No matter the shape, style or size, most new boats seem to be beyond the means of the masses these days. Take center consoles: They’re up to 40-plus feet and equipped with three and four outboards. Average price for a 40-footer: $600,000 to $800,000.
Of course, big boats have their advantages. You can cruise in comfort for longer distances, and a well-designed and built boat may be safer and more capable of battling rougher seas than a smaller craft. But it all comes with a cost.
I went looking for boats that will allow you to enjoy time on the water without taking out a second mortgage (OK, perhaps a small one). I wound up with 13 boats in four categories: center consoles, express (including walkarounds and pocket cruisers), pilothouse boats and dual consoles/bowriders. There are no doubt a few we missed, and all of our picks cost less than $200K and are under 30 feet. These are boats that let you get back to basics — or at least closer to them.
In addition to lower price tags, the boats featured here are easier to operate, maintain, store and transport. And with their shallower draft, small boats can take you into skinny waters where larger boats can’t go. Many are trailerable, offering the flexibility to hit the road and visit a variety of boating, fishing and diving locales. Some may be overmatched in severe weather, but if you pick your day carefully — and you’re equipped with appropriate safety equipment — a small boat can safely travel many miles offshore. Bottom line: Small is beautiful.
Southport 272 TE (Tournament Edition)
This no-nonsense midsize center console excels as an inshore or offshore fishing boat. “The 272 TE is priced to make the Southport brand affordable to buyers who want the level ride, stability and quality of a Southport, but with other family budget demands cannot justify investing $200,000-plus,” says managing director Skip Robinson.
The Southport rides a deep-vee hull designed by C. Raymond Hunt Associates and is built using resin infusion technology. The single-level deck holds an 80-gallon insulated foredeck coffin box, as well as two storage lockers beneath the cockpit sole, rod storage, a 30-gallon live well, a bait prep center and a T-top with integrated rod rack.
With the single Yamaha or Suzuki DF300 she gets 1.9 mpg at 32 mph. The boat can also take twin 200-, 225- or 250-hp 4-strokes. She gets 2.2 mpg at 29.2 mph with a pair of DF200 Suzukis.
LOA: 26 feet, 6 inches BEAM: 9 feet, 6 inches DRAFT: 1 foot, 10 inches DISPLACEMENT: 4,600 pounds FUEL: 204 gallons POWER: single 300-hp 4-stroke or twin 200s (Yamaha or Suzuki) SPEED: 42 mph top with single Yamaha F300, 50 mph top with twin 200 Yamahas or Suzukis, 30-33 mph cruise with all power options PRICE: $141,900 (single Suzuki DF300), $144,000 (single Yamaha F300), $157,325 (twin F200s), $157,325 (twin Suzuki DF200s) Southport Boats, Augusta, Maine, (207) 620-7998. southportboats.com
Pursuit C 238
The C 238 replaces the C 230 and comes standard with a fiberglass hardtop, a walk-in console with head, and a tempered-glass windshield for protection and excellent visibility. The boat rides the same bottom as the C 230, but this is a different boat topside. The hardtop supports are now integrated into the console and powder-coated; the cockpit area has increased by 7 inches; the bow seating has forward-facing backrests; a set of double-wide helm chairs replaces a leaning post; and the swim platform extends aft to the backside of the outboard, with better all-around access to the engine. The single Yamaha F300 provides ample power. She gets 3 mpg at 26 mph and 2.8 mpg at 31 mph.
LOA: 24 feet, 4 inches BEAM: 8 feet, 6 inches DRAFT: 1 foot, 5 inches DISPLACEMENT: 4,580 pounds FUEL: 105 gallons POWER: Yamaha F300 SPEED: 48.4 mph top, 25-30 mph cruise PRICE: $102,790 CONTACT: Pursuit Boats, Fort Pierce, Florida, (772) 465-6006. pursuitboats.com
Ribcraft took a proven design and retooled it over the past year to give the RIB a yacht-quality finish to meet growing interest from consumers. The new tooling allows owners to customize their deck layout, says Ribcraft president and CEO Brian Gray. Forward, they can go with a molded two-person bow seat. Also, the builder offers three console options, with various leaning posts and seating, and a soft or hard T-top. The cockpit can be built with an integrated three-person aft bench seat or fixed cooler that doubles as a seat. “Some people keep the cockpit bare,” says Gray. “One of the advantages of a RIB is you can sit on the tubes.”
