Types of Powerboats: 33 Types And Their Uses
If you’re new to the world of boating get ready for a surprise. There are far more kinds of boats than most people are aware of out on the water, and that includes powerboats, speed boats, motorboats or whatever you might want to call them.
For many people, “powerboat” is a kind of catchall term. Once upon a time people referred to boats in very basic terms. A rowboat had oars, a dinghy was a little boat, a sailboat had a sail and a motor boat has outboard motors and that was as detailed as most people got. But there are many different forms a powerboat can take and many different uses for them. So let’s take a look, alphabetically, at a list that may not be exhaustive but should cover nearly every kind of powerboat you’ll want to know about.
Aft-cabin boats have a room at the stern of the boat from which they get their name. An inboard engine is located at the center and you can access the helm with a set of stairs. These boats are used for cruising, especially if you plan to spend a few nights at sea.
A bass boat is used for freshwater fishing in lakes and rivers. That doesn’t have to just be bass fishing. Usually these are between 14’ and 23’. They have a shallow draft and a flat deck as well as a low freeboard. You’ll often find a bass boat with a pretty powerful outboard motor and also trolling motors.
A bay boat, as the name implies, are designed for use in places like bays and coastal waters. That means shallow water, typically. Expect a fiberglass hull, a length between 18’ and 24’ and a low freeboard center console. They have a low profile overall and usually offer good speed.
Like the name suggests, you can ride in the bow of a bowrider. The bow end is opened up to allow for extra seating in front of the helm. Expect a bowrider to be a modest length, between 17’ and 30’. The hull is V-shaped to allow for a smooth ride cutting through coastal or inland waters. With room for up to 8 people, these are good boats for family cruising or fishing.
This is a boat that, like the aft-cabin, plays a little fast and loose with strict definitions. If you can sleep on a boat, it’s a cabin cruiser. Now that doesn’t mean napping on a canoe or anything, but if the boat has specific accommodations meant for sleeping, no matter what other kind of boat it may be, it is also now a cabin cruiser. So it could also be a catamaran, a yacht, a flybridge, or any number of other vessels. But it would still also be a cabin cruiser. More specifically, though, a cabin cruiser will likely have a v-shaped hull, comfortable amenities for multiple passengers, and a secure drive shaft mechanism.
Catamarans are dual hull boats which gives them exceptional stability. Some catamarans also offer sails in addition to motors. They can give you better fuel economy and speed than monohull boats as well. Most catamarans are between 25’ and 40’. Though they have a lot of perks, they can also be pretty expensive compared to other boats.
Just like the name suggests, a center console boat will have the helm controls located on a center console in the middle of the boat. The open hull design means you can walk all around the center console which is great for fishing, especially offshore. The motor is usually an outboard and length can range anywhere from a relatively small 13’ all the way to over 40’.
You’ll see these called cigarette boats and, more properly, go-fast boats. They’re long and narrow and built for speed as the “go-fast” name implies. These are performance boats so if you’re not into racing you’re not likely to come across one.
Convertible boats are big boats, starting at a minimum of 35’. They feature an open cabin and a flybridge and are ideal for offshore fishing and cruising. Fishing is done from the aft deck which should be a decent size for several anglers.
Smaller than a convertible, a cruiser can still be a good size of 21’ up to 45’. You’ll find a cabin up in the bow of the boat along with a galley and a head. There is enough room to make for a comfortable night’s stay.
Cuddy Cabin Boats
Cuddy cabins are usually between 22’ and 30’ and feature a storage cabin which is where the name comes from. They may have a small berth or even a head as well, but not what you’d call a proper sleeping cabin for extended nights on the water. These are great for coastal cruising and maybe a weekend getaway.
A deck boat is usually identified by its squared bow and boxy shape. They have a lot of deck space which is where the name comes from. These are not designed for speed but they are designed for group outings and can accommodate more people than many boats of a similar length. If you’re looking for a party or excursion boat, or even one for swimming and water sports, these are good choices.
