Great Lake Boats

By Michael Vatalaro

From runabouts and bowriders to deck boats and pontoons, there's loads of fun in these purpose-built boats that cater to the lake experience.

In many ways the runabout is Genesis — the historical foundation of the recreational boating industry. During the post-war boom, and later, when fiberglass brought boating to the masses, the simple, versatile 15- to 18-foot runabout was the boat of choice. Easy to trailer and push with the modest horsepower engines then available, many boating families can trace their roots back to an old runabout. Marked by a windshield far forward, a seated driving position, and frequently a rear bench at the transom, the design basically hasn't changed in decades, except to open up the bow for additional seating, making a bowrider.

Today bowriders remain many families' top choice — particularly on protected bodies of water, such as inland lakes, impoundments, and rivers — because they make great platforms for watersports, fishing, and just enjoying time on the water. There's also been a huge amount of growth in pontoon boats, with changes that include an additional "toon" in the center for extra stability and higher and higher horsepower engines strapped to the transom. Today's pontoons can fulfill many of the same roles of a bowrider, and a few that they can't.

With all this in mind, here are some of our favorite lake boats, ranging from affordable to extravagant, any of which will bring a smile to your face the next time you drop in at your chosen lake.

Avalon Ambassador RJ

Avalon Ambassador RJLOA: 29' 3" | Beam: 8' 6" | Weight: 4,400 lbs. | Max HP: 300

Retro looks, entertaining appointments, and horsepower to spare. Pontoon boats have grown up, and the Ambassador series showcases their possibilities. The exterior's Art Deco-inspired accents and grills are made from polished stainless over the painted-aluminum sides. RJ stands for rear-J lounge, and this model has ample seating both forward and aft, which is a good thing. The 27-foot model can entertain you plus up to 13 guests. But it's not just a party barge. With three "toons" providing lifting surfaces, and up to 300 horsepower at the stern, this pontoon can get up and run, too. From $60,000 |

Stingray 180RX

Stingray 180RXLOA: 18' | Beam: 7' 1" | Draft: 18" | Weight: 2,219 1bs. | Fuel: 21 gal.

DA bowrider in the modern vein, this one is powered by an inboard mated to a sterndrive. This makes for a bit less room in the boat’s cockpit, but offers a large sunpad for lounging at anchor, and a cleaner transom for watersports (no pesky outboard to swing the tow rope over), plus a full-width swim platform. There's room for seven people, and a clever 14-quart cooler built in forward between the bow seating. Powered by a 3.0-liter Mercury, the Stingray can reach nearly 50 mph and give you plenty of heft for pulling skiers. From $25,000 |

Glastron GT 180

Glastron GT 180LOA: 17' 10" | Beam: 7' 5" | Draft: 14" | Weight: 2,100 lbs. | Fuel: 24 gal.

Modern and affordable, the Glastron GT 180 delivers a lot of fun in an 18-foot package. With seating for five behind the windshield with room up front for two more, and powered by an outboard from 90-150-hp, you'll have plenty of room for friends and family, plus the toys. Add an optional watersports tower for the wakeboarders in the family, and they'll never want to leave the lake. From $22,000 |

Starfish 176 DC Fish & Ski

Starfish 176 DC Fish & SkiLOA: 17' 8" | Beam: 7' 8" | Weight: 2,643 lbs. | Fuel: 32 gal.

Made by Starcraft, this aluminum boat highlights why the hull material is a popular choice for inland boaters. Lightweight, strong, and durable, the hull weighs in at less than 1,200 pounds, making it easier to trailer behind even a smaller SUV or crossover. Features include floor rod storage and a livewell. Add the ski package to get a ski pylon and boarding ladder. From: $28,499 with a 90-hp outboard |

Rossiter 17 Closed Deck Runabout

Rossiter 17 Closed Deck RunaboutLOA: 17' 4" | Beam: 7' | Draft: 14" | Weight: 2,340 lbs. (Loaded) | Fuel: 27 gal.

If you want the classic look of a closed bow in your next runabout, Rossiter has you covered. The 17 looks great, right down to its rope rubrail. It's pushed along easily by a 90-hp outboard and has room for up to seven people. Cruise for more than 100 miles on a tank at 30 mph, or add a ski pylon and let the kids tear it up behind the boat. From $43,000 |

Chris-Craft Carina 21

Chris-Craft Carina 21LOA: 21' 2" | Beam: 7' 11" | Draft: 17" | Weight: 3,500 lbs. | Fuel: 345 gal.

Chris-Crafts have long enjoyed a reputation for some of the prettiest boats on the water, and the Carina and its closed-bow sister ship, the Capri, are no exceptions. With room for five and your choice of V8 power mated to a sterndrive, the Carina's purpose is to run from one end of the lake to the other, and look great doing it. From $74,000 |

Hurricane SunDeck SD 2000 OB

Hurricane SunDeck SD 2000 OBLOA: 20' 3" | Beam: 8' 6" | Draft: 14" | Weight: 3,116 lbs. | Fuel: 47 gal.

Deck boats offer some of the utility and space of the pontoon but with the ride of a runabout. Wraparound seating behind the windshield, even more seats in the bow, plus a bow ladder for hitting the beach give you the room to bring family and friends, and easy access to the water as well. Outboard power up to 225-hp and the optional tower make this a great watersports platform. The wakeboarder in your family will be airborne in no time. From $55,000 | 

— Published: June/July 2015

BoatUS Magazine Is A Benefit Of BoatUS Membership

Membership Also Provides:

  • Subscription to the print version of BoatUS Magazine
  • 4% back on purchases from West Marine stores or online at
  • Discounts on fuel, transient slips, repairs and more at over 1,000 businesses
  • Deals on cruises, charters, car rentals, hotel stays and more ...
  • All For Only $24 A Year!

Join Today!