The definition of an “affordable” runabout obviously varies according to the buyer. You might be pleased to discover there are still new, showroom-fresh boats in the 16’ - 17’ range (with a factory warranty!) that can be had for just over $17,000. You also might be just as surprised to learn that as you push that limit to include 18’ and 19’ models the price rises accordingly, with some manufacturer’s entry-level offerings approaching $40,000.
What you deem affordable in that widespread mix likely comes down to how much of a premium you place on layout and passenger capacity, the power you deem necessary to haul those passengers and maybe a few water toys, the list of standard equipment…and perhaps ultimately, how much value you place on a brand’s name and reputation.
We’ve assembled the most affordable model from each of 10 key industry players. Match the descriptions with your budget and just maybe find the ideal boat for you.
Bayliner 160 Bowrider
Starting at $17,399 with a 60hp Mercury FourStroke, the 160 is the lowest-priced model on this list. Still, the basics are accounted for. A single axle painted trailer is standard. So, too, are multi-function dash gauges with fuel, speed, tach and voltmeter; horn; 12-volt outlet; trim indicator; and tilt steering. An in-floor ski locker is ready for water toys, and the minimal swim platform includes a telescoping ladder. The windshield is full size and offers welcome protection from the elements. You can even choose a choice of four exterior hull colors.
At 16’ 2” in length and with a passenger capacity of 650 pounds, the 160 isn’t the choice for a crowd. Still, a couple can invite friends out for the day or a young family can enjoy mixing it up between a bow cockpit ideal for two kids, twin captains chairs behind the consoles and an aft-bench that can seat three abroad…or let a solo passenger stretch out and take in some sun. Worthy options if you choose to hit the upgrade list? Consider the waterproof, MP3-capable stereo, 6’ Bimini for shade, or should you like a little more power, an upgrade to 90 horsepower.
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Chaparral 19 SSi OB
Like many manufacturers, Chaparral understands that buyers of “affordable” runabouts don’t always want their boat to look that way. Examples? The 19 SSi OB (starting at $35,195 w/Yamaha 115hp outboard) comes in a choice of six hull side colors. The molded fiberglass dash features hand-stitched vinyl and wrapped visor, with digital instrumentation nicely arrayed behind the polished spoke steering wheel. The cupholders and grab handles spread throughout both bow and main cockpits are stainless steel rather than plastic. Led cockpit lighting is paired with blue LED lighting in the cockpit speakers. Helm and passenger seats securely wrap around occupants and offer ventilation to keep your cool.
Less obvious details reveal Chaparral also understands how people use their boats. The ski locker has a wide opening, key for bigger water toys like wakeboards with high-wrap bindings, and a pneumatic strut to stay open. Sunpad wings, both port and starboard, are hinged to reveal dual walk-thrus and storage compartments that don’t require you to find storage for loose filler cushions. Those same wings can be locked at an angle to create a reclining chaise. Even something as seemingly insignificant as the swim platform shows attention to detail. It boasts truly usable space that swimmers and watersports enthusiasts will appreciate.
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Four Winns Horizon 180
Four Winns’ Horizon 180 both looks and feels longer than its 18’ LOA would indicate. Maybe it’s the deep bow cockpit, a trait that makes occupants feel more secure (and gives parents welcome peace of mind). Or perhaps its the way Horizon 180 designers tackle the engine compartment. Rather than a massive sunpad, port and starboard compartment sides are cut out to reveal aft-facing seats on the swim platform. And then there’s the passenger capacity. There’s enough room to handle the family with kids or a couple longing to share their time on the water with friends.
Four Winns takes a more upscale approach to the Horizon 180 (starting at $37,333 with a MerCruiser 4.5L 200 sterndrive). Choose between six hull colors, eight accent stripes and four interior color choices. A capped windshield gets style points, as do stainless thru-hull fittings. A deluxe tilt wheel and aircraft-style, lit toggles highlight the dash. Options include a gas-assist, hinged wakeboard tower, Bimini top, and a variety of interior, cover and sound upgrade packages.
