How To Choose The Right Boat (Explained)

Take one look around the local boat ramp and there is no doubt about the seemingly endless options when it comes to the types of boats available. 

There are pontoon boats, runabouts, wake boats, water ski boats center console boats, bowriders, deck boats, bass boats, catamarans, and the list goes on.  Some of these are built with a specific purpose in mind, while others serve the more general boating population. 

But, how do you know which is right for you?  If you are in the market for a boat, you’ve probably asked yourself this question a hundred times. 

When you first start thinking about buying a boat, you probably have an idea of what you want, but there are a handful of things to take into consideration to make sure you are buying a boat that you’ll be happy with in the long run.

I’ve put together a guide on boat buying to give you a few things to think about while you’re making your decision.

How do I Choose the Right Boat for Me?

How do I choose the right boat for me? By understanding how you’ll use your boat and your budget, you’ll be able to decide what is right for you.

Buying a boat can be a very exciting time!  It can also cause some stress if you haven’t asked yourself a few important questions and given honest answers. 

Our goal is to equip you with everything you need to make the best decision for you and your family.  If you’ve started researching boats and how to buy a boat, then you’ve probably already also started trying to figure out what the best fit will be for you. 

Buying a boat can be a big investment and you’ll want to make sure your boat is right for you so your time on the water will be the best it can possibly be.

What Will You Use Your Boat For?

There are a ton of boat types available and it can be overwhelming when you are deciding what will be the best fit for you and your family. 

Should you go with a very specialized boat, like a wake boat, or choose something with a more universal appeal, like a deck boat?

The answer lies in how you will be using your boat most often.  Let’s be honest, everyone who has a boat uses it for different things on different occasions, so when you are choosing a boat, focus on what you will be using it for most often. 

There are a few main categories we’ll go over: fishing, water sports, pleasure craft.

Fishing Boats

Are you going to be using your boat for fishing most often?  If so, it might make sense to buy a boat specifically designed for fishing. 

But it isn’t quite that simple as there are many types of fishing boats designed to help fishermen in their pursuit of specific types of fish. 

Some of the universal characteristics of fishing boats are open casting platforms, plenty of rod holders, live wells, and tackle and rod storage. 

From here, though, fishing boats come in a range of styles and sizes.
  • Bass Boats are designed to provide bass fishermen with speed to get across the lake first and to have comfortable large, flat, and stable casting platforms on the bow and stern.  Bass boats tend to be light weight, have a wide beam, a shallow draft, and a large outboard.  Great for fishing in freshwater where the water is usually calm, not as good in the saltwater or in more turbulent water.
  • Center Consoles provide fishermen with plenty of room to move all the way around the deck, since the console is in the middle of the boat.  They have casting platforms in the bow and usually on the stern, too.  With a steeper bow entry angle on the hull, they are built to give a stable, dry ride while they cut through choppy water.  There are center consoles made for inshore fishing, bay fishing, and offshore fishing.
  • Catamarans use a dual hull and are designed to provide a very stable ride in rough conditions.  The dual hull helps transfer energy generated by waves from hull to hull, keeping the boat relatively stable.  Like center consoles, they usually have large open spaces around the deck for uninhibited movement.

Water Sports

There are a few boats that are designed for specific water sports.  These boats, like fishing boats, can be used for other things, but they are geared towards a specific use and are usually only bought by people who spend most of their time participating in water sports. 

I’m sure there are exceptions, but since these boats are usually more expensive than other options they might not make a lot of sense if you are going to use it for its intended purpose.

  • Wake Boats are either used for wakeboarding or wakesurfing and are designed to produce a big wake.  They are usually wide, heavy, have seating for a lot of people, and have a lot of power.  Wake boats are after a big wake and to make one they need to have a lot of weight to increase the amount of water being displaced.  To push the extra weight, they also need more power.
  • Water Ski Boats are primarily designed for water skiing.  They are usually more narrow and lighter weight than their wake boat cousins because a skier needs a much smaller wake and tends to be pulled at a slightly higher speed.  Often, to help keep the boat well balanced and the wake small, water ski boats have an inboard motor that sits in the middle of the boat instead of at the rear.
How do I Choose the Right Boat for Me? A Complete Guide

Pleasure Craft

When you move away from boats with a specialized purpose and into a boat made to serve a more general population, the decision of what to buy can become more challenging. 

If you are looking for a boat because you are going to use it to fish or for water sports, its easy to narrow down the list based on the use. 

When you are looking for a more generic boat, however, it is only personal preference that will influence your decision, not need. 

  • Pontoon Boats are the perfect boat for a lot of people.  They are stable, have a lot of room on the deck, and are great for taking a lot of people for a cruise around the lake.  Also, with an almost endless sizes and options, pontoon boats can be customized to be exactly what you want.
  • Bowriders are vee-hull boats with seating at the helm, in the stern, and a separate seating area in the bow.  They are quick and nimble and can be used for water skiing and tubing, though that isn’t there intended purpose.  Bowriders aren’t as easy to move around on as a pontoon boat but will have a more fun driving and riding experience.
  • Deck Boats are a combination of pontoon boats and bowriders.  Made from fiberglass like a bowrider, but with an easy to move around deck like a pontoon boat, they provide the best of both worlds without making many compromises to either.  Deck boats can be great family boats because they are stable and offer a lot of room on board, but you can also use them to tube or water ski.

What is Your Budget?

Budget is an extremely important part of the equation when buying a boat. 

Yes, it is important to buy something you’ll be happy with and be able to use the way you want but staying in budget will help keep your boating experience as stress free as possible. 

Boats can be expensive, even when buying used; there really isn’t a way around it.  When thinking about your budget for a boat, there is more than just the price of the boat. 

It’s also important to think about the ongoing expenses there will be.

Will you buy new, or used?

Looking at new boats is fun.  Seeing the best of the best and dreaming of what it would be like to walk out to your garage and see a shiny, pristine boat is what gets us, as boaters, going! 

For some people this might be there reality.  It might make the most sense for them to go pick out a brand-new boat and have it configured exactly the way they want it. 

There are some major benefits to buying new – it is exactly what you want, they come with a warranty, you get to take care of it how you want to, there aren’t any hidden issues you’ll find out about down the road. 

The benefits of a new boat come at a price, though.  Sure, there is peace of mind in knowing everything about what your boat has been through, but there are also some great used boats available. 

When looking for a used boat its important to do your due diligence in checking out the hull, engine, transmission, lines and hoses, electronics, and upholstery to make sure you know as much as possible going into ownership and to mitigate as much risk as possible.

Will you finance, or pay cash?

Financing your purchase will allow you to get more boat and stay within your budget. 

Often, boats are financed for a long period of time – 15 – 20 years, keeping the monthly payments as low as possible. 

This may be a great option for someone that is more concerned about having a boat without any foreseeable issues.  It also means you are on the hook for a large sum of money and could be paying off your boat for a long time, even if it depreciates and is worth less than what you owe. 

Paying cash, on the other hand, might mean you buy a boat that isn’t as nice, but it is totally yours from the beginning.  If you buy a used boat, there is always the possibility there will be issues needing repair.

How do I Choose the Right Boat for Me? A Complete Guide

Final Thoughts

Choosing the right boat for you and your family will provide countless perfect days, and memories, on the water. 

Making the right choice can be overwhelming since there are so many options, but if you break the decision into a few smaller decisions you’ll be able to swim through with ease and land on the boat that makes the most sense for you. 

Understanding how you will use your boat, your budget and if you’ll finance or pay cash, and if a new or used boat fits your needs, will help you narrow down the decision in no time.

Recommended Reading: What is The Best Way To Finance A New Boat?