Types of Boats

A Complete Guide to Understanding Different Types of Boats

Ahoy! When you’re new to boating, there’s a lot to know when you’re considering becoming a boat owner. Purchasing your first boat is exciting! But you may be overwhelmed by what you don’t know. We’ve put together this Complete Guide to Different Types of Boats to make it easy for you to navigate, (cue boat pun!) and find the right type of boat for you and your family to enjoy.

We’ve highlighted some of the most popular recreational boat types, including features, advantages, and other details that you may find helpful in your search. The chart below details key features of types of boats and if you click on the image, you’ll learn even more details about the specific boat type.

We have also included boat hull types to give you a comprehensive understanding of the entire boat. Hulls are the shape and design on the bottom of the boat. The type of hull determines how it will go through the water.

It’s important to note that boat hulls are not an exact science. Boatbuilders are quite creative in their hull engineering, focused on boat owners receiving the best benefits of the boat. Hulls vary, and we have included typical hull types and shapes for your reference.

Let’s dive right in!

What is a Bass Boat?

As the name indicates, bass boats are designed for bass fishing! These boats have low profiles that allow them to navigate shallow waters easily, so they are a popular boat choice for anglers. Bass boats typically range from 16’-26’ and accommodate two to three people, with the bigger boats seating up to five passengers.

Bass fishermen and women are quite passionate about these boats due to their flat bottom design, allowing them to glide through the water. It is important to note that bass boats are not all-purpose boats and are not considered multi-purpose boats. Bass boats are limited to fishing in freshwater locations where bass are found. You can spend an enjoyable day on the water with your family and friends, not only fishing but connecting with nature since bass boats can get into shallow waters easily. All you need is a cooler full of sandwiches and enough bait to enjoy a day on the water.

Hull Type: Typically, fishing boats, including bass boats, have a flat-bottomed hull. These hull types are easy to maneuver in calm water but not in mild chop or rough water.

  Advantages of a Bass Boat:

  • Typically, lightweight with outboard motor or trolling motor- great for shallow water
  • Ideal for fishing, including livewells, coolers, and seating
  • Easy to trailer
  • The flat produces minimal noise and water disturbance

What is a Bay Boat?

Bay boats are a top choice among boaters. They are versatile and can be used in both shallow waters and deeper areas. Anglers like bay boats because of their ability to glide in shallow waters and are easily maneuverable in smaller areas. As their name implies, they are used in bays and closer to shores.

These boats range in size, typically from 17’-25’, and can accommodate four to eight passengers with enough room to store fishing gear. You will find a center console on bay boats that allows anglers various angles from which to cast. Bay boats are an excellent option for fishing, water skiing, and other water sports. Enjoy a day on the water doing what you love in a bay boat.

Hull Type: Because of the bay boat’s versatility, they typically have a V-hull to cruise through shallow waters with ease as well as navigating choppier, deeper waters.

  Bay Boat Advantages:

  • Great in shallow and deeper waters
  • Smooth ride due to shallow draft
  • Easy to trailer
  • Fishing, water skiing and tubing

What is a Bowrider Boat?

Bowrider boats are extremely popular for their versatility. Typically, bowriders have a V-shaped section in the front of the boat, also known as the bow. Bowrider boats are a favorite for water recreation activities, including water skiing, swimming, tubing, and fishing.

Bowriders range in length from 16’-35’ and can easily accommodate between six and 10 people since the open bow section in the front of the helm allows for extra seating. This boat performs well, especially on inland waters and lakes. Be prepared to have a lot of fun on a bowrider, from watersports to simply lounging on a beautiful day.

Hull Type: Because of the design of the bowrider, you’ll find a planning hull with V-shape, ideal for both stability when cruising and handling choppy and rough conditions.

  Advantages of a Bowrider

  • Water sports, including tubing, water skiing, and swimming
  • Passengers have the best view from the bow
  • Flat deck for comfort and safety
  • Easy to trailer

What is a Cabin Cruiser?