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Glastron GT 180
For a 17’ 10” runabout, the Glastron GT 180 (starting under $27,000 with a Mercury 90 four-stroke outboard) boasts generous capacity, eight passengers with a max capacity of 1800 pounds. The V-shaped bow cockpit is best for kids and teens. Adults will likely find twin, swiveling captains chairs with flip-up bolsters and a well-padded stern bench more to their liking. Consoles are color-keyed to exterior hull color. The helm includes an upscale tilt steering wheel and full gauge array. Pop up the middle cushion on the aft bench to reveal a built-in, insulated cooler. The GT 180 also impresses for its extended swim platforms that flank the engine; they offer more room than many in this size range.
Standards impress, with a choice of exterior color scheme, self-draining fiberglass liner, in-floor ski locker, AM/FM Bluetooth stereo, and custom-matched trailer. The options list is also long, with premium fit-and-finish packages, a premium sound upgrade, removable snap-in flooring, multiple canvas options, even a hinged watersports tower with board racks. Speaking of watersports, fans will likely find best results from an engine upgrade. Max horsepower runs as high as 150 mph.
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Rinker 18QX Outboard
For a competitively priced model, Rinker’s 18QX Outboard (starting at $27,174 w/Mercury 115hp) includes some decidedly upscale touches. Sight down the hull sides and you’ll note a dramatic, raised style line that adds a premium vibe. Above, the rub rail insert is stainless steel rather than plastic, a choice that is also carried over to cupholders and grab handles. Snap-in, bamboo flooring lends a soft touch underfoot, an overhead Bimini top adds shade and, aft, a standard ski pylon means you won’t have to resort to a cumbersome bridle when towing your favorite toys. Perhaps true wow factor, however, is reserved for the helm and port console. Amidst a sea of white gelcoat, each pops in the same accent color shared on the hull sides and carried into smaller accents on the vinyl.
At 18’ 8”, the 18QX is rated for eight passengers. Spread them out between helm and passenger seat (each with flip-up bolster), a full-width aft bench and a traditional bow cockpit. When it’s time to get in the water and not just cruise on top of it, swimmers and watersports lovers will appreciate the twin swim platforms, which extend out around the outboard for added length. Standards include a digital depthfinder, tilt wheel and Kicker Bluetooth stereo.
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Regal 1900 ES
Regal’s 1900 ES ($29,160 w/200hp MerCruiser 4.5L) pairs classic bowrider lines above with Regal’s signature FasTrac hull below, the latter renowned for increasing both speeds and fuel efficiency. It’s the combination of the boat’s wide beam and a twist on interior seating, however, that may leave the lasting impression. Rather than the conventional twin captains chairs/aft bench/sunpad combo, Regal’s Social Seating pairs helm seat with an L-shaped bench, with an extended, double-wide section behind the port console. A pivoting backrest offers two distinct configurations. Flip it back and create a separate, forward-facing seat opposite the captain; flip it forward and form a configuration perfect for socializing…especially if you swivel the helm seat into the picture at anchor or sandbar.
The 1900 boasts impressive standard features. Board via an extended swim platform and transom walk-thru, the former of which covers the drive to lend peace of mind while swimming off the stern or gearing up for watersports. At the helm enjoy power-assist steering, premium dash, Fusion marine stereo and an array of classy Faria gauges. On the exterior note an abundance of stainless accents where plastic often treads, including rub rail, bow scuff plate, and fuel fill.
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Sea Ray SPX 190 OB
At 19’ 6” in length, Sea Ray’s SPX 190 OB is one of the longest boats in this roundup. At 8’ 4” in beam, it’s also one of the widest. Sea Ray makes good use of that interior space, boasting a 10-passenger capacity. The bow cockpit is especially roomy, with room for adults to stretch out and kick up their legs. In the main cockpit, the helm seat is paired with a stern bench and unique portside companion bench seat. Use it as a forward-facing seat with backrest, add a removable filler cushion to transition into more of a sideways loveseat for two, or remove the aft backrest, lean against the padded port console and stretch out facing aft. A stern bench and generous sunpad complete the accommodations.
