Best Center Console Boats for Families in 2024

Learn why center consoles make great family boats.

Center console boats may be the boats with the most versatile layout on the water and that’s what makes them great family boats. Certainly, center consoles are known for fishing. And why not: the 360 degrees of mobility all around the boat means anglers can move about with ease. But, that same wide-open layout that endears anglers also makes them great for families with kids because everyone can move around freely without being relegated to the relatively small area of an aft cockpit. Furthermore, docking the boat is easier when it has a center console layout. One can easily walk to the bow of the boat without having to traverse a narrow side deck. Naturally, center console boats, such as those made by Scout, Grady-White, Regulator, Invincible, or Contender are designed to handle rough seas. This means a family out for the day can feel safe and secure and be assured of a smooth ride in a center console boat. In fact,some center console boats, like those from Boston whaler, are unsinkable due to the way they are built. Another trait of center console boats is the ease of maintenance provided by the self-bailing, all fiberglass deck. Spill a drink? Kids with sandy feet coming aboard? Simply hose the mess out of the scuppers.

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A VHF marine band radio is your first line of communication on the water, allowing you to talk to the Coast Guard and other boat traffic. Use Channel 16 only for hailing and emergencies.

Safety Tip Provided by the U.S. Coast Guard

10 Recommended Family-Friendly Center Consoles

Some center console boats make great family boats because of a lower price, and many families live on a budget. For this reason, only single-engine boats made our list. But price isn’t everything. Another criterion to make our list is that the boat has space for a private head aboard. And, while open deck space is a center console attribute that’s great for families, boats on our list must offer both forward and aft seating, either optional or standard. Other center console boats may possess a particular feature or qualities that families who prefer certain activities will benefit from. Finally, all of these boats offer a good selection of standard and optional fishing equipment, so we did not mention these in our summaries. 

Axopar 22 Spyder

The only family center console on our list with a twin-stepped hull, buyers will find the Axopar 22 Spyder best for watersports, especially if they opt for the Jobe package.

Axopar 22 running in the bay
The bluff deck deflects spray. Courtesy Axopar

The Spyder is a center console with low profile, striking lines, a folding cockpit bench, and an integral swim platform. The wedge shape means it has less interior space compared to similar length boats with traditional lines. Fore and aft seats come standard, and there is a wide variety of optional sofas. Other available options include a T-top version and the Jobe watersports version rated for up to 200 horsepower and seven people. Optional head inside the console. Price: Not published, but we’ve seen some advertised at about $90,000 with the full JOBE package, multiple other options and max power.

What makes this boat great for families?

  1. Twin stepped hull makes for efficiency
  2. Jobe watersports package will be appreciated by skiers and wakeboarders
  3. Eurostyling allows family boaters self-expression

What could be better?

  1. This boat’s styling may cause its interior space to be less than that of similar sized boats
  2. Not the best for families who fish.

Boston Whaler 220 Dauntless

Families seeking a center console that is absolutely unsinkable and set up very well for inshore fishing should consider this boat.

With an available optional head and optional bow cushion, this single-engine center console makes our list. It offers no aft seating and its cockpit is shallower than the other boats on the list. This foam-filled, unsinkable boat is rated for nine people and 250 horsepower. A T-top (either canvas or fiberglass) or Bimini top can be ordered optionally. Price: Starting at $107,506.

What makes this boat great for families?

  1. Unsinkable construction inspires confidence
  2. Top finish and iconic brand give pride of ownership

What could be better?

  1. Low freeboard means a shallow cockpit, which families with small children may shy away from
  2. No aft bench seat

Carolina Skiff 21 Ultra Elite

Families prioritizing fishing in shallower water will appreciate this boat’s fishing features and shallow 8-inch hull draft.

Carolina Skiff 21 Ultra Elite
The Carolina Skiff 21 Ultra Elite is a great fit for boating families that enjoy fishing. Carolina Skiff

The Carolina Skiff 21 Ultra Elite boasts a multicolor hull and upholstery, and comes ready for family fun with wrap-around upholstered bow seating and folding jump seats in the stern. An optional head ensures comfort and privacy, and a bolt-on swim platform with ladder ensures swimming and tubing safety and ease. The Carolina Skiff Ultra Elite is set up for fishing, with four vertical rod holders on each side of the console, plus horizontal rod racks on both inwales and four flush-mount trolling-rod holders atop the gunwales. A 20-gallon livewell is concealed below the aft deck. It’s rated for 200 horsepower, and a Bimini or T-top are available as options. Price: Not Published. We found a fully loaded new 2023 one for sale online at $78,000.

What makes this boat great for families?

  1. Low price for a well-equipped boat
  2. Multicolor hull and upholstery choices add fun and style for families
  3. Shallow draft makes navigating shallow waters easier and aids performance from more modest power

What could be better?

