Best Runabout and Deck Boats – Unbiased Review

Best bowrider boats

The Runabout and Deck Boat category is a crowded field. There are dozens of brands available in a variety of sizes, styles, propulsion types and price points. Finding the one that is right for you can be a bit of a challenge. To help you with your search, we surveyed 172 current owners to find out which brands they feel are the Best Runabout and Deck Boats based on their experience.

But, before we get into the findings, let’s distinguish runabouts (also called “bow riders”) from deck boats since the differences can be fairly subtle.  The most apparent difference is that the bow of a deck boat will be much more “squarish” than a runabout.  This is because the hull is a bit flatter and the beam is carried forward.  The primary advantage of this is greater interior space (especially in the bow).  And a flatter hull will be able to navigate shallow areas better but may also slap or bounce more in rough water vs. runabouts which have more of a deep V configuration.

Though the appearance of the two is similar, many think that runabouts have a sleeker, more streamlined look.  Traditionally, deck boats have largely been outboard powered whereas runabouts typically come with a sterndrive engine (also known as an I/O).  However, an increasing number of outboard-powered bowriders have been introduced in recent years for cost and ease of maintenance reasons.

For additional details on runabouts vs. deck boats, check out this article from Discover Boating.

BEST RUNABOUT BOATS

Boaters were asked to select the top 3 runabout brands and their number one favorite if shopping for a new Runabout.  The table below lists the most popular choices.

RUNABOUTSTOP 3 CHOICE#1 FAVORITE
SEA RAY37%16%
COBALT25%3%
CHAPARRAL23%12%
FOUR WINNS23%10%
BAYLINER21%13%
CROWNLINE21%7%
TAHOE13%6%
GLASTRON13%6%

BEST DECK BOATS

And the list of best deck boats is similar to that of Runabouts with the exception of Hurricane which is the market leader in this segment.

DECK BOATSTOP 3 CHOICE#1 FAVORITE
HURRICANE54%30%
CHAPARRAL25%2%
SEA RAY23%13%
CROWNLINE20%11%
TAHOE19%14%
BAYLINER15%7%

 

REASONS FOR SELECTING FAVORITES

The following are representative comments regarding why current boat owners favor each of these brands.

SEA RAY

At the top of the bowrider list is Sea Ray – a member of the Brunswick family of boats. Sea Ray has been building boats since 1959 and has built a strong reputation for quality and luxury over the years. Over one-third of our survey participants selected Sea Ray as one of the three best runabout boats. Besides quality, prior ownership experience with the brand was also a key reason. Surprisingly, price was a factor too. Though Sea Rays are on the higher end of the price range, they may seem like a bargain when you compare them to the price of a Cobalt.

Excellent quality for a good price. Very reliable and well made without being crazy expensive.

Jason H., Mount Dora, FL
  • “Excellent quality for a good price. Very reliable and well made without being crazy expensive.” (Jason H., Mount Dora, FL)
  • “Build, quality and price.” (Adam W., Oxford, GA)
  • “I have a Sea Ray now and I like it.” (Rich P., Pittsford, NY)
  • “Quality from the surface to what you don’t see.” (Linda S., Sugar Hill, GA)
  • “Overall quality and reliability. Previously owned a Sea Ray two boats ago and enjoyed it immensely. Only change would be to go from I/O to outboard.” (Stephen E., Estero, FL)
  • “Nice design and good reputation.” (Barbara F., Cape Coral, FL)

COBALT

If cost is not a factor to you, then you might be interested in Cobalt. These are extremely well built, beautiful boats with a price to match. But it is important to point out that Cobalts also tend to have a relatively high resale value. Therefore, if you can afford the initial purchase price, your net cost of ownership might not be much different. Cobalt was recently acquired by another premium boat builder – Malibu boats. As such, I would not expect much change in the quality or customer support that this Neodesha, KS builder is famous for.

If you want, and can afford, the best – then take a look at Cobalt.

  • “Warranty, experience with the brand, dealer, quality of boat, features.” (Steve M., Harlan, IA)
  • “Very high quality.” (Luke S., San Diego, CA)
  • “I like all three, but I believe the fit and finish of the Cobalt is superior to the other two. I also like the style of the Cobalts.” (Kevin M., Charleston, IL)
  • “Quality, style, reputation.” (Jim O., Fort Myers Beach, FL)
  • “Quality & features of current and previous boat.” (Bruce N., West Des Moines, IA)
  • “Floor plan and bolted on swim platform which isn’t included in overall boat length.” (Mike W., Altoona, IA)

CHAPARRAL

The Chaparral brand has really increased in popularity in recent years. Like Sea Ray, they have a reputation for quality and have a strong following of satisfied customers. Plus, many regard them as stylish and an excellent value for the money.