Cabin Cruisers are an excellent choice if you want to be on the water with your family and friends and even pets overnight. The cabins include a galley and sleeping accommodations. These boats are ideal for offshore sport fishing and recreational water activities, from water skiing to tubing.

The typical size of cabin cruisers is between 25’-45’ and can fit up to 10 passengers depending on the size of the boat. Cabin cruisers are a fantastic way to enjoy a relaxing day and night on the water in both freshwater and saltwater. As their name implies, these boats are meant to ‘cruise,’ and all passengers must do is simply enjoy the ride.

Hull Type: Cabin cruisers typically feature a modified V-hull. One of the most adaptable hulls, boaters can fish offshore, tow water skiers or simply cruise with a modified V-hull.

  Advantages of Cabin Cruisers:

  • Good for long-distance (overnight) trips
  • Comfortable and easy to operate
  • Ideal for fishing and watersports

What is a Power Catamaran Boat?

Catamaran boats are unique in that they have two hulls and sometimes three hulls instead of the traditional design of one hull. Typically, you’ll find catamaran hulls in sailing but are also designed for the recreational powerboat arena. You will find ferries and water taxis have a catamaran hull making them more stable when transporting large groups of passengers.

The difference between catamaran (two hulls) and monohull (single hull) designs is the wider footprint of the two hulls is a smoother ride, especially in rough waters-meaning minimal rolling. Another difference is more deck space due to the rectangle design of the catamaran hull. And, finally, load distribution is more efficient on a two-hull vessel.

Hull Type: You’ll find a multi-hull on catamaran boats, both sailboats and powerboats, which offer a smoother ride in choppy waters.

  Advantages of Catamaran Boats

  • The multihull design offers more space
  • More stable and minimal rolling
  • Less drag and water displacement for fuel-efficiency

What is a Center Console Boat?

Center Console boats are another popular boat style for recreational boating. They are multi-purpose as they are great fishing boats and cruising boats, making them ideal for families who enjoy watersport activities. As the name indicates, their main feature is the center console, where the steering or helm station is located and where you'll find the captain.

Center console boats range in size from 16’-45' and can accommodate 10-18 passengers, depending on their size. These boats are known for the medium-depth draft, making them suitable for freshwater and saltwater fishing as well as simply enjoying a day on the water cruising. These boats are great for additional seating on the deck space in both the vessel's front (bow) and back (stern).


Hull Type: You’ll typically find a deep V-hull, a popular planning hull shape on center console boats. The need for speed is achieved with this hull and makes for a smooth ride on choppy water.

  Advantages of Center Consoles

  • Versatility as a freshwater and saltwater boat
  • Ideal for fishing and cruising
  • Trailerable (under 25’)
  • Additional seating at the bow and stern

What is a Cuddy Cabin Boat?

Cuddy cabins are popular family boats. Great for cruising, overnight trips, waterskiing, wakeboarding and tubing, and casual fishing. These boats feature smaller cabins. Think of them as a smaller version of a cabin cruiser with fewer amenities. Cuddy cabins are ideal for families since the enclosed cabin allows for a break from the sun and nap time for toddlers.

Cuddy cabins range in length from 18’-33'. These boats can accommodate a range of up to eight passengers, depending on the size. Closed blow models have enough space for passengers to get to the boat's bow, while updated cuddy cabin models feature open bows with additional seating. There are many options for the fun you can have in cabins.

Hull Type: The V-hull shape is found on most cuddy cabin models. As a powerboat this hull shape allows you to quickly cut through water to jet ski, or other watersports and offers stability to fish.

  Advantages of Cuddy Cabins

  • Moderate draft and beam
  • Ideal for fishing, cruising, and water sports
  • Trailerable  (25’ and under)
  • Enclosed cabins are ideal for resting, a break from the sun

What is a Deck Boat?

Deck boats are a great medium-sized recreational boat option that offers versatility as they are great for cruising, fishing, and watersports-all family-friendly activities. Deck boats are ideal for both freshwater and saltwater, and as their name implies, they have more useable space for entertainment and storage.

