Deck Boat vs. Bowrider
If you’re searching for the perfect family boat, you may have run across a question that lots of folks have asked—what’s the difference between a deck boat and a bowrider? Boat manufacturers have gone to great lengths to blur the lines between bowriders and deck boats, but there are still discernible differences. Either model is a good choice for a family boat, but those differences, and your needs, ultimately will determine which one you choose. Let’s take a walk through some of those differences in an effort to help you decide which is right for your family.
First things first, deck boats typically put function before form. They’re characterized by a wide bow, which provides for more deck space, thus the name deck boat. The wide bow can be accomplished through some trickery in hull design. Lots of deck boats have a deep-V design with a flared hull at the bow. Others employ a tri-hull-like design up front to create the nice wide bow area and open deck design, then transition back to a deep-V amidships and at the stern.
One other design cue for deck boats, and the one used by some of the custom and performance builders, is the catamaran hull design. In terms of offering deck space, using a catamaran design is a great choice, made even greater by the performance advantages and gentle ride quality of an air-packing hull. Fuel economy also is nominally better in a catamaran, although the custom boats tend to cost a bit more up front. As deck boats go, the custom catamaran-based models are generally sportier than those from a mainstream, high-volume manufacturer.
By contrast, a bowrider (also sometimes referred to as a "runabout") features a more typical pointy-in-the-bow design. Of course, all boats need to be pointy at the front where the hull meets the water, but runabouts typically carry the design up from the water line to the deck at the bow, and are generally a bit more nimble, with crisper handling and more lively performance.
A bowrider can be just as roomy as a deck boat, but they will almost invariably need to be longer overall to be able to offer the same amount of room on a deck boat. That capacity is why people go with a deck boat over a bowrider.
There’s an old running joke that deck boats are the only solution when mom wants a pontoon boat and dad wants a runabout. The reason it is funny is because it rings true. Pontoon boats are popular, and they are often the life of the party in the cove, but they will never be as enjoyable to drive as a runabout deck boat.
In addition to the space a deck boat provides, there’s also greater passenger and gear capacity. The abundance of seating in a deck boat always yields more stowage underneath, and that is often what families need most. What’s more, because of their focus on function and family, deck boats are more likely to come with a small sink on deck or a head compartment. You need to look to larger runabouts before those amenities begin to appear.
Deck boats and bowriders perform many of the same functions and each can be tailored to how your family uses them. You can outfit them for watersports, with towers and even ballast systems in some cases. If fishing is your thing, there are fish-and-ski boats and fishing packages on some deck boats that might even make them a viable and more useful alternative to a bass boat or a center console.
Where the hull meets the water, a V-hull bowrider likely is going to be a better performer than a deck boat, and your choice might really come down to the choice of performance versus capacity. If you must have the roominess and functionality, and don’t mind a nominal decrease in performance, then a deck boat is the right call.
If you prefer the sportiness and handling of a V-hull, and you can get the whole family on board, then a bowrider is a good choice. If you don’t want to give up the room or the performance, maybe the catamaran-based deck boats from the custom shops are the way to go.
At the end of the day, these are good choices to have. It means the boat manufacturers are listening and putting out products to meet the different needs of boating families all across the country. They’ve tried to blur the lines between the models—do you research so you can see clearly.
Interested in explore other boat types? Read...
- Boat Finder Tool
- Choosing the Right Boat: Buying Guide for Recreational Boating
- New or Used Boats: How to Decide Which Type of Boat to Buy