What are the different types of boats?

If you're thinking about buying a boat, you can choose from two broad categories — sailboats and powerboats. Once you've settled on a type of boat, pick a style or model suited to what you want to do and where you live. Some types of boats are better for lakes, for example, while other boats are good for the ocean.

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How to classify the different types of boats

The broadest way to classify types of boats is by how they're powered. Wind, a motor, or physical effort can power boats.


Most sailboats also have a small motor for docking, but you can identify them easily by the large sails they use to catch the wind. There are several different sailboat styles, and they're often classified by the design of the hull. Learn more about protecting your boat with sailboat insurance.


The most straightforward and most familiar design, mono-hull ships have a single, large body that sits low in the water and floats by displacing water.


This style has a wide construction made of two small hulls joined by a deck. This gives more deck and cabin space and ride higher in the water.


Like a catamaran but with three hulls (hence the name). They are like catamarans but more stable thanks to the third hull. Within these hull types, sailboats can be further divided into daysailers, ketches and cruisers. Daysailers are small sailboats with no cabin; ketches are sailboats with a second, smaller mast; and cruisers are larger boats intended to house people overnight.


Boats that use a motor for power are often classified by the activity they're best for as well as the way they're constructed. Powerboats differ from sailboats in terms of what you can do with them. Smaller motorboats come in many styles, and people often use them as tenders or accessory boats for larger vessels. Common types of small boats include skiffs (simple, lightweight boats often used for recreational fishing) and dinghies (small flat-bottomed, often inflatable boats). Small boats can be made of a variety of materials, including wood, aluminum, and fiberglass, and some are even inflatable. Learn about the pros and cons of aluminum vs. fiberglass boats.

Common types of powerboats include:

  • Day Cruisers: This category doesn't often include cabins.

  • Cuddy cabins: Larger boats with a central cabin and enclosed deck.

  • Bow Riders: Open vessels with seating in the bow and wide, flat bottoms.

  • Cabin Cruisers: A medium-sized design that often includes an aft cabin with basic dining.

  • Express Cruisers: Similar to a cabin cruiser but include a seating area, galley, bathroom and sleeping space.

  • Down east Boats: Boats with enclosed hard-top cabins, pointed bows, and exterior railings.

  • Tow Boats: Boats used to pull water sports gear like water skis are called tow boats.

  • Motor Yachts: A powerboat more than 40 feet long with accommodations to allow long-distance cruising rather than day cruising.

  • Fishing Boats: Suited for casting a line, but some powerboats are better suited to fishing than others.

  • Bass Boats: Designed to make fishing as easy with fish finders, swiveling seats, and more.

  • Trawlers: Similar to a motor yacht, but with a different hull design that exchanges speed for greater stability and comfort.

  • Pontoon Boats: A pontoon boat consists of a platform fixed to two or more buoyant metal tubes.

What are the common types of boats for lakes?

Depending on the size of the lake and the activity you want to do, your best options will include sailboats, towboats, day cruisers, and pontoon boats. You may even consider a boat with overnight accommodations, like an express cruiser, on larger lakes.

If you're a first-time boat buyer, learn about how to buy a boat for the first time.

What are common types of boats for the ocean?

You have many options regarding types of boats suitable for ocean boating. In general, ocean-going vessels may need to be bigger than lake boats for more stability in deeper or choppier waters. Good options include sailboats, cabins, express cruisers, motor yachts, trawlers, and center consoles.

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