The decision to buy a sportsboat is just the first in the choice making process. The next thing to consider is the kind of sports boating you are going to do. As you can tell from the varied boats and activities covered by this magazine, the type of boating you intend to do is best matched by the style of boat designed for the purpose.
Specialist waterskiing boats have hulls designed to give clean, low wakes for the best possible water astern of the boat. They are generally conventionally driven, with a midmounted engine and fairly flat hull shape. This type of hull planes very easily and with a fine entry bow can deal with small waves quite happily, but they are meant more for lake use rather than conditions at sea. Of course, in calm conditions, when you would be skiing, they can be used on the sea quite happily but they are not meant for general boating duties in the lumpy stuff. They tend to have plenty of seating capacity and stowage for water ski gear.
Wakeboard boats are very similar to dedicated water ski boats and utilise the same engine configuration. The hull is of similar design but the chines are usually shaped to give a large wash with steep sides for good launches. The signature of a specialist wakeboard boat is the tower. Wakeboarding needs a high tow point and the skeletal tower provides this. The cockpit layout and stowage is like a tournament water ski boat.
One aspect that both water ski and wakeboard boats share is performance. As neither activity takes place at any great speed the emphasis is on clean acceleration out of the hole, not out and out top speed. For these disciplines 36mph, the standard slalom speed, is as much as anyone needs. Other waterskiing and wakeboarding events take place at slower speeds. Typically wakeboarding is done at about 20mph. The big motors these boats use provide armfuls of torque and spin large props. Under normal operation the engines are barely above tick-over (2,000rpm 2,500rpm). Taking them up to the red line of around 4,500rpm can still have you whisked along at over 40mph, but a large capacity V8 running at those speeds will drink petrol like you're pouring it down a drain. Many regular skiers and boarders run their boats on LPG for added economy with no loss of performance.
Sports cuddies and express cruisers are the fare of those who intend to use their boats for visiting other waters on a self contained basis. The difference between the two is really just down to the number of berths. Sports cruisers/cuddies below 30-feet in length tend to be two berth. They place more emphasis on performance and comfort for two than they do to family accommodation. Express cruisers have more superstructure and a greater capacity for accommodating a family. They can be of a similar size to the sports cuddies, but they also go much larger. As they are meant for more extended cruising, performance tends to be limited in favour of economy, so diesel power is the favourite. Sports cuddies are widely available in either petrol or diesel options.
When venturing into this world there are various aspects to consider. Many people have aspirations of cruising to places beyond their capabilities and buy a boat based on dreams rather than realities. When the boat is delivered she doesn't tend to go further than a port or two either side of home. Be realistic about your boating aspirations and buy accordingly. It will save you thousands in a very short space of time. If you are not an experienced boater then budget for some courses to enable you to make the most of the boat you are about to buy. I would suggest, for extended cruising, a minimum of the advanced powerboat level and a VHF course. You should also have a good knowledge of meteorology. This can be gleaned from RYA books and will prevent you getting caught out on a longer transit like a channel crossing.
Fishing and diving
The new wave of centre console and walk around boats is all the rage. They are extremely practical boats with plenty of deck space, which is why they make such good platforms for fishing and diving. These boats come in many sizes and can even be large enough to provide more than two-berth accommodation. The open deck is very exposed to the weather, so a really good set of oilskins is a must if you are going for a boat of this type. In good weather they are fine but in rain or windy conditions you will get soaked to the skin without good waterproofs. The versatility of the centre console has challenged the RIB and offers a genuine rigid boat alternative.
When sportsboats were in their infancy they were basically speed boats with the label, 'sports runabouts'. The classic layout is with a closed bow and various seating options. The most popular is bucket seats forward, possibly back-to-back, with an across the stern bench. Older versions used small car engines mid mounted with single or twin cockpits. Compact sports boats are still built using outboard power. They are surprisingly capable little boats in the hands of an experienced helmsman. This is the type of sports boat that has evolved from race bred hulls, and many of them are merely civilised race boats.
A more leisure-orientated version is the bow rider. The extra seating capacity in the bow is a trade off against sea capability. A closed bow boat can take a stuff over the bow and shed most of it off the windscreen. They are capable of dealing with small to mild chop, but in anything heavy they are at risk. Because most people don't go boating when there is a heavy sea running the bow rider is very popular because of the extra space and seating for friends.
Make a list
By being sensible and looking at your prospective purchase objectively you can make an informed decision. Sit down and write a list:
When looking at a boat for the first time be brutal. If it's second-hand, look along the keel line carefully for scratches, dings and evidence of hard knocks. Then look over the sides of the hull very carefully and give a good thump on the side every now and then. If all is well it should sound solid.
Whatever you intend to do with your boat, invest some time ensuring you make the right choice. It will save you a good deal of money and you will get more enjoyment out of the boat you do buy. If you can't find the boat you really want immediately, bide your time. Eventually one will come up.