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Best starter boat for your family

Boaters have so many different tastes and preferences that make it virtually impossible to pick an ideal starter boat for a newcomer and their family. Some of us live on the coast while others live on inland lakes. Some of us have boating seasons that last for well over 300 days per year while some of us are lucky with slightly more than 90 days. Some of us have kids interested in running the boat while others have kids that would prefer to soak up the sun. Add in a variety of water sports ranging from fishing to scuba diving to waterskiing and wake boarding and it seems likely you’ll need your own personal marina. You can see why it’s difficult to recommend a specific first boat, but think of your first boat as more of a mindset that leads up to a specific make and model. Here are a few tips to consider when searching for your first boat:

Your new boat should mirror your activities for the majority of time

Pick a boat that mirrors the majority of your activities. If you’re a hardcore fisherman then you’ll need a boat for fishing. If you fish occasionally but savor more family time then a runabout or a cuddy cabin is a better option. Match the length and beam to the size of your crew. Then, match the type of hull to your water type (inshore, offshore, lake, or pond). Power, trailers, and electronics follow, but they’re really the icing on the cake. Be realistic in how you’ll use your boat and the rest will fall into place.

A first boat should be a confidence builder

It doesn’t matter if she’s a 10-foot long dinghy, a 20-foot long center console, or a 40-foot luxury motor yacht, the boat should contribute to building your nautical skill sets. In order to do so the boat, motor and trailer should be in good repair so you spend your time launching and hauling the boat. If you’re reinstalling broken bunk stands, leaf springs, or soft transoms then you’re learning to be a mechanic, not a captain. You’ll need to learn those maintenance skills later on for sure, but for your first year you should focus on the basics: launching, hauling, docking, rules of the road, and boating in a variety of conditions. You should have fun, too.

You should be able to grow into a new boat

He’s a sharp guy and works hard at everything he does and he bought a 16-foot center console boat. I thought the length was too small for him and he’d outgrow it very quickly, but he was really worried about trailering the boat. What happened? Well, after three weeks of regular practice he was launching and hauling his boat as if he were a 20-year veteran. He outgrew that boat very quickly and by the end of the year he upgraded. He lost some money on the trade in, but had he bought an 18- or 20-foot model, he’d have been challenged at first but would’ve grown into it very quickly.

The beauty of new boat ownership is that you just might find a vessel you’ll own for a few decades. Or you may outgrow your boat and upgrade to something more in line with your abilities and your needs. Either way works, and just be sure to have some fun along the way.