Deck boats range in size from 16’-30' and can accommodate up to 14 people. This boat design is focused on maximizing the amount of useable space within the footprint. Whether you enjoy freshwater fishing, watersports, or just taking it all in from the deck, this boat is an excellent choice for you and your family. 

Hull Type: You'll typically find a modified V-hull on powerboats' most popular planning hull on deck boats. This hull works in both calm and choppier waters as another versatile boat for multiple activities, fishing, and watersports. 

  Advantages of Deck Boats:

  • Maximum space for passengers and storage
  • Ideal for freshwater fishing and watersports
  • Family-friendly
  • Trailerable (25’ and under)

What is a Dinghy?

Dinghies are typically a smaller boat, less than 10', and are ideal for getting to a larger boat. Also known as a tender boat, they are considered intermediary boats that are stowed by larger vessels. They can fit into smaller, shallower areas, places a larger boat is unable to go.  

Inflatable dinghies are popular due to easy storage, especially if they are on a larger boat. They come in assorted designs and can be powered by sails, outboard motors, or oars. They also can be used as small fishing boat. You can see how versatile these small boats can be, depending on your activity. 

Hull Type: You'll find a flat-bottomed hull on dinghy boats. Known for their stability in calm waters, like fishing boats, this hull is ideal in shallow waters. 


  Advantages of Dinghies:

  • Easy to store
  • Portable
  • Can easily get in and out of shallow waters
  • Dinghies under 8’ do not require registration-even with a motor

What is a Fish & Ski Boat?

Freshwater fishing is one of the most popular on-the-water sports in the United States. It’s no wonder that this boat is a top choice among boaters. These are great boats for families and work well in freshwater lakes and rivers. Ideal for a day of fishing on a glass-like water and can easily transition to waterskiing and other watersports.

Typically, fish and ski boats range in size from 14’-22’. These boats, depending on the size, can accommodate up to five people. Boaters enjoy the versatility of this boat as they are equipped with live wells for fishing and swimming platforms. Whatever your water activity preference, this type of boat won’t disappoint.

Hull Type: These boats either have a modified V- hull or a deep V-hulls are the top choice of boat manufacturers when designing fish and ski boats. Based on the versatility of activities you can do on these boats. The deep V design is ideal, it slices forward in wavy or rough water. It’s also great for fishing due to how easy it is maneuver at slow speeds.

  Advantages of Fish & Ski Boats

  • Versatility to fish or enjoy water sports
  • Easily trailerable
  • Ideal for freshwater
  • Live wells for fishing and swim platforms for watersports

What is a Freshwater Fishing Boat?

Freshwater fishing boats are great for lakes, rivers, and streams. This popular boat category includes aluminum fishing boats, Jon boats, and bass boats. They are all used for freshwater fishing on lakes and rivers. 

Ranging in size from 13’-24' and typically accommodate up to 5 people. These have a shallow draft, perfect for fishing and navigating through tight areas, and an average beam as with other fishing boats.  

Hull Type: You'll find a flat-bottomed hull on these fishing boats. They are stable in calm waters, ideal for anglers, and easy to maneuver in small and secluded waters like bays and inlets.  

  Advantages of All Freshwater Fishing Boats:

  • Recreational and commercial use
  • Trailerable
  • Family-friendly
  • Ideal for freshwater lakes, rivers, and shallow waters

What is a High Performance Boat?

If you like speed, high performance boats, also known as go-fast boats, are ideal for a day of cruising or racing. These boats are popular racing vessels known for group "runs" and range in size from 16’-66' and can accommodate up to 15 passengers. 

The engines are what make these boats go fast. High Performance center consoles have an outboard engine-powered V-bottom, have a lot of space, and can get up to 80 miles per hour. The sport catamarans have twin outboard-powered engines and reach top speeds of 110 miles per hour. Closed deck V-bottom go-fast boats are the fastest among the high-performance boats, also known as cigarette boats, and can get up to 150 miles per hour. 