A dinghy is a small boat best suited for just one or two people. A dinghy would reach 12’ in length at the maximum and will likely be considerably smaller. Many dinghies are not powered at all but they can be operated by small outboard engines. They can be inflatable or hard-sided boats and are often carried by larger vessels as emergency use boats.
Down East Cruiser
Sometimes called lobster boats these are actually designed based on east coast lobster boats. They feature a narrow entryway, comfortable accommodations and a lower helm station. Some may have fly bridges as well. The cabin should have a few berths and a dining area.
Like the name suggests, you have a pair of consoles and dashboards on a dual console. There will be a passageway between them to allow movement to the bow area. These are usually 16’ to 30’.
As you might guess, an express boat, or express fisherman, is designed with speed in mind. The cabin will be to the front and below the helm. These are great for offshore fishing, especially if you’re not interested in the slow cruising from place to place and want to get to your destination quickly.
Another entry that plays a little fast and loose with what exactly it means. A lot of boats can be fishing boats, after all. But typically, a fishing boat is going to have a trolling motor, reliable maneuvering, live wells and space for holding fishing rods. There may be a host of other features but those are the things you need in order to consider it a true fishing boat.
Flats boats are designed with shallow waters in mind. A long length and a very shallow draft make these good for waters other boats couldn’t handle. When things get very precarious and you can’t use your motor you’ll also have a push pole for navigation. A flats boat will likely not exceed 18’.
Houseboats can take a number of forms but most of us know one to see one as they often look like RVs on the water. Sizes can vary greatly from a smaller 25’ to 30’ all the way up to around 150’. Typically squared off at the ends and featuring a barge like hull, these have full amenities. Multiple bedrooms, a full kitchen and additional living spaces make these true houses on the water. These are best suited for calm, inland waters. They can be used for cruising, fishing and water sports but often are moored in a permanent location.
These are good beginning boats for use in inland waters. They feature an inflatable hull though the floor is usually something rigid which could be anything from aluminum to wood. Buoyancy is provided by the outer tube of the boat which is filled with air and protected by a sturdy material that is resistant to tearing but is still less durable than something like fiberglass or aluminum. An outboard motor fixed to the transom provides power. Various boats like pontoon boats and dinghies may also be inflatable boats.
A jet boat is not, strictly speaking, a motorboat like many of these others but it is still a powerboat. The jet part of the name refers to the propulsion system which sucks into the jet propulsion unit and then forced out again with greater speed and force. There are no propellers involved. Any boat that uses a jet propulsion system is therefore a jet boat. Jet boats can attain high speeds and can also handle shallow waters more easily than motor boats.
A jon boat is a great basic or starter boat. Made of aluminum or sometimes fiberglass they have a flat bottom and are best used in shallower waters. They’re ideal for a fishing trip for one or two people and don’t have a lot of bells and whistles. They’re also pretty easy to handle and relatively inexpensive. If you have little experience with boating but want to try your hand at it on a lake or pond, especially for fishing, this is potentially something you’ll want to take a look at.
I don’t own a megayacht and probably never will but they still exist. To qualify as a megayacht it needs to be at least 200’ in length and can get up to 500’. These things aren’t sold at your local marina, they’re custom made for millionaires and billionaires. The 533-foot Eclipse megayacht features 24 guest cabins, two swimming pools and a missile-detection system.
A pilothouse boat obviously has the actual pilothouse as a prominent feature. This will be a fully enclosed structure which makes them ideal for use on rough seas. Because the pilot house is enclosed even in the worse storms the helmsman remains relatively safe and dry. A lot of commercial fishing type vessels have enclosed pilot houses but they are also well suited for cruising. At a length up to 35’ you can expect a cabin and a berth. Inboard, outboard or stern drive motors are all possibilities for a pilothouse boat.
Pontoon boats use a pontoon system to stay afloat. Large aluminum or inflatable pontoons are the source of buoyancy and act as a foundation for the rest of the boat. Most pontoon boats feature these large, air-filled tubes on either side of the boat. Some models include a third pontoon in the center and may be referred to as a tritoon boat. Pontoon boats usually have a large deck surface and are great for fishing or as a family boat. Speed is not their strong suit but you can expect to get up to 30 mph in a modern pontoon.
