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When it comes to buying the best family boat, matching the right boat with your family’s needs is an important step to ensuring you make the best long-term purchase that enables you and your family to make memories for years to come. Different boats do different things well, and different boats enable certain types of activities out on the water. As such, typically we start with how a family plans to use the boat and what that means for the type of boat that should be considered.
Activities on the water can range from freshwater fishing, saltwater fishing, watersports, day cruising or overnight cruising. Considering how you plan to realistically use the boat with respect to these activities is a great starting point when considering the best family boat for you and your family members. After discussing the planned activities, it’s time to consider the type of boat to purchase. Let’s review some of the popular options.
Pontoon boats are boats with wide-open decks that sit on aluminum “logs” which provide the stability and buoyancy. They typically are used in freshwater scenarios, although some of the higher end pontoon models can come with saltwater packages. Pontoons are very versatile and can be used for cruising and even watersports.
Bowriders (sometimes called runabouts) are designed with comfortable seating in the forward cockpit area. They’re typically used for watersports or day cruising, and they’re often used in lakes or intracoastal waterways where the seas aren’t very rough. Should you want to get into rougher seas, a center console or dual console is probably a better bet.
Deck boats are sometimes where people land when they can’t decide between a pontoon boat and a bowrider. Deck boats have a slightly wider bow compared to a bowrider in an attempt to provide more deck space and seating capacity. A bowrider will typically be a bit more nimble and be able to handle a little better than a deck boat. Among other factors, deciding between capacity and performance will be something you’ll have to think through.
Cruisers are fairly seaworthy and are more designed for long-range cruising and/or overnight boating. Rather than an open bow style boat, the boat features an enclosed cabin which enables overnighting. The number of staterooms and capacity below deck is primarily determined by the size of the boat.
Center console boats are widely popular in Florida waters and are ideal for those looking to fish offshore. The deep-V hulls can cut through the water and handle nastier conditions much better than your typical bowrider. The wide open layout is ideal for pursuing the trophy catch. Center consoles can be fit with outboard engines according to specifications and owner preference.
Dual console boats offer the offshore capabilities of the center console boat while providing the seating and amenities of a bowrider. Dual consoles are known for the versatility they offer where watersports, fishing, cruising and anything you can think of are all possible.
What Size Boat Do You Need?
Again, your primary use cases will drive much of the decision making here. If watersports are your main concern, smaller boats (17-25 ft.) with enough power in the engines to pull skiers and wakeboarders is a common option.
If fishing is your aim, you’ll want to consider where you plan to do most of your fishing. For inshore fishing, smaller flats boats and bay boats (15-22 ft.) are common options as they enable you to get to shallow, hard-to-reach fishing spots. If your goal is to get offshore, the deep-V hulls and outboard power of center consoles will get the job done. Depending on your comfort level and needs, the size of the center console you need will vary. You can go as small as 20 feet or go 30 feet and up. The larger you go, the more capabilities and the rougher seas you can handle, but of course, the price goes up as well.
For versatile family fun, bowriders and dual consoles of all sizes can work well (18 ft. up to 30 ft.). Dual consoles on the larger end of the spectrum will enable going offshore when handling rougher seas. If you’re sticking to family fun on freshwater lakes, bowriders, deck boats and pontoons anywhere from 17 ft. up to 25 ft. can be sufficient.
The cruiser market is wide and vast. Here your options will need to be further narrowed down by considering your budget, where you plan to boat and how many guests you’ll typically have with you. The size range for cruisers can start around 30 ft. and go up from there. Talk to your sales professional or yacht broker for assistance in narrowing your options if need be.
What is the best family boat for the money? It’s a common question, but a tough one to answer. There are certainly value boat brands available to consider and there are higher-end boats with more amenities, better performance and built with more premium materials. Knowing your personal budget range for a boat purchase is an important factor in narrowing down your choices to select the best family boat that you can buy.
Additionally, your price will vary widely based on the age of the boat. While newer boats will cost more, they also typically come with some form of a warranty that can be quite helpful.
When you’re down to choosing between two or three final options, be sure to closely examine the interior finishings. Consider bringing your spouse along as well. Often times, the final decision can come down to some of the interior details and personal preferences. Also, consider things like storage and other minor amenities. What will you need to store onboard? Do the storage compartments work well for your particular needs? Are there any unique amenities that some of the boats offer? For instance, some of the EdgeWater dual consoles offer dive doors on the side which are really great for swimming!
