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Get the basics on different types of boats, from sailboats to pontoons.

Boats moored and waiting to sail. [© Jupiter Images, 2009]
© Jupiter Images, 2009
Boats moored and waiting to sail.

Boats are a fun part of a summer or holiday vacation, whether for a long fishing trip, a few hours of water skiing or a day of cruising and relaxing. Before purchasing a boat, consumers should determine exactly what they want out of the boat. Different types of boats cater to different needs, from small, inexpensive boats that are easy to transport to larger, family-friendly boats perfect for long vacations. Get the basics on types of boats and their special features.


Sailboats, propelled primarily by wind power, can range in size from 7 feet to 70 feet. Sailing can be peaceful and relaxing, or challenging and exciting, depending on wind and water conditions. A small sailboat, such as a dinghy or a sloop, can be a good option for beginners, children or sailors planning to use their boat on a relatively small body of water.

A larger boat, such as a 22- to 27-foot keelboat, is roomier and still easy enough for beginners to handle. Some of the advantages of a keelboat include capacity for more passengers, the ability to take day or overnight trips, and the option to have restroom and kitchen facilities onboard.


Runabouts, a popular type of recreational boat in the United States, typically are between 18 feet and 26 feet long. Depending on the size, runabouts can seat up to 10 passengers and carry enough gear for a day-long outing. Powered either by an outboard or an inboard/outboard engine, runabouts are usually made from molded fiberglass. Part of the appeal of runabouts is that they are relatively easy to load on and off of trailers for transport. Runabouts are best suited for general purpose cruising.

Fishing Boats

Fishing boats are available in a wide variety of types and sizes that are suited for different kinds of fish and bodies of water. The most basic fishing boat is a small, aluminum flat-bottomed boat that used in small bodies of water, including rivers.

Bass boats are more comfortable than smaller basic fishing boats and can reach high speeds. Center console fishing boats are larger and have self-draining floors, allowing boaters to fish in larger lakes and oceans.

Experienced boaters may want to consider buying a deep sea fishing boat, which is equipped with features for major fishing expeditions, including flying bridges and outriggers.


Boaters interested in skiing or tubing may want to consider buying a specially-designed towboat. Also known as ski boats, towboats are similar to runabouts, except that a towboat's hulls are designed to increase performance. While other types of boats can tow skiers and wakeboarders, some towboats have a special towing tower so that skiers can perform aerial maneuvers more easily.

Cabin Cruisers

Cabin cruisers are available in a range of sizes with different amenities, according to the American Boating Association. Smaller cabin cruisers, typically around 24 feet long, can sleep four adults and may include a kitchen, bathroom and sleeping area. Larger cabin cruisers might include a full kitchen, eating area and one or more bedrooms.

Most cabin cruisers have hot and cold running water, as well as heating and air conditioning systems onboard. Depending on the size, cabin cruisers are suitable for overnight or extended trips on inland lakes, Great Lakes, and larger waterways.

Pontoon Boats

Pontoon boats are multipurpose boats that consist of two pontoons with a platform and railing. Pontoon boats can hold up to 20 people and can be used for fishing, cruising and possibly skiing, depending on the engine size.

Because of the design, pontoon boats are not suitable for rough water conditions and are usually used on inland lakes and rivers. Pontoon boats are increasing in popularity and may be a good option for families with young children, as the railing can provide some measure of safety.

Canoes and Kayaks

Canoes and kayaks offer boaters the opportunity to paddle through waterways while enjoying beautiful scenery. Canoeing and kayaking can be relaxing, invigorating or challenging, depending on water conditions and the paddler's experience level. Boats generally seat one to two adults and are available with specific features suitable for different types of waterways. Canoes and kayaks are relatively inexpensive and easy to transport.

Popular Boats

According to Boating Life, pontoon boats and aluminum fishing boats are the first choices for many boat buyers. These boats are attractively priced and generally easy to operate, especially for beginning boaters.

Newer pontoon boats offer enough horsepower to accommodate towing skiers, tubers and wake boarders, and they come in a variety of floor plan designs to suit the buyers' interests. Different floor plans may be better suited for entertaining, fishing or families.

Aluminum fishing boats are easy to transport on trailers and do not consume as much gas as larger fishing boats.

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