Bowrider Boats Guide

Bowrider boats are sporty, sleek, and designed for a good time. These day-boats offer a lot of perks, along with being perfect for plenty of different uses, but do you really know much about them? This guide will help you learn everything that you didn’t know about bowriders, including what they are, why they’re a great choice and which of your favorite brands make bowrider models. We’ll examine:

four winns h4 ob bowrider boat
Bowrider boats like this Four Winns H4 OB are incredible popular in varied waterways across the nation. Photo via Four Winns.

What are Bowrider Boats?

The bowrider was originally designed as a do-everything runabout, and every model lives to serve that purpose with open-bow seating and plenty of space to have a good time. These boats are ideal for everyone from first-time boaters to seasoned vets, and can be used for all kinds of enjoyment, from cruising to watersports and more. A bowrider is typically equipped with an engine that offers plenty of performance without leaving a huge impact on the environment or your wallet.

The term “bowrider” refers to the general styling of the boat, which features open front seating as opposed to a cabin, and a more open layout. There are a number of different styles and models on the market, however, and the configuration options and features are nearly endless. Whether you’re looking for your first weekend getaway boat that you can trailer to the lake or you want to trade in your old boat for something a little more fun, bowriders can deliver everything that you need.

Types of Bowriders

Early models of this boat were typically smaller in size, with an average length of 16 to 20 feet, and most had stern drive power. Modern styles, however, have grown in size, power choice, and standard features, offering options for a much wider audience than before. There are also various motor options for these boats, including outboard, inboard, jet drive, and stern drive motors. This results in more variations than you can probably keep track of but know that this just means that there’s a model out there which is ideal for you.

Traditional bowriders are 21 feet or less in length and feature the standard V-shaped hull with open bow seating. These boats are designed for small bodies of water, as their size doesn’t handle the conditions of rougher waters well. They typically feature captain’s and passenger chairs, a bench seat aft, and seats flanking the bow area, which may be U-shaped to maximize seating space.

tiara 38 ls huge bowrider
Today there are some exceptionally large “bowrider” boats, like this Tiara 38 LS, that fit the definition of a bowrider despite their size. Photo via North Point Yachts.

Larger models are still available in the traditional class, including models up to 35 or more feet long and nearly 10 feet wide. The larger the bowrider model, the more options you have for layout and design. These larger boats may also offer additional features, like electric or convertible seating, wakeboard towers, and more. Keep in mind that in most states, it’s only legal to trailer and haul a boat up to 8 feet 6 inches wide, so you might need to obtain a special permit if you choose a wider bowrider model.

Bowriders with cabins (usually built into the passenger’s and/or helm console or sometimes amidships) are a newer type of model on the market, offering a sort of hybrid boat. These still offer the bow seating that the style is known for, but they also have a cabin with a variety of amenities that may include berths, climate control, TV, and more.

cabin in a cobalt a36
On today’s larger bowriders such as this Cobalt A36, you may even find a climate controlled cabin. Photo via Boulder Boats.

Bowriders are available that are designed specifically for skiing and fishing, which offer removable and convertible seats that become fishing chairs. They may also have trolling motors and other fishing essentials, ski tow arches, and other accessories designed for specific uses.

The deck boat is another hybrid style of bowrider that is available. Although similar to a traditional model, the deck boat also features a bow that is much wider, and often has many other features that you would expect to find on a pontoon boat. There are various models within this class, including your choice of sizes.

One of the most popular bowrider types on the market right now is the jet boat. These look and feel like traditional bowriders, but they have many advantages over the original stern drive option. The jet engine provides safer operation with no need for a prop, plus they have a great turning radius and top-rate acceleration.

Advantages of Bowriders

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, there are a number of advantages to choosing a bowrider as your next boat. Here are a few of the highlights to keep in mind:

  • Seating: Perhaps the biggest benefit of the bowrider model is the ample seating. Even the smallest models were designed to accommodate more people, so their design will focus on maximum seating above all else.
  • Plenty of Uses: These boats are loved for their versatility. They are great for everything from cruising and fishing to watersports and more. Despite their smaller size, their capable engine options can tow tubes and water skiers and leave plenty of room for all of your friends.
  • Motor Options: The traditional I/O (stern drive) motor that comes with the bowrider is great, however, many people are moving to outboard or jet drive motors. The advantage here is that there is a motor to suit every need.
  • Multiple Sizes: As mentioned earlier, bowriders are available in sizes ranging from 16 feet all the way up to 30 feet or more. There are small boats for individuals, larger boats for families, and even party-size bowriders that have plenty of room for everyone.
  • Ski, Deck, and Other Styles: A bowrider is a versatile boat. Because of the popularity of the basic style, models are now available that are specifically designed for watersports, cruising, and other specific needs. Remember the “hybrid” styles we talked about earlier? These boats can basically be whatever you want.

