With well over 30 million boats globally, one would think it would be easier to find the vessel that fits one's needs.
The best vessel to invest in is one that can perform well in rivers and the sea. The last thing you want is to buy a boat to use in a neighboring river only to find out it is too deep for the river. You also don't want to get a boat that is too fragile for the seas.
The best boats for river & sea are a pontoon boat and a catamaran. A pontoon boat is flat enough to sail in shallow rivers, and a catamaran has two hulls for seafaring balance. Most runabout boats, including deck boats and bowriders, have decent sea and river compatibility.
This article will discover the ten best boat types for sea and river with a recommended model from each boat category. You will also learn about the best features of each vessel alongside the potential drawbacks. Most boats listed in this piece are compatible with seas and rivers, while some are better for one than the other.
That's why it is important to understand right away what is required for a boat to be ideal for the sea and what it must have to make it perfect for most rivers. Rivers are sea are both marine bodies, so the boat has to have a floating principle. But is much more a vessel must offer before it can be crowned the best.
River and Sea Boat Requirements
Before we discuss the best boats, we need to establish the grounds for selecting them. There are mandatory and functional requirements when it comes to marine vessels. The mandatory ones are needed for the boat to physically operate, while the functional ones are ideal for a perfect experience. Let's briefly explore each mandatory and functional requirement for river and sea.
Best Boats for River and Sea
With the key mandatory and functional features of both marine bodies covered, let's get into the specific boat types and models that are ideal for the river and the sea, including family vessels, boats for bachelors, and personal-use solo watercraft.
Deck Boat - Hurricane SunDeck OB
These boats are the marine equivalent of an open-roof car. They have an open deck and enough seating area to accommodate a family. They're used for leisure but sometimes can act as transport vessels. Compared to nautical miles per person seated, their use of fuel is inefficient for travel.
However, the experience of riding this boat, especially in the summer, is unbeatable. These boats are anchored near tourist spots on popular rivers. This points towards potential usability as sightseeing water cabs. Some people write off these boats as a business expense by positioning them as water taxis.
Of course, a major drawback of such a boat is little room to stand. The boat's relatively small size also means that its movement is experienced onboard. That can be an advantage for passengers looking for the thrill of a high-speed water ride. But it gets old really fast.
Deck boats like Hurricane SunDeck OB are best reserved for people who like to be on the river for no more than 2 hours. Because of the lack of roof cover, the deck boat is not a long hauler, so it is better for a river than the sea.
Bowrider Boat - 320 Vantage
A bowrider is a family-friendly and long-haul version of the deck boat. It has a sun cover and features a more social seating area. In some instances, the cover is retractable and seating adjustable, which blurs the lines between a bowrider and a deck boat.
Bowriders like the 320 Vantage are definitely a class apart from common deck boats and even most bowriders. A separate seating arrangement, a serving tray, and interior design reminiscent of a luxurious private jet each make a compelling case for acquiring this boat.
Whether it is better on rivers or on sea remains undecided because the experience of riding a bowrider is largely defined by the boat itself. As long as the river is not too shallow for the boat, you can sail it along the bank. It can also be captained across beaches on a sea that is free of the rocky shallows.
You should get a bowrider if you plan to spend a significant amount of time in the boat. A bowrider is comfortable and can be a good spot for family outings. It can also be rented out to families as opposed to party-goers, making it a safer passive income source than yachts.
Cuddy Cabins Boat - Contender 44
Cuddy Cabin boats are more captain-friendly and have cruising capabilities as well as a splash shelter that is absent in the average bowrider or deck boat. These vessels can be used for every activity that a bowrider or a deck boat can be used for, including fishing and leisure sailing.
When it comes to river cruising, Cuddy Cabins might be overqualified because a major feature in a river cruise is the slow trawl. Cuddy Cabins' cruising capabilities are underused in a boat.
In contrast, they are perfect for the sea because the boat can be used for a broader nautical mile coverage.
Before you buy a Cuddy Cabin boat instead of a bowrider, please make sure to check out its fuel efficiency. While boats like Contender 44 have decent fuel consumption per nautical mile, most cuddy cabins consume more fuel.
