Before you begin looking for your favorite boat, allow us to explain our thinking in assembling this list. Sure, you will find some great boats here, but we considered these selections noteworthy also because they influenced the way boaters and even other boatbuilders thought about boats, how they boat, and the boats they wanted to see in the future. We think every one of the watercraft you’ll see here is a bright spot on the continuum—the family tree from which all boats draw their DNA and new models bloom. Some of these boats may be included for innovations they introduced while others are on the list because they altered the market of their time, and still others stand on the merits of their significant influence down the line. The boats here were chosen by our staff, although we’ve also seen fit to include a number of noteworthy suggestions sent to us by readers. Don’t see your favorite? We’d love to hear from you, whether you agree with certain inclusions or disagree with others.
(Click on the icon to see a photograph.)
Albin 48 Cutter
1983-1990* Designed by C.Raymond Hunt Associates
She rides on a Ray Hunt hull, has a good-sized aft cockpit, and she’s affordable today. This classic, well-built boat is often forgotten. The design remains timeless and its Down East appeal was introduced before the genre took off. She was also relatively light at about 31,000 pounds. Cruising speed is in the midteens with standard Volvos. *Production fizzled out in the late ’80s, so that discontinued date is a little ambiguous.
2013-Present Designed by Larry Graf
Super-efficient, super-performing cat with sponsons that are strangely dissimilar (which technically makes her a proa). Time will tell whether this outside-the-box approach will change powercats forever.
Azimut 54 Flybridge
1993-1997 Designed by Azimut
Today Italian-styled and -built boats line every dock at most major North American boat shows. However, the original Azimut 54 was one of the first models to test the waters, initiating a huge market success for the builder. This model was also “Americanized,” which basically meant a more usable galley. Reader Les Lerner concurs and writes, “Definitely the Azimut 54 Flybridge!”
Back Cove 29
2004-2009 Designed by Back Cove
The builder recognized early on that there was a trend for smaller, simpler boats, and thus launched the single-engine Back Cove 29 that has spawned an entire line.
Bayliner 2850 Command Bridge
1983-1989 Designed by Bayliner
An entry-level boat at an affordable price, with plenty of volume. The amidships-cabin layout was a Bayliner trademark. This little pocket cruiser got the family together on the water, and even with the flying bridge the lines still look pretty good today.
Bayliner 17 Capri
1970s-1994 Designed by Bayliner
Was this your first boat? There’s a pretty good chance she was. In her heyday, the 17 Capri was flying out of dealerships. And there’s a reason the boat was so popular. There was enough room for the family, but not enough LOA to be intimidating, and you could tow her with a Ford Taurus (essentially this boat’s automotive equivalent in ubiquity). All that coupled with a price tag right around ten grand made the 17 the quintessential entry-level vessel. Now, who wants to go for a boat ride?
Bayliner 4588 Pilot House
1984-1993 Designed by Bayliner
A production boatbuilder marketing a raised pilothouse at a value price in this size range was unusual for the early ’80s. This particular model made great use of divided living space, though she was eventually replaced with the 4788 (pictured) in 1994. Reader Jimmy Jacobs nominated the 4588, and represents one of the many loyal fans this boat still retains today.
Bayliner 2250 Skagit
1973-1977 Designed by Bayliner
Reader Tom Horan writes, “I think that Bayliner started a brand-new design concept with this model ... the ‘mid-berth!’ At 21 feet 2 inches, she slept four!” The model remains popular today on the used market.
Beneteau Swift Trawler 34
2010-Present Designed by Beneteau Power/ Joubert Nivelt
If you think about it, when would the world not embrace an efficient, single-engine cruising boat? An economical cruiser, especially one with a shippy profile complete with flying bridge, will always make sense to boaters who just have to get away, one way or another.
1986-1993 Designed by Dave Napier
A quintessential tough, deep-V hull helped make the Bertram 37 a good—if heavy—performer. She had a two-stateroom layout that packed in a lot of volume and made her a sought-after vessel in this size range. Diehard 37 owners will still debate if the 6V-92s or the Cat 3208TAs were the better engine package.
