Chances are good—and I mean really good—that you’ll never want or need to go faster than 50 mph on the water. For most folks, that’s fast enough in a powerboat. Being exposed to the noise and resistance of the onrushing wind enhances the sensation of speed, which makes 50 mph tend to feel a whole lot faster than it is.
Plus, running at that speed for the average 50-mile, one-way day trip, you’ll reach your destination in an hour. And when you’re ready to leave, you’ll get home in an hour. So for most people, 50 mph is plenty fast.
... Unless they happen to be afflicted with the “speed gene.” While this dominant genetic trait is far less common than its land-based counterpart that underlies all sportscar and motocycle sales, the water-based version is just as potent and compelling. And if you discover you have it, a 50-mph powerboat, no matter how sleek or stylish or colorful, won’t cut it for you. You’ll need something faster.
The good news? You have plenty of options. The bad news? They’re all expensive—think $120,000 and up for a new go-fast powerboat. At the highest of the high end, something on the order of, let’s say, a 50-foot enclosed-cockpit, all-carbon-fiber catamaran with twin 3,000-hp turbine engines and 200-plus-mph capability, you’re looking at more than $1 million.
In short, go-fast boats are not for the faint of wallet. And most large financial institutions won’t lend on performance boats, so whatever you decide to spend, you’ll need to have in the bank. It's not just the initial cost that stings, either: From engine maintenance and fuel costs—engines from 500- to 1,800-hp are as thirsty as they come—to insurance, go-fast powerboats are expensive to own.
But if you’ve discovered you have the speed gene, you really don’t have a choice. You’re going to find a way to buy a go-fast. And that means you’ll need to learn the basics of what’s out there, and not just about “how fast” a given model will go. Because while speed certainly will be a primary driver in your purchase—you have the freakin’ speed gene after all—there are other considerations.
What follows are outlines of the three main types of high-performance powerboats, and their pros and cons.
It’s a fact: The fastest of the fast powerboats on the water are catamarans, which range from 24 to 50 feet long and ride on air-entrapment hulls with two “sponsons.” In the case of a 50-foot Mystic Powerboats catamaran, fast means—depending on power—200 mph and beyond. Obviously, that’s the extreme, and only for the extremely experienced. Most go-fast catamarans can’t touch that kind of speed, but there are a slew of them out there that, again depending on power, top out at 100 to 150 mph. By any measure, that’s fast.
A few things to know for first-time go-fast catamaran buyers. First, catamarans typically offer zero cabin space. If a cabin is on your priority list, you can rule out a cat. Second, they handle differently than a monohull V-bottom, which in many (but not all) ways handles like your car. Even cats that “lean in” during turns create the sensation of pulling to the outside. Third, simply because a cat can reach high speeds doesn’t mean it should reach those speeds until the driver/owner has logged considerable seat time in the boat and has completed formal training. (That applies to all high-performance powerboats.)
The Tres Martin Performance Boat School offers such training and is widely respected among the most experienced performance-boat owners. In addition to making you a much safer operator, completing the course can help reduce your insurance premiums.
When it comes to feeding your need for speed, catamarans are the most purpose-built type of go-fast boat, but they’re also the least versatile. From the water, they can be next to impossible to reboard, which makes them horrible swim platforms. Their cockpits tend to put secure seating of the deep bucket kind at a premium, which limits open space and storage options. And as noted earlier, few catamarans have cabins.
When the average person closes his or her eyes and thinks “go-fast boat,” the image that comes to mind is a pointy V-bottom of the “Cigarette” kind. For the record, Cigarette is a brand of performance boat rather than a type of performance boat, but because the company has been around so long and its offerings have stood the test of time during the years, “Cigarette” has become synonymous with “go-fast boat.”
While there are exceptions, most V-bottom sportboats have closed decks, which means that even the smallest models have cabins. If a cabin is a must for you and your family, a V-bottom sportboat is your best call. Yes, speed is your priority—we get that. But never underrate the value of preserving family harmony. That stupid little head locker you think you’ll never use? More often than not, that feature makes the sale when other family members are involved in the purchase decision.
A lot of V-bottoms are comfortable and secure at speeds from 80 to 90 mph. Several are solid and reasonable at speeds up to 110 mph. Beyond that, most are downright scary. If going as fast as you can on the water is your sole objective and you really don’t need a cabin or much of anything else beyond seats for a few friends, a V-bottom sportboat is the wrong choice for you. For general use and more versatility, a V-bottom sportboat is a better call than a catamaran.
Because, as noted earlier, V-bottoms—most of which ride on stepped hulls these days—are more car-like in the driving experience, they’re easier to learn to run. Still, while speeds of 80 mph are common these days in the go-fast powerboat world, things still happen quickly at those speeds—and boats have no brakes. Weekend warriors with lots of cash and bravado can be a menace to themselves and those around them. The point being: Advance with caution. A lot of smart boat owners take the “incremental approach,” meaning they get comfortable with speeds above 50 mph in 10-mph increments. And the really smart ones get training.
Not “your father’s center-console” of the Boston Whaler or Pro-Line type, most of today’s high-performance center-consoles ride on stepped V-bottom hulls. With triple and quad outboard engines providing the power, some are capable of running more than 80 mph, which puts them squarely in the go-fast powerboat category. Since the mid-2000s, center-consoles have been the fastest-growing segment of the go-fast powerboat market. In fact, they have carried the market to the point where noted builders like Cigarette Racing Team and Nor-Tech produce more center-consoles than traditional sportboats of either the V-bottom or catamaran kind.
Why the boom in center-consoles among performance-minded buyers? First and foremost, they still offer reasonably exhilarating performance. While 80 mph isn’t “fast” by performance-boat standards, it’s fast enough given the superior versatility they offer over their catamaran and V-bottom counterparts. With their open floor plans and abundant seating, they enable owners to take out a slew of passengers for anything from a day on the water to an evening cocktail, and thanks to their easy boarding and debarking they make for great swim platforms. Last, today’s remarkable array of outboard engine power options makes center-consoles the most reliable go-fast powerboats on the market.
The downside of high-performance center-consoles is that at speed they leave everyone who isn’t protected by the console windscreen exposed to the wind. Some offer better protection than others, but it's fair to describe the ride for passengers not in the first row of seats in a go-fast center-console as “windy.” Also, some center-consoles ride “wetter” than others, meaning that displaced spray from the water the boat is moving through mixes with wind and ends up dousing unprotected passengers ahead of the console and in the rear of the cockpit.
There you have the basic pros and cons of different performance-boat types to inform your decision-making. If you decide to get into the game, there's still much to learn; again, the wisest path begins with formal training.