Because RIBs are lighter than traditional boats, they don’t need as much power to push them or a large truck to tow them, says Gray. At a cruise of 30 mph, the 7.8 (25 feet) gets nearly 2.75 mpg with a single Yamaha F300. “All the boats are U.S.-built,” he says. “It’s a big selling point for us, as most RIBs and inflatables are imported.”
LOA: 25 feet, 7 inches BEAM: 8 feet, 9 inches DRAFT: 1 foot, 6 inches DISPLACEMENT: 2,670 pounds FUEL: 100 gallons POWER: Yamaha F300 SPEED: 55 mph top, 30 mph cruise PRICE: $130,000 (with electronics and trailer) CONTACT: Ribcraft USA, Marblehead, Massachusetts, (781) 639-9065. ribcraftusa.com
Pro-Line 24 Bay
The Pro-Line 24 Bay delivers the simple layout, smart seating arrangement and basic equipment to function well as a fishing and dayboating center console. And its 10-inch draft and outboard jackplate allow you into shallow water.
“The 24 Bay was a boat I really liked, even though we discontinued building bayboats at Pro-Line in 2012-2013,” says Johnny Walker, CEO of Baja Marine, parent company of Pro-Line. “I consider the 2016 edition a new model because it has a redesigned deck and console, along with a lot of standard fishing features. The base-priced boat has everything you need to get out on the water and start catching fish.”
That equipment includes a bait well, rod holders, leaning post and casting-net stowage in the bow. A T-top, hydraulic jackplate and additional bait well can be added as options.
“The boat runs 40 mph with a 150-hp engine,” Walker says. “You can go up to a 250-hp engine, and that’s going to get you in the 60-mph range.”
The boat can be powered with a 200- or 250-hp Mercury Verado (60-mph top speed) or a 150-hp Suzuki 4-stroke (40-mph top speed). Other engine options are available.
LOA: 23 feet, 11 inches BEAM: 8 feet, 6 inches DRAFT: 10 inches DISPLACEMENT: 2,700 pounds FUEL: 82 gallons POWER: 150-, 200-, 250-hp Mercury, Suzuki or Honda outboard SPEED: 60 mph top, 25-35 mph cruise (Mercury Verado 250) PRICE: $48,000 to $55,000, depending on power CONTACT: Pro-Line Boats, Washington, North Carolina, (252) 975-2000. prolineboats.com
The first Cutwater offered with outboard power, this pocket cruiser is the smallest in a fleet that includes a 26-, 28- and 30-footer. The builder, Fluid Motion of Seattle, which also builds Ranger Tugs, excels at neatly packing overnight conveniences into small spaces. The 24 has the saloon and cabin of a 28-footer, with a dinette for four, a refrigerator, stove, microwave, a large amidships berth for two, a two-person V-berth that doubles as a dinette and a head with a shower.
Many of the saloon components carry out double duty. The companion seat backrest pivots forward for dinette seating. The helm seat does the same to free galley space, and the dinette seating converts to a berth. The builder melds the cockpit with the saloon through an aft deckhouse glass door and two windows. Flip up the large port window and tilt the dinette aft seat forward to increase the size of the cockpit. The clever seating continues with a foredeck lounge that stows flush with the foredeck.
Choose from three power packages: a standard Volvo Penta 240-hp V-6 gas sterndrive, an optional Volvo Penta 220-hp diesel sterndrive or an optional Yamaha F300 outboard.
LOA: 25 feet, 11 inches BEAM: 8 feet, 6 inches DRAFT: 1 foot, 9 inches DISPLACEMENT: 5,300 pounds FUEL: 125 gallons (diesel), 116 gallons (gas) POWER: single 240-hp Volvo Penta gas sterndrive (standard), single Yamaha F300 outboard (optional), single Volvo Penta D3 220-hp diesel sterndrive (optional) SPEED: 40.4 mph top, 26 mph cruise (diesel I/O) PRICE: $99,937 (gas sterndrive) $109,937 (F300), $119,937 (diesel I/O) CONTACT: Cutwater Boats, Monroe, Washington, (800) 349-7198. cutwaterboats.com
Striper 270 Walkaround
The walkaround with cuddy remains an attractive option for boaters who like to fish and take the family for day trips. You can crash in the cabin for a nap, make a sandwich or overnight on the hook.
