A Quick Guide to Recreational Boat Types (With Pictures)

Are you thinking of buying a boat for personal recreation or temporary living? 

Do you dream of cruising leisurely just off the coast or of spending a lazy day at the local lake?  If not, are you ready for the rush of personal water-sports or fishing? 

No matter your preference, there is a boat that is right for you.  In this article, we will explore the types of boats, and all they have to offer. 

Boats can be categorized in many different ways.  Some are for commercial use, some are used in salt water, some hold many passengers, and some are for just one or two people. 

With so many different types, things can get confusing.  Let’s start by discussing the basic categories of boats for personal or family use. 

We can fit them into the following 5 general categories:

Boat types

5 Main Categories Of Recreational Watercraft:

1) Yachts and Houseboats

Large enough to brave the open water and with enough amenities to live comfortably, Yachts are the ultimate in boating luxury.  In the same vein are houseboats, which are normally found on freshwater lakes.

Yachts are about luxury, while houseboats are more about bare-bones living.

Both yachts and houseboats can not only be expensive to purchase but also to berth and maintain.

2) Cruisers 

Considered the boating world’s luxury cars, cruisers are designed for a relaxing day or weekend on the water and come in two basic varieties, cabin and non-cabin. 

They are generally v-hull designs made of fiberglass construction.  A boat designed for cruising offers the ultimate in leisure. 

While some cruisers can accommodate an overnight stay, in general, they are meant for day cruises with friends and family. 

They can be used in freshwater or saltwater, but they shouldn’t be taken into international waters due to their short range.

3) Water-sports

This is a broad category that primarily includes boats designed for thrills. 

Watercraft designed for sports offers towing capability and speed from personal watercraft like jet skis to multi-engine ski boats. 

Some are designed for specific water-sports like wakeboarding and skiing, while others are designed for nothing but speed and/or maneuverability.

4) Fishing

From drift boats for fly fishing in rivers to large ocean-going boats for tuna and marlin species,  fishing boats come in many shapes and sizes and are designed for specific water conditions or fish species. 

If you think of buying a fishing boat, make sure you do your research and know exactly what waters and fish you plan to use it for.

5) Hybrids 

Many recreational boats are hybrid that can be used for multiple activities. 

Some boat types in this category are fish and ski boats, bowriders, and deck boats.  

Now let’s take a look at specific types of boats in each category:

Yachts and Houseboats

1) Yachts

Yachts are boats made for living on the water and are normally capable of long-distance travel. 

They will have living quarters, bathrooms, kitchens (galleys), and lounging areas. 

There is no limit to the level of luxury a yacht can provide at the top of the range.  Some have freshwater swimming pools, game rooms, and formal dining rooms. 

They can also carry smaller boats, helicopters, and cars.  There is nothing inexpensive about a yacht, so make sure you know what you are getting into if you decide to purchase one. 

Operating a yacht requires an experienced Captain or crew, so be sure to acquire the proper skills and certifications before attempting to sail one on your own.

2) Houseboats

Houseboats are usually found in freshwater lakes, and, as the name suggests, they are akin to an RV or small house on the water. 

They can carry many passengers and are perfect for an evening party cruise or weekend on the lake. 

In moderate climates, you can live year-round on a houseboat. 

Houseboats can be cumbersome to maneuver and don’t always perform well on rough water.  High winds are a particular problem for houseboats due to their flat sides and shallow draft.

3) Trawlers

Trawlers are inspired by commercial fishing boats and are capable of long-distance navigation in the open ocean. 

With their stability and rugged design, they can withstand harsh conditions and are well suited for colder, harsher waters.  

Known for their modest speed and fuel efficiency, trawlers are a type of yacht perfect for downsized living. 

4) Sailing Yachts

While sailboats can be small and modest, here we are talking about the more well-appointed cabin boats meant for use in navigable waters like the ocean or large lakes.  The use of sails as propulsion is an ancient idea that has stood the test of time. 

While modern sailboats usually have a motor for emergencies and maneuvering in tighter areas like harbors, the use of sails makes their range nearly limitless. 

