5 Best Family Boats
More and more families seem to be gravitating towards the boating, ready to participate in any on-water activity that can span generations, stimulate positive social interaction and, above all, be a lot of fun.
Choosing the right type of boat for family boating can be a challenge simply because there are so many options. If this will be your first family boat, make versatility your top priority. The more activities your new boat can support, the more engaged the entire family will be in spending time on the water. Over the course of a weekend you could fish, tow a tube, cruise for dinner and sun at the cove with one boat—if you chose the right boat.
Here are five top choices when weighing your options for the best boats for families:
- Pontoon Boats
- Fish-and-Ski Boats
- Runabout Boats
- Dual Consoles
- Center Consoles
1. Pontoon Boat
Perhaps no other type of boat offers the buyer more options and choices than the pontoon segment. The variety of sizes, amenities, power, performance and price make it possible to design a pontoon that’s a perfect fit for your lifestyle, location and budget (if you’re interested in purchasing one for yourself, be sure to read our Pontoon Boat Buyer’s Guide).
A mid-size pontoon, like the Harris Sunliner 250 for example, can carry as many as 15-16 passengers (up to 12, if rented), a benefit for larger families or for families with kids who like to bring along friends.
- A pontoon deck is surrounded by a fence, which makes it appealing to families with younger children.
- The stability offered by a pontoon puts many people at ease and makes it a great platform for entertaining and even fishing.
- With the right choice of power and options, a pontoon can be used for watersports.
It’s this versatility that have made pontoons the best-selling freshwater boat type for several years running.
2. Fish-and-Ski Boat
Fish-and-ski boats combine features of an angling and watersports model in one do-it-all family fun platform—fish in the morning; tow skiers, boarders and tubers in the afternoon; end the day with a relaxing sunset cruise. Most fish-and-ski boats are designed for fresh-water use, and come in two general categories:
- The first is based on a family runabout or deck boat with added fishing features such as a convertible casting deck, live well and trolling motor—a good example is the Tahoe Sport Series.
- Another approach is to start with a bass fishing or a multi-species fishing boat and add features that make it better-suited for watersports and comfortable family cruising, such as a full windshield, a sunlounge and a watersports pylon—on this side, a good example is the Nitro Sport Series.
A great fish-and-ski boat is a hybrid designed to expand the function of the base boat, and expand the fun time on the water.
3. Watersports Boat (with Forward-Facing Sterndrive)
Wakesurfing—riding a surf board on the wake behind a boat running at low speed—is a wildly popular new watersports activity. Wakesurfing originally required an inboard watersports tow boat, which can be expensive and also rather focused in its function.
The introduction of two forward-facing sterndrive options make it safe and legal to surf behind a boat that retains all of the versatility of a family runabout or bowrider. Both the Volvo Penta Forward Drive and the Mercury MerCruiser Bravo 4S drive place the propeller under the boat hull, rather than behind the boat where it could cause injury to a surfer. These drives are offered as an option on many runabout models.
4. Dual Console Boat
Families boating in coastal waters have discovered the versatility of a dual console boat like the Boston Whaler Vantage series and the Robalo Dual Console models. Designed for use in saltwater, a dual console boat will have outboard power, a soft-riding hull and self-draining fiberglass cockpit that is easy to hose down at the end of the day.
Most dual console models do have angling features, including bait and live wells and rod storage, but trade the all-around fishing access of a center console model for the comfort of seats, a bow lounging area and a full windshield. This makes the dual console boat a great choice for families that may fish occasionally but also use the boat for day-cruising, lounging and tubing, especially with younger children aboard.
5. Center Console Boat
Are two consoles better than one? Not always! Center console boats offer their own unique advantages, particularly when it comes to families with avid anglers. In today’s boat market, you can find center consoles of every size, from small boats around 16-feet in length, to “center console yachts” measuring 65-feet. These days, boat builders design center console models to be versatile in every way shape and form, making them far more than just a fishing machines.
Families with younger children will prefer flexible models like the Yamaha FSH Series, perfectly crafted for any waterway and any on-water activity.
Charles Plueddeman is a self-employed writer and photographer based in Wisconsin. A staff editor and contributor to Boating Magazine since 1986, he is the author of its “Off My Dock” column. In the marine realm he specializes in engine technology and trailerable boats. His editorial work has appeared in many national publications, including Popular Mechanics, Men’s Journal, Playboy, Popular Science, Cycle World, and Harley-Davidson Enthuisast.