What is a Pilothouse Boat?

Pilothouse boats are exactly what they sound like: they have a pilothouse. The pilothouse can take many forms, but as a rule, true pilothouses enclose the helm station on both sides, the front, and the back, and can be completely sealed off from the elements. That’s why pilothouses are so popular in areas where the boating season may extend into the cooler months of the year, and protection from the elements is critical.

pilothouse boat

Beyond this one key feature, pilothouse boats can take all different designs and sizes.

  • You’ll see some saltwater fishing boats that are essentially center consoles with a pilot house built around the console;
  • You’ll see some walkarounds that have cabins forward of the fully-enclosed helm;
  • And you’ll even see some trawlers that have raised pilothouses, sitting higher than the boat’s main cabin.

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Advantages of Pilothouse Boats

The biggest advantage of a pilothouse boat is the one we mentioned right up front: complete protection from the weather. You can cruise in comfort whether it’s raining, sleeting, or snowing outside. And conversely, if you have a pilothouse boat large enough for air conditioning, you can remain inside and enjoy frosty breezes at the helm.

But there are some other advantages pilothouse boats also enjoy.

  • Having a hard top over the helm makes for easier mounting points for accessories like radar domes and antennas, and in some cases allows for an upper steering station.
  • If you like to socialize while you cruise, you’ll certainly like the fact that a pilothouse vastly reduces engine and wind noise and makes it much easier to have a conversation while underway.
  • And since having the helm fully enclosed means your marine electronics and navigation instruments are always kept out of the sun, rain, and salt spray, they’re likely to last for years on end.

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Drawbacks of Pilothouse Boats

There are, as with any type of boat design, also some down-sides to having a pilothouse.

The biggest is usually experienced when you’re at anchor or in the slip on a hot, sunny day. Unless your boat has air-conditioning, it’s likely to be hot and stuffy inside. While cruising you can always open a window and enjoy the breeze but when the boat isn’t moving, an overheated pilothouse can become very uncomfortable.

what is a pilothouse boat

Depending on the size and style of the boat, pilothouses can also dominate a lot of space. On a 20-something-foot boat, for example, a center console takes up a lot less room and thus allows for more deck area. Having an open helm also usually results in better visibility.

Many modern pilothouse designs incorporate windows on all sides and do maintain excellent visibility 360-degrees around, but some others may restrict it somewhat or have blind-spots where supports or bulkheads block the view.

Finally, consider the matter of styling. This can be either a plus or a minus depending on your own personal tastes. Some people like the look of a pilothouse, which harkens back to classic commercial boats like tugs and fishing boats. But some other people prefer sleeker, more modern styling.

Is a Pilothouse Boat Right for You?

Carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages of having a pilothouse, as you try to decide whether or not the design would be a top pick for your needs and that of your family.

As a general rule of thumb, it turns out to be a popular option in northern areas of the country where cold-weather boating is common. It’s also quite popular in places where boating in the rain is the norm, such as the Pacific Northwest.

Then, there are some southern boaters who get pilothouse models that are air-conditioned, mostly to stay out of the sun and the heat. And in all corners of the nation there are some boaters who want the extra weather protection because they plan to go out on the water even when the conditions are less than ideal.

You’re still not 100-percent sure if this type of boat will be the best choice for you? Try perusing our Boat Finder tool, to investigate all the other options at hand.

Read Next: Center Consoles vs. Walkaround Boats


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