Family Boats Worth Considering
Versatile Bowrider: The Cobalt 23SC
The 23SC is a perfect blend of style, size and performance. This mid-sized, outboard bowrider is created to do it all well! With either a Yamaha or Mercury outboard, you can get into the shallowest of waters while not sacrificing performance and all the while keeping maintenance to a minimum. This vessel offers a built-in head under the port console to make sure your time on the water is not cut short, and in addition, offers not only a bow ladder for beach landings but also a stern ladder for easy access in and out of the water. Click here to learn more.
Watersports: Cobalt R7WSS
The Cobalt R7WSS Surf boasts a massive cockpit, achieved by Cobalt’s ‘Free Space Reclamation’. With the plush, sporty performance you’ve come to expect from a Cobalt, the Cobalt R7WSS Surf certainly holds its own w/ a deep V hull design that’s as much at home in choppy intercostal waters, as it is for your favorite water sports. With the WSS Surf package the boat becomes even more versatile and gives you functionality water sport enthusiasts crave, including ballast tanks & one touch Surf settings. Building the perfect wake with the push of a button to Surf left or right. Simply engage Performance Mode, and the Surf system adjusts, and you’re enjoying the smooth, stable running of a deep-v Cobalt! Click here to learn more.
Versatile Dual Console: EdgeWater 248CX
One of the most versatile boats for the Tampa Bay area, the EdgeWater 248cx provides a family friendly layout, built on EdgeWater’s Single Piece Infusion, 24′ center console hull. The SPI construction gives the 248cx a ride quality typically only seen in larger boats. With a standard hardtop, windlass and Vaccuflush head, the EdgeWater 248cx dual console, is an excellent choice for those boaters looking to blend family boating, with occasional fishing. A spacious transom and boarding ladder allow easy boarding when anchored at Bunce’s Pass, and the 3 insulated fishboxes allow for plenty of space to keep your catch ice cold.Click here to learn more.
High Performing Center Console: EdgeWater 230CC
The EdgeWater 230CC boasts Single Piece Infusion Construction, a fully finished bilge and more standard features than other boats in its class. Packaged with Yamaha Four Stroke power up to 300hp, this boat is sure to impress in the performance category. It is the first in a fresh new line of offshore center console models designed to be the perfect blend between fishing and family cruising. Click here to learn more.
Versatile Center Console: Everglades 235CC
The Everglades 235CC truly built for flexibility. With the option for full bow sun pad and a bow ladder for front exit and entry, this boat is perfect to take to your favorite island. The 235CC is built to fish and comes standard with 12 rod-holders, a 60-gallon self-bailing fish box, a 27-gallon live-well, ample tackle storage, and a 65-quart yeti cooler. Without sacrificing fishability, the 235CC is also family friendly with bow seating and a ski pylon on the hard-top, perfect for watersports. The slightly wider hard top allows for better refuge from the sun. This boat is perfect for any serious fisherman or casual boater wanting the option to fish without sacrificing comfort for the family. Click here to learn more.
Comfortable Cruiser: Carver C34 Coupe
For boaters looking for bold styling and spaciousness below deck, the Carver C34 Coupe brings luxurious amenities and fantastic seaworthiness to a compact cruiser. While the boat can sleep up to six, the boat is also ideally suited for when mom and dad are looking to get away for a weekend. The Carver C34 Coupe is a luxurious but economical coastal cruiser. Click here to learn more.
Frequently Asked Questions
What kind of family boat should I get?
The type of boat you choose will be largely dictated by your planned uses for it. If freshwater water sports are your goal, you might consider bowriders, pontoons or deck boats. If inshore fishing is your goal, consider a flats boat, bay boat or smaller center console. For offshore anglers, larger center consoles might be the best fit. For families looking for flexibility and the ability to do a variety of activities in salt water, consider a dual console. Lastly, if longer range boating and overnight is the priority, consider a cruiser.
What is the best family boat for the money?
This is a common question and will be determined by both your budget range and the type of you boat you want. If your budget is somewhat restricted, there are value-oriented brands available as new boats, or you can stick with higher end boats and consider the pre-owned market.
What boat types have become more popular for families in recent years?
Pontoon boats and dual console boats have both increased in popularity in recent years mostly due to the versatility they offer and the increases made with respect to performance for each type of boat.
How can I further narrow down my choices for a family boat?
Heading to a boat show is a great option as you can see first-hand a myriad of boat options to consider. Also, head to a showroom to talk to a sales person and talk through your planned use cases. A salesperson can help point you in the right direction.