How to find the right boat for you


By David S. Martin

When new boaters give up on boating, it’s almost always because they bought the wrong boat. Let’s look at what to consider when choosing the right boat.


Important for both power- and sailboats, the choice of motors requires careful thought. Power boaters should consider efficiency because the cost of fuel can impact how often they use their boat. Although easy to maneuver and maintain, outboards can swamp in high seas. Inboard-outboard engines provide the maneuverability of outboards with the advantages of inboards; however, dissimilar metals and rubber boots can be weak points. Although less maneuverable, inboards are efficient and safer in high seas, and adding a bow thruster can improve maneuverability. Diesels, though initially more expensive, can be less costly and safer to run.


If speed is your primary consideration, you’ll want a powerboat. If you want time to enjoy the ride, a sailboat might be in order. As the old saying goes, people in a powerboat have somewhere to go, people in a sailboat are where they want to be.


Comfort may be higher on the first mate’s list than the captain’s, but it’s important to keep the crew happy. With powerboats, bigger boats usually have a better ride, as yachts don’t have stabilizers. Sailboats react less to waves because they are held over by the wind, but monohulls will heel. Fixed-keel sailboats won’t capsize in weather encountered by prudent mariners. Some people find heeling a concern until they realize how safe it is.


Powerboats are safe when operated in appropriate conditions. A monohull sailboat with a fixed keel has the safest configuration: It can recover from a knockdown! Catamarans have the highest initial stability (don’t heel noticeably) but no ultimate stability (can’t recover from a knockdown).

Height and draft

Make sure the boat you choose can clear any hazards found in your area. If you will be boating in shallow waters, pay attention to draft, the distance from the waterline to the deepest part of the boat. If you anticipate going under bridges or power lines, make sure that your boat’s maximum height above waterline can clear them.


Cruising camaraderie can be important for beginning power boaters (and useful for all). Single-screw boats have only one means of locomotion, so it’s great to have someone nearby who can help fix a problem or at least commiserate as you wait for a tow. Sailboats seldom cruise in flotillas but skippers may choose to meet at destinations. Boaters cruising the Intracoastal Waterway usually carry boat cards to swap with fellow travelers so they can stay in touch.

Physical exertion

All boating requires physical exertion. For power boaters, the exertion usually comes when loading the boat. Sail boaters have the additional effort of sail handling. Self-tailing winches have eased the burden and so have the furling mechanisms found primarily on cruising boats. Plenty of modern touches such as power winches for anchor and sail handling are also available.

Which type of boat has the greatest tolerance for stupidity? That’s easy: neither. Learn as much as you can before getting out on the water.

United States Power Squadrons, America's Boating Club logo

The Ensign magazine is an official channel of United States Power Squadrons, America’s Boating Club, a volunteer organization whose members teach boating skills and best practices to help improve the safety of our nation’s waterways. Learn more.