On the face of it, a length of around 15 feet (4.57 metres) seems like a bizarre limitation to impose upon the boat buying process. After all, a premium 15-foot boat package from the likes of Boston Whaler can cost much the same as an 18 or even 20-foot package from a more affordable builder. So if you can afford more, why on earth would you peg yourself back on the basis of a boat’s physical size?
Well the fact of the matter is that with boats in general and planing boats in particular, the fuel bill for a smaller craft tends to be far lower than that for a large one. A compact boat is also much cheaper and easier to tow behind a compact family car; and if you want to further reduce your costs without compromising security by keeping the entire rig at home, it’s useful if your garage is capable of accommodating it. In short, a good 15-footer should be big enough to give you and your family a proper taste of coastal recreation, without weighing you down with the logistical difficulties and escalating costs of a more substantial craft.
Happily, there are plenty of boats to choose from in this bracket. Fletcher immediately springs to mind with its engagingly capable GTO, as does AMT, Bella, Buster, Ring and Salcombe Flyer – and that’s to say nothing of the pretty little 16 from English Harbour Yachts, the affordable leisure platforms of Greek builder, Olympic, or any number of compact high-performance RIBs or shallow, efficient dory-style craft from well regarded British yards. And yet the following five boats seem to present a more complete and convincing case than most.
(1) Orkney 452
Orkney’s ‘Series II’ 15-foot sea fisher is not an especially sexy or groundbreaking piece of work but it’s indisputably easy to own. A lightweight 30hp outboard should see you to speeds approaching 25 knots and if all you need is a pottering companion, you can rein that right in to 20hp for an easy 18 knots or even 15hp for a gentle, affordable cruise. You also get the option of a compact cuddy to get your head down or to stow some extra gear, keeping the cockpit clear for whatever kind of recreation takes your fancy. And if you want something even more manageable, compact and affordable, the traditional 440 model will also plane on as little as 15hp. Either way, there are far more people who swear by Orkneys than swear at them.
(2) Ribquest 4.8 Expedition
This ‘Expedition’ version of Ribquest’s tough little 15-footer was conceived specifically for a circumnavigation of Ireland in 2013 so its capacity to handle big seas is not in question. The semi-closed foredeck with dual side-by-side console offers better communal integration than inline jockeys, as well as radically uprated weather protection and much improved dry storage capacity. In terms of dynamics, it enjoys the same deep-V hull with high sheer bow that has won Ribquest a powerful reputation for its soft, dry, forgiving ride – and such is the versatility of the options list that you can pretty much spec this platform in whatever configuration best suits your needs.
(3) C-Fury Patrol AWC
The compact and strikingly original Patrol AWC from C-Fury combines the handlebar control of a personal watercraft with the twin hulls of a cat, the inflatable collar of a RIB and the efficiency gains of a hydrofoil. Powered by a four-stroke Yamaha outboard, it is capable of speeds in excess of 35 knots and cruising economy of as little as ten litres per hour. It’s brilliantly simple for a single person to launch, drive and recover; it’s easy to store and tow; and on the water, it can comfortably carry four adults and a child at 20 knots across a one-metre sea. At little more than 13 feet in length, it lacks the outright recreational versatility that only open deck space can bring, but with quality build, allied to pace, softness of ride, reliable tracking, stability at rest and the capacity to behave like a bit of a hooligan if you treat it to plenty of throttle and trim, it’s a must for any compact sports boat shortlist.
(4) Endeavour Sea Jeep
The Endeavour Sea Jeep is a simple British fishing conveyance with a cathedral-style hull and modest outboard power. It’s built by Fletcher, who have been treating us to small, affordable, over-achieving family sports boats for decades and as you would expect, the Sea Jeep ticks a great many boxes. The combination of a short foredeck and a forward helm position opens up as much cockpit space as you could want on a 15-footer and the use of a screen hatch also enables you to make maximum use of the internal beam. The deep freeboard makes all kinds of sense for families with small children and with the top-end 50hp option, the humble Sea Jeep will also treat you to a variety of towed watersports. With an all-in price tag from little more than £11,000 it’s a very tidy package but if you need a little extra space, the 500 model is also well worth a look.
(5) Pioner Viking
The robust commercial merits of polyethylene boats tends to make them feel like a bit of a tangent for the family leisure boater – but the Pioner Viking has plenty to recommend it. With its shallow draft and its ultra-resilient, low-maintenance construction, it’s the perfect boat for beaching in sheltered coastal bays and remote estuary coves; and its impressive deck space also makes it very useful for fishing and diving duties. As you might expect, it can be quite hard riding in the lumps - and it certainly won’t win many admiring glances for its aesthetic loveliness. But if you want a lifetime of idiot-proof, fairweather family boating for up to six people, it’s a top bit of kit. And if you fancy something even more practical, give the extraordinary ten-man Pioner Multi a go.
If you've had enough of the world of boats you can afford, have a break and check out: 5 super stylish powerboats or Six perfect party boats.