Our Boat Loan Calculator makes it easy to figure out just how much boat you can afford, and our Boat Finder will help you narrow the field to a particular type of boat. But it can be much more difficult to identify the specific models that fit both your budget and your desires.
The price range for boats is huge, of course, but average middle-class Americans looking to find their new dream-boat will each have their own budget, and their own definition of just what “affordable” means. That may mean looking for a boat that costs about as much as a new car, taking the family on a series of vacations, or putting in an in-ground pool.
Fortunately, there is indeed a boat for every budget. Here are some of the most affordable starter boats to keep in mind when you begin dreaming, listed in order of boat type from A to Z.
1. All-Purpose Fishing Boats: Lund 1650 Angler SS
In this category there are countless options, and luckily, many all-purpose fishing boats are relatively low cost because their focus on fishing means they aren’t loaded up with excessive amenities. While that simplicity may limit the boat’s appeal to only anglers, it also helps manufacturers keep pricing down—way down. In fact, in the smaller size ranges it’s possible to find an all-purpose fishing boat that can easily hold a family of four and fits in the garage, yet is priced in the $10,000 to $20,000 range.
Take the Lund 1650 Angler SS, for example. It’s rated for up to five people, has a 40 HP outboard, a trailer, a livewell, and a driver’s side console, and is an ideal platform for all kinds of freshwater fishing and trips on relatively protected saltwater bays. Yet listing at just $15,547, this package can be financed with payments under $150 a month. Visit Lund Boats to learn more.
2. Aluminum Fishing Boats: Tracker Topper 1542
Aluminum boats are like the ATVs of the boating world. They’re rugged, versatile, compact, easy to transport, and easy to afford. They’re also an excellent choice for people who have light-duty tow vehicles, thanks to their relatively light weight. True, they don’t usually have many luxury features nor integrated entertainment devices, but you’ll be so busy reeling in fish you’ll never notice in the first place. One sub-category of aluminum fishing boat with particularly wide appeal is the Jon boat, since it’s among the most affordable options on the water.
In fact, some smaller utilitarian models intended for protected waterways, like the Tracker Topper 1542, can be powered with a small outboard or an electric motor and at $1,595 costs less than some high-priced cell phones. For many forms of fishing in protected waterways, a boat like this will more than do the trick. Visit Tracker Boats to learn more.
3. Bass Boats: Ranger RT188P
While we’ll stipulate that there are some extremely expensive bass boats on the market, there are also plenty of lower-cost bass boats out there that are very competent fishing machines. They may not have the bling of models that are triple the cost, but boats like the Ranger RT188P have it where it counts: in the bass fishing department. This boat-motor-trailer package offers 115 horses, a fishfinder, a bow-mount trolling motor, multiple rodboxes and livewells, onboard tackle stowage, and an onboard battery charger. Even with all these big-ticket goodies included, base price is just $27,095. Oh, and did we mention that it looks great, too? Visit Ranger Boats to learn more.
4. Bay Boats/Flats Boats: Mako 18 LTS
Saltwater fishing is popular just about anywhere there’s a coastline, and anglers who ply bays, inshore waters, and back-country flats love their bay boats and flats boats. If you’ve been looking at offerings in this genre you’ve probably noticed there’s a very wide range of pricing, which is often related to the size of the boat. But an 18-footer like the Mako 18 LTS can still be had for well under the $30,000 mark. And note that although it’s relatively small and inexpensive, this boat can carry five passengers and has plenty of features ranging from flush-mount vertical rodholders, to an 18-gallon livewell, to cockpit courtesy lighting. Visit MAKO to learn more.
5. Bowriders: Regal 1900 ES
As one of the most versatile, do-everything designs around, bowriders attract a lot of first-time boat-buyers. That means there’s a long list of boatbuilders who make bowriders, and they’re available in a huge range of shapes and sizes. You’ll want to do lots of comparison shopping before deciding which specific make or model is ideal for your needs, but if your budget comes in at $30,000 or under, one you’ll surely want to look at is the Regal 1900 ES. It can hold the entire family plus some friends (maximum capacity is nine people) and can be used for everything from watersports to day cruising. Visit Regal Boats to learn more.
