A runabout is a boat with such a wide definition that it’s a challenge to decide whether to include certain boats inside that definition or exclude them. It’s become especially challenging lately, given boat builders’ penchant for stretching the overall lengths of their models to ever-increasing sizes. While most folks consider a runabout to be a small, generally open design, larger boats also have of those open runabout attributes.
With that in mind we’ve curated five excellent runabouts for the 2017 boating season that should fit many different family sizes, intended uses, and, of course, budgets. Some models fit the familiar runabout definition, while a couple are longer models that push the boundaries. Either way, you should find something below that tickles the right boating vibes.
Yamaha 21 Series: Packed with Innovation
It’s already a well-known fact that Yamaha builds excellent, high-quality jet boats that do lots of things really well. Their 19- to 24-foot boats include models built for watersports, family cruising, and there’s even a center-console fish boat in the lineup. Their 21-footer recently got a refresh, and we’re here to say that it was quite a significant one, with lots of new and innovative features.
The third-generation iteration of Yamaha’s 21-foot hull comes in five different models, all built with an eye toward satisfying different boating activities and budgets. The base SX210 starts at $39,999 while the option-filled, watersport-themed 212X goes for $57,999.
Most noteworthy among the new features is the addition of a pair of Yamaha’s new 130-horsepower TR-1 HO three-cylinder engines to each model. These are powerful enough to jolt the base models up to around 43 mph. They’re not only quieter, but more compact. Yamaha has also added lots of heavy-duty foam in the engine bays and bilges to help tone down the racket these engines typically produce. Higher-end models in the lineup get four-cylinder engines rated at 180 ponies each, with top-end speeds around 50 mph. Also on board is a new feature Yamaha first introduced on its refreshed 24-foot models a couple of years ago: an articulating keel. This helps stop the problem of wandering so prevalent in jet boats, and also improves slow-speed maneuvering.
These boats are remarkably well-appointed, from the base model up to the kitted-out 212X. What do you get as you creep up the model lineup in price? Larger engines, watersports kits and wake packages, more luxurious interiors with built-in wet bars, and increased seating and stowage, for starters. Upper-end models also get Yamaha’s Connext system, which is a touchscreen panel that controls wake surfing ballast and general boat system controls.
There’s pretty much a model for every budget in Yamaha’s new 21-foot lineup. Whether watersports are your game or you simply want to take the family out for an enjoyable day on the water, we think Yamaha has hit the bullseye with these new boats.
Chaparral 227 SSX: Wake Surfing Wonderland
Sometimes when you’re trying out something new and complicated, it’s a good idea to get some help from a friend. That’s exactly what Chaparral did when it licensed Malibu’s Surf Gate technology, a system that utilizes a unique hull design and electrically powered flip-out panels in the hull to custom-craft the perfect wake. It allowed Chaparral to make a leap into a new segment it might not have otherwise been able to do without Malibu’s help.
Even without the great watersports features, the 227 SSX is a capable runabout all on its own. There’s a comfy bow seating area—some may call it a bowrider—and lots of convertible seating in the main cockpit. Seatbacks can be flipped around to change the purpose of the seating. There’s an expansive sunpad at the stern that can also be converted to a lounge, or allow easy access to the swim platform from the cockpit.
Getting back to the watersports theme, the Surf package adds around $9,000 to the base price of about $65,000. For that kind of loot, you get the Malibu Surf Gate system and hull, a ballast system, and Viper II touchscreen controls at the helm. Most folks who get the Surf package will want to get the folding watersports tower—another $3,615. We’re not sure why Chaparral didn’t include it in the Surf package. A Mercury 4.5-liter V6 inboard with Bravo sterndrive makes the 227 SSX go, and can send this sport boat up to around 45 mph at wide-open throttle.
The best thing about this boat is that it’s equally capable without the Surf Package, so it’s a great choice for both watersport enthusiasts or family cruisers. Given its remarkably convertible seating layout, quality construction, and zippy Mercury propulsion, we think the 227 SSX is a great choice for a number of different types of boaters.
Regal 29 OBX: Outboard Overload
This model is the “big boy” in our list. It debuted at the 2017 Miami International Boat Show, pushing the boundaries of what folks consider a runabout. In our mind it’s technically a deck boat, but its plethora of remarkable and Transformer-like features make it a worthy competitor in the large runabout market. What’s most remarkable about it is its twin Yamaha F200 four-stroke outboard power—most boats of this type rely on inboards.