“I love the Chap brand. Dependable, efficient and sexy! A great boat for a reasonable price.”

Geoffrey R., McKinney, TX
  • “I love the Chap brand. Dependable, efficient and sexy! A great boat for a reasonable price.” (Geoffrey R., McKinney, TX)
  • “I have owned four Chaparrals, and am very pleased with the brand. I have a strong relationship with my dealer, which is as important as the brand of boat.” (Ted B., Peachtree City, GA)
  • “Styling and quality.” (Rick B., Sunrise Beach, MO)
  • “It’s a higher quality boat.” (Michael Z., Roseville, MI)
  • “I currently own a Chaparral and enjoy the handling, features and overall quality of the brand.” (Jeff P., Clay, MI)
  • “Been a long time owner of this brand and very comfortable with the maintenance, operation and overall value.” (Marty S., Roswell, GA)
  • “The price would be more in my range. I have one now and feel it is a well-made boat. I even spoke to a salesman that sold for Sea Ray and said he went to Chaparral because he felt they were a better made boat.” (Nancy S., St. Louis, MO)

FOUR WINNS

This is a mid-tier quality brand that is more affordable than prestigious makes like Cobalt or Sea Ray. Plus, Four Winns recently introduced their TS (Tow Sports) line featuring the Volvo Forward Drive (a sterndrive engine with the propeller facing forward) that makes their boats suitable for wake surfing in addition to other watersports activities.

  • “Deep V design, good reputation for quality, good value for the money.” (anonymous)
  • “Best price for the quality.” (Jay S., Batesville, AR)
  • “Best value.” (Pete M., Cheboygan, MI)
  • “I currently own one and know its value and its stability and enjoy the boat.” (Rob D., Radford, VA)
  • “It is what I own and what I know. Very pleased with the quality, comfort, and handling. Fun to drive.” (Gregory P., Portland, ME)
  • “Friends who own Four Winns have had very good experience.” (Buzz P., Indian River, MI)

BAYLINER

Among those who favored a Bayliner, the main reason was very clear. Nearly all referenced the price, cost or value in some fashion.

  • “Reasonable pricing and ability to add water sport accessories.” (Jake M., Belton, TX)
  • “Budget and usage. I don’t use it enough to buy a premium brand. I also like the transport weight.” (Jeff N., Dayton, OH)
  • “It is what I currently own and I know from experience the brand is a great boat for the money.” (Jamie M., Peoria, AZ)
  • “I have a Sea Ray, but that is overkill for the type of boating we do. If I had to do it over again I would purchase a Bayliner. It has the same equipment and engine/prop, just a thinner hull and not as many gadgets.” (Greg H., Palm Coast, FL)
  • “It has everything I need and the price is right.” (William H., Phoenix, AZ)
  • “Value.” (Tom L., Columbus, OH)
  • “Bayliner is very common and should be available at lower cost.” (Brian C., Novi, MI)

CROWNLINE

Like Chaparral, Crownline has a reputation for decent quality at a good price. When I have seen them at boat shows, I have often been impressed with the amount of boat you get for your money. Plus, I like the fact that they now provide a Nationally Advertised Price (NAP) on their website. You don’t have to visit a dealer or wait for a boat show to determine whether a particular model is affordable to you. We can only hope that other manufacturers follow suit.

  • “Currently own a Crownline. Happy with the boat. Feel that it provides a lot of quality and performance for the money.” (Frank K., Lake Havasu City, AZ)
  • “Very satisfied with the performance of our current Crownline.” (Denis C., Palatine, IL)
  • “I like the fit and finish.” (Steve D., Pinckney, MI)
  • “Value, and service provided by our dealer” (anonymous)

TAHOE

When people first look at a Tahoe, they often notice its striking appearance and the price. The people at Bass Pro really know how to make a stylish boat and do it cost efficiently. But the quality is decent too as their customer satisfaction has greatly improved in recent years.

