Fishing boats come in all shapes and sizes. From 80 foot sportfishermen with 3,000 horsepower to 8 foot Jon boats with 3 horsepower, there’s a boat out there for every style of fishermen and type of fishing. While every choice is influenced by your personal budget, in this article we will take a look at some of the factors beyond budget that influence boat selection and help you choose which boat is right for you.
Range, or the distance from where you launch your boat to where you fish is one of the biggest factors to consider when choosing the right boat. If you want to fish a hundred miles offshore for fish like yellowfin tuna, mahi mahi, or marlin, then a larger boat with more range will be necessary. In general a larger boat can handle worse weather, bigger seas, and carry more fuel to get you to your destination.
However, if you only plan on fishing locally in protected waters then a smaller boat might suit your needs better and offer a more economical choice. Ultimately, the type of fishing your boat can do will be influenced by its range and size.
Boats under 20 feet in length will have a US Coast Guard approved capacity plate listing the maximum number of passengers they can carry. For more on the legal aspects of Boat Capacity this article provides more details. However, the stated max capacity and what your boat can comfortably fish is often quite different.
When fishing you need space. Whether it’s to cast a rod or land a fish, a 20’ boat with a listed maximum capacity of eight people for example is going to feel very crowded trying to fish. Additionally guests aboard need accommodations like seating and perhaps even a head on board that take away from deck space. In general, the more people you plan to fish with, the larger the boat you’ll need.
Open layout boats like center consoles, some pontoon boats, and bay boats minimize accommodations and attempt to maximize deck space. More deck space means more space for more guests to fish. If fishing is your primary goal then these boat designs offer a great option. If it’s only you and one or two guests then just about any boat design is “fishable” but again, boats designed for fishing will be easier to fish off. From experience too many fishermen aboard can lead to complications like line tangles and snags that make for a poor experience for everyone. Once you choose your boat and have experience fishing from it you’ll start to have an idea of how many people it can comfortably fish.
After purchase price and perhaps fuel expenses, maintenance is likely to be the biggest monetary factor when choosing a boat. And while in this article we’re attempting to look beyond monetary factors since everyone’s budget is different, maintenance requirements have very real impacts on your boat’s usefulness too. In general a more complex boat is going to require more maintenance, and more maintenance means less time to use your boat.
A 10’ Jon boat with a small outboard engine is going to need very little maintenance, whereas a large sportfishing boat has a multitude of systems aboard that require constant upkeep. Whether you decide to do the maintenance yourself or hire a mobile marine mechanic to take care of your boat for you is up to you, either way, maintenance takes time.
In general, simpler is better but some features can make your time aboard a lot easier and help you find more fish. Furthermore, in general, more modern systems like engines and electronics, require less maintenance than older ones - something to consider if debating buying new vs. used. Regardless of the boat you end up buying, maintenance is going to play a big role in your ownership of it and it’s something you should consider before buying rather than being surprised by it after purchase.
Draft or the depth between your boat’s hull and the bottom is one of those things you don’t think about too often, but when you do it often matters a lot. If you’re planning on fishing deep water offshore you can skip this section and not bother ever worrying about your boat’s draft. However, for some anglers draft is a major factor when choosing a boat.
Shallow draft boats allow anglers access to shallower waters. If the areas you fish are shallow, rocky, or have hazards like coral reefs or oyster bars, then draft is a primary consideration. Shallow draft boats are usually lighter or beamier in that they displace their weight across more water. To anglers that draft is important, it is very important, and a few inches difference draft can be a major deciding factor in choosing a boat.
For many boat owners, trailering their boat to and from a local marina or boat ramp, is a major part of the boating experience. If you happen to have a slip in the water for your boat or have already decided on a boat too large to trailer, then this section will not factor into your decision. However, if you’re like the vast majority of boaters, the ability to trailer your boat is important.
Larger boats become more difficult to trailer as they require a larger trailer and a larger tow vehicle. Additionally your launch ramps may be more limited with a large boat on a trailer. For those new to trailering boats, a boat in the 20 to 25 foot range will be relatively easy to trailer and can be pulled by most trucks on the market.
Another factor that influences your boat’s ability to be trailered is its beam. Wider boats present challenges on streets, especially in crowded urban or suburban areas with lots of traffic. Beam is a factor to consider if you plan on trailering and are debating between purchasing a monohull style boat or a multihull style like a catamaran or trimaran. Fortunately most boat designers are aware their customers will be trailering their boats. Consequently they take beam and trailer-ability into account and design their boats so that they’re easy to trailer for the majority of owners.
Deciding which boat to choose for fishing is a complex process. In today’s hot boating market, sometimes the best boat is the one that is available. However, you need to make sure that the boat you’re buying the right boat for the type of fishing you’ll be doing. Factors like range, passenger capacity, maintenance, draft and, trailerability all play a role in deciding which boat is right for you. While each of these is an important factor there are a multitude of other factors that might affect your personal situation and help you make a choice. If you’re new to boating there’s nothing like local knowledge to help inform your choice.
Talk to local boaters, charter a guide that does the fishing you plan on doing, go to boat shows, fish with friends. Take time and get to know your options, a boat is a major purchase and you should do as much research as possible and make the right choice for you.