What that outboard power gets you is a ton of performance and loads more room inside the gunwales. We took the 29 OBX out on a choppy Biscayne Bay and saw a top end of about 50 mph with four people on board and a half load of fuel. That’s fast for a boat this type. Mashing the throttles into the deck resulted in 0-30 mph times of around 10 seconds. The boat did bang a bit in the steep chop but otherwise handled the challenging conditions well.
Inside the boat are a ton of clever features that allow it to be used in many different ways. Perhaps most worthy of comment is the “ultra-lounge” platform at the transom, which electrically scoots forward about a half foot to increase the swimming platform space taken up by the pair of flipped-up outboards. Since there are no inboard engines to contend with, there’s a huge stowage compartment under the main deck with plenty of room for safety gear, skis, or whatever you might need to keep out of the weather. Like lots of boats in this class, the 290 OBX’s interior is highly convertible, equipped with a slew of flipping and fold-down seat backs that allow customization of the boat’s interior.
Add in a spacious head compartment, a huge bow lounge, and an electrically lowered wake tower with integral Bimini top, and you’ve got one heck of a boat for all sorts of water-themed fun.
Glastron GT-180: Fun and Affordable
Glastron, now owned by Groupe Beneteau, literally wrote the book on runabouts, producing its first model, the Firelite, in 1957. We decided to take a look at the smallest member of the Glastron family, the GT-180. It’s a true runabout with outboard power on the stern. The best part is the fun begins in the $23,000 ballpark.
Standard power on the GT180 is a 115-horsepower Mercury FourStroke outboard swinging a 13.75-inch diameter, 15-inch pitch stainless-steel propeller. You can choose a Yamaha or Evinrude outboard as well, and put up to 150 hp on the transom. The standard power plant will get you to around 45 mph at wide-open throttle—not bad for an entry-level boat—though most folks will cruise the GT-180 in the low 20s for best fuel economy. The math reveals a 121-mile range at those speeds, sipping fuel from the 24-gallon fuel tank.
Inside there’s enough room for eight folks, though six will likely be the comfortable maximum. The comfy bow area features two forward-facing chaise lounges set in a U-shaped configuration with an additional cushion forward, The space can be turned into a large bow playpen with the addition of an insert cushion. There’s stowage beneath the chaise lounges and forward cushion seat. Behind the expansive windshield are two swiveling captain’s chairs, while farther aft is an almost full-width bench that has additional stowage beneath it. We like the relatively utilitarian feel of the interior, which remains comfy while still being sturdy enough to stand up to the abuse kids and family can exact on a boat. A split swim platform has a surprising amount of space, almost completely surrounding the outboard engine.
All in all, we really like this budget-minded yet capable machine from Glastron. It’s the perfect platform for entertaining friends and family, or even towing a bunch of kids on a tube or a water skier around. No muss, no fuss.
Crownline E29 XS: Fast and Furious
The E29 XS is a new, twin outboard-powered bowrider from Crownline. Outboard power in runabouts is a trend, and for good reason. As mentioned above, outboards not only provide reliability and simplicity, but also open up tons of interior and deck space normally taken up by inboard engines and engine boxes. You’ll see more of this trend in runabout-style boats in the coming years.
Crownline has slapped a pair of 250-horsepower Mercury Verados on the stern, but buyers can opt for Yamaha outboards as well—up to twin 300-horsepower engines. The base engines will get you into the high 40s easily while the optional 300-horsepower powerplants will catapult you into 50-mph territory. Either setup has plenty of hole shot and power to pull skiers, wakeboarders, or a tube with a load full of kids. The engines are also electronically controlled, which eliminates a lot of rigging mess on the transom.
Inside is a single-level deck design reminiscent of a deck boat, though Crownline considers this boat to be a crossover that blends many different design elements together to please folks with varying boating styles. There’s a wakeboard-style watersport tower with speakers that should please watersport enthusiasts. Crownline has also engineered an awning that pulls out from the tower over the twin convertible chaise lounges at the stern. These can face either forward or aft with the flip of a seatback. There’s comfy cockpit seating under the tower’s hardtop, twin swiveling captain’s chairs behind the wraparound windshield, and a huge bow area with luxurious chaise lounges that are part of a U-shaped seating affair. A head is concealed under the port console.
Though the Crownline E29 XS doesn’t come cheap—it runs about $200,000 to start—it’s packed with tons of standard features that are options on many similar boats. With outboard power, a speedy disposition, and a lot of comfort baked in, Crownline’s got a winner here.