Due to fuel inefficiency, these boats are not ideal for practical travel and must be seen as leisure vessels. Still, they remain family-friendly and can be used for small friendly get-togethers. Speed is a possibility, not a necessity, so they are safe if you captain them safely.
Centre Console Boats - Bayliner Trophy T22CC
When it comes to river sailing, sightseeing is far from the only purpose of the activity. Fish from freshwater rivers is quite popular, and river fishing is an activity that center console boats can be used for. These boats are similar to other boats of their size in exterior design, but the captain's station, the console, is in the center.
The center area of console boats like the Bayliner Trophy T22CC has a symmetrical console placement with minimal space for non-boating guests. This is the ideal boat for bachelors and young couples. Despite having fishing rod holders and ample storage space, the boat is far from a fishing-only vessel.
With properly positioned front seating, you can take passengers on a shallow river speed ride and let them experience the thrill of splashing water and high-speed marine travel. That said, this boat is not as spacious as the family-friendly options. A few center console boats have enough space to accommodate an entire family, but for the most part, this is an anomaly.
Center console boats are not inherently impractical in rivers, but a river with little to no fish population is unlikely to be a good spot for such a boat. Such a boat is a highly impractical vessel for casual cruising and is best reversed for fishing. There is no inherent bias in center console boats' design between the sea and the river to better fit either marine body.
Catamaran - Nautitech 44
Where center console boats work well in the river and the sea, a catamaran is very unlikely to be a good fit for a river cruise. Catamarans have dual hulls, which provide natural stability to the vessel. Without the need for stabilizers and an inherently balanced design, these vessels are cheaper than monohulls of equivalent size.
But recently, the luxury sailing industry's near-monopoly has flipped the product category and turned specific models into rare treasures worth a hundred thousand dollars more than a monohull. For a boat that expensive, one can reasonably expect it to be long-haul-friendly.
Nautitech 44 is quite expensive when acquired by a first owner but can be bought at a reasonable price on the secondary market. Still, it is one of the more costly vessels on this list. It can be used in a larger river, but it is a seafaring long-hauler for the most part.
Catamarans come in different sizes, but they remain shallow-water-averse. It is important to note down your primary sailing locations and discuss them with the seller to confirm that the hull won't get stuck or be subjected to impact when sailing.
Cabin Cruiser Boat - 2012 Fairline Targa 38
Cabin cruisers are among the most luxurious boats for seafaring. They usually feature interiors worth posting on social media and ample space for multiple families. Primarily purchased for short event rentals and kept by the megawealthy as status symbols, cruiser boats are the definitive long-haul vessels for deep rivers and sea.
If you're around a river that ends in a large body of water, a Cabin Cruiser like the 2012 Fairline Targa 38 is going to deliver one of the best experiences of sailing from to the open ocean or the sea. While the cruiser boat is decked with amenities like a bed and airconditioned quarters, it is not a vessel most novices would be able to live in.
Half a day is the practical time you can expect to spend in a cabin cruiser. This can dictate how river or boat-friendly the vessel is. In the instance that the river can be crossed in an hour, you would be better off with a bowrider. But if you're near an open sea or have a state-long river running by your house, a cabin cruiser boat might be just what you need.
House Boat - Stardust House Boat
Continuing the theme of marine bodies near one's house, let's discuss having your house on a marine body. A houseboat is a boat with a trailer-park-equivalent house fitted on the premises. Don't let that make you think the boat is cheap. While the houseboat has as much space as a live-in trailer, it is usually designed to appeal to high earners.
Think of a houseboat as an RV on the ocean. Aside from having a different mode of travel, houseboats are different from RVs in one other aspect: standardization. Building a standard assembly line for houseboats is hard, making each one unique. That's why the houseboat mentioned here is a line of houseboats and not a specific model.
Only one houseboat exists per model. An example of a Stardust Houseboat is the Stardust 92. It has a TV lounge, furniture, and fitted amenities that allow you to stay on board for well over a week. Most Stardust houseboats are made for sale, but sometimes, houseboats made for personal use are brought to the market. They don't look the best and have sole proprietor backing.
People with a primary permanent address can live in waterways on a houseboat permanently. This is legal in the States, and the Mississippi is one of the most common water bodies for such rivers. A houseboat can also sail into the sea, but since it carries an entire house, sailing it into a stormy body can be risky.
