top image

Best family boats for spending time on the lake this boating season

By The Ahoy! Crew
Published June 2, 2022
Why do boats for families continue to grow in sales?

Boat sales in the U.S. reached record highs in 2020 as Americans from California to Maine families turned to outdoor activities to escape the stress and isolation of the pandemic. Spending time on the water with family gets people out of the house and away from stress. What’s more, when families spend time on their boats together, they’re learning to function as a crew, which is a powerful exercise for kids whose social interactions have been limited during the pandemic.

Do you want to join the millions of American families who took up boating? Here are a few guidelines on how to choose the right boat for your family.

What makes a boat the right boat for a family who wants to spend time on lakes and reservoirs?

Natural lakes and reservoirs offer a wide variety of watersports and activities – from waterskiing to freshwater fishing – for families who want to get out of the house during this boating season. Finding the perfect boat for your family will depend on the activities you want to participate in as well as the particular lake or lakes you plan to visit.

A trailerable 16-foot runabout might be ideal for a family of fishers who want to find out what’s biting at small local lakes. On the other hand, longer, beamier wakeboard boats can accommodate more passengers and offer watersport options for active families.

Best overall freshwater boat types for families

Many factors may influence your freshwater boat purchasing decision, which can make the process of picking out an entry-level family boat challenging. The following five boat types for families are among the most popular.

  • Pontoon boats
  • Runabout boats
  • Fish-and-ski boats
  • Cabin cruisers
  • Walkarounds

We’ll take a look at the pros and cons of these freshwater family boats in more detail in the following section.

Pontoon boats

Pontoons and three-hulled tri-toons are affordable and comfortable for day trips on local lakes. They’re a perfect entry-level option for families who want to buy a freshwater boat to test the waters of boat ownership.

Pros of pontoon boats
  • A variety of price ranges for any budget
  • Spaciousness for larger families
  • Stability and buoyancy for greater comfort
  • Protection from the elements
Cons of pontoon boats
  • Lackluster performance when it comes to intense watersports like waterboarding
  • Fewer fishing features for serious anglers
  • May be less stable when you need to load and tow
Runabout boats

Deck boats, bowriders, and other runabout boats offer versatility and trailer ability for families who like to take their boating adventures on the road.

Pros of runabout boats
  • Available at a variety of price points
  • Multipurpose design to accommodate a wide range of water activities, from freshwater fishing to cruising
  • Fast and capable of creating an ideal wake for towing activities like waterskiing, wake surfing, and tubing
  • The lightweight build makes them easy to trailer
Cons of runabout boats
  • Equipping with extra accessories like bimini tops, GPS, and other amenities can increase your initial investment significantly
  • More subject to waves and high winds, which can make them less comfortable for family members who aren’t at home on a boat
  • More difficult to board than pontoons
  • Little to no protection from the weather
Fish-and-ski boats

Though most fish-and-ski boats are based on runabout boat designs, they’re more highly specialized freshwater boats than either deck boats or bowriders. Active boater families will enjoy the versatility of these sporty boats.

Pros of fish-and-ski boats
  • Often come equipped with specific features for serious anglers like a basic fish finder, a convertible bow seating/casting platform, and fishing rod and tackle storage
  • Offer ski features like a removable pylon with tow line and easy to use boarding platforms
  • Most fish-and-ski boats offer sufficient comfort and space for an average-sized family
  • Lightweight design makes fish-and-ski boats easily trailerable
Cons of fish-and-ski boats
  • More expensive than general-purpose boats like pontoons and runabouts
  • May sacrifice social space and comfort amenities like cupholders in favor of highly specialized boat features
  • Converting boats for different water activities can be time-consuming
  • More surface area above the water line means high winds could toss around these lightweight boats
  • Little to no protection from the weather
Cabin cruisers

Cabin cruisers are ideal for families that want to explore larger bodies of water and spend weekends or longer on their favorite lake. They feature an enclosed cabin for overnighting, and most also feature a galley and head for maximum cruising comfort.

Pros of cabin cruisers
  • Berths provide comfort for families that want to spend days and nights on their lake boat
  • Creature comforts like a well-equipped galley and head make entertaining more comfortable
  • Capable of covering greater distances than runabouts and similar boats
  • The enclosed cabin offers safer passage and the option to bring the good times inside when the weather turns foul
Cons of cabin cruisers
  • More expensive than runabouts and smaller boats
  • Many cruisers are too large for trailering, which limits families to their favorite local lake
  • Can be difficult to navigate larger boats in smaller lakes
  • Being typically large, it is not easy to haul out and store cabin cruisers frequently, more than once or twice a year for the off-season or for a needed repair/maintenance 
  • Not ideal for towing sports that require powerful acceleration to get up on a plane quickly

For a family that wants it all, walkabout boats can be a perfect boat compromise. The design provides both enclosed space below deck and open space up top for multifunctional utility.

Pros of walkarounds
  • Even small walkarounds offer room for a sleeping berth and a portable toilet
  • Boat manufacturers design small, basic walkarounds to meet a lower price point than cruisers
  • Large, open aft cockpits offer deck space for angling or trolling
  • The enclosed bow offers safer passage and protection from the elements
  • Smaller walkarounds are trailerable
Cons of walkarounds
  • More deck space on the bow means tighter cabin space below, which can be a problem for larger families
  • More cabin space below means less deck space for angling above, which can be a problem for families that want more dedicated fishing platforms
  • Boat manufacturers may limit storage space for freshwater fishing equipment to make room for cabin space
What to consider when shopping for a family boat

No matter which boat type interests you, you should consider the following questions before you make your purchase:

  • What is your boat budget, including required gear and accessories, registration expenses, insurance, fuel, etc.?
  • What water activities are you interested in? Will you need a highly specialized boat like a bass boat or a more multifunctional boat like a bowrider?
  • How many passengers are you like to have on your family boat?
  • Where will you be storing your boat and will you need to trailer it? When is a boat insurance policy useful?
  • Will you limit your boating to daytime excursions or do you want the option to stay aboard for a long weekend?
Protect your family boat from the elements with a comprehensive policy for boaters

Ahoy! Insurance is brought to you by boaters who understand the way you feel about your new family boat. As a boat insurance company, we know your boat a lot more than just another asset. It’s how you connect with family and friends. It’s stress management and exercise and a learning opportunity for kids. Whether you’re using your boat to explore the islands of the Great Lakes during the summer holidays or making quick fishing trips to get a break from the every day, you’ll gain peace of mind with a comprehensive boater’s insurance policy. That’s why we designed the most comprehensive policy for boaters like you as well as innovative technological tools that let you turn your attention to what really matters: turning your family into a crew.


boatingbuying guideguide

Sign up for updates

    Sign up for updates

      We are fast!

      Get your boat insurance policy in under 10 minutes!

      Get a Quote!