A good party boat needs plenty of deck space, lots of seating, a serious swim platform, a high-end sound system, a fridge, a heads compartment and enough grunt to pull a wakeboarder. It also needs some decent storage for a day’s baggage, plus some dedicated spots to stretch out and sunbathe. The option of a few extras, like sparkly LED deck lights and easy-erect biminis doesn’t hurt, neither does a degree of versatility in layout, so you can configure it to match your preferences. Now of course, any boat with a big deck and generous carrying capacity can be pimped with a few extra seats, sun loungers, picnic tables and disco balls. But if you want a purpose-built party boat rather than a monstrous looking folly, the following six examples are a great place to start.
(1) Pontoon boat
Ugly. Unsophisticated. Slow. Limited. These are just some of the criticisms UK boaters routinely level at the pontoon boat – and with certain exceptions, they’re pretty well justified.
But if you plan on keeping to sheltered waters this summer, a rectangular platform balanced on a set of pontoons, with a modest outboard engine, seating in abundance, a wet bar and a heads compartment, is about as good as it gets.
Of course, my American colleagues will be disgusted that I haven’t picked a specific model and manufacturer but that’s because there are no established importers of pontoon boats in the UK. So if you can cope with the logistics of importing one yourself, then simply go for the least offensive looking model you can find and spec it in whatever way matches your needs. You will still have to put up with a dull drive and sniggers of ridicule from the UK’s pontoon-resistant public, but a day out on the water with family and friends will rarely have been so easy to enjoy (see Pontoon boats: are they set to grow in the UK?).
(2) SACS Strider 18
With its inherently limited internal beam and restricted storage space, you might not have expected a RIB to make it into our party boat shortlist, but the SACS flagship is not your average example.
With a length of 56 feet, a beam of 17 feet, seating for 22 people, performance in excess of 50 knots and space for an outboard-powered tender, it’s an extraordinary object lesson in the art of Italian excess. Okay, so the two cabins are nothing to write home about and the price tag (around a million Euros) is a bit of a challenge, but if you want a RIB with an upper deck specifically honed for party people, there are none better equipped than this. See the SACS Strider 18 review: unashamed bravado.
(3) Bayliner Element XR7
Despite a modest length of around 25 feet, the latest addition to Bayliner’s user-friendly Element line is rated to carry 16 people (and featured in my list: 5 of the best boats of 2015). Like a pontoon boat of the same size, it also offers a useful boarding platform at both bow and stern, plus four huge lounge seats that enable you to face forward, inward or aft.
In the centre of the deck, dividing the two main seating areas, you get a port door to access the pontoon, plus a wet bar with (optional) drawer fridge and a heads compartment to starboard.
Crucially, however, the XR7 departs from the traditional pontoon boat formula with a fibreglass monohull that is designed to cater for coastal navigation as well as inland jaunts. It’s by no means a purist driving machine (and a lot of the more desirable features are optional extras) but the fact that the XR7 manages to offer pontoon boat internals without the crippling dynamic limitations or the aesthetic crudeness makes it a very effective all-water party platform.
(4) MasterCraft X55
As MasterCraft’s non-specialist, general-purpose party platform and the largest and most luxurious boat in this famous waterports fleet, the X55 is a blindingly effective piece of work. It comes with class-leading seating capacity (for no fewer than 18 people), plus a heads, a wet bar and a first-rate sound system.
You also get a luxury name to tweak your ego and a vast armoury of glittering LED lights to stoke your happy vibes. In addition to space, quality, seagoing ability (courtesy of the Saltwater Series) and virtually peerless kudos, you also get the promise of some really high-class watersports action. Of course, even on the used market, it doesn’t come cheap, but as sensibly sized party platforms go, the MasterCraft flagship is at the very top of its game. As well as being one of our choice party boats, the MasterCraft X55 also featured in our feature Babe magnets: boats to wow the ladies
(5) Interboat Neo 7
Interboat’s devilishly clever Neo 7 uses a broad, weighty monohull with a generous bow flare, allied to elevated freeboards, an open deck and a trio of basic configurations. Choose between the sociable Lounge layout (with a steering position in the centre of the aft space); the decadent Comfort layout (with the helm on the starboard side amidships); and the action-style Sport layout (with a central steering position and an open transom for watersports).
Whichever layout you choose, you get a colossal bow space lined with wraparound seating, plus elevated guardrails and extraordinarily deep storage compartments. There are plenty of additional options to help tweak the boat for fishing, cruising, sunbathing or dining – and with a V-shaped monohull allied to a flexible power band from 20 to 200hp, this remarkably good-looking hybrid can provide coastal watersports with just as much aplomb as genteel inland pursuits.
(6) Fjord 48 Open
If ever there was a boat designed around the needs of alfresco parties, it would have to be this. The flagship of the Fjord power line is all about open deck entertainment, with a huge aft sunpad behind a ten-man dining area that can convert (via the sinking of the tables and the flipping of the backrests) into a single, unbroken sunbathing platform as large as any I have seen.
Naturally enough, the galley is also positioned up here alongside the helm, so you don’t have to travel far for your refreshments – and you also get a set of recessed bow seats in the front of the forward structure, plus a broad deck that orbits the whole lot, enabling easy movement between the various sections. There are three layouts available, as well as plenty of options, but with its standard palette of glittering black trim, understated grey upholstery and copious teak lining, this fast and unashamedly exclusive boat offers a gorgeous sense of modernity and cleanliness. Just the thing for a taste of the high life...
Fjord Open 48 video: first look.