Here’s our best advice for any new prospective boat buyer or owner: Don’t let the boat get in the way of learning how to be a boater. The easiest way to get frustrated or overwhelmed by boating is to start in a boat that’s too big, too expensive, or too complicated, or with a boat that’s unreliable. Instead, choose a starter boat that will help you ease your way into boat ownership.
Here’s our short list of the five best beginner boats to help you narrow down your options:
- Pontoon Boat
- Jet Boat
- Aluminum Fishing Boat
- Center Console
How to Choose the Best Starter Boat for Your Family
As you start to browse online boat marketplaces or visit local dealers, you’ll find a variety of entry-level boats to choose from. Here’s a few tips to keep in mind when selecting the best beginner boat for you and your needs:
Keep it simple
Larger and high-end boats are often equipped complex propulsion and electrical systems, electronics, and accessories. As a beginning boat owner, you need to focus on learning the rules of the road, basic boat-handling skills, how to launch a retrieve the boat from a trailer; in other words, Boating 101.
A boat with basic systems will let you stay focused on developing these skills.
Try before you buy
Would you buy a new car without taking it for a test drive? Didn’t think so—and the same idea should be true for boats. Most dealers will offer sea trials for serious boat shoppers, as long as inventory is in stock.
If you’re not ready to speak to a dealer just yet, or if you’re still weighing your options between different brands and models, a better alternative is to book a rental on a peer-to-peer marketplace like Boatsetter. With over 50,000 boats made up of over 20,000 different makes and models, you’ll be able to find a rental that’s comparable to the boat you’re eyeing to purchase.
Stick to a budget
Before you buy a boat, establish a budget that includes the cost of buying and financing the boat, fuel, maintenance and storage. Then stick too that budget.
Too often new boat owners underestimate the cost of a season on the water, or stretch that budget too thin. Boating is no fun if it’s taking too big a bite out of your wallet.
Safe boating is always fun boating for everyone. Consider taking a boating safety and education course such as those offered by the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary, BoatUS, or by your state or local authorities.
Top Beginner Boats Options
1. Pontoon Boat
Stable and easy to handle, a pontoon is a great way to get started on the water. Pontoons cover a huge spectrum of size and features, so it will be easy to pick a model that fits your budget, the water you’ll be boating on, and the activities that appeal to you.
Boatsetter Examples: The Manitou Aurora LE line is an example of a pontoon series that is designed to be easy to buy and to own.
2. Jet Boat
A jet boat offers the ultimate in powerboat simplicity. Its jet propulsion system eliminates a propeller, so there’s nothing to ding on the bottom. The jet drive also requires less maintenance than an outboard or a sterndrive powertrain, and is self-draining so it’s easy to prep for off-season storage. Operation is as simple as steering and controlling the throttle.
Boatsetter Examples: The best-selling Yamaha jet boat line includes runabouts, watersports and center console models.
3. Aluminum Fishing Boat
A good all-around aluminum fishing boat can be used for almost any kind of freshwater angling, including bass fishing. Choose a size that matches your budget and the type of water you’ll be fishing. These boats are easy to tow and launch, and can be upgraded with accessories as you gain experience.
Boatsetter Examples: A mod V hull aluminum model like the Bass Tracker XL is ideal for rivers and calmer water. For bigger water where choppy conditions are likely an aluminum boat with a deep vee hull like a Tracker Deep-V model is the better choice.
4. Center Console Boat
A popular choice for coastal boating, a center console model can be set up for fishing or with more seating and comfort amenities for day-cruising. Outboard power and a deep-vee hull are ideal for salt water boating, and center console models cover a wide range of size and price.
5. Runabout Boat
A runabout, or bowrider, is a great choice for all-around family boating, and known to be one of the best beginner boats that can suit a variety of needs. A runabout can be used for watersports, for casual angling, for day-cruising and for just lounging at a cove or beach. Runabout models cover a huge range of size and price point. A dealer can help you choose a boat length that’s a good match for the body of water on which you’ll usually be boating.