What are the best boats for families?

Finding the best family boat depends on what recreational activities you like to do with your family, where you live, and the size of your family. What makes the best family fishing boat differs from what makes the best saltwater boat for families that want to waterski. Before you start shopping, think about who will be using the boat, how often you're planning to be on the water, and how much experience you have.

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How to choose the best family boat

There are many options, but you can narrow your search for the best family boats by thinking about location, family size, activities on your boat, and your level of boating experience.

  • Location

    Where you live will determine the type of water you can access and how far you must travel to get there. If you live close and can access the water, you can keep a boat at home and tow it to the water when you want to use it, depending on the size. If you like the idea of a big boat you can sleep on, you may need to find a marina where you can keep it no matter how close you live.

  • Type of water you're boating on

    When choosing from the best saltwater boats for families, consider the type of water you'll be boating on. If you want to boat on the ocean, you can look for something bigger, with a deeper draft than a freshwater boat to navigate rough waves and choppy water.

    For those trips to the lake, you might be looking for the best family lake boat. For calm inland lakes and waterways, choose a smaller boat than you'd need for saltwater. The best family fishing boats include pontoon boats, bass boats and deck boats. If you mostly have access to shallow water for boating, you might consider a flat-bottomed boat designed for shallow waters so that you don't run aground.

  • Family size

    A bigger family means a bigger boat. You may plan to be out with one child fishing more often than with the entire family. Even if that's the case, the best boats for family fun are typically big enough to accommodate the whole family comfortably. If your family includes little ones, there are things to consider when boating with babies. When everyone decides to come, you want the experience to be fun — not cramped.

  • Activities

    Are you looking for a boat for water sports like waterskiing and wakeboarding? Or do you want to bond by learning to sail with your family as a crew? The best boat for families depends on your family's interests. If you're interested in weekend trips, you need a bigger boat with space to sleep and ample storage. Consider amenities like kitchen facilities or entertainment options, too.

  • Boating experience

    If you're looking to buy your first boat, consider shopping for something simple unless you have a history of driving a boat and enough knowledge to handle a more complicated vessel. The more technical features your boat has, the more you have to keep track of and spend on maintenance.

What is a good-sized boat for a family?

When choosing the best family boat, the size of the vessel and passenger capacity are important considerations. Depending on the style of boat, a 15-foot boat will typically hold up to five people, while a 16 to 21-foot boat can carry between six and ten people. If you've got a family of three, you might consider a 12-foot boat, but a family of six probably requires a vessel that's at least 20 feet long.

What styles of boats make the best family boats?

Once you know what kind of boating experience you're looking for, you can narrow it down to the right style of boat. Some of the best boats for families include pontoon boats, cabin cruisers, jetboats and sailboats.

1. Pontoon boat

A pontoon boat is a common choice for families looking to relax on the water without taking long trips. They're wide, flat, and stable, so they can serve as a floating patio for less aquatic family members while providing a platform for swimming and fishing. Depending on the motor's power, size, and design, pontoon boats can also be used for water sports. Pontoon boats are also one of the best family fishing boats. You can also take a pontoon into the sea and other wave-prone waters. Their stability and safety also make them one of the best family lake boats when you have younger children.

If you're buying a pontoon boat for your family, consider the number of people you want it to carry. A 15-foot pontoon boat is appropriate for one to five passengers; for six to ten people, 16-21 feet would be better; and for more than ten, consider a 21- to 28-foot-long boat, according to Avalon Pontoons.

  • The Bennington Pontoon boats L Line includes the L, LBowrider and LX Sport pontoon boats, which are between 18'-25' ranging from standard to high-end exteriors and profiles
  • Godfrey Pontoon boats: Ranging from the Xperience Cruise 1680 CX at 17' which holds 8, to the 2086 CX at 20' which holds 11 passengers
  • Harris Pontoon boat models include: Breeze 210 23' holds 9-10 passengers, the Solstice, at 25' holds 10-12 people, the luxurious Crowne model which is 28' and holds 8-13 passengers

2. Cabin cruiser or walkaround

If you're looking for a boat you can sleep on during a weekend trip (or longer), you should consider cabin cruisers or walkarounds. These boats offer more room and an enclosed space where you can sleep. Of the two, cabin cruisers are better suited to long trips because they are larger and more like mobile homes on the water.

The following are a few examples of cabin cruisers and walkarounds:

  • Axopar 45 XC with a 45' aft deck, two cabins, two bathrooms, and optional sofa seating
  • Sea Ray SLX 400 OB Bowrider 42', has space for 22 passengers, large cabin and a foldout swim terrace
  • The Tiara 43 LE is a larger cabin cruiser built for speed and entertaining rather than living space. It's a 43’ dayboat which holds 8 passengers

3. Jetboat or bowrider

If you’re looking to do water sports and ride on the water, a jet boat or bowrider (also referred to as a runabout) might be a better fit. They’re smaller and don’t provide the same “floating patio” experience as a pontoon boat. However, jetboats offer higher speeds than other options. Jetboats provide a bonus for safety-minded parents: there’s no propeller.

  • Yamaha Boats 19.5’ SX190 which seats 8, the SX220 22’ seats 10, and the 275SE, 27’ luxury speed boat that’s got a galley with a plumbed sink, a hardtop with skylight
  • Scarab speed boat models include a range from the 165ID, at 15’ which holds 5 people with up to 300 horsepower, to the mid-range 215ID, at 21’ holds ten people and has up to 600 horsepower, to the top-of-the-line, luxurious 285ID Yacht at 28’ and up to 600 horsepower

4. Sailboats

When choosing a sailboat for fishing and family, you’ll need to decide what kinds of waters you’ll be sailing, and what kind of fishing or other activities your family enjoys. The number of passengers will dictate the size of vessel you need, and also whether you’re planning mostly day trips, or going on longer cruises that involve overnight stays requiring a galley, cabin, and toilet.

Life of Sailing advises that a sailboat’s heeling characteristics are important in selecting a sailboat for family boating. Heeling is the tendency for a boat to lean over under sail. The different sizes and shapes of a sailboat will have different heeling characteristics. The best family sailboats, according to the same article in Life of Sailing, tend to be wider, with more rounded hulls to handle waves. These vessels also tend to be sluggish due to increased displacement, which makes the boat more comfortable in rough weather.

Catalina Yachts offers several ranges of sailboats suitable for families, including:

  • Sports series featuring 18-27' day sailors
  • Cruiser series, with 31-35' mid-sized yachts
  • Ocean series, with 38-44' boats suited for seagoing adventures

Other considerations when shopping for family boats

Budget, transportation, storage, and insurance are all things to consider. If you choose not to store the boat at a marina, you'll need a boat trailer to get it to the water and a safe place to store it. If you go the marina route, be prepared to pay a fee to keep it there. Budget considerations should also include the cost of upkeep, fuel, and repairs. Think about how much you can afford to spend. The best family boat is one that provides family fun without financial stress.

Boat insurance isn't required everywhere, but you may want to consider it as a way to protect yourself, your passengers, and your boat. Depending on your boat insurance coverages, a boat policy can protect against accidents on the water, injuries sustained by you and your guests, and the property you bring on board.

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