On the Striper 270, a compact galley to port includes a sink and single-burner alcohol stove, and options include a refrigerator, hot water heater, microwave and air conditioning. The standup head houses a portable pumpout head and a faucet that doubles as a showerhead. The forward seating area and table convert to a V-berth.
The cockpit is secure, with high sides and wide washboards. On deck, a pair of 12-gallon aerated live wells flank 34-gallon port and starboard fishboxes. There’s a companion pedestal seat at the helm, and crew can also sit in the fold-down bench seats in the cockpit.
Striper will hang Mercury, Yamaha, Evinrude, Honda or Suzuki outboards on the transom. At 30 mph with twin Evinrude E-TEC G2 200s, she gets nearly 2.5 mpg, for a range of 414 miles — not too shabby for a 27-footer.
LOA: 27 feet, 2 inches BEAM: 9 feet DRAFT: 1 foot, 8 inches DISPLACEMENT: 6,800 pounds FUEL: 188 gallons POWER: twin 200-hp outboards SPEED: 53 mph top, 30 mph cruise PRICE: $140,840 (twin 200-hp Evinrude G2) CONTACT: Larson Boats, Little Falls, Minnesota, (320) 632-5481. striperboats.com
Four Winns Vista 255
There’s a lot to like about a sterndrive pocket cruiser such as the Vista 255: speed, below-deck amenities, an array of comfortable seats and lounges topside, and stowage for everything from wakeboards and life jackets to beach towels and cold drinks. With a stove, wetbar and refrigerator on deck, you have all the makings for a picnic on the water.
There is 6 feet, 3 inches of headroom in the cabin, which contains a V-berth that doubles as a dinette. An enclosed standup head and a galley stretches along the cabin’s port side, with the midcabin berth aft.
The Vista 255 runs pretty efficiently with a Volvo Penta or MerCruiser dual-prop gasoline sterdrive. The I/O has seen improvements in the past few years, delivering more midrange acceleration, better fuel economy and lower noise levels. The Vista 255 with a single MerCruiser 250-hp sterndrive gets about 1.4 mpg at 30 mph.
LOA: 25 feet, 2 inches BEAM: 8 feet, 5 inches DRAFT: 1 foot, 10 inches DISPLACEMENT: 6,175 pounds FUEL: 70 gallons POWER: 240-300-hp Volvo Penta sterndrive, 250-300-hp MerCruiser sterndrive SPEED: 41 mph top, 26 mph cruise (250-hp MerCruiser) PRICE: $95,154 (with trailer) CONTACT: Four Winns, Cadillac, Michigan, (231) 775-1351. fourwinns.com
If you’re one of those boaters who likes to maximize the season, there’s a good chance you’re a fan of the pilothouse design. Rain, wind or cold, you’re out there.
Ken Hilton, of Standish Boat Yard in Tiverton, Rhode Island, carries the NorthCoast line, which is built by C&C Marine in Bristol, Rhode Island. The boat was introduced at the 2015 New England Boat Show in Boston and is a “home run design as a fish boat/pocket cruiser blend built on a great hull,” says Hilton.
“I ran from Newport [Rhode Island] at 21 to 24 knots in 4- to 5-foot swells and didn’t dig the bow in once,” he says. “It was a good, comfortable cruise. I burned only 14.5 gallons per hour over the 4-1/2-hour run, so I know the boat will appeal to a lot of seasoned boaters out there.”
The cockpit includes simple seating and stowage — both dry and insulated compartments. There’s plenty of side deck space to traverse to and from the bow. “Below, we have a good-size V-berth and an aft cabin and a standup head with shower — all accomplished on a 27-foot platform,” says Hilton.
