9 Best Deck Boats in 2024 | The Ultimate Guide (2024)

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The Deck Boat Guide

Deck boats are popular vessels for protected waters like lakes and bays. Since they can accommodate various tasks, they make great first boats. Hull designs and powerplant options vary between makers, but they all generally share spacious co*ckpit seating and deck space.

What Is a Deck Boat?

A deck boat has a hull shape built to maximize deck space. More deck space gives you more room for people, accessories, and storage.

Sportier than pontoon boats, they’ll cost, generally, between $25k and $60k.

From the outside, these boats look like bowriders but with a few differences. Where bowriders usually have a traditional pointed speedboat bow, a deck boat will usually have a flattened bow and widely flared hull to provide room for more spacious seats.

Hull designs and shapes vary widely between deck boats. Most are made of fiberglass, but some are aluminum. Many have vee hulls, but others use a catamaran or a cathedral hull design to provide a wider platform and even more space on deck. The extra space also makes boarding from the bow easier when beaching the boat. You’ll often find swim ladders on both the bow and stern.

Functionally, deck boats have more room for moving around and entertaining. The bow deck area is often large enough to accommodate different dining, seating, and lounge arrangements.

Size and Weight

You’ll find deck boats from around 15 to 30 feet. The middle ground of this range is perfect for most buyers, with 20 to 24 being the optimal place to be. Of course, the right size boat depends on how many people you typically take out and what activities you plan to enjoy.

As is common with this type of boat, deck boats are generally designed to be easily trailerable. You’ll typically see beams limited to 8-feet, 6-inches for this reason. Like other trailerable boats, the right size depends on the towing vehicle.

Some manufacturers make lightweight boats easier to trailer, but their ride on rough water suffers for it. There’s no perfect solution, so you’ll have to choose which works best for your intended use.

Hull Design

The hull of a deck boat can be shaped in several ways to afford the ride and handling qualities that the manufacturer is looking for. The most common hull type is the standard shallow or deep vee, with a single flared bow and a squared-off transom. Where shoal drafts take precedence over ride quality, the vee will be shallower and the bottom flatter. The above-water profile will be flared at the bow for more deck space.

The Hurricane Sundeck OB demonstrates the sportiness of a deck boat that also has plenty of space in that wider, more open hull design.

Another type of hull common on deck boats is the cathedral hull. This is commonly called the Whaler hull, popularized on Boston Whaler boats. The name comes from the shape of the hull—if you inverted the boat, the points of the hull would look something like a medieval cathedral. It has one center hull keel and two side sponsons on each side.

Cathedral hulls provide great stability over the boat’s beam, making them ideal for short-lengthed beamy vessels that spend most of their time on smooth water but need to cut through a chop occasionally. Ideally, they are a little less rolly than a standard vee hull.

The video above shows the inspiration for deck boats, originating in harbor skiffs.

Finally, there are a few catamaran hull deck boats on the market. Catamarans provide an ideal amount of deck space, as the two hulls can be spaced quite a ways apart. In addition, they offer shallow draft and excellent speed and efficiency. They are, however, more expensive to design and produce than other hull types.

Deck Layouts

Deck boats are interesting since they appeal to so many different types of boaters. Much like pontoon boats, they’re made for entertaining, swimming, and lounging on the water. But their extra space provides more options, and it’s not uncommon to find fishing or watersports packages offered.

But some go one step further. For example, Hurricane Boats offers their basic deck boat hulls in several varieties. The standard Sundeck is a classic dual-console layout with wrap-around windshield.

It’s similar to their Fundeck pontoon series. But whereas the pontoon has a rectangular hull shape when seen above, the Sundeck has a tapered nose.

9 Best Deck Boats in 2024 | The Ultimate Guide (9)

The Sundeck Sport includes small consoles and no windshield, giving the boat a lower profile and a more minimalist look.

As you browse through other manufacturers, you will see a unique layout here and there. This is all because deck boats are so useful. They’re the perfect multipurpose boat for nearly everyone.