Hull Type: Many of the high-performance boats offer a deep V or modified V-hull. Other types of these go-fast boats are a multihull, namely, a catamaran hull. Hulls vary on these types of boats depending on speed and how much horsepower they can put into the motor. 

Advantages of High-Performance Boats

  • Assorted options for speed
  • Ideal for speed and racing
  • Participate in Fun Runs, also known as Poker Runs
  • Freshwater and Saltwater

What is a Houseboat?

As you might imagine, houseboats are quite popular among families. Think of a houseboat as an RV on the water. Houseboats range in size, starting at 24' and can go up 100' and longer. They are ideal for vacations, what better place to unwind and relax than on a lake or river? Some enjoy this type of life so much they opt to live on houseboats full-time. 

The average houseboat can sleep anywhere from six to 12 people. As the name suggests, houseboats are equipped with amenities that you'll find at home, including bedrooms, bathrooms, a full kitchen (some fully stocked with basic utensils, plates, pots, and pans for vacationers). Some modern houseboats feature more amenities, including fireplaces and recreational toys onboard, such as canoes and kayaks for more fun on the water. 

Hull Type: Houseboat hulls fall into the displacement hull category where they lie inside the water and push it away when moving, primarily due to their weight. Displacement hulls are stable and can make wide turns. Typically, you'll find a multi-hull (pontoon)shape on houseboats.  

  Advantages of Houseboats:

  • Ideal for family vacations
  • Includes many amenities
  • Cruise in freshwater lakes and rivers
  • Extended trips

What is an Inflatable?

Inflatable boats are typically smaller, trailerable vessels. They are ideal for cruising for the day, scuba diving, and transportation to a larger boat, also known as a dingy. They range in size from 8’-28' and can accommodate from seven to 17 passengers.

Suppose boaters want a motor attached to inflatable boats. In that case, they need to be among the Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIB) class, including rigid transoms made from either wood or fiberglass to support the motor. Inflatable boats can deflate, which makes them easy to store.

Hull Type: You’ll find round-bottomed hulls on most inflatable boat models. This hull is designed to easily travel through water at slower speeds and gives a soft ride.

  Advantages of Inflatable Boats:

  • Day cruising and scuba diving
  • Shallow to medium draft and narrow beam
  • Easily stored
  • Can be used as a Dinghy

What is a Jet Boat?

Jet boats are an extremely popular type among recreational boaters. The name comes from the type of motor. Jet drive boats use a propeller for propulsion, like other boats. The difference between a jet-powered boat and a traditional powerboat is the jet boat's propeller, which is called an impeller. The impeller is encased in a housing that protects swimmers from contacting the impeller's spinning blade. Because the impeller is placed within a housing, the propulsion produced on the low end is much greater than traditional propellers, giving jet boats more power, like Personal Watercraft.

Jet boats range in length from 14’-25' and accommodate up to 10 people. Since the impeller is housed within a housing inside the boat's hull, they do not require as much water depth as traditional stern-driven boats and allow them to navigate shallow waters easily. Jet boats are great for day cruising and watersports.

Hull Type: Typically, you'll find a modified V-hull on jet boats; traditional v shape in the bow and gets flat toward the stern of the boat.

  Advantages of Jet Boats:

  • Open deck layout for additional space
  • Ideal in shallow waters
  • Minimizing propeller damage due to the housing
  • Fuel efficient

What is a Jon Boat?

Jon Boats are a flat-bottom boat and are typically aluminum, making them ideal for freshwater. They range from 8’-24'. A popular fishing boat accommodates up to eight passengers and usually has two-three bench seats.

Jon boats are maintenance-free and have a flat bow. Deer and duck hunters like Jon boats are perfect in calm waters and give them a strategic vantage point, not just for fishing. The narrow beam and shallow draft allow easy navigation and enable sportsmen and women to maneuver tight areas easily. Jon boats offer an enjoyable day on the water.