Disadvantages of Bowrider Boats

As long as you purchase a bowrider with the intention to use it for cruising and entertaining, you won’t be disappointed. With that said, there are a few drawbacks to this particular model:

  • Bowriders aren’t designed for long trips, a lot of overnight trips, or use in poor weather conditions. While some newer luxury models include mid-cabins and full beam cabins, this isn’t common. These are day cruisers, after all.
  • Most bowrider models under 26 feet will struggle with the choppy, rough waters outside of a smaller lake or body of water. If you want a bowrider that can cruise the seas, consider a larger model for a safer, more comfortable ride.
  • The majority of models have plenty of tech features and entertainment options packages, but their big focus is seating. If you want a boat with roaming room or prefer the bow sundeck to a seating area, this might not be the right style for you.

For the most part, just about anyone can have a good time with a bowrider. So long as you’re not looking for a fully-equipped luxury yacht, this style of personal pleasure boat can deliver plenty of enjoyment. No matter your intended use, there are styles for every hobby and every budget.

Bowrider Brands and Manufacturers

To preface this section and save a lot of extra reading, you should know that just about every manufacturer offers their own style of bowriders. From Bayliner to Yamaha, countless boat manufacturers have created their own bowrider models. Although the styling and size are similar, each brand has its own features and benefits to consider. Here are some of the most popular bowrider styles on the market today.

Bayliner

bayliner vr6
The VR6 is one of Bayliner’s popular models. Photo via InertMarine.

Bayliner is a leader in the boat world, and there’s a reason that you see them almost everywhere you go. What’s more is that they’ve pretty much mastered the bowrider, offering plenty of power and plenty of entertaining space for the perfect day on the water. Some models include larger seating areas or different motor sizes, but there is something for just about everyone.

See Bayliner bowrider boats for sale.

Chaparral

chaparral 287 ssx
The Chaparral line includes a wide range, like this 287 SSX. Photo via Gulf Lake Marine Center.

The Chaparral line of bowriders offers comfortable seating and plenty of storage space. Plus, they offer a sport model that puts the power in any excursion. These boats are all about making room for more fun without compromising power. Plus, many models can be outfitted with optional accessories for even more fun. Chaparral has some of the most popular models on the market today.

See Chaparral bowrider boats for sale.

Sea Ray

sea ray 190 spx
Sea Ray’s lineup is one of the broadest in the marketplace, starting with this SPX 190. Photo via Sea Ray Boats.

Sea Ray has been a popular name in boating for decades. Their contribution to the bowrider market is a wider bow design that allows for roomier space and extra seating. Many models even offer integrated platforms for swimming, convertible seating, and optional Bluetooth stereos. Top-of-the-line models offer an options list longer than many other manufacturers, making these a good balance between a comfortable size and all the creature comforts you could ask for.

See Sea Ray bowrider boats for sale.

Monterey

monterey 385 super express
The Monterey 385 Super Express is one of the biggest bowriders around. Photo via Sovereign Yacht Sales.

Monterey offers bowriders that focuses on premium layouts and features. These boats include features like wraparound cockpit seating, larger sunpads, optional high-end stereos, and bi-level swim platforms for easy entry and exit when it’s time to get in the water. This is a brand that looks as good sitting in the slip as it does out on the water, and it’s sure to turn heads.

See Monterey bowrider boats for sale.

Yamaha

yamaha 255XD
Some of the models in Yamaha’s lineup, like this 255XD, and equipped for serious watersports like wake surfing. Photo via Cycle Springs Powersports.

Yamaha offers a full line of jet powered bowriders, and is one of the most popular choices for boats under 24 feet. In fact, this builder is the world leader in producing jet boats. They also have jet-powered wakeboarding models, plus some fishing boats.

See Yamaha bowrider boats for sale.

Bowriders In Summary

There is a lot more information about bowriders still to learn. However, this guide provides you with the basics to help better understand these boats and what they have to offer. If you’re in the market for a sporty, spacious, everyday pleasure boat, the bowrider style might be just what you need.

If you’re not sure that a bowrider boat is the best pick for you, see Top 10 Powerboat Classes for some alternatives.

Editor’s Note: this article was originally published in August of 2019 and was updated in June of 2022.

Written by: Valerie Mellema

Valerie Mellema is a writer, published author and avid bass angler who lives on the shores of Lake Fork in East Texas — the top bass lake in Texas and the fifth in the nation. For the past 10 years, she and her husband have enjoyed the pontoon boat lifestyle while fishing a lake that not only has bass but beautiful wildlife as well. She holds a BS in Agribusiness/Equine Business and regularly contributes articles to boats.com, YachtWorld and Boat Trader.

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