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Entry-Level Versus Luxury Tow Boats

From value-oriented to opulent, learn how to choose the right tow boat for you.

June 14, 2021
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XStar vs NXT hull colors
High-end boats such as MasterCraft’s XStar (top) offer a wider choice of hull colors than the less-pricey NXT series (below). Courtesy MasterCraft

The appeal of wakesurfing—along with the classic allure of carefree swimming off the platform, thanks to the prop being tucked under the hull—has sent demand for inboard tow boats to new levels.

Add the luxurious interiors and deluxe helms, and the appeal is easy to understand. But with this surge in demand comes even more buying options. With manufacturers offering up to 18 models that range from value-oriented to opulent, how do you know what’s best for your situation? Here’s our take.

Comparing overall features of tow boats
Regardless of price, no inboard-powered tow boat from the major manufacturers comes stripped down. Courtesy MasterCraft

The Price is Right

The first and most obvious factor is the price. With flagship models being offered at prices that rival the price of some houses, there will be buyers that are priced out of these boats. That said, at the top end, you can get an absolute beast of a wakeboat that will deliver pride in ownership, plus comfort and performance amenities that value boats cannot approach. Such intangibles apply to the top class of all boat types, and it’s good to remember that boats at all price levels represent a luxury purchase.

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X26 vs NXT20 helm
MasterCraft’s X26 (top) boasts full-on touchscreen control and is one of the few tow boats to offer a head. Less-costly boats such as the NXT20 offer simpler helms. Courtesy MasterCraft

Aesthetics and Convenience

Pickle-fork and traditional-bow styles are available at every price range. But a boat’s looks are about a lot more than just the bow style. Particularly at the high end, tow boats are works of art inside and out. Fit-and-finish is immaculate, and no detail is overlooked. Expect overstuffed bench seats that convert to dining areas, seats that easily transition to face the watersports action, and helms with nav systems that rival a private jet. On the budget side, it’s looking more like manual switches, smaller digital screens and fewer convertible seating options. Top-end models may offer a wider range of colors than less-costly boats.

X26 vs NXT20 upholstery choices
MasterCraft’s X26 (top) offers a wider variety of upholstery choice than MasterCraft’s NXT20 model. Courtesy MasterCraft

Is Bigger Better?

The length overall doesn’t really enter the conversation when it comes to budget versus luxury. Of course, as you step up in size within either the luxury or the budget classes, you’re going to be adding dollars to the invoice, but you can buy a 24-foot value-class inboard tow boat or you can purchase a 20-foot luxury inboard tow boat.

Interior comparison on tow boats
Interior space and overall layout are other determining factors. Courtesy MasterCraft

Advanced Features

We may have saved the best for last. This is one of the truly distinguishing categories between budget and luxury, and for many people, this is the decisive factor. The features that make wakes are typically fairly similar because many of the entry-level brands have stepped up their game in the past several years, but manufacturers still reserve their most convenient features for their luxury wakeboats. Now is the time to ask yourself: Do you go under bridges or put the boat under a canopy that requires you to lower the tower regularly? If so, then an auto tower is definitely worth a closer look. Another differentiator on the luxury side: cameras. Many wakeboats have both bow and stern cameras, which make captaining safer and more convenient. Also, a huge factor in many boaters’ minds is a stern thruster to ease docking. You can get a 24-foot value-class boat, but it’s never going to come with a factory-installed thruster, and for some people, that’s a deal-breaker. Another huge benefit is subfloor ballast. This might not sound like a big deal, but quickly filling the liner of the boat with ballast rather than using up storage compartments proves convenient—and it’s typically available only on higher-end models. Other notable amenities include upgraded audio, quick-plane systems, wake enhancers, wireless charging, and much more. And while it varies between manufacturers, many of these upgrades are available only on high-end models.

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