Propulsion Choices

Deck boats come as either an outboard or an inboard/outboard sterndrive. There are also a few jet-drive options, like those built by Yamaha, but these are often better classified as true bowriders or even ski or surf boats.

Deck Boats vs The Rest

Deck boats are very similar to a few other types of boats that you might want to consider.

Deck Boats vs. Bowriders

In many cases, deck boats and bowriders might seem hard to differentiate from one another. What one maker calls a deck boat could easily be classified as a bowrider by another.

The primary difference, if there is one, is the shape of the forward hull and how much space the boat has in the bow. A deck boat will have a flared bow, allowing for more seating and often a wide platform on the front of the boat. This space can be occupied by lounges, facing seats, or left open to provide a casting area for fishermen.

On the other hand, a bowrider will keep with traditional boat lines. It will come to a point at the bow, meaning the forward seats have little space between them.

No matter which one you pick, its seaworthiness will depend more on the person driving than the boat’s design. Boats are tapered to a point at the bow to increase their righting stability should a wave come over them. With their larger surface area forward on the deck, deck boats have less stability and are more prone to pitchpoling in severe conditions. However, neither of these vessels is intended for the open ocean—they are near-shore, fair-weather cruisers.

Deck Boats vs. Pontoon Boats

The deck of both the deck boat and pontoon boat often share similar features and layouts. These two boats are also used for similar purposes—days of cruising on the water, some watersports, and sometimes fishing.

Pontoon boats are built on pre-formed pontoon hulls. A standard pontoon has two hulls on each side, whereas a tri-toon has a larger center pontoon. Pontoons are typically built of aluminum, and plywood decks are secured above. This modular approach to boat building means that the deck space on a pontoon is often fairly customizable, with various seating arrangements and lounges available.

Deck boats, in comparison, are fiberglass boats. That increases their cost but also makes a sturdier vessel. The complex hull shapes that are possible with fiberglass are more capable of handling waves and chop than pontoons are.

Speaking of crossover classifications, the Sea Doo Switch is a pontoon that functions more like a deck boat because of its added jet ski profile.

9 Best Deck Boats in 2024 | The Ultimate Guide (10)

Pontoon boats best suit inland waters like lakes, rivers, and protected bays. They are ill-suited for ocean swell or even heavy chop. A deck boat is built to address some of these issues and can easily handle moderate chops on open bays and sounds. As a result, they’re common both on large lakes and in calmer coastal areas, like the Gulf Coast of Florida or Chesapeake Bay.

Deck Boats for Watersports

Deck boats are just as capable for watersports enthusiasts as other options. Like bowriders and center consoles, the biggest detractor is their outboard or sterndrive propulsion, which puts the prop close to swimmers.

Still, with care, many people enjoy waterskiing, wakeboarding, and tubing with deck boats. They provide plenty of speed and power to tow a load, and most makers offer sports towers and tow rings as accessories.


Frequently asked questions

What is a deck boat?

A deck boat resembles a bowrider but has more space in the forward seating area. Often, they will have squared-off bows that include a beach boarding and swimming platform.

What are deck boats good for?

Deck boats are good for cruising, entertaining, fishing, and some watersports. These boats are about halfway between a pontoon boat and a performance-oriented bowrider. They have fiberglass hulls that perform well and ride through a light chop with ease. But they also have the wide open spaces that a pontoon boat offers, with plenty of seating and floor space for many activities.

Is a deck boat like a pontoon boat?

Yes, the layout of a deck boat is similar to what you’d find on most pontoons. You’ll often have a side console helm with wrap-around seating everywhere else. Lounges, recliners, and sun pads are common features of deck boats.

What are the disadvantages of a deck boat?

Deck boats are generally not very good at handling offshore conditions or rough, choppy waters. Their hulls usually feature flat or shallow vee features that can pound, and their broad bow sometimes presents balance issues. However, not all deck boats are created equally; some are much better than others.

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