Best boats for beginners: 4 affordable options for your first boat

Our resident used boat expert Nick Burnham picks out four of the best boats for beginners from the likes of Bayliner, Doral, Sealine and Fairline…

This is your year, this is the one in which you finally buy a boat! You’ve read every recent issue of Motor Boat & Yachting, you’ve watched every AQUAHOLIC video, you’ve even been given full blessing from your other half, or at least you’ve convinced yourself that ‘just do whatever the hell you want!’ is the same thing (and if not, always remember that forgiveness is usually easier to achieve than permission).

The only question left is, which one? Well, here are four great suggestions, from a lovely little cuddy cabin sportsboat through to a twin diesel offshore cruiser. Go for it!

4 of the best boats for beginners


Bayliner 742

Built: 2014
Price: £40,000

In the 1980s Bayliner sold on price – undercutting the competition and gaining a name for themselves as the cheapest way into a new boat. As is so often the case, however, you got what you paid for or, more accurately, didn’t get what you hadn’t paid for.

It’s fair to say that the reputation was broadly comparable to Skoda’s at the time. But just like Skoda, the company has gone through something of a renaissance, and whilst the prices are no longer bargain basement, neither is the quality – both manufacturers are turning out a pretty solid product these days.


Still the budget end of the market, it’s the frills that are reduced these days, not the quality. It’s why the cabin of this boat, first introduced to the UK at the London Boat Show in 2014, has plenty of smooth gelcoat on show rather than soft vinyl and polished wood.

But it serves its purpose just fine as a space to get out of the weather or enjoy an occasional overnight stay. There’s even a proper plumbed-in sea toilet here.


There’s a fair bit of GRP on show but it’s a perfectly decent cabin for overnighting


The same applies to the cockpit: it might be a little more functional than expensive competitors, but you can’t fault the layout or the facilities. There’s a canopy frame that folds and stows beneath the aft seat, and a cockpit wet bar behind the helm seat includes a proper fridge and a hob.

There are some neat details too, like a section of the sunpad aft that lifts to provide a backrest if required, or folds to create a walk-through from the swim platform. The passenger seat backrest also folds forward to extend the seating along the full length of the cockpit.


Bayliner offers a variety of engines from a two-litre diesel right through to a 6.2 litre V8 350 Magnum. This boat treads the middle ground with a punchy but relatively (it is a boat!) economical Mercruiser 4.3 litre V6 giving 220hp.


Functional cockpit is large, comfortable and equipped with a proper little wet bar


It’s a small, light boat, so don’t expect to be crossing the English Channel in a Force 5, but for coastal cruising in sensible conditions it’s perfectly sufficient.


Length: 24ft 6in (7.5m)
Beam: 8ft 4in (2.5m)
Draught: 3ft 4in (1.0m)
Displacement: 1.9 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 196 litres
Engines: Mercruiser 4.3 litre V6 220hp
Contact: Salterns Brokerage

Article continues below…

Sealine S330

Built: 2017
Price: £209,950

Launched in 2014 and designed by Bill Dixon, the S330 was a very important boat for Sealine. When the original Kidderminster company went into administration in 2013, the brand was bought by the Hanse Group in Germany, and whilst the F380 was the first Sealine it launched, that boat was a design inherited from the British company.

The S330 was the first Sealine that Hanse developed from scratch. The boat proved to be a great success, so much so that it spawned a C330 Coupe version that remains in production today as the mildly upgraded Sealine C335.


Sealine kept the layout traditional inside, with the usual cabin at each end separated by the saloon and galley set-up that has worked for the brand and countless others for years. There is a factory option to lose the forward bulkhead but most got the separate forward cabin.

It’s nicely done though, large hull windows offer both light and view (the former augmented by skylights), and headroom is great. This boat has the popular walnut finish to bulkheads, although oak and cherry were also offered.


The forward cabin is surprisingly light and spacious with good headroom too


The hardtop came as standard, so you won’t find a completely open version, but Sealine has been careful to retain the feeling of being outside. Not only does the roof slide almost all the way back, courtesy of having a fabric centre section, but the aft section slides forward to meet it. You can also remove the clear vinyl panels above the fixed glass sidescreens.

Three forward facing seats at the helm is a great feature, and there is plenty more seating around a table further aft.


Sealine launched this boat with a pair of Volvo Penta D3 220 220hp engines, which is exactly what this boat has got. A single Volvo Penta D6 was an alternative, and more recently Sealine launched a twin outboard engine version called the S335V. When we tested the boat at launch with the 220s, we achieved a credible 33 knots.


Few 33ft boats offer such a good balance of price, accommodation and style


Calm seas made it difficult to assess the seakeeping but we certainly enjoyed the handling, describing it as a ‘brilliant hull and powertrain’.


