The catch-all term “runabouts” is used to describe a number of different types of boats that often includes bowriders, deckboats, jet boats, and others with two distinct similar traits: they’re powerboats, and they’re relatively small.
What is a Runabout Boat?
There’s no “official” designation as to when a boat’s too big to be a runabout, but most people would consider boats with lengths in the upper teens and lower 20s to be runabouts.
They generally don’t have cabins, and are designed for all-around use as opposed to specific purposes. So while a boat like a 19-foot center console or a 21-foot ski boat could loosely be called a runabout, since they’re designed for specific purposes most people would instead refer to them as center consoles and ski boats.
Advantages of Runabout Boats:
Runabouts are extremely popular, for a number of reasons:
- Since they’re generally diminutive in size, runabouts tend to be relatively inexpensive to buy and to operate.
- They’re usually light and easy to tow, launch, and retrieve.
- Due to size and simplicity, runabouts are fairly low-maintenance.
- Their multi-purpose nature lends itself to a wide range of activities.
- There’s a huge range of choices in the runabout market, including boats with all levels of fit and finish, trim, and accouterments.
Disadvantages of Runabout Boats
All types of boats have both advantages and disadvantages, and of course this is also true of runabouts. Interestingly, most of their disadvantages relate to the same trait that delivers most of their advantages—their relatively small size.
- Runabouts are generally limited in capacity and a half-dozen or so people will commonly be considered a full crew.
- They aren’t intended for use in big seas or heavy weather, and runabouts are mostly run in relatively protected waterways or in open waters only during very good weather.
- Their small size means they often have limited fuel capacity and thus a rather limited range.
- Because they’re designed for all-around use, they aren’t the best suited boats for activities that benefit from dedicated designs, like fishing or watersports.
Is a Runabout the Best Boat for You?
While their non-specific nature means that runabouts won’t necessarily be the best choice for any one specific activity, they are great for general purpose uses like day cruising, beaching, swimming, and beginner-level watersports. When it comes to activities like tubing and kneeboarding, you really don’t need all the advanced equipment found on dedicated wake surfing boats, like ballast tanks and trim fins. Many people with casual anglers in the family also like runabouts since bringing a rod or two is always an option, but since the boat isn’t designed for fishing and fishing only, it will still have some of the comfort features found on non-fishing boats like lots of seating and swim platforms.
This sort of flexibility also extends beyond the boat’s potential uses and into how the boat itself is outfitted.
- When it comes to powerplants, for example, many runabout models are available in both stern drive and outboard versions.
- Runabouts can also generally be purchased with or without major accessories like Bimini top, trailers, and marine electronics.
- And in most cases you’ll be able to choose just how many cost-adding features (like stereo systems, hull and upholstery coloration, lighting packages, freshwater showers, etc.) you want—and are willing to pay for.
Sterndrive Runabouts vs. Outboard Runabouts
Among all these choices, the biggest you’ll make when picking out a runabout for yourself will likely be the sort of powerplant you choose. Some people prefer stern drive runabouts because the inboard engines are familiar designs, similar to automotive engines, which are easy to work on and maintain. The use of a stern drive also allows for a large swim platform spanning the transom, and a sunpad atop the motor-box. But in recent years modern four-stroke outboards have been gaining in popularity, since they tend to be a bit less expensive, provide exceptional reliability, and run quietly and smoothly. Choosing between these two options is a big decision, so before making a final call be sure to compare and contrast the options by visiting our Boat Motors pages.
Will a runabout be the best choice for you and your family? Only one person can answer that question—and that’s you. But we can say one thing for sure: with a runabout in your garage or slip, a wide range of boating fun is just around the corner.
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