Hull Type: You’ll find flat-bottomed hulls on Jon boats. They can easily get up on plane, but in choppy water they have a rough ride.

  Advantages of Jon Boats:

  • Trailerable (under 25’) and on roofs of vehicles
  • Ideal for freshwater fishing
  • Maintenance-Free
  • Very shallow draft and narrow beam

What is a Motor Yacht?

Motor yachts are bigger vessels ranging in size from 30' up to 100'. These boats are great for extended overnight travel in deep waters. They include a full galley and sleeping cabins as well as spacious outdoor areas. Motor Yachts are indeed a larger pleasure craft with plenty of indoor space, larger cabins, spacious indoor salons, and smaller outdoor spaces.

Because of their size, these boats can accommodate an extensive range of passengers from 70' all the way up to 200'. Focused on luxury, this boat is ideal for entertainment and has a comfortable and high-end vibe from the spacious cabins to the outdoor decks. It is important to note that the term yacht is a certification from the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Marine Manufacturers Association. All yachts are cabin cruiser types of boats, yet not all cabin cruisers are yachts as size dictates that designation. Cabin cruisers are less spacious and less expensive than yachts.

Hull Type: Typically you’ll find a deep V-hull on motor yachts.

  Advantages of Motor Yacht Boats:

  • Big draft and very wide beam
  • Ideal for extended overnight trips
  • Lots of space
  • Great for Large Groups


What is a Personal Watercraft?

Personal Watercraft (PWC) are classified into two types: sit-down PWC and stand-up PWC. Stand-up PWC are for competitive racing and more risky moves, also known as tricks, and accommodate one rider. The sit-down PWC typically allows up to three passengers. Some of the more popular PWC boats are the Jet Ski® and WaveRunner ®.

PWC are typically anywhere from 8’-14'. They have a shallow draft and narrow beam and are great for freshwater, including lakes, rivers, and other shallow areas. PWCs are popular choices for those boaters who enjoy speed as they are powered by a water jet which allows them to go fast.

Hull Type: Because of their ability to perform in choppy, wavy water, you’ll find V-hulls are the most popular hull type on PWCs. They handle the speed of these boats, which is what it is all about when PWCs are concerned.

  Advantages of PWC:

  • Easy to trailer
  • Ideal for recreational activities
  • Great for both saltwater and freshwater
  • PWCs are powerful and can pull water skiers and tubers

What is a Pontoon Boat?

Pontoon boats are quickly becoming the most popular boats. Family-friendly, they are a terrific way to enjoy a day on the water. These boats have two metal pontoons, or logs, also known as a multi-hull boat. They allow passengers to swim, water ski, tube, wakeboard, and fish. Pontoon boats perform best in calm, freshwater inland areas. While people enjoy cruising on pontoon boats, they can skim the water at up to 40 miles per hour. 

Pontoon boats range in size from 16’-30' and can accommodate 12-23 passengers. They have a lot of deck space, a feature that is attractive for families and those who like to entertain. 

Hull Type: Pontoon boats use a multi-hull design. This hull offers a wide stance which provides greater stability, which is what you need for a pontoon boat. 

  Advantages of Pontoon Boat:

  • Family-friendly
  • Ideal for water sports and fishing
  • Generous deck space
  • Ideal for freshwater

What is a Runabout Boat?

Runabout boats are powerboats ranging from 16’-25'. They are popular cruising boats and for watersports such as skiing and tubing. They can accommodate up to seven passengers. Runabout is a boat category that includes Bowriders, Deck Boats, and Jet Boats.  

Runabout boats offer a typical layout of a walk-through windshield and bimini tops. You'll find runabouts in freshwater lakes and rivers. Boaters love their versatility for various watersports or simply enjoying a day on the water relaxing. 

Hull Type: Runabouts usually have a modified V-hull, which is great for fishing offshore, watersports, and cruising. This hull allows ease of handling and stability. 