LOA: 27 feet, 10 inches BEAM: 10 feet, 2 inches DRAFT: 1 foot, 9 inches DISPLACEMENT: 7,470 pounds FUEL: 240 gallons POWER: twin DF250 Suzuki outboards SPEED: 41 knots top, 21 knots cruise PRICE: $178,000 CONTACT: NorthCoast/C&C Marine, Bristol, Rhode Island, (888) 802-2132. northcoastboats.com
Several years ago, New Hampshire-based Eastern Boats purchased the tooling and molds for the Rosborough RF-246 from the Nova Scotia builder, and earlier this year launched a redesigned version. “We have more flexibility with our interior layouts, and we’ve really dressed it up, giving the boat some yacht-like characteristics,” says Rosborough sales manager Peter Brown.
The builder upgraded the upholstery, added a teak high-low table, replaced the halogen lighting with LEDs and added teak trim to the pilothouse interior. Also, the boat is now offered with three interior arrangements, each with its own name. The Halifax and Yarmouth models keep the head in the forward V-berth; on the Digby it’s in the aft starboard area of the pilothouse. The Halifax has a full-size settee, and the Yarmouth features a dinette. Both have larger galleys than the Digby. The hull, deck and pilothouse structure remain the same.
A single Yamaha F150 gives the boat a top speed of 25 mph. She gets 4 mpg at about 16 mph.
LOA: 25 feet BEAM: 8 feet, 6 inches DRAFT: 1 foot, 6 inches DISPLACEMENT: 5,400 pounds FUEL: 120 gallons POWER: Yamaha F150 SPEED: 25 mph top, 16 mph cruise PRICE: $122,000 (Yarmouth and Halifax), $126,000 (Digby) CONTACT: Eastern Boats, Milton, New Hampshire, (603) 652-9213. rosboroughboatsusa.com
Sargo 25 Explorer
The 25 Explorer excels as a speedy all-weather boat with cruising accommodations. “The 25 is a great way to get into cruising,” says Carl Skarne, owner of Skarne Marine, the North American importer of Sargo (the former Minor brand). “It gives you everything her big sisters have — seaworthiness, safety, fuel economy and overnighting accommodations.”
The boat has a V-berth; a standup head; a topside galley with stovetop, refrigerator and sink; and a dinette table. A windlass, heating and air conditioning, and a bow thruster are options, along with AGM batteries, a 12-inch Garmin plotter, a windshield defroster and a sliding sunroof.
A few upgrades have come with the new name, including a midcabin berth and bonded windows that give the boat a more aerodynamic look and improve visibility from inside the pilothouse. The windows are part of the boat’s new “Explorer Appearance Package,” which gives the Sargo fleet an aggressive look with a flat gray hull, black rubrail, walnut interior trim (instead of teak) and brushed aluminum interior handrails wrapped in leather.
A single Volvo Penta 225-hp diesel sterndrive cruises her at 25 knots, burning about 9 gph, which equates to better than 4 nmpg. The diesel and soundproofing make this a quiet boat, says Skarne. “I once had a conference call at 20 knots, and no one even knew I was underway.”
LOA: 25 feet, 9 inches BEAM: 8 feet, 8 inches DRAFT: 3 feet, 3 inches DISPLACEMENT: 6,614 pounds FUEL: 87 gallons POWER: 225-hp D4 Volvo Penta diesel sterndrive SPEED: 32 knots top, 25-30 knots cruise PRICE: $138,000 CONTACT: Skarne Marine, Milford, Connecticut, (203) 283 5300. sargousa.com
Grady-White Freedom 275
Grady-White updated the Freedom 275 with a new deck layout. The boat rides the same hull, and some of the topside components have been retooled and repositioned. There’s a wider port console entry, a new wet bar setup, plus refined standard and optional features that make the boat more versatile and family-friendly.
The new anchor locker’s through-hull chute makes for easier anchor deployment. There’s room for six people on the port and starboard bow seats, and this layout allows longer rod stowage in the console. Grady-White has widened the companion seating, too, and added such details as a tablet storage sleeve and USB connection.
The optional wet bar, which now faces inboard, has a Corian countertop and sink, and it can be equipped with a grill and refrigerator. The patented cockpit bench seat folds down to free up real estate.
“More people are enjoying all kinds of recreational opportunities on big water, not just fishing,” says Shelley Tubaugh, vice president of marketing at Grady-White.
