Once you've decided a powerboat is the right option for you (see Choosing a boat: which boat is right for me?) then it's time to figure out which one you should get.

We’ve never been so blessed with powerboat variety. In addition to a wide range of differing hull forms, there are plenty of building materials and a great many options in terms of power and propulsion.

In fact, in a world where an ocean-crossing trawler and a 12-foot tender fall into the same general bracket, it is plain that our rundown of the basic powerboat buying essentials needs to make some omissions. So we’re ignoring PWs (personal watercraft), hovercraft, amphibious boats and catamarans; and we’re also sidelining some of the industry’s most glorious wildcards (like the C-Fury, Hysucat, Circraft and Zego).

Once we also eradicate displacement and semi-displacement craft, then what we’re hopefully left with is an excellent starting point for the novice boater in search of a rapid monohull that matches his needs...

powerboat buying: a traditional bow rider

The traditional shape is just one of several bow rider formats on the market.

Choosing a bow rider: open bows for sunny days

If you want lounging space up front on a compact platform for sunny weather frolics, a bow rider makes good sense. But while the tapered forward lines of the traditional shape mean space ahead of the helm can be quite tight, the development of deck boats (and even some clever pontoon boat substitutes) means you now have more choice.

The idea with these new craft is to sacrifice some of the aesthetic appeal and (more often than not) a little sporting ability in order to take the beam further forward and create more internal seating. In the traditional camp, recent highlights include the Sea Ray 190 SPX (pictured) and in the broad-bowed camp, the Interboat Neo 7 and Bayliner’s new Element XR7 look like powerful contenders for those who want more room to spread out.

Otherwise, for extra depth of freeboard and greater dynamic practicality, look towards Scandinavia’s ever-capable bevvy of builders (not least, Finnmaster and Yamarin). And for a bow rider that can turn its hand to watersports, look for powerful inboard engines, extra cockpit seating, wakeboard towers, automated throttle settings and wake-tweaking devices like ballast tanks and fins. See more in our guide to bow riders.

Powerboat buying: centre console

A compact centre console helps generate plenty of deck space on a small boat.

Centre console powerboats: open decks for versatility

If you want a general-purpose craft, it makes sense to look toward an emptier deck with less built-in furniture and more versatility in fit-out and specification. A centre console (as on the Yamarin Cross 53CC, pictured) leaves plenty of room for fishing and brings with it the scope for adding furniture in the way that best matches your needs.

In fact, a couple of Finnish manufacturers take this approach to its logical zenith with deck furniture you can personally add and remove with simple finger bolts – and there are other benefits to this layout too. For instance, all other things being equal, a simple centre console with an open deck tends to mean a more accessible price, lower weight, more agile handling and greater running efficiency. Just bear in mind that if you’re looking at this kind of boat, it pays to maximise the value of that open deck with a range of easy embarkation points; and if you’re getting a larger CC model, you should also think about adding a loo inside the helm console. See our guide to centre consoles.

Powerboat buying: RIB

RIBs now span the gap from commercial workhorses to sophisiticated yacht tenders.

RIBs: inflatable collars for work and play

A RIB is a hard-hulled planing craft with an inflatable collar. Historically, it has been a stalwart of military and commercial applications, where its strength, stability, load-carrying capacity, open deck and softness of ride can make it particularly effective. But today, the fat-tubed, Samson-post wielding workhorses of the past have been joined by slick, tapered speed machines and LED-lit party platforms.

As ever, size, price and intended usage are key to your decision, but keep in mind some of the options too. Your driving style will determine whether you want impact-mitigation seats, traditional jockey seats, benches or leaning posts. Your budget and usage will also dictate whether you want cheaper PVC tubes or a harder wearing (and more expensive) Hypalon collar.

Again, an open deck is more versatile for fishing, watersports, diving and load carrying but if you want a simple cruiser or a sunny, sociable platform, then lounging spaces and a heads in the console (or even an overnighting cabin) might take priority. The power options, like the hull shape and fit-out, will be decided by your usage, so you need to decide what kind of boater you are - a briny tough guy or a Monaco playboy; a hard-arsed offshore speed merchant or a low-octane, fairweather family man. Work it out (be honest) and select your boat accordingly. Also read our RIB buying guide.

Powerboat buying - a crusier.

The more bulbous cruiser prioritises accommodation over sport.

Power cruisers: all about the cabin

Broadly speaking, there are two types of cruiser: small, sporty craft with compact ‘cuddy’ cabins in the bow; and broader, more spacious people carriers, where the emphasis is less on performance and more on comfy accommodation. In either case, a bow thruster and some trim tabs will help make things easier, drier and more comfortable when the wind blows.

Some convertible furniture either down below or on the main deck (under canvas) can also help increase the sleeping capacity – and the location of the galley is also a big consideration. Do you want it up top (freeing up the accommodation) or down below (freeing up the sun deck for seating)? Either way, a little space and some closing partitions between the sleeping areas can help improve privacy and a well designed flow of light and air will help keep the below decks spaces fairly bright and well ventilated.

However, if this is your first boat, don’t spend a fortune on a 60-footer simply because you can. Start off with something cheaper, more compact, more manageable and more efficient. After a season’s use, you will be in a much better position not just to operate a boat with confidence but to decide what size and shape really works for you. See our pick of the best boats for power cruising.

Powerboat buying: a walkaround fisher

A walkaround fisher with a small cabin is a great choice for the undecided.

If you really don’t know, how about a walkaround fisher?

If none of the above strikes a cord and you feel like your preferred recreation is an overlap between several categories, then you need a boat that does a bit of everything. That way, you will be able to hone your preferences by isolating the features you want and recognising those you could do without.

One of the best boats for this is a compact, recreational, walkaround sports fisher with a small cabin space and enough grunt for watersports. A boat like a used Trophy 2102 (or the inboard 2502 version) would be just the ticket, offering enough of everything to teach you what you need to know, but without breaking the bank.

For practical advice with the boat buying process read our full boat buying guide.

Written by: Alex Smith
Alex Smith is a journalist, copywriter and magazine editor with a long history in boating and a happy addiction to the water. He’s worked on boats, lived on boats, bought boats, sold boats and – when he’s not actually on board a boat – he can generally be found in his Folkestone office, tapping away at the computer and gazing out to sea.