  • “Like the looks of the boat.” (anonymous)
  • “Bass Pro is 2 miles from our home; current boat and their service meets expectations.” (Bill R., Perrysburg, OH)
  • “My Tahoe has been perfect. Great quality.” (Randy L., Cypress, TX)
  • “They seem to be a well-built boat for the price.” (Charles B., Chester, VA)
  • “Quality vs price.” (anonymous)

GLASTRON

Like Tahoe, a key attraction of Glastron is its price. Plus, it is one of the few companies that offer outboard, sterndrive and jet powered models.

  • “Seems that you receive a lot of value for the money.” (Dale H., Meridianville, AL)
  • “Good boat for the money.” (Joe R., Royal Oak, MI)
  • “Best value.” (Pete M., Cheboygan, MI)
  • “The Glastron DS205 is a very versatile, well-designed, quality deck boat at an affordable price. I bought it new ten years ago and have had no maintenance or performance issues, and it still looks close to showroom condition. For somebody looking for an all-around, jack-of-all-trades boat for inland lakes, I believe the DS205 is hard to beat. The 5.0 liter v-8 is plenty of power for skiing, wakeboarding, and tubing, its pontoon-like layout is comfortable for slow cruises around the lake, and the live well and pedestal seats make it a nice option for fishing. Although it doesn’t do any one of those things exceptionally well, the fact that it’s pretty good at all of them makes this a great boat for me in this price range.” (Jack L., West Fargo, ND)
  • “Single hull construction, all fiberglass, good engine.” (Kelly C., Belleville, MI)
  • “Our boat is so nicely made I have no complaints and would happily buy another from Glastron.” (Cheryl T., Bartlett, IL)

HURRICANE (deck boats only)

Hurricane’s are unusual in that they specialize in deck boats and are the category leader by a wide margin. A key advantage of deck boats is greater interior space. And, because they are outboard powered, they are capable of traveling in shallower areas and are better suited for a saltwater environment.

“Have had mine a long time and it is very reliable and can go just about anywhere on the Texas coast.”

James T., Pipe Creek, TX
  • “Have had mine a long time and it is very reliable and can go just about anywhere on the Texas coast.” (James T., Pipe Creek, TX)
  • “Space and saltwater able.” (Emily H., Haines City, FL)
  • “Great all-round boat that accommodates pleasure boating, wakeboarding, and fishing. Very roomy with a large capacity for 10 persons and plenty of storage under the seats, large lockers, and in the extra-large ski locker. Like the front and rear decks as well with ladders and the walk through bow to the front deck. Nice style and design.” (Anthony S., Apopka, FL)
  • “I have owned 2 Hurricanes. Excellent construction, quality. Good dollar value.” (Doug K., Rome, WI)
  • “I have owned one for 10 years and had a good experience with it.” (Matt D., Granger, IN)

JET BOATS

In addition to bowriders and deck boats, we also had a few (15) jet boat owners in our sample. When asked which brands they would most likely consider, Yamaha clearly came out on top. Three out of four had it as one of their top 3 choices and over half selected Yamaha as their preferred brand.

YAMAHA

Yamaha boats are a different breed than the others discussed previously in that they only make jet-powered boats. This is great if you plan to use your boat in shallow waterways or are concerned about safety. However, low-speed maneuverability can be a bit more of a challenge.

  • “I own one at this time and it has been very dependable and performs well.” (Dan D., Livonia, MI)
  • “Quality, reliability, fuel economy, design.” (anonymous)
  • “Price and affordability.” (James P., The Colony, TX)
  • “Jet drive & accessories.” (anonymous)

While the number of runabout and deckboat offerings can be a bit daunting to boat shoppers, knowing your budget and how you intend to use your boat will narrow the field quickly. If you are looking for the best money can buy, then consider a Cobalt or perhaps a Sea Ray. However, if you want a dependable product and are willing to give up a little luxury for a more affordable price, then brands like Chaparral, Crownline or Four Winns are worth a look. Budget conscious boaters should consider a Bayliner, Tahoe or Glastron. If you are looking for the spaciousness and greater versatility of a deck boat, then be sure to check out a Hurricane. However, if safety or shallow water navigation are top priorities, then Yamaha might be just the ticket for you.

For more shopping tips, see our companion research article “Boat Buyer’s Guide: Bowriders and Deckboats”. Also be sure to check out our manufacturer directory.

Please let us know which bowrider, deck boat or jet boat brands you would recommend and why in the comments section below.

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