Can Deck Boats Handle Rough Water? (Explained)

Deck boats are a hybrid design, where the function is more important than form.

Deck boats combine the available space of the pontoon boat with the basic hull design of a bowrider.

But can that wide bow handle bad weather?

How Well a Deck Boat Handles Rough Water:

A deck boat with a V-shaped hull can handle choppy water almost as well as a bowrider. Other deck boat hulls will not cut through waves as well, and they will bounce and be tossed. It is still best to avoid rough water and weather with a deck boat.

Deck Boats and Rough Water

The distinguishing feature of deck boats as compared to other powerboats is the capacity to carry more passengers.

Specifically, this is because of the increased area in the bow.

Because of this area, deck boats become very wet for the forward passengers as waves begin to form. Water is increasingly pushed up and over the bow rather than to the side.

Not only does this make it a wet ride for the passengers, but it also affects the handling through rough seas. Deck boats are not intended to go into the ocean.

It is important to understand the different hulls of deck boats.

There are three basic designs, and all of these hulls range from 18 to 28 feet in length:


First is the V-hull.

This is the same basic design as the classic bowrider, but the bow flared outward to produce additional capacity for passengers.

This is the most common design, as it allows for higher speeds.


The second is the tri-hull.

In this model, the bow flares out and then down again on both sides, giving the appearance in front of three hulls. It transitions to a V-hull about amidship.

This is slightly more stable, as the area upfront is better supported, but the flatter sides make it more susceptible to chop from the side.


The third type of deck boat is the catamaran.

It is rare as there are few production models; most are custom and therefore expensive.

These basic designs are better for flat water and clear weather because of the added area in the bow.

But the V-hull can handle better as the weather worsens, should you be caught by a storm or crossing an area with waves. This is because that hull shape cuts through the waves.

Technically, this is because of the deadrise angle.


Deadrise is the degree of the angle formed by two surfaces.

This is measured from the plane of the boat’s bottom and the hull on either side of the center keel for boats. This is generally measured at the transom.

So, a V-hulled boat has a larger deadrise angle and will cut through rough seas better than a flatter-hulled boat.

The deadrise can be measured at various points along the hull to get a true understanding of the hull’s shape. A traditional hull will transition to a steeper deadrise angle as you get toward the bow, perhaps 50 degrees or more, so the hull can slice through waves.

But for a deck boat, this will not be the case. The bow flares out, so the deadrise remains shallow. Therefore, deck boats are wet in chop, and they are designed for calmer waters.

The bottom line here is that deck boats are not intended for the open ocean, but the models with the deeper V-hulls can handle the rough water if it is encountered, though the ride will be wet.

How Much Wind Can a Deck Boat Handle?

It is important here to understand the basic wind speed classifications:

  • Light wind: 1-15 MPH
  • Moderate wind: 16-23 MPH
  • Heavy wind: 24-38 MPH
  • Gale wind: 39-54 MPH
  • Storm Winds: 55-73 MPH

At a wind speed of 24 MPH, a Small Craft Advisory is issued; a Special Marine Warning is issued when sustained winds reach 39 MPH. Storm Warnings come at 55 MPH.

Given these classifications, it is easy to see that a deck boat should be cautious when the winds reach 15 MPH. By this time, you have whitecaps on the water, and chop will start to form, affecting the boat’s handling and making the ride bumpy and wet.

If you remain in an area with a Small Craft Advisory, you are going to have difficulty.

You should probably have been heading to safety with a deck boat long before this situation arises.

Does it Matter How Big the Deck Boat is?

Owners of all sizes of deck boats report their deck boats getting pushed around and bouncing off waves in rough water.

Boats of greater length usually perform better than smaller boats.

This is easy to visualize. If waves are 2 feet high, with an interval of 22 feet between them, an 18-foot boat will ride up and down them, while a 28-foot boat will ride through them.

This is an oversimplification, but you can see the advantage of boat length.

This is only in a two-dimensional plane, though. Beamwidth is an important factor, too. Too narrow, and your larger boat rolls from side to side in waves; too long, and it bounces over them.

The takeaway here is that if both hull designs are similar, a longer boat will handle waves more easily than a shorter boat.

What is the Best Deck Boat for Rough Water?

Those deck boats with V-hulls handle better in rough water.

This is because the hull slices through the waves. This goes back to the deadrise angle of the hull.

You must maintain your speed to cut through waves, though; if you slow down, the boat will roll over the waves instead, making handling difficult and increasing the spray for your passengers.

So, to use the advantage of the v-hull in rough water, the deck boat must maintain speed.

As far as the best specific deck boats and rough water models, that is a matter of greatly varied opinion. There is no shortage of perspective on boating forums; it would be wise to peruse several of those to hear the owners’ perspectives.

In fact, you will find many recommendations that catamarans are more stable in chop than monohulls. This can be true to a point but taking waves on the beam is worse in a catamaran.

Catamarans have better initial stability than monohulls, but you will reach the point of no return sooner in them if they heel, as monohulls are more ultimately stable.

Several models and manufacturers get consistently good marks from their owners. Sun Decks (SD) by Sea Ray have a deeper V-hull. Hurricane deck boats have a good reputation for handling chop.

Four Winns has built a strong reputation with their Stable-Vee hull design.

What Are Some Good Alternatives Here to Deck Boats?

Since deck boats are a hybrid design of pontoon boats and bowriders, those are two alternatives here.

If you are trying to get the maximum number of friends and family on the water, pontoon boats are a popular choice. They combine the maximum area with the maximum stability in calm, protected waters. They will not handle any rough water, though.

Pontoon boats will also use more fuel to reach the same speed as a deck boat, but they are more fuel-efficient overall.

Bowriders will carry fewer passengers, but they can handle waves better than deck boats. Many bowriders are designed for voyaging into the ocean waters.

You can also tow skiers and other speed-related activities that you can do with a deck boat.

It boils down to what you want: a casual platform for the maximum number of friends and family or performance. If rough water is something, you anticipate, however, the bowrider will be the choice.

However, if you are looking to go out into the ocean consistently, a center or dual console, or a cabin cruiser, is the better choice. They are designed to handle worse conditions.

What Are the Best Boats for Rough Water?

Boat designers must find the balance between roll time and heave and figure the ideal deadrise as well. Hull length and width figure into it as well as the basic hull shape.

See the referenced Boating Magazine article for a detailed discussion from three prominent boat designers. The focus of that article is the center console, but the principles are generally the same. Forums will give you some good ideas as well.

But there are a few specific models that have gotten consistently high marks from owners and editors. These include the Robalo 222, the Sea Chaser 22 HFC, and the Sea Born FX22 Bay Sport.

This is only scratching the surface, but the important point here is that there are quite a few models from various manufacturers that can handle large waves well.

What Should You Do if You Suspect Rough Weather?

If you are on your deck boat and the chop is getting worse or you see dark clouds on the horizon, it is probably time to head on in.

Even if your boat has a deeper V and cuts through chop, it will still be a very wet experience for your passengers.

In addition, make sure your passengers are wearing their life jackets. And before the rain and swells start coming into the boat, make sure your bilge pump is working.

Final Thoughts

Deck boats are designed for calm waters, but the proper models can handle rough water for a brief period.

Be aware of your boat’s limitations, be prepared for weather changes, and be ready to cut the day short before trouble develops.

Sources and Reference:

Deck Boat vs. Bowrider

Marine Weather Safety Rules

The Best-Riding Center Console Boats for Rough Water

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