This blog is part of a series for new boaters. To read more from the original article, see Boat Buying for Absolute Beginners, Part IV.

When it comes to styles of boats, negotiating your way through the options can seem intimidating.

Here we attempt to give you a foundation for informed shopping. To keep things extra simple, we’ve divided powerboat layout styles into two broad classes: open and closed.


Deck boats maximize open space while retaining much of the recreational versatility of runabouts. (Photo courtesy Chaparral Boats)

Open Boats

With few exceptions such as some center-consoles, open boats don’t have cabins. These are the most common types of powerboat. Open boats offer little protection for crew or cargo, so they can be “wet” rides in rough water or rainy weather. Smaller open boats generally have outboard power, while larger open models can have either stern-drive or outboard power. Here’s are some open-boat types you’re likely to see as you shop:

  • Jon Boat— These are square-bowed, flat-bottomed boats intended for protected water. Best uses: dive boat or work boat.

  • Dinghy— These are small boats, sometimes less than 10 feet long. They can be powered “manually,” by oars or even by a small outboard motor. Best uses: transportation to larger boat at anchor or as a “first boat” for children.

  • Inflatable— Inflatable boats are made of coated fabric. They use air pumped into chambers to maintain their shape. When deflated, they often can be packed into small containers and easily transported. Usually powered by outboard engines, the majority of these boats are less than 20 feet long. Best uses: as a dinghy or in jon-boat applications; also great for apartment dwellers with no place to store a fiberglass or wooden boat.

  • Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB)— These boats combine a rigid fiberglass hull with inflatable tubes around the perimeter to offer inflatable portability and rigid hull-performance. Favored by rescue services, these boats are faster than conventional inflatables. Best uses: rough-inshore-water boats, dive boats, work boats and yacht “tenders.” (Tenders provide transportation to and from moored vessels such as motoryachts.)

  • Center-Console— In this style of boat, the helm station is located in center of boat, giving full walkaround space. Some have a “T-top,” which is a canvas roof supported by fixed aluminum tubing. The largest center-console boats have heads, and some offer limited berths in the forward cuddy. (In these cases, they are exceptions to the “no cabin” definition of open boats.) Larger center-console boats may have twin outboards, and a few have either inboards or outdrives. Best uses: multipurpose boat; diving and watersports.

  • Bowrider— These boats have a helm station amidships, a windshield with a center section that opens (called a “walk-through”) on hinges and an open-bow area with padded seating. Nearly all bowriders are intended for trailering. Best uses: all-purpose family boat.

  • Deck Boat— Similar to bowriders, deck boats are usually built on catamaran or cathedral hulls and are designed with maximum open space for recreational watersports and entertaining. Larger deck boats often feature bountiful seating, enclosed head compartments and complete entertainment centers including sinks, refrigerators and 12-volt electrical outlets. Best uses: all-purpose family boat for use in protected waters.

Closed Boats

By definition, closed powerboats feature some kind of hard or soft enclosure. They range from the cramped confines under the decks of small closed-bow sport boats to the opulent digs of cabin cruisers. Here are several common styles:

  • Cuddy Cabin— Generally less than 25 feet long, cuddy-cabin boats are, essentially, bowriders with a taller and closed foredeck. That’s why a number of manufacturers are able to offer their runabouts in cuddy and bowrider versions. Best Uses: short overnight trips and weekending, and areas where weather can turn quickly and shelter is a must.

  • Pontoon— Why put pontoon boats, with their copious deck space, in the “closed-boat” category? Because most have complete canvas enclosures, at least as an option. (Some even have rigid tops.) The ultimate for gentle, inland-water cruising and entertaining, pontoon boats are supported by two pontoons usually made of aluminum. They have large, flat decks perfect for patio-style living afloat. Best uses: protected water (river and inland lake) cruising, picnics and as swimming platforms.

  • Express Cruiser— An express cruiser is designed for overnighting with berths, a galley and a head forward, and a large open cockpit aft. Among the most popular form of cruiser, express cruisers range from 25- to 63-feet-long. Best uses: day trips and weekend overnight cruises.

  • Cabin Cruiser— Though the term isn’t used as often as it once was, a cabin cruiser features a raised cabin with side windows. The helm is usually beneath a hardtop, and the cockpit is open. Amenities include staterooms, a head and a galley. They frequently are offered with two or even three cabins. Best uses: weekending, extended vacation cruises in mild waters and as a dockside summer “cottage.”

  • Liveaboard Cruiser— These boats are intended to provide all of the amenities found in a city apartment. It is possible to live aboard one of these boats for an indefinite period of time, even while under way. Nearly all liveaboard cruisers have twin inboard propulsion, usually diesels. This class of boat starts at roughly 40 feet in length and has no top size. Best uses: extended vacation cruising on moderately protected waterways and as a moored or a dockside summer cottage.

  • Flush Deck Motor Yacht— These boats must be 40 feet or longer to allow full stand-up headroom belowdecks. Most have large staterooms, toilet rooms and galleys. All are built in hulls capable of coastal passages. Best uses: extended coastal cruising and as a moored or dockside summer cottage.

  • Trawler Yacht— Based on super-seaworthy fishing trawlers, trawler-style yachts retain traditional trawler styling. Most have fuel-stingy displacement or semi-displacement hulls. Almost all trawler yachts are diesel-powered with a single or twin inboard, depending on the size of the boat. Best Uses: extended passage making (even in rough water), vacation cruises and as a moored or dockside summer cottage.

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