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Bay boats and flat-bottomed boats all have the same mission – to take you to hard-to-reach fishing areas that have shallow waters. But, unlike flatboats, bays can’t be propelled by oars or poles if you want a super-stealthy approach.
Plus, they’re usually much larger and have a deeper V in their hulls, which allows them to navigate the open waters of the ocean in the appropriate conditions.
A bay boat is essentially a hybrid – a cross between a shallow-draft and a deep-draft vessel. It can cruise through (relatively) shallow waters, and the stability to withstand deeper areas with choppier waters.
Some are even designed for water sports, like skiing and tubing.
So, what are the best bay boats, and how do you choose the best one? Here’s everything you need to know.
If you’re looking for a high-performance forward-seating bay boat that’s capable of handling both inshore and offshore water, then you’ll like what the Scout 251 XSS brings to the table.
Its prominent bow, hull design, and 13-inch draft make it perfect for backwater fishing, as well as cutting through choppy offshore waves without getting you wet in the process.
Standard features of the XSS include a high-performance leaning post that comes equipped with rod holders, lockable rod storage, an anchor locker, trim tabs, and a transom ladder. It truly is the best bay boat we’ve come across so far.
● Fully customizable
● Comes with loads of fishing accessories
● Offers unmatched stability in choppier waters
If you’re looking for a vessel that delivers exceptional value for money on all fronts, the Contender 25 Bay is a great option to consider, particularly if you love offshore fishing in calm water conditions or cruising about inshore.
It comes with plenty of rod holders, trolling motors, electric reel outlets, and Livewell plumbing. It is also pretty spacious, which is great for the days you want to entertain. Compared to other bay boats in its category, 25 Bay is a true outlier.
● Perfect for fishing and entertaining
● Feature-rich and fully customizable
● Offers great value for the money
Modern-day boat manufacturers work hard to cram as much multipurpose utility as they can into a single vessel. The new 2020 2350 Bay from Ranger Boats is the perfect example of this.
You’ll find angler-savvy features on it, as well as family-friendly specs for those weekends where you want to spend a bit of quality time with the wife and kids. The removable bow cushions, the forward lounge seats, and the wraparound rear seat are a nice touch for an afternoon out in the sun.
Standard features of the 2350 Bay include LED navigation lights, a stereo speaker system, cup holders, gunnel rod holders, fish boxes with overboard drains, a built-in cooler, rod storage, and an optional porta-potty.
● Ideal for fishing
● Fully customizable
The Parker 2600 SH is a bay boat that excels offshore. This hybrid vessel is designed with enough beam and gunwale height to give it a remarkable amount of stability when venturing offshore.
Standard features include broad fore and aft fishing platforms, digital electronic controls, an insulated fish box, navigation lights, a trolling motor receptacle, cup holders, tackle storage, centerline storage, storage box, and lots more.
● Provides unmatched safety when venturing offshore
● Comes with plenty of storage
● Several fishing-savvy features included
● Pricier than most boats in its category
5. Grady White 251 Coastal Explorer (Best Bay Boat for Shallow Water)
The Grady White 251 Coastal Explorer boasts an aft cockpit depth of 20 inches, which is considerably more than what you would expect from traditional bay boats. It also has casting platforms on the fore and aft that convert to seating if required.
But the most outstanding feature of the 251 CE has to be its ability to float on a measly 14 inches of water, which is pretty impressive if you think about it. Standard features include a deluxe lean bar, 15-gallon Livewell, built-in rod storage, and low gunnels that allow for easy access to the water.
● Can cruise through 14 inches of water
● Has plenty of fishing-friendly features
● Has several family-friendly features
● Poor fuel mileage compared to that of other lighter boats
If you’re new to the boating world and are looking for a great starter bay boat, the Regulator 26XO is an excellent choice for beginners. It is designed to give you easy access to skinny waters, bays, and lakes, and the ability to head out offshore anytime you need to.
It has ample seating space and storage, making it ideal for family use as well, which is perfect if you don’t intend to spend all your time angling. Standard features of the 26XO include a Minn Kota trolling motor, Yamaha engine, cup holders, portable marine toilet, a marine stereo system, and lots more. It is the perfect bay craft to ease you into boating.
● A great option for beginners
● Fully customizable
● High maintenance required
7. Everglades 253 CC Bay Boat (Best Bay Boat for Freshwater)
The Everglades 253 CC Bay Boat is not only optimized for offshore use but is also perfect for inshore freshwater lakes. We particularly like its expansive aft deck that provides enough room to allow you to easily cast in inshore freshwaters.
Standard features include a premier audio package that comes with a JL amplifier, subwoofer, and speakers, rod holders, ample storage for life jackets and fishing gear, USB charging ports, bow seating, stern seats with foldable backrests, forward-console seating, drink holders, and lots more.
● Perfect for inshore freshwater use
● High-quality construction
For the hardcore anglers out there, the Scout 231 XS was designed with you in mind. It is no doubt the best performing bay boat model in its class.
Thanks to its stepped hull, coupled with the raw power of the 300 hp Mercury engine, the XS effortlessly achieves speeds in the mid-60 range to get you to fishing sites quickly and efficiently.