These boats require knowledge, skill, and experience to operate effectively; however, sailing them is highly rewarding.  Sailing yachts are also a great way to live year-round on the water.

Cruisers

1) Cabin Cruisers

A cabin cruiser offers a luxury leisure experience for a day or weekend out on the water.  The cabins are generally small, and they are not as well-appointed as a yacht, but they offer a place to escape the sun and sleep if necessary. 

These boats are better suited to a day out with family relaxing on the water than staying out for longer periods.

2) Non-cabin Cruisers

Cruisers without a cabin are generally smaller and used on freshwater.  They offer a luxurious and stable ride and often have swimming platforms, among other amenities.  

Water-sports

1) Ski/Wakeboard Boats

Ski boats are fast and powerful.  They can be inboard, outboard, or sterndrive and offer features specifically designed for water skiing/wakeboarding, such as ski poles, towers, and storage areas for ski gear.  They are normally v-hull boats with powerful motors capable of pulling multiple skiers. 

There are boats designed for wakeboarding that cast high wakes, but they are interchangeable with ski boats in general.

2) Personal Water Craft

Personal watercraft(PWC) are the motorcycles of the boating world.  Commonly called jet skis, a PWC is a fun way to spend time on the water. 

The term “jet ski” refers to an early version of these crafts and has become the common name. 

PWCs are quick, agile, and a blast to ride.  They are driven by a “jet” of water.  The motor pulls water in through an impeller system and expels it out of a nozzle that can be turned to control the boat’s direction. 

PWC can hold up to three people, and some are powerful enough to pull a skier, although only experienced skiers can pull this off.

3) Jet Boats

Jet boats are akin to jet skis but have a cabin similar to ski boats.  These boats are highly maneuverable even at speed. 

They use the same propulsion technology as PWC and can be powerful enough to pull a skier. 

The jet drive technology has also been used on some models of fishing boats.  The jet drive allows for a very shallow draft that can allow fishermen to access waters off-limits to deeper running boats.

Fishing Boats

1) Bass Boats

Bass boats are designed for, you guessed it, bass fishing. 

These freshwater boats come in different shapes and sizes, but they are normally flatter bottomed, shallow-draft boats with outboard engines. 

They are often equipped with a fishing deck on the front and back with high seats.  They have small electric motors called trolling motors with a foot control that keeps your hands free for fishing.  These boats also have sophisticated electronics that can detect fish, map the lake bottom, and tell water temperature. 

Some newer electronics have side view sonar that can track your lure as it moves through the water.  

2) Multi-species boats

Some fishing boats are designed for fishing for anything in the water.  They can be different hull shapes but normally have V-hull or flat-bottomed aluminum hull designs. 

Multi-species boats are versatile and often have trolling motors, kicker motors, and electronics packages. 

Kicker motors are smaller outboards mounted on the transom that allows for slower speeds when trolling and serve as a backup for emergencies.

3) Drift Boats

Drift boats are a specialty fishing boat designed for fly fishing on rivers.  The unique hull design allows you to make it through rapids and over rocky areas safely.  They can have motors but generally are controlled with oars.

4) Saltwater

While any boat can be used for fishing, saltwater fishing boats have deck designs and features specifically for fishing in the ocean.  The decks are open, and skid-proof and the rails are equipped with rod holders. 

Saltwater flats boats have a shallow draft for fishing over reefs and near the shore, while larger v-hulls and trawlers can get out to the deepwater game fish.

Hybrids and Catamarans

1) Pontoons

A pontoon boat is a great way for families to enjoy the water economically and without much experience.  They have two or more tube-shaped aluminum pontoons with a deck on top that can be outfitted in many different ways. 

While some Pontoon boats are set up for lounging, others are set up for fishing, and some are used for commercial purposes. 

They can be equipped to tow tubes or skiers and can even have toilets and sinks.

2) Fish N’ Ski Boats

Fish and ski boats are a fantastic way for everyone to have fun on the water.  They often have a more V-shape hull, which is better for skiing but has multi-use decks double as seating/swimming platforms and fishing areas. 

