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The Best Power Boat for Your Cabin

From an expert: how to make sense of all the choices for the best power boat.

By Dan Armitage
 Equipped with a trolling motor on the bow, a ski pylon at the transom, and other special features in between, fish-and-ski models allow boaters to enjoy the two most popular on-water activities across cabin country: fishing and tow-sports.  Like one of the characters from “The Wind in the Willows,” I love messing about in boats. And for what it’s worth, I’ve parlayed that passion into an occupation as a freelance boat writer focusing on power boats.

I run, test, and review dozens of watercraft each year for boating magazines. As a result, I have documented the best – and suffered some of the worst – boat designs, layouts and options over the years. Because of my experience, I am often asked what boats I recommend. Therefore, to help guests at boat shows, who are often overwhelmed by the sheer variety of boats available, I have parlayed my knowledge into a presentation I call, “The Best Boat for You.” When someone asks me what boat I recommend for them, and at the opening of each presentation, I bounce back with the question: What do you want to do on the water – and who do you want to do it with?  Wakeboarding boats are designed to throw a large wake for the enjoyment of those being towed and provide a comfortable cockpit for other passengers.

Boat Types

Serious fishing boats have features like bow-mounted electric motors, elevated seating positions for anglers casting from the bow and stern, higher gunwales, rod holders and live wells. At their broadest, boat types are defined by what propels them across the water: wind-, motor- or manual-power. Sailboats harness the breeze, power boats convert fossil fuels, and manually powered craft use muscles to get a boat from Point A to Point B.

No matter the propulsion, however, it’s what you want to take place between those two points that defines what’s going to be the best boat for you. In terms of enjoyment, it’s been said that for power boaters, it’s all about arriving at the destination. On the other hand, for sailboaters, who savor the voyage itself as much as the arrival, the pleasure begins the moment they step aboard.

 The same can be said of boaters who use paddles or oars to manually power their craft across the water. However, in this group many also cite the exercise they receive while doing so as a primary pleasure point. Paddlecraft selection was covered in the Cabin Living 2016 Ultimate Resource Guide, so in this article, let’s look at power boats, and the choices available.

Powering Up

If the primary objective of boat ownership is getting from Point A (the launch ramp) to Point B (the cabin dock) in the shortest time possible, then a power boat is the best choice. And if the boat is meant to ferry people, gear and groceries, then a craft with ample seating and carrying capacity is the best boat for that purpose. Pontoon boats meet both those requirements for use on protected waters, while broad-beamed, semi-V monohulls serve well as utility craft on more open and potentially rougher water. However, most power boats owned by cabin dwellers serve as pleasure craft, used to help friends and family members enjoy a variety of on-the-water activities. Power pleasure boats can further be divided into two categories based on hull design: monohull and pontoon. Pontoon boats now come with performance packages, fishing features and comfort options that make them a good choice for a broad segment of the boating market and resulted in pontoons becoming the nation’s top-selling boat category.[/caption] Monohulls are what most people think of when referring to traditional pleasure or fishing boats, with a pointed bow and a single, V-shaped hull with a bottom that flattens out at the blunt stern. Pontoon boats have a level, rectangular deck supported atop two or more “logs” made of aluminum or fiberglass that provide the boat’s flotation. Both designs can be used as fishing, cruising or water-sport boats.

Monohull Boats

Monohulls are further divided into several different categories based on the primary use(s) for which they are designed, and whether they are powered by outboard motors or stern-drive engines, the latter also referred to as “inboard/outboard” drive. Sport boats that are designed specifically to tow water skiers and wake boarders are often powered by stern-drives, while outboard motors, which hang off the transom and free up deck space, are a popular choice among most trailer-sized pleasure and fishing craft. Fishing boats fall into several categories, often based on the species they are designed to pursue: bass boats, walleye boats and even crappie boats are niche watercraft. More generic multispecies boats can be used for all types of angling, and usually offer open decks with pedestal seating at the bow and stern. With a broad stance and wide beam-forward design, deck boats combine monohull performance and handling features with the deck space and carrying capacity of pontoon models. These boats are powered by a primary outboard and offer an electric motor on the bow or transom for slow-speed fishing, aerated bait wells and live wells for keeping the bait and the catch alive, fish finders with GPS, and storage for fishing rods. Sport boats are usually made of fiberglass and are often stern-driven, featuring comfortable cockpit seating and permanent tow arches or pylons, and rack storage for skis and boards. Some come with built-in bladders or tanks that can be pumped full of water to increase the boat’s weight, or special devices on the transom to throw a bigger wake for boarders. Most come with premium sound systems and are equipped with powerful outboards or stern-drives to handle the towing duties. Fish-and-ski boats are a compromise – and a popular choice of cabin owners because they are designed to be used for cabin country’s most popular boating activities: fishing and tow sports, which include water skiing, wakeboarding and tubing. They come with angling options such as electric trolling motors, rod holders, live wells and fish finders. In addition, they can quickly be morphed into tow-sports mode by employing a powerful primary engine, portable ski pylon and comfortable rear-facing seats for observers and fellow tow-sports enthusiasts. 1. Pontoon boats are a popular choice among families who appreciate the stability offered by the boat’s wide stance and the security of the enclosed deck.

Pontoons & Deck Boats

Pontoon boats are perhaps the most popular category of boats among cabin owners – and have been the best-selling designs in the boating marketplace for nearly a decade. They are stable, roomy, great for boating families who want to accommodate younger children on the deck, and come in designs made for every activity from active water sports and fishing to cruising and even entertaining. The latter models even offer wet bars and plush seating, refrigerators, and custom lighting, along with entertainment systems. Deck boats are another popular design compromise, pairing the stability and roominess of pontoon boats with the performance offered by their monohull design. And compromise is the bottom line when it comes to boat ownership for most cabin owners, because no single design will meet all your varied on-the-water needs. That’s also part of the fun – the voyage of discovering the best boat for you. If you enjoy boats, it’s the trip of a lifetime.
Pontoon boats now come with performance packages, fishing features and comfort options that make them a good choice for a broad segment of the boating market and resulted in pontoons becoming the nation’s top-selling boat category.

Dan Armitage is a licensed U.S. Coast Guard Captain and a popular speaker at boat and sport shows on boating and fishing subjects. He hosts a syndicated outdoor radio show (buckeyesportsman.com) and relaxes in his Amish-built cabin on Ohio’s Kokosing River.