At a base price of $38,814 with a Mercury 115hp outboard, Sea Ray’s most affordable offering obviously stretches the concept of “affordable” runabouts. But for that price buyers get Sea Ray’s quality construction, classic lines and a rock-solid ride. Standards include items like Mercury VesselView Mobile, Fusion stereo with Bluetooth, Wi-Fi audio streaming and Apple AirPlay, and standard trailer. You’ll still need to upgrade, however, to get basics like a Bimini top or depthfinder.
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Starcraft 172 OB Sport
Starcraft maximizes interior space on the 16’ 10” 172 OB Sport in clever ways. Though the bow is conventionally pointy, the cockpit itself features a more rounded shape. That may sacrifice a few inches in length, but it doesn’t feel as pinched. Aft, the interior walls cut out toward the hull sides around the stern bench to steal back precious inches. Seating choices also increase comfort. Bow and stern bench cushions feature generous bolsters behind the knees. Back cushions on that stern bench curve forward at each end to allow passengers to more comfortably nestle into the corner. And then there’s the twin bucket seats; they likewise wrap around passengers, and feature lower-back cutaways to keep you cooler in sticky weather.
The 172 OB Sport is rated for eight passengers, with a max capacity of 1,150 pounds. The familiar checklist is standard, including full wraparound windshield, stereo w/two speakers and in-floor storage for water toys. Standouts include both a stern swim platform boarding ladder and bow boarding ladder. Worthwhile upgrades include a Bimini top, depthfinder, tilt steering or, for fishing enthusiasts, a plumbed livewell and trolling motor.
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Tahoe’s T16 ($17,495 w/Mercury 60hp outboard) is an interesting mix, a truly affordable runabout that has the looks of sporty, early model jet boats with the practical touches of a deck boat. At 16’ 5” in length and with a package weight of 2,200 pounds, it’s easily towed by your basic midsize SUV and stowed in a garage. It’s also got seating for six in the cockpit, spread between parallel bow couches and a stern “bench” comprised of three, individually staggered seats. Aft, a full-width bench is great for gearing up for watersports or can be used as a sunpad. The full fiberglass cockpit liner is low-maintenance; rinse it down with ease should things get messy from salt, fish or a spilled drink. There’s even a decently sized swim platform.
Like early jets and deck boats, there’s no wraparound windshield. An acrylic windscreen tops the rotomolded console. A Kicker stereo is mounted on the lefthand side. Across, a reversible backrest allows a passenger on the port couch to recline facing forward, or reverse to function as an aft-facing spotter. Customize the boat to your needs with a six-gallon live well, removable cooler, TurboSwing ski tow bar, choice of hull and graphic treatments…or upgrade to the max 75hp and boost top speed to 40 mph.
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If you’re tempted to dismiss the 19’ 5” Yamaha SX 190 ($30,649) as just “a jet boat,” you’re missing out. Yes, that jet is part of the reason that Yamaha dominates in the 19’ - 24’ runabout category. Jets have the advantage of little bowrise, minimal draft, no drive or propeller to worry about beyond the hull confines, and impressive handling and acceleration. Yamaha’s compact, 1.8-liter four-stroke engine and jet drive, however, are also compact, low profile, and placed low in the hull. Not forced to cover engine and drive with a sunpad or motor box, Yamaha uses the space for an award-winning two-tiered transom seating arrangement. It’s a great place to hang out when not underway and enjoy the water.
Yamaha carries the SX190’s beam well forward, resulting in an overall roomy cockpit. Standards include the 4.3” Connext touchscreen at the dash, satellite-ready stereo with MP3 input, Bimini top, cruise control, snap-in carpet, and disc-brake-equipped trailer. Buyers should also appreciate two items that enhance a jet’s low-speed control, an articulating keel fin and downward thrust deflector.
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