Standard features of this particular vessel include a 26-gallon cockpit baitwell, 11-gallon bow baitwell, and a 26-gallon release well. It also has a 6-gallon freshwater tank. It was made for the avid fisherman.
● Perfect for fishing in both inshore and offshore water
● Has a large passenger capacity
● Intuitive dashboard control
Bay boats don’t exactly come cheap, with some models going for $120,000 and up. Nonetheless, it is possible to get a shiny new boat for under $40,000. You just need to know where to look.
The 2020 Robalo 206 Cayman, for instance, retails for around $38,000 – trailer included. It has ample seating and is designed for both fishing and family outings.
The interior looks sleek and comes outfitted with a 15-gallon Livewell both at the fore and aft decks, removable bow cushions, aft jump seats, drink holders, grab rails, rod holders, an insulated fish box with an overboard drain, LED courtesy lights, and lots more.
● Sleek design
● Affordable price point
● Feature-rich and fully customizable
● Livewell capacity could be bigger
How to Choose the Best Bay Boats – Buyer’s Guide
Bay boats are arguably the most versatile watercraft in existence. Whether you need a boat for fishing inshore/offshore or for family use, a bay boat checks all the boxes.
Picking the right one is, therefore, one of the most important decisions you’ll face. We’ve outlined the most important factors to consider when choosing the best bay boats.
Purpose of the Boat
First, you need to be clear on what you intend to use your boat for and pick one whose attributes contribute towards your chosen mission. So, if you plan to use your bay boat for fishing, then pick one whose features center around making your expeditions as efficient as possible.
If, on the other hand, you want a boat that does a bit of everything like fishing and family outings, you want a boat that caters to the individual needs of all the users. Once you determine what you want to use your boat for, you’ll be able to narrow down the type of craft you should get.
Interior Seating Configuration
This is something many people often overlook when deciding the type of bay boat they should get. The interior layout is an important element in the decision-making process.
What matters the most to you? Do you intend to entertain when you’re not using your boat for fishing? Do you have kids? How many people will you have onboard? Is forward-seating important to you, or would you rather have a roomier cockpit?
The answers to these questions will advise the interior layout of the vessel you get.
Ample storage is equally as important when picking the right boat. If you’re an experienced boater looking to upgrade the vessel you currently have, you probably already know what your storage needs are.
If you’re new and haven’t spent enough time on the water to determine the kind of storage space you need, it’s always a good idea to speak to an expert before you make a purchase.
Nonetheless, regardless of your on-water experience (or lack thereof), you want to pick a vessel that offers dry, protected storage. Find a boat whose storage lockers are foam-insulated and come with a drain overboard. That way, they can double up as fish boxes if the need arises.
Keep in mind that the more dry storage a boat has, the more options you’ll have on how to utilize it.
You want a design that hides away your fishing equipment and gear when they’re not in use, yet handy enough to quickly retrieve them when you sight some fish. The kind of fishing you intend to do will determine how much rod storage you’ll need.
A Livewell is standard in most bay boats. If you come across a vessel without it, well, it’s not even worth your time. What you need to establish, however, is the purpose, capacity, and configuration of the Livewells onboard. You also need to think about what you’ll use them for.
At the very least, you should opt for a boat that has two of them – one fore and one aft. Imagine how inconveniencing it would be to have to walk to the back or the front of the boat to grab fresh bait in the heat of all the action? Having two of them just makes sense.
You want a boat that delivers a smooth and comfortable ride with the maximum fuel range and efficiency possible. A solid ride largely depends on the hull construction and design.
A bay boat with a deeper V-hull is likely to deliver a less bumpy ride compared to one with a shallower draft. As far as the fuel range and efficiency go, those have everything to do with the capacity of the fuel tank and the power of the outboard motor.
Some of the mechanical considerations you need to keep in mind when choosing a bay boat include checking that it has a provision for anchoring systems for shallow waters and trolling motors.
Ideally, you want a vessel that already has the wiring in place, waterproof connectors attached, and backing plates mounted. This makes installation easy if you ever need to add those components later down the line. Plug-and-play compatibility is important when picking a vessel.
The integration of onboard electronics is a highly customizable feature. Some of the popular installations you can consider adding to deck out your boat include a VHF radio, multifunctional touchscreen displays, stereo systems, mood lighting, and any other desirable feature you can get factory installed.
These are usually available on the manufacturer’s site when you use the “Build-a-Boat” feature. Keep in mind that these fall in the category of “optional extras” and will likely elevate the cost of the boat.
Do the Legwork
When choosing the best bay boats, ensure that the manufacturer in question has a stellar reputation for high quality and excellence. That way, you know that the boat you buy will last you several years to come.
Any of the 9 options detailed in this guide would be a great choice. Do your research, identify the features that matter the most to you, and then take the plunge – pun intended!
In the meantime, if you’re in the market for a new skiff, check out our comprehensive review on the best flats boats.
Outdoors, I’m in my element, especially in the water. I know the importance of being geared up for anything. I do the deep digital dive, researching gear, boats and knowhow and love keeping my readership at the helm of their passions.