as bases for the two seats for helm and navigator under the open-backed wheelhouse. There’s a bench seat back aft and wide side decks grant easy access forward.
Speed is entirely dependent on engine option. Single engines ranged between 80hp-140hp, the largest giving about 20 knots flat out. Twin motors were usually Volvo Penta 43hp units that gave mid-teens flat out. This one has been re-engined with two 55hp motors so should go a touch faster.
A reinforced keel allows a single-engined 22 to confidently take the ground (these were designed for the Channel Islands, so twin-engine versions often had beaching legs to keep the boat upright), but it also allows the semi-displacement hull to sit deeply in the water. With twin shafts and its diminutive length, these boats swivel on the proverbial sixpence when manoeuvring – by running one engine ahead and the other astern it rotates on the spot.
LOA: 22ft 6in (6.9m)
Beam: 8ft 6in (2.6m)
Draught: 2ft 6in (0.8m)
Displacement: 2.3 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 180 litres
Engines: Twin Volvo Penta D2-55 55hp diesel
Contact: Parkstone Bay Yachts
Cypriot builder Karnic began building open outboard-powered runabouts in 1993 for its local market. In the mid 1990s it launched its Bluewater range of larger boats with a 21ft hull designed to go further offshore. Exports began in 1998 and within two years almost all of its production was going overseas.
The trick to Karnic is an understanding of the model designation. Out of the four numeral designations, the first two numbers indicate the hull length, the third indicates motive power with a 5 for outboard versions and a 6 for sterndrive. The final digit is either 0 for open or 5 for a wheelhouse.
Thus this 2250 model is an outboard powered open boat with a cuddy cabin so the interior is necessarily limited, but there’s a comfy seating area that converts to sleeping for two, cabin lights and a ‘Porta-potti’ chemical loo.
The cockpit is where it’s at for this boat. There are helm seats with flip-over backrests to make aft seating at rest, insulated storage/fish boxes, a self-bailing deck and even a tiny galley area with a single burner hob and sink. Unusually, it has bulwarked side decks leading forward to the foredeck making this a particularly easy boat to move around on.
Karnic offered Volvo Penta and Mercruiser options for its inboard boats, but of course you can bolt what you like on the back of an outboard version. This boat has a Suzuki 150hp four-stroke outboard engine that tops out at 30 knots according to the broker, and cruises at 25 knots.
The smallest of Karnic’s Storm Line, it features a planing hull with plenty of flare to keep spray at bay. Cornering is quick and light, helped by the engine’s power steering system, and the boat responds keenly, banking eagerly into turns. MBY’s editor owns one, and if it’s good enough for Admiral Andreae, what higher recommendation could you ask for?
LOA: 23ft 7in (7.2m)
Beam: 8ft 10in (2.4m)
Draught: 3ft 3in (1.0m)
Displacement: 1.3 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 200 litres
Engine: Suzuki 150hp outboard engine
Contact: Parkstone Bay Yachts
First published in the March 2021 issue of Motor Boat & Yachting.