  1. Its shallow V hull means it’s not the best suited boat for open water
  2. Publish a price so families know what to expect

Cobia 220 CC

The most offshore-ready of the boats on our list, this boat is best for families who plan on plying big water like large lakes and the ocean.

Lots of freeboard gives this boat a deep cockpit, an attribute many family boaters seek. It’s rated to carry nine people and for up to a 250-horsepower outboard. There’s a standard boarding ladder on its integrated platform, a standard flip-open stern bench, and a hard T-top is optional as is a pump-out toilet for the console head compartment. Standard seating cushions can be supplemented with optional bow and other cushions. Trailer optional. Price: Starting at $73,391.

What makes this boat great for families?

  1. Deep cockpit instills confidence in families with small children
  2. Deep V hull, high freeboard, ample fuel capacity make it capable on big water
  3. Standard flip-open aft bench

What could be better?

Its V hull and high sides require more power for the same performance as boats optimized for more protected inshore waters

Nothing says ‘I love you’ like making sure the kids’ life jackets are snugged up and properly buckled.

Safety Tip Provided by the U.S. Coast Guard

Robalo R180

Best boat on our list for storing in a home garage, thanks to a fold-down windshield.

Standard aft jump seats, a standard bow cushion and room for an optional porta-potty in the console (but, boy it’s a tight space) put this boat on the list. The Robalo R180 features an integral platform, standard trailer and is rated to carry eight people and up to 150 horsepower. A Bimini top or T-top is available optionally. We like the optional fold-down windshield which aids in garage storage. Price: Starts at $46,295.

What makes this boat great for families?

  1. Easily trailerable behind a modest vehicle
  2. May fit in a garage thanks to optional fold down windshield
  3. Sturdy build, quality accessories and fine finish

What could be better?

  1. Boats this size have only a little room for a head

Starcraft SVX 231 OB CC

This family-friendly center console offers the deepest cockpit of any 23-foot center console we have been aboard.

Starcraft SVX 231 OB CC running
The SVX 321 OB CC offers an agile ride. Bill Doster

This 23-footer features the deepest cockpit of the boats on our list, a feature families often seek. There is a portable head in the console, a built-in swim platform with ladder and your choice of a standard Bimini top or optional T-top Hull stripe (choice of color) standard. Bow filler cushions are optional. Standard ski tow eye. The cockpit is not self-bailing. Rated for 14 people and up to 300 horsepower. Price: $72,177 base price with a Suzuki 200.

What makes this boat great for families?

  1. Deep cockpit allays the fears of many parents
  2. Affordable price for its size and power
  3. Lots of color choices make it fun

What could be better?

  1. A self-bailing cockpit would make washing down easier

Scarab 235 Open ID

A family-friendly boat with a transom tailgate that makes it the hit of the beach or sandbar.

Scarab Jet 235 Open ID on the water
The 235 Open ID is capable of handling multiple boating duties. Courtesy Scarab Jet Boats

This is the one boat with twin engines to make our list. Its base configuration comes with twin 170-hp Rotax jet drives. That gives it superior maneuvering around the dock, but two engines are liable to cost more fuel to run. The boat offers a unique fold-down transom “ tailgate”  and swim ladder which will be a hit at the sandbar. Bow and stern sunpads are available as options. An optional head is available. Also it can be optioned with ballast tanks to provide wakesurfing fun. Standard trailer. Price: MSRP of $92,200.

What makes this boat great for families?

  1. Jet power quiets fears of those shy of propellers
  2. Twin engines and joystick makes it highly maneuverable at the dock
  3. Graphics, EVA foam and wide color array to choose from

What could be better?

  1. Twin engines cost more in fuel and maintenance than a single

Scout 215 XSF 

A family-friendly center console with a high-tech build and options that can make this boat the jewel of any port.

Scout 215 XSF
The Scout 215 XSF combines a solid build with numerous amenities. Scout Boats

This 21-foot center console comes standard with family features like a bow cushion set, port and starboard swim platforms, and swim ladder. Optionally, families can order a folding stern bench, a Bimini top or a variety of T-tops, and a porta potty. No factory trailer is offered. It is rated to carry nine people and for up to 200 horsepower. Price: $67,195 base price with a Mercury 150.

What makes this boat great for families?

  1. Standard cushions a-plenty
  2. Twin swim platforms
  3. Self-bailing cockpit

What could be better?

  1. No factory trailer offered

Wellcraft 222 Fisherman

This family-friendly, big-water center console offers the most range of any boat on our list thanks to its 103-gallon fuel tank.

This boat offers folding cockpit seats, a telescopic swim ladder on its integral platform and  portable head inside the console, all standard. Optional bow cushions and optional Bimini top or T-top are other family desirables. The black helm is non-glare but we would like to see a grab rail around the windshield. It is rated for eight people and 250 horsepower. Price: Starts at $84,250 MSRP. 

