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Boat of the Year Finalists for 2020

These five boats stand out above the fleet.

October 27, 2020

After testing scores of new-model boats in 2020, our editors chose what they deem the top five contenders for Boating’s Boat of the Year, the most prestigious award in recreational boating.

For decades, Boating editors have awarded Boat of the Year status to just one boat. It is the boat—often called a “category killer”—that stands out more than any other boat in its niche as determined by extensive on-water testing, comparative analysis, and no shortage of heated debate among our team of boating experts.

Which boat will be the 2020 Boat of the Year? One of these five, that’s for sure. Check the January/February 2021 issue of Boating or look for Boat of the Year updates on the web, social media or e-news, and be among the first to find out.

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Nautique G25 Paragon wakesurfing
The G25 Paragon excels in build, technology, style, and watersports performance. Garrett Cortese

Nautique G25 Paragon

Looks count! The Nautique G25 Paragon’s hull sides present a striking mix of –three- dimensional facets that smooth out toward the transom, providing the V-drive wake-making machine with a bold, aggressive look, and the implication of motion even while at rest.

Of course, looks do not a Boat of the Year make, but the Paragon also delivers on design, performance and technology. Its updated running surface and intuitive touchscreen system ensure that the Paragon generates some of the industry’s best and most customizable wakes and waves. There are comforts like deep, plush seating with custom stitching that echoes the hull sides, and large, convertible transom lounge chairs.

The showstopper? A first-of-its-kind telescoping tower. The engineering marvel, from Roswell Marine, raises and lowers at the push of a button. It lends the Paragon a distinctive look and attitude, and it also serves beyond just reducing bridge clearance—lower the tower and it provides excellent weather protection. Nautique’s G25 Paragon sets a new standard for watersports boats while boasting features that boats from other categories will surely copy. Read our test at boatingmag.com/nautiqueg25paragon.

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Axopar 28 Cabin jumping waves
Axopar’s 28 Cabin combines expert handling with unique styling. Courtesy Axopar

Axopar 28 Cabin

Just seeing the Axopar 28 Cabin at the boat launch opens your eyes to a new type of recreational boat. It looks long and lean, like a carving knife. Every detail on the boat—from the plumb stem to the narrow beam to the reverse raked windshield—is well-thought-out and implemented for an explicit reason. There is nothing on the Axopar that is there just because. The narrow twin-stepped hull and double-chine design allow this boat to take on heavy seas without pounding, and its design and lightweight construction help it achieve incredible economy for its size. Built modularly so you can readily choose different layouts, it’s not just a category-buster, it’s in a category unto itself. Read our test at boatingmag.com/axoparboats28cabin.

Bennington 23 SCCTTX heading out for fishing
The 23 SCCTTX may lure coastal anglers. Courtesy Bennington Marine

Bennington 23 SCCTTX

Pontoon boats have long seen second duty as fishing platforms, with some builders adding fishing features or turning them into fishboats out of the gate. But no builder has done it quite like Bennington. Its 23 SCCTTX takes things to a new level by creating this coastal center–console, complete with overhead T-top. It looks as fishy as many traditional fiberglass V-hulls, but with the stability at rest that a wide-beam and buoyant pontoon provides. There’s plenty of space for casting and fish-centric amenities to please the hardcore angling crowd. You can argue that it’s a great pontoon boat or a great fishing platform, and that it will survive in either fresh or salt water, and you’d be right. Read our test at boatingmag.com/bennington23sccttx.

Zin Boats Z2R carving turns
The Z2R is a speedy, sexy electric-powered runabout. Courtesy Zin Boats

Zin Z2R

Electric-powered boats have been full of promise for years. Most offer short ranges, low speeds or both—if it’s not a hybrid and really relies on an internal combustion engine. In the Zin Z2R, we discovered a 20-foot runabout that’s quick, and possesses enough endurance to allow its owners to spend a full day on the water before needing to recharge the battery bank. On a charge, we hit 20 mph, and could maintain that speed for over an hour and still retain several hours of displacement speed. The intuitive control and monitoring provided by the Torqeedo management software let the skipper know at a glance how much running time is left, instilling the confidence of a fuel gauge and allaying any range anxiety. Its carbon–fiber high technology and custom-woodwork coolness proved to be added determinants in our Boat of the Year finalist selection process. Read our test at boatingmag.com/zinboatsz2r.

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Fountain 38 SC rocketing across the water
Quad Mercury Racing outboards propel the 38 SC to 95 MPH. Garrett Cortese

Fountain 38 SC

Bringing back high performance to the realm of production boatbuilding, Fountain’s 38 SC allows boaters with a penchant for speed to eschew the more costly custom- built route and take delivery of a 95 mph boat powered by stock 400 hp Mercury Racing outboards. (It may break 100 mph with quad 450Rs.) Oh yeah, it’s a center-console—not a sportboat—that pushes performance beyond what so many other quad-powered center–consoles seem to be striving for. As such, it pushes the boundaries of a hugely popular boat niche.

While its double- stepped hull, notched transom and hull pad deliver super-high performance and the handing that go-fast boaters crave, the accommodations prove as amenable as one could want for entertaining. Delivering speeds that are faster than most, the value pricing and all the expected amenities won this boat a spot on the finalists dock. Read our test at boatingmag.com/fountain38sc.

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