The day has dawned upon us, the recreational boaters of the world, when we can find six-figure price tags on 21-foot runabouts. (Google it if you don’t believe me.) That revelation alone might prompt the average boater to throw his hands in the air and ask in exasperation, “What’s a guy gotta do to get a boat around here?”
Fear not; there are still boats to be had that can put you on the water without obliterating your bottom line. In fact, here are six fun, great boats that cost less than $20,000. One of them might do the job for you.
Saltwater Fishing: Carolina Skiff 17 DLX
Who’s ready to go fishing? Carolina Skiff has been building inexpensive fiberglass hulls designed to get anglers into the salt for decades. We’ve seen dealer specials on the Internet that state the 17 DLX can be had for $16,300 with a Mercury 50 hp FourStroke plus a galvanized trailer.
Price: $14,000 (no engine)
More Information: carolinaskiff.com
The 17 DLX features Carolina Skiff’s well-known, flat-bottom hull design, which gives the boat excellent stability at rest as well as improves efficiency while running on plane in calm seas. The drawback is that flat-bottom skiffs tend to pound in chop and heavy seas, sometimes causing a wet, uncomfortable ride — although the boat comes standard with Smart Tabs to improve the overall ride. The upside is a spacious and stable fishing platform that is easy to maintain and clean. Basically a “wash and go” boat, it makes ownership not only economical but time-thrifty too. Another advantage these flat-bottom skiffs enjoy is the ability to float in shallow water. While we list the draft at 3 feet with the engine’s drive down, it can float in around 1 foot of water when the engine is tilted above the hull bottom.
The 17 DLX is a center-console model with large casting platforms in the bow and at the transom. An adjustable backrest and cushion seat turn the cooler into a leaning post for the helm. An 18-gallon livewell comes standard. You can select from several options to make the boat even fishier, including rod holders and a raw-water washdown. The console has plenty of room for mounting electronics, and there’s an option to add a trolling motor rig to the bow.
Sporty Boating: Glastron GT160
The classic 16-foot bowrider is a staple of American boating. Glastron is one of the few builders to still offer an entry-level runabout of this size. The beauty of it is you can own a sporty little boat that seats six passengers without needing a mega SUV to tow it to the water. It costs less than $20,000 with a 75 hp Evinrude E-TEC outboard and a trailer. Check Glastron’s website for special deals that it runs periodically that could net a lower price with a different power package.
More Information: glastron.com
With the 75 hp E-TEC, the boat hit a top speed of 36.2 mph and climbed onto plane in 4.5 seconds. With the small 12-gallon fuel tank, the GT160 has a max range of 75 miles when running at an approximately 20 mph cruise speed. That’s more than enough for a few hours at the lake, whether taking the kids tubing or skiing or just cruising around carving sporty S-curves.
What you get with the GT160 is a classic runabout layout, with twin bucket seats protected behind a full raked windshield and a bench running along the transom that seats three. Two can lounge in the bow cockpit. The swim steps to either side of the motorwell are large for a boat of this size, allowing for decent water access for tow sports. A ski pylon raises the tow rope above the outboard. The steps have nonslip padding, and there’s a two-step swim ladder on the starboard side. An insole ski locker hides the toys. While it’s good for tow sports, the standard two-tone gelcoat package also gives it a sporty look, like all those memorable classic runabouts of our youth.
Freshwater Fishing: Tracker Pro Guide V-175 SC
With its lightweight aluminum hull, the Tracker Pro Guide V-175 SC can be towed with a modest vehicle. It can be had with a 90 hp Mercury FourStroke outboard and a trailer for less than $20,000, giving you a stable, multipurpose freshwater fishing platform.
More Information: trackerboats.com
The V-175 SC has a steep 20-degree deadrise at the transom, which helps it handle rougher water more admirably than other boats of similar length overall. Welded reverse chines also help. On the inside, it has a vinyl floor in the cockpit and marine-grade carpet on the casting platforms. The helm is located at a side console, typical for aluminum boats in this category. The deeper freeboard in the cockpit keeps passengers well protected underway, though the windscreen on the console doesn’t offer much protection from the elements.
Fishing features? Tracker packs a ton into this smaller package. The boat comes standard with a Lowrance Elite-3x color fish finder, two movable, fold-down fishing chairs that fit in any of six pedestal locations, three lockable rod boxes for 8-foot rods, straps to hold rigged rods in place on deck, a 29-gallon livewell aft and a 19-gallon livewell in the bow. The bow is rigged to mount a trolling motor, and the boat comes standard with a Minn Kota PowerDrive motor, capable of 55 pounds of thrust, with a foot pedal and a 54-inch shaft. All of this adds up to a boat you can trailer to any lake behind any vehicle and fish for any species that catches your fancy — from largemouth and smallmouth bass to pike and muskie to walleye.