6. Cabin Cruisers: Jeanneau NC 795
Cabin cruisers naturally tend to be larger and more expensive than many other types of boats, but that doesn’t mean they’re out of reach for people who considers overnight cruising the ultimate family adventure. In fact, consider all the expenses you’d incur if you paid for all the gear, vehicles, lodging, and supplies to go on a trip to some exciting new place every weekend, all summer long. Then visit our Boat Loan Calculator and plug in the cost of a relatively affordable cabin cruiser, like the $80,750 Jeanneau NC 795. You might be surprised to learn that you could actually do more for the dollar, by buying the boat. Visit Jeanneau to learn more.
7. Center Consoles: Robalo R160
Traditionally most people have thought of center consoles purely as fishing boats, but in recent years more and more people have discovered that the center console design is also great for any number of boating activities.
Consider a boat like the Robalo R160, for example, which starts at an uber-affordable $23,295 and comes ready to fish hard, trailers easily, and can pull the kids around on water-toys when the fish stop biting. You want a serious but affordable fishing machine? Then there’s a good chance a center console will fit the bill—but don’t think for a second that you won’t find countless other ways to enjoy family boating, as well. Visit Robalo Boats to learn more.
8. Cuddy Cabins: Rinker 22MTX
If you like the idea of having a boat with a cabin and spending nights or weekends aboard is an option you desire—but spending big bucks on a yacht is not—a cuddy cabin will likely prove ideal. Cuddies have all the basics you need like a berth to sleep on, basic restroom facilities, and sometimes even a compact galley (kitchen), but they’re still small and simple enough to keep pricing down at reasonable levels. Just what’s “reasonable”?
While cabin boats do tend to cost a bit more than open models, some like the Rinker 22MTX will cost less than many nice cars (sticker price is $47,380). Yet boats like this come fully-equipped with everything you need for memory-making mini-vacations. Visit Rinker Boats to learn more.
9. Deck Boats: Bayliner Element Series
If you could figure out the cost-per-smile factor of any recreational vehicle in the world it would be seriously tough to beat a deck boat. These open, spacious boats are great for just about any waterborne activity and thanks to their simplicity they’re shockingly affordable. The Bayliner Element series is a perfect example. A beefy 21-footer with a 115 HP outboard, a trailer, and room for a crowd of 10 people lists for under $28,000. The 18-foot version barely breaks the $20,000 mark, and the 16-footer starts as low as $15,299—less than the cost of many new motorcycles, which aren’t exactly the ideal vehicles for family entertainment. Visit Bayliner to learn more.
10. Dinghies: Walker Bay 10
Many people get dinghies to go with a larger boat, but they can provide lots of fun all on their own. In fact, for a couple of people who want to go out exploring or fishing in protected waters, a dinghy is one of the most cost-effective ways to get out there.
True, little boats like the Walker Bay 10 don’t have much in the way of amenities; but with the ability to hold three people, add a sail or outboard (up to three HP), and a list price of just $1,279, how can you beat the bang for the buck? Visit Walker Bay to learn more.
11. Fish-and-Ski Boats: Lowe FS 1700
Families who enjoy both fishing and watersports naturally gravitate to this design. Fish-and-ski boats are exactly what they sound like: fishing boats that are designed and equipped to do double duty when they kids enjoy watersports as much as they enjoy hooking walleye.
The Lowe FS 1700 is sure to draw plenty of attention, thanks to its aptitude as both a fishing boat and a watertoy-towing fun-machine. And its price tag is quite low, starting at a mere $20,495 with a 60 HP outboard and a trailer. Visit Lowe Boats to learn more.