A houseboat is sometimes flipped into a boat casino or a restaurant. Most riverside on-deck restaurants feature a houseboat. But despite being the best in offering amenities and comfort, it remains one of the most impractical acquisitions for personal use on rivers or sea.
Personal Watercraft Boat - Yamaha Superjet
Not everyone interested in river sailing and seafaring is looking to live on the water. So scaling back from houseboats and catamarans, we have personal watercraft boats. Where the houseboat is like an RV of the sea, the personal watercraft is a motorbike of the sea. In fact, the captaining technique of these watercraft is pretty similar to riding a motorbike.
Where some personal watercraft have enough room to sit comfortably, most are operated in a semi squatting stance. The Yamaha Superjet is one of the speediest vessels in this category and is shallow enough to function on most rivers and speedy enough to combat sea tide.
While winning speed points, the average personal watercraft boat has poor comfort and space compared to most boats listed here. But that's because these boats are not meant to be for lazing on the water with your family or friends. You can still have fun with your Yamaha Superjet as long as your friends also have their own watercraft.
Between the sea and the river, these personal jet boats' design isn't built to accommodate one more than the other. So, if the high-speed marine thrill is your goal and you don't want to socialize on your boat, then a personal watercraft is ideal for you. Just remember, you will not be able to fish or party on this vessel.
Jet Boats - Yamaha SX190
If the proposition of personal watercraft is enticing, but you're taken aback by the inability to invite friends over, you're in luck because jet boats exist. These vessels are the cross between a high-powered personal watercraft and a well-designed runabout boat.
Jet boats can be spotted in the sea and on the river, often with multiple people on them. They don't usually feature a large standing area but have enough seating to fit a minivan's worth of guests. Primarily used for a high-speed marine thrill, they can also be used for casual sightseeing.
The problem with jet boats comes down to the duration of travel. While you can technically ride a jet boat for days, it is the recipe to get your legs numb within hours. Jet boats have the same comfort limitations as a car. While having one with a better interior like Yamaha SX190 can surely make traveling more comfortable, there is still an upper limit to how long you can be inside.
Given that you can get tired on a Jetboat, it is better to take one to the river than captain one in the sea. When you sail on the river, there is a riverbank close by regardless of where you are. The same doesn't apply to the sea. Still, there is no formal issue with sailing your jetboat in the sea. As long as you stay close to the beach, a jetboat is compatible with the sea. In fact, Jetboats are among beachside tourist rides on many coasts.
Pontoon Boats - Party Barge 20 DLX
Pontoon boats are on the cheaper side with a social bend. The seating on pontoon boats is often in a circular fashion, with guests facing each other. The degree of comfort depends on the manufacturer and the pricing. Pontoons like the Party Barge 20 DLX are fitted like a first-class airplane seat yet are not as expensive as cruisers.
The secret behind the convenient pricing of pontoons is that they use floats to remain afloat. This eases their manufacturing which results in an overall reduction in costs. The pontoon boats are among the best vessels for rivers mainly because of their flat nature. Even shallow rivers can accommodate pontoons.
On average, these vessels are ten times cheaper than mid-tier vessels and one hundred times cheaper than larger boats covered in this post. That said, pontoon boats aren't the most secure. Because they are not anchored in the water, they are easy to flip when the tide gets tough to navigate. This makes pontoon boats suboptimal for the seas.
All in all, pontoons' low price point combined with spacious social accommodation make them fit for short leisurely rides. They're not the boats to choose for fishing because even light species of fish require certain position leverage that is absent from most pontoons.
The best boat for a river is any shallow boat that offers you the comfort and the specs you desire. And the best boat for the sea is one that won't flip over when the tide becomes unmanageable. There is always risk in sailing and a limit to the comfort a boat can offer. Ultimately, it is the nature and your company that you're supposed to enjoy. With good company, even a functioning pontoon can be more fun than a yacht.
About THE AUTHOR
I have a deep love of houseboating and the life-changing experiences houseboating has brought into my life. I’ve been going to Lake Powell on our family’s houseboat for over 30 years and have made many great memories, first as a child and now as a parent. My family has a passion for helping others have similar fun, safe experiences on their houseboat.Read More About Brian Samson