Most are equipped with trolling motors and electronics for fishing, as well as removable ski poles. 

The engine and propeller combinations are chosen specifically to provide the power needed to tow skiers.  This is a great option for family trips to the local lake.

3) Bow Riders

Bowriders have an open bow with seating for additional passengers.  The bow seats are normally a bench-style seat that allows for sunbathing for two or seating for four.  They can have inboard, outboard, or sterndrive engines and can pull skiers or wake-boarders.  

Bowriders are a popular recreational boat type used as a runabout and for general fun.

4)   Deck Boats

Deck boats are essentially a single-hulled pontoon boat.  They combine the features of V-hull boats with the comfort of the large decked pontoons. 

They are normally outboard driven and can be used for fishing, leisure, towing skiers, and cruising.

Hull Types

Now let’s talk a little more about hull types.  A boat’s hull is the part that touches the water and can have many shapes.  The intended function of the boat normally determines the shape of the hull.  Some boats require more stability, while others need a shallow draft. 

Make sure you know how you intend to use the boat and choose the appropriate hull type.

The following are some, but not all, examples of hull shapes:

1)  Flat Bottomed

Flat bottom boats make the nautical world go ‘round.  Sorry, bad joke, but many boats have flat bottoms.  Many aluminum fishing boats have this design, as well as saltwater flats fishing boats and skiffs. 

This is a stable hull design that is easy to manufacture cheaply, making it a standard in the boating community.

2)  Modified and Deep V-Hull

Chances are when you picture a boat, you are thinking of a V-Hull.  The name comes from the hull cross-section’s shape if sliced perpendicular to the keel, which is the lengthwise centerline.  Another way to picture this is by thinking of the boat’s sides that touch the water as the sides of the V.  The bottom of the V in the bottom of the boat. 

V-Hulls are common shapes and provide a stable, maneuverable platform that suits many different applications. 

Modified V-hulls are used for many smaller boats and are generally flat towards the stern and a deep V toward the bow.  Many freshwater fishing boats feature modified V-hulls.   

V-hulled boats’ common feature is strakes and chines, which form the stepped appearances on some boats’ sides.  They are there to provide stability and help the boat reach planing speed more quickly.

3) Catamarans and Split hulls

Catamarans are more of a concept than a different type of boat hull.  They are boats made from two or more hulls used side by side that allow for a shallower draft and higher speed with less propulsion than single-hull boats. 

A catamaran is one of the oldest shapes out there and can be nearly any size. 

The earliest was probably two canoes lashed together with a deck or netting in between.  It is a concept that dates back to the ancient ocean-going people of the Pacific ocean. 

A catamaran can vary from small, simple boats for fishing or recreation to huge cargo ships used for international commerce and military applications.  

Split hull boats are a hybrid design.  They normally have a bow that splits off into separate V shapes but is still one solid hull.  It is like a V-hull started to morph into a catamaran but got stuck halfway through the process.

Tri-hull and tunnel hull designs are examples of split hull boats.

Common Boat Materials

A quick word about materials:

Boats have been made from nearly every construction material available over the years, but modern recreational boats are generally made from aluminum or fiberglass.  Some fiberglass hulls are reinforced with wood or other material. 

Aluminum is considered the tougher option and is commonly used in fishing boats and pontoon tubes; however, it can be noisy. 

Luxury boats are normally made from fiberglass.  Fiberglass can be made into more complex shapes, making it ideal for most hull types. 

No matter what hull material is used, most boat decks are made from wood and are subject to deterioration if left to the elements.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, boats are a fantastic way to spend your free time with your friends and family.  Choosing the right boat can be a daunting task and requires a lot of research. 

Make sure you weigh all options before making such a large investment, and don’t forget to plan for upkeep, insurance, and storage/berthing costs. 

Water does not easily forgive lapses in judgment.  One bad decision could result in disastrous consequences, so be sure you adhere to safety standards and regulations and always have a designated Captain when alcohol is being served.

As always, I hope you have peaceful travels, fair winds, and calm water.  Be safe and watch out for your fellow boaters!

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