While the RYA’s anti-legislation stance might imply that any powerboat is fine for the novice, there’s no doubt that some are better than others. What you really need when buying your first powerboat is a boat that’s easy to store, trailer, launch and recover; one that is simple and safe to drive and one that is moderately affordable to buy and run. If it can also encompass a broad range of marine applications, so you can try a bit of everything before you upsize or specialise, all the better. There are plenty of boats that would claim to fit the bill, but for my money, the following 10 take some beating.
(1) Bayliner Element CC6
The Element line has received a lot of plaudits since its arrival as the new super-affordable entry point to the Bayliner range – and in many cases those plaudits are undeserved. The Element’s ‘M-Hull’ for instance is predisposed to a sluggish transition to the plane, a firm ride, substantial water ingress and lots of prop slippage in the turn. However, on the CC6, a central console, improved weight distribution and a relatively generous waterline length do a great job of minimising these flaws while bringing the Element’s key strengths to the fore. As a result, the CC6 is the best, most versatile and most dynamically sound Element money can buy (see boats.com review) – and it isn’t a close run thing.
(2) Searay SPX 19
While the relatively shallow hull angles, broad forward beam and modest weight suggest the new SPX 19 ought to be a bit of a handful underway, it’s actually a treat to drive (see boats.com review). It’s available with a sterndrive set-up but with a Mercury 150 on the transom, you get a very vigorous 43-knot top end allied to plenty of handling agility and an impressively easy helming experience. In outboard form, it’s also roomier, faster and more versatile than its perfectly capable predecessor, and in addition to comfy seating for up to 11 people, the package price of around £30,000 makes it one of the best American-style bow riders on the market.
(3) Bella 600 BR
Designed by Espen Thorup, the man behind the uprated Flipper fleet (see: Flipper 640 ST review), the 600 BR (one of the four runners-up boats to the Four Winns Vista 255 in the 2016 European Powerboat of the Year "under-25ft" category) offers easy-access storage for your lines beneath the anchor locker, a safe step-through forepeak and a hinged partition that enables you to generate a full sunbathing platform in the bow without additional infils. Teamed up with the Mercury F115, it’s also a really outstanding driver’s boat, full of vim and agility, without being in any way edgy or intimidating. Factor in the twin aft boarding steps, the excellent helm and nav positions, the fresh styling and the deep-set accommodation and it’s a boat that will please the seasoned boater almost as much as the novice.
(4) Dell Quay Dory Sportsman
The affordable and lightweight Dell Quay Dory (one of my 5 best new powerboats for £20K) comes with a power band from 25 to 60hp and seating for four, alongside a classically stable, easy-planing cathedral hull and a centre console to help provide the best dynamic balance and the most generous family deck space. It’s not the last word in ability but for a spot of inland meandering, coastal exploration, fishing, diving and watersports, it has everything the novice needs.
(5) Ring 475
The hardworking Ring 475 (see: Ring 475 review) seats five, drives well, looks great and is built with a level of quality and care that makes it feel less like an entry-level compromise and more like a gentleman’s express. With a Suzuki DF60, you can expect performance well in excess of 30 knots and with that user-friendly hull and near faultless helm station, it also offers one of the most accessible driving experiences around. You can up that to 70hp or reduce it to as little as 15hp for gentle inland pottering but whichever way you go, it’s much better than most people appreciate.
(6) Gemini WR 650 (Leisure)
Due for launch at the 2016 Southampton Boat Show (see: show preview), the new Gemini 650 leisure RIB will use the same hull as the commercial model. This means that in addition to the dry, secure and stable ride so many commercial users take for granted, the new boat will offer seating, helm and fabric upgrades alongside topside design flourishes that will see the comfort, the style, the versatility and the storage solutions radically improved. I’ve seen the boat in build at the UK HQ in Lymington and at an all-in package price of £45,000 with the Suzuki DF140, it ought to offer a very potent blend of ability, style and straightforward dynamic confidence.
(7) Buster XL
If you haven’t considered aluminium for your first boat, then you really should. It will take the dents and scrapes of groundings and ‘naïve’ coming-alongside manoeuvres in its stride. It’s also very strong, lightweight and simple to maintain. It does have a reputation for being rather ugly and noisy, but in the hands of an aluminium specialist like Buster, the news is all positive. This XL model is a frugal, spacious boat, which can be configured with add-on box seats to match the demands of your day out – and if it doesn’t quite match your needs or your budget, then don’t worry. Buster’s X and XXL models are equally good (see Buster XXL review).
(8) Powercat 525c
The super-stable, twin-hulled Powercat (see: Powercat 525 review) corners flat, tracks straight and delivers tremendous fuel efficiency alongside generous performance on modest power. It’s also softer riding than a monohull and you get the added bonus of a spare engine for improved security. More to the point, it provides you and your family with proper inboard space for whatever recreation takes your fancy – and whether out at sea or in a marina full of critical onlookers, nothing in the world could be easier to drive than a compact twin-engined cat. For the novice, these are the things that matter.
(9) Fletcher 150 GTO Arrowflash
For me the classic 15-footer remains the best Fletcher you can buy. Equipped with a 75 or 90hp outboard, this five-man boat will deliver performance in excess of 40 knots alongside delightful sharpness of handling. It’s by no means the most practical, spacious or versatile boat you can buy, but its modest scale and its dynamic responsiveness make you a better Skipper by rewarding you handsomely for driving well. Like most people, you’ll probably feel the need to upsize after a couple of seasons, but however far you progress on the boat buying ladder, this will always be the boat you miss the most.
(10) Finnmaster T7
While Finnnmaster’s T8 was a very impressive boat (see boats.com review), its physical bulk deprived it of that nth degree of handling sparkle, so the T7 comes as a very welcome arrival. With Yamaha’s F250 on the transom, it offers 42-knot performance alongside sufficient sleeping capacity to accommodate a small family on a long weekend. It also looks every bit as lovely as the original T8 and while it’s easily the dearest boat here, its deep cockpit, idiot-proof handling, lovely styling and versatility of application might just compel me to ignore the first few rungs of the boating ladder and invest.
For more Finnmaster news and reviews, see: Finnmaster Husky range hits the water and Finnmaster 55 BR review and Finnmaster 59 SC review.
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