Determining what size boat do I need is a paradox in full display. After all, no two boaters have identical vessel requirements.
An excellent rule of thumb to observe is to add three to four feet to the minimum size of boats for a particular capacity and activity. For example, a 20-foot fishing boat size might be sufficient for six able-bodied anglers. However, you could always pick a 23- or 24-footer for the same purpose.
Unfortunately, there’s always a likelihood that you’ll end up with a smaller boat than you need, even with the four-foot allowance. Passenger capacity, gear space requirements, and boating activities influence the average boat size.
Please continue reading to learn the ideal boat size for your needs.
Table of Contents
Average Size of Boats by Type and Class
Manufacturers and brands often provide a boat sizes chart for their respective offerings. Buyers can refer to the technical data for individual boat sizes and names to determine the most appropriate watercraft dimension for their needs.
Alternatively, we can look at the US Coast Guard’s boat size classification to determine the average lengths of vessels you want to buy.
1. Class A
These watercraft are the smallest, never exceeding 16 feet in length. A small boat size, such as a 10-foot dinghy, can only accommodate about two to four people. And if they have gear and equipment onboard, the combined weight can further reduce passenger capacity.
Besides dinghies, boats under this classification include PWCs, canoes, kayaks, inflatables, and other vessels with small boat dimensions.
2. Class 1
Most consider Class 1 vessels as medium sized boats, ranging from 16 to less than 26 feet. These watercraft are perfect for boating, water sports, and fishing in relatively calm waters.
Examples of Class 1 watercraft are cuddy cabin vessels, surf boats, ski boats, pontoon boats, wakeboard boats, jet boats, aluminum fishing boats, and small deck boats.
3. Class 2
The average boat length of Class 2 watercraft is 33 feet, extending from 26 to 39 feet 11 inches. These boats are more spacious and can carry more gear, equipment, and passengers. They also tend to be more stable in choppy waters.
You can buy bowriders, cabin cruisers, runabout boats, trawlers, or sailboats if you want Class 2 vessels. These watercraft are perfect for offshore fishing, although most boaters use them for day cruising or overnight pleasure boating.
4. Class 3
The largest consumer vessels belong to this class, with the minimum size boat at 40 feet. Class 3 watercraft can be as long as 64 feet 11 inches, with sturdy and stable hulls perfect for ocean fishing and other activities.
We recommend a catamaran or trimaran for exceptional stability. These are stable and sturdy boats that eliminate seasickness in rough seas. Sailboats are perfect for ocean travel, relying on wind power for an economical leisurely cruise.
Other boats in this class are cigarette boats, yachts, and sports fishers.
5. Large Boats
Although rare and pricey, you could buy a boat larger than 65 feet. Superyachts can reach at least 160 feet.
For example, the 17,440-ton, 36-passenger, 54-crew member REV measures 600 feet from bow to stern. It will dislodge the 592.52-foot, 13,000-ton, 36-passenger, 80-crew member Azzam once completed by 2024 as the world’s largest superyacht.
This vessel isn’t your regular boat. It’s like a midget cruise liner with all the five-star amenities you could hope for.
It’s worth noting the US Coast Guard’s boat classification categorizes vessels according to lengths, not boat engine sizes. The higher the classification number, the longer the boat (i.e., Class 2 vs. Class A or Class 1).
Boat Size Recommendations for Different Purposes
Although boat lengths based on type and class are helpful in categorizing watercraft, they don’t specify the vessel’s intended purpose. Here are the sizing recommendations vis-à-vis boating activities.
- Inshore/Offshore Fishing
The “normal boat size” for inshore fishing is 17 to 22 feet. These coastal vessels are quick to maneuver, allowing anglers to steer their watercraft to fish-rich waters.
Meanwhile, offshore fishing boats are typically longer, averaging 30 to 40 feet. The recommended boat size allows the vessel to maintain stability and minimize rolling risks in high waves and strong winds. As a rule, the bigger the watercraft, the better it is at fishing in open seas.
- Recreational Cruising
Many seasoned pleasure boaters recommend a 35- to 45-foot vessel for pleasure cruises. Of course, you can always pick a smaller day cruiser for couples or a larger version for families and groups.
- Water Sports
The sweet spot for wakeboarding boats is 18 to 25 feet, while ski boats are somewhat smaller. Seasoned wakeboarders prefer a 24-foot vessel to create fantastic surf, while skiers recommend smaller watercraft with gentler wakes.