Length: 33ft 10in (10.3m)
Beam: 11ft 6in (3.5m)
Draught: 2ft 9in (0.9m)
Displacement: 6.7 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 570 litres
Engines: Twin Volvo Penta D3 200 220hp diesel engines


Doral 250SE

Built: 2003
Price: £47,500

A rare beast in that, although the styling has distinctly American overtones, Doral boats were actually made in Canada. Prevalent in the Nineties and Noughties, Doral actually dates back to 1979 and built a range of craft from speedboats up to 50-footers.


The standout feature of this boat is the finish and the colour of the woodwork in the cabin, which looks both classy and inviting, and a huge step up from the very plain and austere looking interior of the boat we tested in 2000.

The layout is entirely conventional for a boat of this size and type, with a dinette forward, a small galley opposite the heads and a double berth running transversely beneath the cockpit.

There is standing headroom at the bottom of the steps, and although the shape of the boat means that you lose this further forward, the nature of the dinette is that you’d be sitting by this point anyway.


A smattering of wood lifts the look and feel of this Canadian built compact sportscruiser


Almost all mid-20ft sportscruisers are constrained to an 8ft 6in beam in order to maintain the ability to be towed on the road but Doral has been particularly clever in how it ekes out the maximum amount of space.

No side decks is an obvious win, access to the foredeck being granted via steps and an opening windscreen. More intriguingly, Doral has fitted a sliding section of cockpit seating, meaning that if you’re happy to lose a little bathing platform space, you can slide the aft portion out over it and drop in infill cushions. In fact, this example has the extended platform, reclaiming some lost ground.


We tested a 250SE with a 260hp Mercruiser V8 petrol engine and achieved a very sporting 37 knots! Subtract the extra weight of the diesel engine (and the extended
bathing platform), add a little back for the extra 40hp of the Mercruiser 300hp diesel and you should still be the right side of 30 knots.


A full beam cockpit with a sliding aft bench makes the most of every inch


We found the handling of the 250SE to be ‘excellent’ apparently, with no heavy slamming. Like all tall narrow boats of this genre, it relies on the trim tabs to maintain an even keel in a crosswind.


Length: 28ft 8in (8.7m)
Beam: 8ft 6in (2.6m)
Draught: 3ft 5in (1.0m)
Displacement: 3 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 245 litres
Engines: Mercruiser 300hp diesel engine
Contact: One Marine


Fairline Targa 30

Built: 2001
Price: £69,950

The Targa 30 is the final evolution of a successful Fairline model that dates back to 1994, when it was introduced as the Targa 28. Two years later it morphed into the Targa 29 with little changing beyond a longer bathing platform.

But the Targa 30 variant introduced a new cockpit layout with a sunpad, and windows (rather than portholes) for the cabin, although bizarrely these were optional extras.


The layout echoes smaller sportscruisers with its U-shaped dinette forward, galley opposite the heads and a mid cabin aft. However, the extra length, and in particular the 10ft beam, make this a far more spacious area.

The galley is an L-shape, with room for a two-burner hob, an oven and a grill. Those hull windows are worth looking out for (although I’ve only ever seen one boat without them so they should be easy to find).


The mid-cabin is fairly tight but it’s a private escape from the open-plan saloon and dinette


A sunpad aft is the big news. Where the 28 and 29 had seating to the transom, the 30 shifts it forwards. However, Fairline cunningly claws space back via a neat swinging backrest to the passenger seating next to the helm, allowing it to be used as forward facing seating under way or join the cockpit dinette at rest. That sunpad also creates space for a very handy deck locker.


When new, you could specify your Targa 30 with a pair of 4.3-litre petrol engines (190hp or 205hp each) or a single 7.4-litre 310hp motor but the vast majority went out with twin diesels.

These 150hp AD31s gave the boat a perfectly respectable 30+ knots, but the KAD32 upgrade that this boat received doesn’t just give higher speed (past 35 knots when new), it gives far lustier acceleration due to superchargers bolstering low-end torque before the turbos spin up at higher revs.


The sunpad was a new feature introduced in the transition from a Targa 29 to a Targa 30


These boats handle brilliantly. Stable and fast, they don’t require excessive trim tab action, and spray management is great. For a 30 foot boat, it punches well above its size and weight.


Length: 31ft 2in (9.5m)
Beam: 10ft 2in (3.1m)
Draught: 3ft 2in (1.0m)
Displacement: 4.1 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 418 litres
Engines: Twin Volvo Penta KAD 32/dp 170hp diesel engines

First published in the April 2022 issue of MBY.

If you enjoyed this…

Be first to all the latest boats, gadgets, cruising ideas, buying advice and readers’ adventures with a subscription to Motor Boat & Yachting. Available in both print and digital formats, our monthly magazine will be sent directly to your home or device at a substantial discount to the usual cover price. See our latest offers and save at least 30% off the cover price.


Latest videos