12. High Performance Boats: Donzi 16 Classic
When it comes to budget-conscious boat-buying, high performance boats probably don’t top most people’s lists. However, that doesn’t mean you have to spend a million dollars to get a boat that provides adrenaline-inducing thrill rides. Start small with a boat like the Donzi 16 Classic (MSRP: $61,900), which can be equipped with 200- or 250-horsepower, and you’ll soon be zipping across the water at speeds most boats only reach when they’re being trailered down the highway. Visit Donzi Marine to learn more.
13. Inflatables: Sea Eagle 10.6sr
Inflatables are a rather unique class of boats, particularly in that many can be deflated, rolled up, and stored under a couch or in the closet of a studio apartment. So not only are they ideal as tenders and towboats, inflatables can also get urban dwellers into the boating game. And they can do so quite inexpensively.
Match up a boat like the Sea Eagle 14sr ($2,499) with a portable outboard, and you young urban dwellers have a boat capable of carrying seven people that takes just 25 minutes to inflate—and you could even add on things like swivel seats, a Bimini top, and fishing rod holders. Visit Sea Eagle Boats to learn more.
14. Jet Boats: Scarab 165 G
Jet boats are quite popular among first-time boat-buyers, and other than the jet drive and some rather sporty and spectacular handling characteristics, most are more or less like other runabouts. They tend to share pricing characteristics, too, and one that’s eminently affordable is the Scarab 165 G. Even with its small $24,433 MSRP it delivers big on sporty fun, and has a surprisingly wide range of features like aft swim platform loungers, a ski-tow eye, and USB charging ports. Visit Scarab Boats to learn more.
15. Motor Yachts/Power Cruisers: Sea Ray Sundancer 350 Coupe
No one’s going to argue that motor yachts and power cruisers are low-cost; but consider how much you have would to pay for a chic two-bedroom waterfront home with a full kitchen, living room, and bathroom, plus a deck with a grill, outdoor stereo, and retracting sunshade. Oh, and BTW, you can park this bungalow in any waterfront village you’d like, whenever you’d like. What do you think, a half a million dollars sounds about right?
For significantly less you can get boats like the Sea Ray Sundancer 350 Coupe, which not only have all of the above but can also hit speeds in the 40-mph range and feature perks like outdoor cockpit air-conditioning, a bow lounger, and a sunroof over the helm. Visit Sea Ray Boats to learn more.
16. Multi-Hull Power Boats: World Cat 230CC
Ask a crowd of experienced boaters about multi-hull power boats, or “power cats” as they’re often called, and you may hear that they generally cost more than regular monohull powerboats. But when you compare different boats by their capabilities and useable space, that’s not always the case.
Consider a World Cat 230CC, for example. Yes, it has a sticker price pushing close to $100,000, which sounds like a lot for a 23-foot boat. But powercats like this have more interior volume because they’re wider in the bow—in fact, the 230CC has seating for a huge crew of 10. Plus, the smooth twin-hull ride can take on bigger seas than most monohulls in this class, and the boat has twin engines. So when you add capability and space into the equation this boat should really be compared to much larger monohulls. And for the value you get it’s actually far more affordable than it seems upon first glance. Visit World Cat to learn more.
17. Personal Watercraft (PWC): Yamaha WaveRunner EX Series
Looking for a cheap thrill? You just found it. Few boats are as affordable as personal watercraft, and few can claim to be more fun. Grin-inducing wave-hops, G-force turns, and a face full of spray are just a few of the experiences that await you, and we dare you to try to go two minutes on a personal watercraft without smiling. Good luck, because it isn’t going to happen.
And, talk about affordable: the Yamaha Waverunner EX series lists at a mere $6,899 to start—less than a couple might lay out for a week-long trip to Europe. Yet it can carry up to three people and blasts off with a 1049-cc Yamaha TR-1 jet engine. Can you say “WOOHOO”? Visit Yamaha WaterCraft to learn more.
18. Pontoon Boats: Godfrey Sweetwater 1886 C
One of the great things about pontoon boats is that most models are highly customizable, and you can get them just as simple and inexpensive or as gussied-up as you please. While that may mean foregoing the snazzy wine-chiller or the huge outboard engine to get a more affordable price, it certainly doesn’t mean foregoing the family fun a pontoon boat will provide.