  Advantages of Runabout Boats:

  • Versatility for watersports and cruising
  • Family-friendly
  • Trailerable
  • Moderate draft and average beam width

What is a Ski/Wake Boat

These boats are great for water sports such as water skiing and wakeboarding. Ski/Wake boats are ideal for those who are lovers of watersports and come equipped with ballast tanks for a larger wake and wakeboard towers to elevate the tow point. These boats range in size from 18’-30' and typically accommodate up to 8 passengers. 

These boats have a moderate draft and average beam. Most boats in this category are great for inland lakes, rivers, and other freshwater areas. \What makes these boats popular is their engine propulsion system-inboard engines which means there is a fixed propeller and separate rudder attached to the boat's underside, and the engine is mounted at the stern (back) of the boat. This allows the prop to quickly turn right or left, which is essential for watersports. 

Hull Type: As far as planning hulls go, the V-hull shape is preferred for ski/wake boats. You guessed it, the ability to cut through the waves as the boat tows water skiers and wakeboarders is as important as speed. 

  Advantages of Ski and Wakeboard Boats:

  • Watersports ready
  • Ideal for day cruising
  • Trailerable (under 25’)
  • Great for inland lakes, and rivers

What is a Sport Fishing Boat & Yacht?

These boats are designed for recreational fishing. They range in length from 35’-70'. Since they are for recreational use, they can accommodate 10-20 people onboard, depending on the boat's size and U.S. Coast Guard and NMMA certification.

Available as a convertible and express, both types are ideal for blue water fishing. The convertible is great for identifying prime fishing areas due to the height of the flybridge, allowing the captain a better view of prime fishing areas, including rips, weedlines, and flotsam. The express model doesn't have bridgedeck ladders or engine rooms like the convertible, and the captain can help with the catch and drive the boat. 

Whichever model you choose, these boats are ideal for extended overnight trips, entertaining, and cruising. 

Hull Type: This boat features a V-hull, which performs well in rough and choppy waters. Anglers want a boat that can easily navigate through all types of water, especially when they are chasing fish. 

  Advantages of Sport Fishing Boat:

  • Medium depth draft and wide beam
  • Express and Convertible Models
  • Designed for longer (overnight) excursions
  • Ideal for deep-sea fishing

What is a Trawler?

Trawlers, known as the working man's boat, were named for the trawl nets they dragged to catch fish. Today, trawlers are a class of powerboats that are truly a pleasure boat for fishing and boating enthusiasts. Trawlers feature a unique look thanks to the heft; they ride deep in the water, and many have hoists for a tender. They range in size from 26' up to over 250' yachts. 

This boat is ideal for long-term excursions with lots of living space and amenities, including a full galley and cabins. Trawler yachts offer lots of living space, accommodation, and room to serve as a live-aboard vessel for long-distance cruising in comfort with a wide range of amenities, from full-size kitchen appliances, washers, and dryers. 

Hull Type: Trawler boats usually feature a displacement hull and are run with little power, making them fuel-efficient. 

  Advantages of Trawlers:

  • Stable at sea
  • Long-term cruising
  • Lots of living space
  • Good to great fuel economy

What is a Walkaround Boat?

Walkaround boats suggest that passengers can walk around the entire perimeter of the boat and easily cast their fishing lines. This popular boat style comes equipped with livewells, rod holders, and storage for rods and tackle. Walkarounds also feature a small cabin, and the larger size vessels include a galley.

Walkabouts range in length from 18’-44' and boaters like the medium draft and wider beam. This boat accommodates 12-21 passengers. These boats are ideal for fishing in both freshwater and saltwater and day cruising.

Hull Type: You’ll find a V-hull design on the walkabout. The deep V-hull requires more horsepower. Modified V-hulls typically go faster with less roll.

  Advantages of Walkarounds:

  • Ideal for both freshwater and saltwater
  • Medium draft and wide beam
  • Great for cruising and fishing
  • Easily walk around the boat’s perimeter

These photographs, recommendations, and approximations are intended for demonstration purposes only and do not reflect the specifications of any watercraft. Always consult the manufacturer’s Owner’s Manual.