- Bay and Lake Fishing
Fishing on lakes and bays requires a larger boat than angling in inland waterways. The expansive body of water translates to more time in one area spent fishing than in any other. Hence, a 20- to 30-foot fishing boat for family of 6 or fewer would be sufficient.
- Overnight or Extended Trips
A 10-passenger, 20- to 40-foot cabin cruiser is perfect for staying on the water overnight or on extended trips. Everyone could sleep comfortably in berths and go about their daily routine as they would at home.
The bigger the vessel, the longer the family can stay offshore without provisioning.
Boat Size Recommendations for Number of Passengers
A comparison of boat sizes according to class/type and purpose underscores one inescapable fact. Vessel dimensions depend on the number of people on board for the trip.
Here are the sizing recommendations for the passenger capacity of different watercraft lengths. Please note the “manageable” and “recommended” sizes. The former is the smallest size you could get to ensure passenger comfort.
|The number of Passengers||Boat Size|
|Manageable (Minimum)||Recommended (Ideal)|
|3||10 feet (3.05 meters)||At least 12 feet (3.66 meters)|
|4||13 feet (3.96 meters)||At least 15 feet (4.56 meters)|
|5||16 feet (4.88 meters)||At least 18 feet (5.49 meters)|
|6||18 feet (5.49 meters)||At least 20 feet (6.1 meters)|
|7||21 feet (6.4 meters)||At least 22 feet (6.71 meters)|
|8||22 feet (6.71 meters)||At least 24 feet (7.32 meters)|
|9||24 feet (7.32 meters)||At least 25 feet (7.62 meters)|
|10||25 feet (7.62 meters||At least 26 feet (7.92 meters)|
|12||27 feet (8.23 meters)||At least 28 feet (8.53 meters)|
Referring to the table, the smallest watercraft you could get for family of 8 is 22 feet, with the recommended size at 24 feet and upwards. It’s a rudimentary metric, but many boaters use this guide to help them decide on their next vessel purchase.
Alternatively, to determine if a boat can meet your needs, you can calculate how many 150-pound people a vessel can carry by using the formula below:
Alternatively, to determine if
Other Factors that Affect the Boat Size
Although you can use chart yacht sizes to determine the ideal size boat for your needs, other factors can come into play. We already discussed class/type, boating activity, and passenger capacity. What other factors should you consider?
- Boat storage – You have at least three options for storing boats when not in use. Small vessels are easy to take out of the water and transport into dry boat storage facilities (indoors and outdoors). You can also tow them to your house. Meanwhile, large watercraft are best suited for in-water storage at the marina.
- Amenities and equipment – Additional stuff in vessels can turn 6 person boats into 3- or 4-person watercraft. Fishing gear, entertainment devices, and other bulky objects require space, reducing passenger capacity. The boat must be large enough to hold sleeping quarters, kitchenettes, toilets, and other amenities.
- Location – Seagoing vessels are larger (and sturdier) than their freshwater counterparts.
What factors affect the stability and handling of a boat?
Several factors affect boat stability, including suspended weights, free surface effects, overall load, structural changes, bilging, water, and weight distribution. Meanwhile, vessel design, power, propeller action, ocean currents, water depth, tides, and wind can impact the handling of a boat.
Can I upgrade the size of my boat in the future?
Yes, you can upgrade the boat size in the future by increasing its length. To do so, you should focus on the station spacing while retaining the vessel’s height and beam. However, we recommend consulting with a marine surveyor or naval architect before making any structural changes to the boat.
Are there any legal restrictions on boat sizes?
Some bodies of water have boat-size restrictions. For example, Yellowstone Lake prohibits watercraft longer than 40 feet. Airboats and PWCs are also disallowed. Big Bear Lake is another example, allowing only watercraft not longer than 26 feet (Class A and Class 1).
Moreover, the federal government requires manufacturers to display their boats’ Capacity Plates at the helm or adjacent to the steering controls. Operators cannot exceed the boat’s rated passenger and weight capacities.
Answering ”What size boat do I need?” requires reflecting on the prospective buyer’s needs. Boat classes and types offer an estimate of the different vessels you can buy based on their lengths. If the information is insufficient, you can categorize watercraft according to their use.
You can also check passenger capacity and combine the information with type- and purpose-related metrics. If that doesn’t work, consider other factors in the equation.
Regardless of the final boat size you get, we recommend adding three to four feet to it as an allowance.
Ten years of enjoying countless trips on boats never made me love them any less! So I am here to put all those experiences into good use for other boaters who want to have a safe and fun trip with their friends and families.