Personal watercraft, sometimes abbreviated as PWC are also colloquially known as jet skis. Jet ski is actually a name brand much like Kleenex is a name brand of tissue but it shows the market dominance of that particular brand that many people will call any personal watercraft a jet ski. These vessels are best suited for one or two people maximum. They are often far cheaper than larger powerboats but obviously offer less versatility. Like jet boats, a personal watercraft uses jet propulsion so there is no propeller. They are recreational vehicles and are often used just for fun and racing in coastal or inland waters.
Rigid Inflatable Boat
This is a slight tweak to the idea of the inflatable boat mentioned earlier. Rigid inflatable boats, or RIBs, is kind of a combination of both an inflatable and a rigid boat. A rigid fiberglass or aluminum hull like you’d find on a traditional boat, is surrounded by inflatable tubes to increase buoyancy. Because of the combination of materials these are stronger and faster than normal inflatables and can carry a greater amount of weight. They also come in longer lengths than traditional inflatables.
This is another type of boat that is a sort of vaguely defined vessel and several other types of boats can qualify as a runabout. Typically this refers to a small vessel, so think under 25’. They’re powered by an outboard or sterndrive and can work as a fishing boat, a sport boat, or just a cruiser. If it’s small and fast, it could be called a runabout.
Sedan Bridge Boat
A sedan bridge boat would be considered a yacht by most people at first glance. They’re designed for cruising and have accommodations that make longer stays at sea comfortable. The cockpit is easily accessed and is high enough above the water, near the level of the boat’s aft deck to provide exceptional visibility. It’s not a boat intended for great speed but comfort during longer trips.
Ski Boat (Wakeboard Boat)
A ski and wakeboard boat is designed with water sports in mind. That means speed is the name of the game to allow for water skiing and wakeboarding. The design of a ski boat actually allows you to adjust the wake you produce. Ballast can be added so you make a larger wake and the person you’re towing can perform more tricks as a result.
With a flat bottom, a skiff and a jon boat are often hard to tell apart. A skiff usually has a more pointed bow, though it may be a little more rounded. They have a shallow draft and are well suited for navigating shallow waters as a result. They don’t feature too many bells and whistles and steering is typically managed at a center console.
A superyacht is between a regular yacht and a megayacht, which means between 100 feet and 200 feet. The most expensive yacht in the world is a superyacht called the History Supreme which cost a baffling $4.8 billion and includes 10,000 kg or about 11 tons of solid gold and platinum. The bedroom wall in the cabin is made from meteorite rocks and there’s a statue made from T-rex bones. No word on what kind of engines are needed to maneuver the 220,000 lb vessel.
Strictly speaking, a yacht is another vessel that can be loosely defined. Under 100 feet, any cruising vessel that can accommodate overnight stays could potentially qualify as a yacht. Of course, most of us would associate the term with a high end vessel that features a number of luxuries as well.
Is It Feet in Length That Changes the Definition Between Boats?
You’ll notice for a lot of these boats that the difference seems to be little more than size. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the three yachts I’ve listed. A “normal” yacht hits 100 feet, while a super yacht gets up to 200 feet and a megayacht can reach 500 feet. If you get much longer than that you may be dealing with a cruise ship.
A lot of regulations regarding boats are determined by their length. This also affects insurance so it’s true, the length of a boat has a lot of importance in factoring what kind of boat it is, where it can be used, who can pilot it and what it will cost you.
The Bottom Line
Like I said before, this is not even an exhaustive list despite how many entries there are. New boats are being designed all the time and some terms cross over from one kind of boat to another in terms of definition. You can get anything from a multipurpose boat suitable for fishing or the ultimate family boat which is best suited to inland lakes. But this should serve as a good primer to start you off and help you identify whatever powered boats you’re seeing out there on the water. As always, stay safe and have fun.