While it’s perfectly possible to go winter boating in any kind of craft, there is no doubt that some are better equipped for winter work than others.
For instance, while the hardy breed of skipper might be content to fuse his frozen knuckles to the wheel and flagellate the very bones of his skull with ice-whipped brine, I prefer a sheltered helm with proper heating, cooling and ventilation facilities. And if you’re more like me than him, then you might also enjoy a modest galley to help revive your spirits with hot food and drinks, plus a bit of safe external deck for tying off, disembarking or simply making your way around the boat.
As regards the more fundamental equipment, you obviously want a hull with a proven track record of handling rough conditions - which means a soft, dry ride and rock solid build, plus a raft of simple but often overlooked accessories like demisters, windscreen wipers and a big dash space for a proper electronics suite. And if you plan on some serious winter cruising, you might also want to consider a second (or at least an auxiliary) engine and a good-sized (ideally twin) fuel tank for a generous range and some extra margin for error.
Now plainly, in our search for five boats that fit the bill, it would be the easiest thing in the world to pick a bunch of tough, semi-displacement, 60-foot expedition trawlers, but I’m not going to do that because we also want our helming habits to encompass a bit of sport, plus sufficient versatility for some easy summer fun when the dark days of winter come to an end. What follows therefore are five boats that will make mincemeat of winter boating without stripping you of the capacity to embrace the various pleasures Spring, Summer and Autumn have to offer...
(1) Sargo 25 Explorer
Targa owners will no doubt enjoy telling me I’m wrong to pick the little Sargo because they’re so dearly in love with their own boats – but the fact remains that I’ve tried both in a variety of guises and if I had to pick any winter boat for a vaguely sensible budget, it would still be a Sargo 25 with the Explorer package.
Not only does it offer as much versatility as any 25-foot planing craft could possibly be expected to achieve, but it does so on an authentic four-season platform that also happens to look sexy rather than pedestrian. Despite being the baby of the fleet it still comes with a Category B Offshore rating, plus a separate heads and sleeping for four. Okay, so the portside mini-galley is modest and every spare inch is made to work hard for a living but with a secure walkaround layout, great sea manners and plenty of helming refinement, it’s an extraordinarily effective package.
(2) Cheetah 7.9
If you want an authentic winter boat, it never hurts to copy the professionals – so how about a soft, stable, heavily built, efficient-running catamaran from a builder who specialises in creating a custom-built package on an established and well-proven hull? Cheetah Marine is just such a builder and the modestly proportioned 7.9 is just such a boat. The company was founded more than 20 years ago by a commercial fisherman who wanted a boat that could continue fishing when small monohulls were forced to take refuge. It’s an approach that won immediate success – and today, with a well-established build methodology of customer-focused commissions, you can simply select the rock solid underpinnings of whichever length of Cheetah you want and then factor in the layout and luxuries that appeal to you the most.
For more on Cheetah boats, see: Twin-Hulled Powerboats: the Advantages of Power Catamarans
(3) Dale Nelson 34 Hard Top Classic
Dale Nelson is famous for its high-end, classically styled, semi-displacement cruisers, but since the spectacularly successful launch of the 23 (a small open sports boat), its appetite for planing craft seems to have been well and truly piqued.
In collaboration with TT Boat Designs, they have created a second planing boat in the form of the new 34 – and this one is available not just as an Open version but also as a Hard Top or "Classic" model. The hull uses a soft, finely angled entry and a single engine installation from 150 to 370hp or twin engines from 150 to 260hp for performance in excess of 35 knots. In terms of accommodation, you get a two-berth forward cabin with heads and shower plus a second two-berth cabin aft and a modular options list that enables you to position the galley either above deck or down below. With impeccable craftsmanship, a proud reputation for seakeeping prowess and all the offshore, passage-making heritage you could want, a Dale 34 is a sports boat to keep even the most demanding ex-Admiral entertained.
For more on the Dale Nelson 23, see: Powerboat Bucket List: 10 Best Boats to Drive
(4) Scorpion Sting
Scorpion RIBs are widely regarded as some of the best in the world – and that’s due in no small part to the company’s success on the race circuit.
With a raft of endurance world records to its name, it generates exactly the kind of balanced, soft-riding offshore hulls you need for a really confidence-inspiring passage in the middle of winter. However, you should ignore the smaller, pared back, super-fast, open rocket ships of the range and take a look instead at the company’s flagship craft, the ten-metre ‘Sting’. This is the only cabin-equipped boat in the fleet and in addition to a range in excess of 400 nautical miles, a top speed of more than 50 knots, a deep, safe cockpit and a choice of single or twin diesel inboards, the option of a hardtop makes its list of sparkling four-season credentials difficult to ignore.
Read more about Scorpion UK: 10 great British boat builders
(5) Targa 44
In 2005, the Scandinavian Boat Show in Stockholm saw the introduction of the Targa 42. It won the "Motorboat of the Show" award for its capacity to offer comfy and practical service both “among icebergs and in burning sun."
In 2007, this boat morphed into the Targa 44 with a modified transom for a longer waterline length, a larger engine room and the Volvo Penta IPS system. Once again, it won award after award and as the current flagship of the Targa fleet, you can see why. The wheelhouse and walkaround configuration are perfect for winter work, the hull is imperiously soft riding and well balanced and the quality of build is profoundly impressive. Add in the option of the CFC (Comfort Fore Cabin) layout with a raised foredeck for extra headroom down below and you have a do-it-all, four-season package that very few builders in the world can match.