Consider the Godfrey Sweetwater 1886 C, which seats 10 comfortable and comes with features like a 40 HP outboard, gobs of seating, a cocktail table, and a swim ladder. MSRP is just over $26,000, and you can add in a slew of features like a Bimini top, a stereo system, a pop-up changing room, and even a chilled cupholder at the helm, without breaking through the $30,000 barrier. Visit Godfrey Pontoons to learn more.
19. Sailboats: Beneteau First 14
When it comes to economics, sailboats hold an advantage over powerboats since they don’t need the power provided by those big motors. You may be attracted to a small, simple boat that can be taken out single-handed or by a handful of people, like the $10,800 Beneteau First 14. Or you may be more interested in a model that has a cabin and a berth, like the First 18 ($28,800). In any case, not only are boats like these eminently affordable, they also enjoy lower operational expenses than powerboats. You’ll love that new boat even more as you sail right past the fuel dock. Visit Beneteau to learn more.
20. Ski Boats/Wake Boats: Four Winns HD 200 Surf
Towed watersports have exploded with popularity in the past decade, and it’s no wonder why. Whether you’re surfing the wakes or practicing slalom skiing, watersports make for fast-paced and exciting athletic action. If you’ve shopped for dedicated watersports boats, however, you may have noticed that they can be on the expensive side. That doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. New tech in drive units and boat designs has made it possible for many manufacturers to offer lower cost boats that work great for sports like surfing and water skiing.
The Four Winns HD 200 Surf is a great example, since it has everything needed in a serious watersports boat (like tow points, wake tabs, and ballast tanks), but it doesn’t edge too much above the $50,000 mark. Visit Four Winns to learn more.
21. Sportfishing Yachts: Boston Whaler 345 Conquest
No, we’re not going to try to convince anyone that a sportfishing yacht is “inexpensive.” And affordability is entirely in the eye of the beholder. But consider this: if you chartered an offshore sportfishing yacht for a day of fishing, in most parts of the nation you’d pay somewhere between $1,500 and $2,500 per day. Once you spend that money it’s gone. But if you purchased a sportfishing yacht that retains a good deal of its value over time, like the Boston Whaler 345 Conquest (which goes for a little over a half-million dollars), you’ll have the asset of the boat itself for years to come. And on top of that you’ll have the unrestricted ability to go fishing or cruising in luxury whenever the mood strikes. Visit Boston Whaler to learn more.
22. Trawlers: Ranger Tugs R-23
Since most people think of trawlers as large and luxurious, you may find it a bit surprising to discover that there plenty of smaller, more affordable trawlers to consider, too. True, you won’t be crossing the Atlantic on a 23-footer like the Ranger Tugs R-23. This little $115,000 pocket-yacht does, however, have sleeping space for a family of four, complete food-prep facilities, a private head compartment (that’s nautical-speak for bathroom), and an open cockpit you can use for everything from tanning to fishing. Visit Ranger Tugs to learn more.
23. Walkarounds: Striper 200 Walkaround OB
Many people, especially parents with small kids, feel a cabin is a must-have whether they plan to go fishing, day cruising or spend a night or two camping aboard. And even the smallest of the walkarounds out there provide you with a place to sleep, protection from the weather, and somewhere to relieve yourself. Boats like the Striper 200 Walkaround OB check all those boxes. And listing an MSRP of $66,893, it’s certainly easier to afford than a cabin at the lake. Visit Striper Boats to learn more.
And don’t forget people, while you could dedicate that boat budget to a car, vacations, or a pool, we think a boat has got all of those things beat—hands-down. Who would rather travel down the road, when open waterways beckon? Why restrict your recreation to short-lived vacations, when going boating is like taking a vacation each and every time you pull off the dock? Doesn’t choosing a pool seem rather limiting, when your boat will provide you with countless places to take the plunge? Find the perfect boat for you, your family, and your budget, and you’ll never regret it.