No matter what type of saltwater gamefish is your target, any time you venture into saltwater—whether on a center console fishing boat, a cuddy cabin, or a convertible or express battlewagon—you need to know your boat can do what it takes to help you catch more fish. That’s why saltwater fishing boats are designed and built differently from other boats, and that’s why you need to do your homework before buying one. Ready to get started? Pay attention—there will be a test at the end.

saltwater fishing

What makes a saltwater fishing boat ideal? That's largely up to you, but however you prioritize, these 10 items are must-haves.

1. 316-grade stainless steel – If your boat has lower grade stainless than 316 or (shudder) cheap imported steel fittings and parts, they’ll begin corroding after your very first trip. You can expect them to turn into hunks of crusty junk within a few seasons.

2. BIG fishboxes – Nothing’s worse than running out of room in the fishbox, which can shut down your trip in a heartbeat. Fishboxes must be insulated, and the better ones drain—not pump—overboard. If you must have a pump the diaphragm type is best, followed by macerators. If you see a bilge pump mounted in a fishbox, run. It’s guaranteed to choke on scales and slime, and won’t last for long.

3. Gobs of fuel capacity – Chalk this one up to an angler’s enhanced ambition. There’s always a hot bite just a few miles farther away, or a new spot you’re dying to try. Make sure the boat you’re considering can make it there and back, and then some. Use the 1/3 rule (1/3 fuel capacity to get where you’re going, 1/3 to get home, and 1/3 in reserve) before you make any big decisions.

4. Locking bulk stowage – You need somewhere to safely lock away rods, reels, tackleboxes, and the like. Otherwise, you’ll have to cart everything back and forth between your home and the boat before and after every trip.

tuna fishing

Yes, we do tend to make a mess... better make sure your saltwater fishing boat has a potent washdown.

5. Raw water washdowns – Where there’s fishing, there’s going to be spraying fish blood, flying chum, and stepped-on baits. We anglers tend to make quite a mess, and if it’s not cleaned up before it dries in the sunlight, our boats will look horrible. A strong, reliable raw water washdown is a must-have. Beware of livewell/washdown pump-share arrangements, which rarely have the pressure you need to sluice away the gore - especially when the livewell is running - and which shorten the lifespan of the pump, since it has to do double-duty.

6. Rod holders galore – The more, the better. Offshore guys need them to have gimbal pins in the bottom so rods can be locked in position, and rocket launchers on small boat T-tops should have some sort of safety strap to keep rods in place when the seas kick up. Trollers will want a pair or two angled out from the T-top and from the gunwales. Flush-mounts are always better than rail- or surface-mounts. And they must be stainless-steel or aluminum; plastic is unacceptable.

7. Stout construction – Anglers tend to push farther and harder than their non-fishing friends, so their boats need to be able to take extra abuse. Make sure the one you’re looking at is up to the task.

8. Sun protection – Again, an angler’s propensity to make long runs and stay out as long as possible means sunburn is a common problem. Every saltwater fishing boat needs a top of some sort, be it a T-top, Bimini, or hardtop. T-tops are generally superior to arches or Biminis, since they won’t interfere if you need to work a rod 360-degrees around the boat.

9. Transom access – One of the problems with many modern outboard-powered fishboats is the presence of a wide transom, which forces you to stay well forward of the outboards. When a big fish gets on the line, this makes it tough to work your rod tip around the props. Virtually all outboard boats have this issue to one degree or another, but on some, you can’t even reach the back of the outboards with a seven-foot rod. Fish from one of these boats, and sooner or later you’ll lose Bubba to the props.

10. Your perfect hull design – If your boat isn't designed properly for the type of fishing you enjoy, you’re sure to be disappointed. Trollers, offshore anglers, and those who make long runs in all conditions need a deep-V or a powercat. Flats anglers and light-tackle bay anglers will be better served by a semi-V. Guys who like drift fishing should choose a boat with maximum stability.

There’s not enough room to cover everything you need to know in one post, so be sure to check out some of our other articles on hull design, like:

Stepped Hulls vs Traditional V-Bottoms: Everything You Need to Know

* Offshore Fishing Hull Shapes

* Powercat vs. Monohull Fishing Boats: Which Is the Right Pick for You?

Now, are you ready for that test?

There’s just one question, and it’s multiple choice:

What’s the perfect saltwater fishing boat for you?
a. The one currently sitting in your driveway or slip
b. The one you can afford
c. The one you really can’t afford, which is currently sitting in your driveway or slip
d. The one you’re about to buy

Don’t worry—whichever answer you picked, we’re pretty sure you’re right.

If you liked this article, some others that might be of interest include:

Convertible Vs. Express: Which is Best for Bluewater Fishing?
Top 10 Fishing Boats of 2012: All Can Be Called Best
Bay Boat Battles: What Makes One Better Than Another?
Center Console Boats: Fish, Cruise, or Just Have Fun


Written by: Lenny Rudow
With over two decades of experience in marine journalism, Lenny Rudow has contributed to publications including YachtWorld,, Boating Magazine, Marlin Magazine, Boating World, Saltwater Sportsman, Texas Fish & Game, and many others. Lenny is a graduate of the Westlawn School of Yacht Design, and he has won numerous BWI and OWAA writing awards.