Entertaining: Bennington 20 SL
Bennington is the largest builder of pontoon boats in the United States, and while it has a mahogany edition 2575 QCW that has a six-figure price tag, it also offers pontoons that are more affordable. Bennington offers the 20 SL with a 50 hp Yamaha for less than $20,000 that still meets the pontoon boat mission of providing plenty of space for relaxing and entertaining on the water.
More Information: benningtonmarine.com
The standard configuration with twin 23-inch tubes holds up to eight passengers. The crew can spread out along the opposing chaise lounges forward — a full couch to starboard and a love seat to port that accommodates the side boarding gate. Additional gates at the bow and transom make this boat accessible from anywhere. An L-shaped bench sits opposite the helm console, and a kidney-shaped cockpit table mounts in a pedestal to aid in entertaining while on the water.
The large vinyl-covered swim platform outside the fencing is a highlight, providing tremendous water access via the ladder mounted to starboard. A high-grade marine carpet covers the interior floor. A Sony GT Series stereo system comes standard for cranking tunes.
While there’s no mahogany, the 20 SL shows plenty of evidence of quality construction, including 6-inch stainless-steel cleats — something not always found aboard pontoons. The standard Bimini top is easy to deploy. And it should be noted that the 24-gallon fuel tank (with a listed usable capacity of 21.4 gallons) provides this boat with plenty of range to cruise the local lake all day long.
Family Fun: Bayliner Element XL
Bayliner first introduced the Element with the idea that the price of admission to recreational boating had become too steep for first-timers looking to test the waters. The original Element is a 16-foot boat with a 60 hp outboard designed to entertain a family of four on the water at the cost of most people’s monthly cellphone bill. With its simplicity, stability and affordability, the Element has become a popular choice for a first boat. Some of that boat’s limiting factors, though, are size, range and horsepower.
More Information: bayliner.com
Enter the Element XL, which stretches the length overall (LOA) from 16 to 18 feet and bumps the standard engine from a 60 hp to a 90 hp Mercury FourStroke outboard. Fuel capacity? Adding an additional six-gallon tank adds only $200 to the sticker price while keeping the boat well under $20,000. (A trailer still comes standard.)
The key to the Element is its trademark M-hull, which resembles a trimaran or even an old cathedral hull, with the V running down the centerline and two V-shaped sponsons outboard with hard chines. But instead of tapering flat aft, the sponsons maintain their V all the way to the stern. Rather than tapering to a point in the bow, the line of the deck carries forward to a rounded bow, allowing Bayliner to maximize interior space. The helm is set in a side console and all the seating on top of molded fiberglass components. The Element XL is simple to own and operate as well as to clean and maintain. With the XL, Bayliner maintained affordability while hitting the sweet spot.
Speed Thrills: Sea-Doo RXP-X 260
How many boats do you see listed in this magazine that break 50 mph? How many hit the 60 mph mark? And how many boats do you see able to hit 65 mph and still cost under $20,000? The list gets exponentially shorter until you’re left with the Sea-Doo RXP-X 260, a performance personal watercraft (PWC) that epitomizes the idea of cheap thrills.
More Information: sea-doo.com
That’s not to say the RXP-X 260 is built cheap. It’s a high-quality PWC made to be a high performer. It sports a central running pad, dropped and lowered from the soft and rounded chines. Aggressive adjustable sponsons, sporting 90-degree winglets, lock it into position while carving turns. The whole package, added up, provides what our expert PWC tester, Jeff Hemmel, called the tightest-cornering production PWC he’s tested. In his words, “All I wanted to do was turn and burn.”
The RXP-X 260 features Sea-Doo’s intelligent brake and reverse (iBR) system, which allows for a neutral start at the dock and shifts into forward or reverse via handlebar controls. Underway it uses a computer-controlled, modified reverse bucket to redirect forward thrust as a breaking system, which means you can quickly and safely bring it down from high speeds.
The built-in safety feature provides comfort while rocketing to over 67 mph flat out or executing incredibly tight turns at speeds in excess of 30 mph. The only drawback, compared with a traditional boat, is that it’s a two-seater. Still invite your closest friend or family member and warn to hang on.