Taking Your Crew Boating: Are There Best Boats for Families?

By Ken Schultz

Sep 09, 2020

Some practical thoughts about houseboats, pontoon boats, bowriders, fish-and-ski boats, cabin cruisers, walkarounds, and sailboats as best boat for families

When I worked for a major national outdoor magazine, there was often a suggestion that I and others write about the “best boat” for fishing. We never did because the writers and editors agreed that there was no one best boat for all types of fishing. Similarly, from a general pleasure-boating and family boating point of view, there is no one best watercraft.

Clearly it is difficult to choose a boat that encompasses all family outdoor activities, which include fishing, cruising, sailing, swimming, skiing, tube-towing, and ferrying family and friends to various places. The best boats for families have to serve a lot of purposes, which is why pure fishing boats seldom fill the general-function bill.

So, you have to establish priorities and realize that every boat is a compromise in one or more ways. As someone who puts fishing first, I can assure you that if your priority is fishing, most general recreational boats are not good for a variety of fishing purposes, although they can accommodate general family boating interests.

If you’re not familiar with different types of boats check out this Take Me Fishing tool. Here are some brief notes on what are considered the best boats for families.

  • Houseboats. Having taken my family on a houseboat cruising-camping vacation (towing a fishing boat behind), I know my children would vote this number one among best boats for families. However, they’re huge, expensive, and impractical everywhere except large inland waters. But you can check off a lot of fun activities with such a vessel.
  • Pontoon boats. These are very popular and economical watercraft for families, and come in an array of sizes and power options, and with diverse accoutrements. They’re very good for backwater fishing, swimming, sightseeing, and general relaxing on the water.
  • Bowriders. With room up front for passengers and the ability to ferry people to the beach or a swim-friendly sandbar, or pull skiers and various water toys, these are popular family boating vessels. They can be used for some moderate fishing activities, but don’t shine in that arena.
  • Fish-and-Ski boats. These are a form of bowrider popular with small families in which there are competing interests (like dad wants to fish and mom wants to boat) and financially based compromises. I find that they’re cramped and don’t do justice to either activity. They may be best-suited for a three-person family that does occasional family boating and infrequent fishing.
  • Cabin cruisers/Walkarounds. Boats with cabins are large, heavy, and pricey but suitable for families who want to stay overnight on the water, travel distances over big waters, and visit distant ports. Some have a small galley and head to facilitate extended time on the boat. Walkarounds accomplish the same thing as pure cabin cruisers but have more stern room and accessories for serious fishing.
  • Sailboats. Sailboats with cabins also afford distant travel, port visitations, and overnighting, as well as relaxed cruising, and can involve all family members in piloting and navigation. You can’t quickly return to port, and fishing activities are very restricted, as is onboard mobility in most vessels. But for some families, this slower-paced type of boating is very appealing.

Space doesn’t permit exploring the issues of where you keep any of these boats, and which are better or worse for trailering and launching, which are also ownership considerations. Lastly, remember to get your boat registered.

Ken Schultz
Ken Schultz
Ken Schultz was a longtime staff writer for Field & Stream magazine and is the former Fishing Editor of ESPNoutdoors.com. He’s written and photographed nineteen books on sportfishing topics, plus an annual fishing tips calendar, and his writing has appeared on various websites for more than two decades. His author website is kenschultz.com