What makes this boat great for families?

  1. Folding cockpit seats
  2. High sides and a deep V add comfort for big water boating
  3. Nice head in the console

What could be better?

  1. Windshield needs a grab rail around it

Yamaha 190 FSH Sport

This family-friendly center console comes with (much) more standard equipment than the others on our list.

This jet-powered 19 foot center console offers a “ changing area with privacy curtain,” inside the console. We thought that met our requirement that there be space for a head in order to make this list – though we wish Yamaha actually offered a head. Standard aft seats, bow cushion and trailer round it out. The T-top is even standard. It’s rated for eight people and powered by a 1.9 liter Yamaha waterjet. Price: $42,799.

What makes this boat great for families?

  1. Jet power makes those who fear props more comfortable
  2. Standard trailer
  3. Nice standard seating

What could be better?

  1. Accommodations for a head are marginal

What to Look For in a Family-Friendly Center Console Boat

Family boating is a term with a loose definition. We’ll say that it means a versatile boat that offers at least some degree of creature comforts. The list of suggested items that follows is not meant to be taken as a “standards” list. They may be standard or optional. The point is, the following features are important to look for if buying a family center console. 

  1. Swim Step/ Platform: Family boating involves swimming and watersports. Look for a sturdy swim platform with a ladder of at least three rungs.
  2. Sun Protection: Make sure a Bimini top or T-top is available from the builder. These are essential to providing the shade that adds comfort to long days on the water.
  3. Insulated Storage: If a seat or fishbox is already insulated, that means one less cooler needs to clutter the deck. Family boats need space for people. 
  4. Sufficient Power: While two anglers might be perfectly happy with a smaller engine, family boating involves taking a crowd, and may also involve watersports – both of which require plenty of power. For these reasons, family boaters should opt for engines close to, or at, the boat’s maximum rating. 
  5. Seating Cushion Sets: Folding benches and flip-up jump seats are some of the seating musts a family center console should have.
  6. A Head or Marine Toilet in a private space is an essential piece of equipment for family center console.
  7. Self-Bailing Cockpit: This means any water that comes in drains by gravity. It makes the boat easier to wash, allows it to remain uncovered at a slip or mooring, and can make it safer in rough water.

Make sure your Engine Cut-Off Switch lanyard is attached to your person whenever you’re underway. They’re now required on all open boats under 26 feet.

Safety Tip Provided by the U.S. Coast Guard

Closing Remarks & FAQs:

Center console boats offer deck space that makes them suitable for a variety of activities This is the major reason a center console boat can make a family-friendly boat. Generally better construction, ride and seaworthiness compared to bowriders, deck boats and pontoons also make center consoles a good choice of family boat.See the questions below for more insight. 

Are center console boats good for families?

Yes. Center console boats offer the deck space that makes them suitable for a variety of activities This is the major reason a center console boat can make a family-friendly boat. Generally better construction, ride and seaworthiness compared to bowriders, deck boats and pontoons also make center consoles a good choice of family boat.

Do center console boats have toilets?

Yes. Most center console boats offer a private space where a Marine Sanitation Device (MSD), a.k.a, “porta potty” can be located so that nature’s call can be answered privately and in comfort. While the boats on this list are generally smaller, some larger center consoles offer a complete head with a ceramic toilet, a sink and even a shower.

How many passengers can an average center console boat hold?

The boats on this list may be rated for up to eight people. Be advised that the rating doesn’t mean there is comfortable space for that many people; it just means that many can legally be aboard. A 20-foot boat can probably comfortably take 4-6 people, while being rated for 8, as an example.

What is the most affordable family boat?

It’s not a center console. Self-bailing fiberglass decks, rugged construction, deep-v hulls that require more power, and marine grade rigging are all hallmarks of center console boats. These are more expensive features to execute. However, boats with lesser builds, though cheaper to buy, often require more and more frequent repair, so center consoles may actually be cheaper to own. Much depends upon whether you are using the boat in freshwater or saltwater and how you plan to use it.

Are center console boats good for lakes?

Yes. The same attributes of open deck space and versatility apply. The rough water capability, corrosion-resistant coastal rigging and other center console attributes may not be as critical on lakes, though they’re certainly welcome.

Are center console boats good for watersports?

Are center console boats good for watersports?
Yes. In the context of a family setting, where water sports is one of several activities to be enjoyed, watersports can be part of the center console’s bag of tricks. Center console boats don’t generate wakes suitable for wakesurfing. As for wakeboarding, it can be done, but a center console’s wake is generally too small, though basic wakeboarding can be accomplished. Waterskiing (though not slalom) and tubing are excellent sports for center console owners to enjoy.