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Sea Ray SDX 250 OB

Price: $85,000 (w/200-hp Mercury)

Sea Ray SDX 250 OB

Versatility is the name of the game aboard many of the larger Sea Ray models. Seat backs that turn, tilt, flip and fill are becoming the norm. That level of seating flexibility has trickled down into the builder’s smaller models, perhaps most notably in the SDX 250 OB that came onto the market last year.

Take one step from the dock onto a generous-size cockpit and you have seating that slides forward and a backrest that flips forward, creating a nice, L-shaped seating arrangement that lets you keep an eye on the action behind the boat—whether that is an adrenaline-rush-seeking waterskier or kids floating on pool noodles.

The seating flexibility continues at the helm and, finally, the bow, which can convert to a nice-size sun pad. I estimate that you could have eight adults on board before the Sea Ray really starts to feel crowded—not too shabby for a boat with a 25-foot, 2-inch LOA and an 8-foot, 6-inch beam. (The boat’s max capacity is 14.)

“The SDX 250 has a port-side walk-through which is different than traditional center walk- through designs,” says Ritch Ragle, director of North American sales for Sea Ray. “This design has trickled down from the SLX 400 and Sundancer 320. The feature allows for expanded areas behind and under the helm, while maximizing layout.” A cuddy cabin can fit a pair of adults for an overnight but is probably better suited as a spot where the kids can escape to watch a movie. Or even more likely, it will be a place where you and your guests leave your bags for the day; there’s more than enough stowage space.

Standard power for the 250 is a 200-hp Mercury Verado that should lend the boat a top speed in the low 40-knot range, and the turnkey convenience the engine is known for.

“The average SDX 250 buyer is relatively new to boating, or may not have owned multiple boats in the past,” explains Ragle. “They are looking for a unique layout and configuration, and want as much usage space as possible, including storage, and flexible seating.” —Daniel Harding Jr.

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Grady-White Fisherman 216

Price: $76,050 (w/200-hp Yamaha)

Grady-White Fisherman 216

Early on in her career at Grady-White Boats, Marketing Vice President Shelley Tubaugh learned a valuable lesson. At various fishing tournaments up and down the East Coast, she asked Grady-White owners for their number one piece of advice for a first-time boat owner. “Some were on their first Grady, some were on their eighth Grady,” says Tubaugh. But all gave a similar answer. “Without any other prompting, without any of them knowing what the others had said, they all said in some way, I would tell [that person] to go ahead and spend the money and get the Grady the first time.”

That bit of advice stuck with her. “A lot of our customers are experienced boaters. They’ve owned boats before,” says Tubaugh. It also speaks to the lengths Grady-White goes in developing high-quality products—center and dual consoles from 18- to 45-feet—that seem to resonate with its clients, no matter if that person is a first-time boat owner or someone looking for a second boat to run around in with their children or grandchildren.

New this year, the Fisherman 216 has that high-quality pedigree. It’s imbued with the same DNA as the larger center consoles in the builder’s lineup, such as its helicopter-grade acrylic glass windshield that comes standard. With its SeaV2 hull with 19 degrees of transom deadrise, the 21-footer retains the seaworthiness and bluewater stability of its larger predecessors. Standout features on the 216 include a twin boarding platforms and aft backrests that swing neatly out of the way—with reversible, self-stowing cushions with nonskid bottoms. They should make boarding easier for everyone.

Grady-White also takes customer feedback into consideration when adding innovative touches. For the 216, that meant adding additional rungs to the boat’s swim ladder and optional seat backrests forward that convert to side bolsters when you’re fighting fish. “People often make the mistake of getting into a less expensive, less quality boat first because they’re trying it out,” says Tubaugh. “But buying a higher-quality product is a better investment when you factor in the easier upkeep, lower maintenance and having the features you really want and need.” —Simon Murray

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Boston Whaler 160SS

Base price: $22,429 (w/ 75-hp Mercury)

Boston Whaler 160SS

Unsinkable” is a bold assertion for any boat builder. But Boston Whaler, with its closed-cell foam construction, means it when they use the word. And they have the history to back it up. “For decades, boaters have chosen the Super Sport because of its low-maintenance durability, unsinkable safety and incredible ease of use,” said Jeff Vaughn, vice president of sales, marketing and customer service at Boston Whaler.

The 160 Super Sport builds on that legacy. The side console helm is a classic staple of the brand’s smaller boats, but the updated shape is sleek and modern, with colors to match. “The new 160 Super Sport [is] designed to make every outing safe, comfortable and hassle-free,” said Vaughn, who emphasized the boat’s “load-and-go readiness.” The redesigned model features a lockable console compartment for valuables. An optional cooler seat and bucket sport seat make it comfortable for up to six people, who can also enter the water from the dual swim platforms.

The fuel-efficient 75-hp Mercury and shallow draft (just 10 inches with the engine up) put adventure at the owner’s fingertips, while the athletic can add a ski tow or ski arch along with a power upgrade to 90 hp. With a 17-foot, 5-inch LOA and 6-foot, 10-inch beam, this sporty boat is easy to maneuver and equally simple to trailer.

With safety and fun-loving features for the whole family, one’s heart might start to race when thinking about the price tag. But at $22,429 for the base model, it’s cheaper than a lot of cars. Next time you consider upgrading your wheels, remember, you could be on the water instead. —Krista Karlson

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This article originally appeared in the premier issue of Outboard magazine.