The boat gets its soft, stable ride from its C. Raymond Hunt SeaV2 continuously variable-vee hull, she says. “You have that sharp entry for wave penetration while maintaining terrific tracking ability and a wider beam aft for a comfortable ride when trolling.”
With twin Yamaha F200s, the boat gets 2.33 mpg at 30 mph; at 49 mph (wide open), mileage is 1.26 mpg. She gets 2.36 mpg at 29 mph with a single Yamaha F350, and at a WOT of 49 mph, she gets 1.45 mpg.
LOA: 26 feet, 11 inches BEAM: 8 feet, 6 inches DRAFT: 1 foot, 8 inches DISPLACEMENT: 4,972 pounds FUEL: 184 gallons POWER: Yamaha F350 or twin F250s, F200s or F150s SPEED: 49 mph top, 30 mph cruise (F200s) BASE PRICE: $153,420 (F150s) CONTACT: Grady-White, Greenville, North Carolina, (252) 752-2111. gradywhite.com
Bayliner has been pumping out lower-cost boats for the past five years, concentrating on deckboats and bowriders under 23 feet. (The company also introduced a center console, the Element F18, starting at $18,999 with a 115-hp 4-stroke.) “It’s all about providing everything boaters want for the many activities they’re doing on the water,” says brand manager Michael Yobe.
The $33,299 VR6 is the company’s new bowrider, featuring padded seating from bow to stern. It also has a lockable enclosed changing room (with optional head) in the companion console. The aft-facing companion seat is perfect for spotting water skiers. With a filler cushion, you can link the companion and stern seats to create a U-shaped lounge. Bayliner designed the boat with a swim platform that’s part of the running surface, maximizing the cockpit’s seating/lounge area.
The VR6 comes with a tandem-axle trailer and can be ordered with optional water sports or fishing packages. The boat gets 4 mpg from about 20 to 30 mph with a single 250-hp 4.5L MerCruiser sterndrive. Bayliner also offers seven smaller bowriders, including the new VR5, which comes in at 20 feet and a starting price of $27,000.
LOA: 22 feet, 4 inches BEAM: 8 feet DRAFT: 2 feet, 10 inches DISPLACEMENT: 2,840 pounds FUEL: 33 gallons POWER: 4.5L 200-hp MerCruiser I/O (250-hp MerCruiser optional) SPEED: 52 mph top, 30-35 mph cruise (250-hp MerCruiser) PRICE: $33,299 (200-hp MerCruiser) CONTACT: Bayliner, Knoxville, Tennessee, (865) 582-2315. bayliner.com
Glastron GT 240
Boaters want outboard power more than ever, says Doyle VanderPol, marketing coordinator for Rec Boat Holdings, parent company of Glastron. “They want the power-to-weight ratio and the better performance that goes along with it,” he says. “They want the easier maintenance, easier winterizing and offseason care. And there’s more cockpit space, compared to a sterndrive.”
The GT 240 with a single 300-hp Evinrude E-TEC G2 2-stroke tears it up at WOT — 54 mph. The boat also can run with a 200- or 225-hp engine. The builder will hang Evinrude or Mercury Verado 4-strokes.
Highlights include a port-side changing room in the companion console, which can house an optional head (with or without pumpout) with a sink, says VanderPol. A tandem-axle trailer, bow filler cushions, tables for the cockpit and bow, a transom shower and docking lights round out the options.
A stern lounge stretches across the beam of the boat and includes a hinged starboard section that opens for swim platform access. When propped up, the pad also serves as a port-facing backrest. The centerline pad can be tilted up, too, but faces aft. All seating doubles as stowage.
LOA: 24 feet BEAM: 8 feet, 4 inches DRAFT: 1 foot, 3 inches DISPLACEMENT: 3,280 pounds FUEL: 52 gallons POWER: 200-, 250- or 300-hp outboard (Evinrude or Mercury) SPEED: 54 mph top, 35 mph cruise (300-hp Evinrude) PRICE: $52,933 (200-hp Evinrude), $58,667 (250-hp Evinrude), $60,133 (300-hp Evinrude) CONTACT: Glastron, Cadillac, Michigan, (231) 775-1351. glastron.com
This article originally appeared in the February 2016 issue.