Twenty feet (around six metres) represents a key transition. It’s the point at which you move from compact, low-powered, entry-level boats where everything is a compromise to platforms where the designer is freed up to tailor the purpose, load up on a few treats and begin maximising a boat’s promise and useability. The variety is of course huge, but the following ten boats shine brightly as superb examples of their type…

20-foot powerboats: Bella 550BR

Bella's 550BR is about as user-friendly as leisure boating gets.

Bella 550 BR

The strikingly modern 550 BR from Bella is full of high-value features that make the ownership experience that little bit better. From the swing-up canvas to the ready-rigged aft infil, the open-access bow locker and the combination of elevated rails and easy embarkation points, it’s a beautiful piece of design. More to the point, it’s great to look at, well built, attractively finished and a treat to use. It’s also very deepset and safe and it runs well on the kind of moderate power that allows you to go boating every day. You can’t ask for more in this bracket.

20-foot powerboats Ranieri 195

The Ranieri 19S with ETEC power is a very pretty boat with a fine drive.

Ranieri 21S

With Evunrude’s new G2 200 DI two-stroke on the transom, this elaborately moulded 40-knot sports boat excites in a way few models in its sector can match. With its fine driver’s helm and its impressively uncompromising hull, it immediately feels like a proper Italian sports boat. True, the standard features list is a bit sparse, the co-pilot’s seat needs better grabbing points and at around £40,000, it’s not the cheapest 20-foot day boating option you can buy. But with a quality helming experience, plenty of storage, lashings of style and a high-grade fit-out, it’s a very satisfying plaything indeed.

20-foot powerboats Sting

The Sting 610 DC; you will struggle to find such affordability anywhere else in this sector.

Sting 610 DC

This new Polish-built, Norwegian-designed cuddy feels more solid, more mature and, in many ways, more grown up than a compact cuddy from one of the American budget brands. Having spoken at length to the designer, Espen Thorup, it’s clear that the concept behind this model, like the rest of the Sting range, is to bring Nordic quality and clarity of thought into a much more affordable price bracket. But with Evinrude’s new G2 150 on the transom to help tailor the aesthetic and tidy the back end, it really doesn’t feel like a budget boat at all. Okay, so it’s not the last word in luxury but it’s as good as it gets at this price.

20-foot powerboats Piscator

The very capable Piscator 580 comes in at little more than £1,000 per foot.

Piscator 580

No - I don’t know how to pronounce the brand name either, but rest assured, this unassuming little fisher is a very engaging piece of work. The fact that it’s larger, prettier and cheaper than the much-loved and increasingly prolific Warrior 175 is an immediate feather in its cap; and its ability to keep you dry and secure in some really aggravated seas is also very striking. True, the 80s styling vibe won’t be for everyone and the helm position is monstrously ill conceived, but the pricing, versatility and entertainment on hand more than make up for that.

20-foot powerboats Clear Aries

The long-bowed Clear Aries Cabin is delightfully Italian.

Clear Aries Cabin

Imported by Nick Weston Edwards of Fine Design Marine (the same company that brings Cormate powerboats into the UK), this lovely looking Italian sports cuddy comes with a surprisingly decent cabin, a small galley and an optional heads. It’s also excellent to drive – and while the cockpit is cramped, the co-pilot seat is conspicuous by its absence and the forward visibility from the aft bench is virtually nonexistent, there are very few boats of this type that look as good, drive as well or leave such happy memories in the mind. In that regard, this quirky but affecting platform might just be the perfect ambassador for the art of Italian boat building.

20-foot powerboats 19SLX

Despite its shallow angles and broad beam, the 43-knot Sea Ray 19 SPX is a treat to drive.

Sea Ray 19 SPX

Despite offering a much larger cockpit, a broader bow, extra seating and a more versatile layout than its predecessor, the first of Sea Ray’s sporting new SPX line (the 19 SPX) is a really outstanding boat to drive. It’s available with a sterndrive set-up, but even in outboard form, an engine like the Mercury F150 sees this spacious, youthful and versatile party platform run with vigour, balance, pace and agility. And with a price around the £30,000 mark, it also happens to be a very affordable way to get on the water.

20-foot powerboats Flipper 640

The Flipper 640 SC is as mature and sophisticated as any open boat of its size.

Flipper 640 SC

Flipper’s new 640 SC is a class act. Its trim aft bench, its generous two-man centre console and its asymmetrical C-shaped bow seating ensure easy movement all-round. It also provides massive storage in convenient locations throughout the boat, plus great comfort and protection for both Skipper and co-pilot. It looks superb, its finish feels very high-end and in terms of the driving dynamics, everything is exactly right, flattering the novice and keeping all on board safe and relaxed, even when the seas are complex and ugly.

20-foot powerboats AMT 190HT

The AMT 190HT is one of the best compact hard tops you will ever drive.

AMT 190 HT

Designed and built in Finland, the AMT 190 HT might not look like much, but it remains the best hard top model I’ve tested in 20 years. The walk-through layout with rigid roof and enclosed bow deck provide safe movement and sheltered space, without critically compromising your view and the open aft cockpit can be quickly protected with the standard canopy. Better still, she also happens to handle like a race boat in miniature, with such lovely balance and agility that you find yourself hammering at maximum throttle every time an opportunity presents itself. You could spec anything up to 115hp, but with Honda’s BF90 on the transom, this is a package in perfect harmony.

20-foot powerboats Bayliner VR6

Bayliner's VR6 behaves in exacty the way a sporting dayboat should.

Bayliner VR6

This relatively traditional bow rider is a real treat, both for large families in need of communal inboard space and for keen drivers in search of a thrill. With its broad bow, its wealth of convertible seating and the luxury of a sterndrive option, this delightfully rapid and lightfooted performer is strong in every regard. Forget about Bayliner’s grotesquely misguided Element range, with its retrospective tweaks and its compromised dynamics. By adopting a proven formula, bringing it up to date and executing it properly, this fast, affordable and effective piece of boat building is Bayliner at its very best.

20-foot powerboats Husky R6

The Husky R6 is a neatly packaged exponent of the leisure market's burgeoning love for aluminium.

Finnmaster Husky R6

At long last, we’re seeing widespread recognition of the excellence of aluminium as a building material for leisure boats - and Finnmaster’s Husky range has been quick to get on board. As the second smallest of the four Husky models, the R6 offers aluminium construction in both hull and deck, plus easy boarding steps all round, a high freeboard for safety, an open foredeck for versatility of application and an elevated windscreen that prioritises protection over style. With Yamaha’s lightweight 1.8-litre F130 outboard on the transom, you can expect around 38 knots, allied to a frugal 26-knot cruise with fuel flow of less than 19 litres per hour. It’s exactly what an aluminium leisure boat ought to be.

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.