1961-1983 Designed by Raymond Hunt
A truly iconic boat that’s still in much use today. This highly influential boat affected the design and performance of boats built by other builders like Hatteras, Pacemaker, Blackfin, and even Bertram itself. Readers Alex Cooke and Dean Kois concur.
1981-1992 Designed by Dave Napier
This boat sports the definition of a battlewagon hull. With the 54, Bertram went to a variable deadrise hull with 17 degrees (of deadrise) at the transom, making the boat much more stable in a beam sea. When introduced in the early ’80s, she owned her market segment. The Bertram 54 was an incredible sea boat and urged anglers to stretch their legs.
Blue Star 29.9
1999-Current Designed by Mark Ellis
There may be no better designer and builder combination than Mark Ellis and Mark Bruckmann. Add yachtsman and industry pro Grove Ely to the mix and you get one of the first pocket Down East cruisers. This 29-footer had everything larger boats did, just scaled down. Plus you can’t beat the soft ride of an Ellis hull.
Boston Whaler 13
1958-2000 Designed by Raymond Hunt/Dick Fisher
What kid didn’t dream of running around a saltwater marsh in a 13-foot Whaler? Who didn’t need to call the chiropractor after a weekend on a 13-foot Whaler? This iconic ride is a must-have for any boating nut’s fleet and is the model that launched Boston Whaler.
Boston Whaler 16 Nauset
1961-1973 Designed by Raymond Hunt
Arguably the first production center console design (along with perhaps the Chris-Craft Dory), the Nauset 16 became the Montauk 17. The 17 is still extremely popular today. And make no mistake, the 17 remains the SUV of small boats. When equipped with a 90-horsepower outboard she is eminently practical for diving, picnicking, fishing, gunkholing, even, believe it or not, for camping. Was she rough riding? Yup. Wet? Sure. But hey, unsinkable and fun—why do you think she’s had so many imitators?
Broward 100 Series
Mid-Late ’80s Designed by Broward Marine
Building a boat over 100 feet in a series was revolutionary when Broward first came up with idea. Frank Denison, his wife Gertrude, and sons Ken and Kip created a niche that fueled an entire market segment. Mr. “D” was not afraid to build on spec and by the late ’80s, the big aluminum motoryachts were flying off the line. The same “beam series” got longer and longer … so much so that in some cases the bottoms went from having deadrise ... to flat ... to dihedral (reverse deadrise). Many Browards still enjoy active cruise schedules.
Cabo 40 Express
2003-2012 Designed by Michael Peters
Ask anyone on the dock worth their salt about a Cabo and they’ll most likely wax on about the quality build and the signature engine room. Cabo founder Henry Mohrschladt was fanatical about ease of mainteance. Cruise in the mid-30-knot range with the 800-horsepower MANs.
Carver 36 Mariner
1984-1988 Designed by Carver
We’ve heard this voluminous design compared to a shoe and a flat iron—and that’s by the people who built the Mariner in Pulaski, Wisconsin. There’s no denying, however, that the Mariner’s tremendous use of space inspired folks to leave their condos behind and enjoy the water. At one point Carver was turning out 145 of these babies a year. An updated version launched 10 years ago and was also a success.
Carver 32 Aft Cabin
1983-1990 Designed by Carver
One of the most well designed family cruisers of all time. Aft master, bow VIP, convertible sofa in the saloon ... put a barbecue on the aft rail and you had it all. One downside, those Crusader engines did seem to enjoy guzzling gas.
1954-1968 Designed by Richard Arbib
When this classic runabout was launched, she was reported to be the fastest production boat on the water, able to reach speeds up to 48 knots. Designer Richard Arbib also embraced exterior styling that was a big departure from the offerings that dominated the era. One option even included a retractable hardtop. Reader Roger Giles adds, “I first saw this 21-foot classic as a 1956 model in Life Magazine and still have the ad framed and on my wall today. It speaks for itself!”
Cheoy Lee 48 Motor Yacht
1981-1986 Designed by Tom Fexas
Okay, today she may be akin to Sonny Crockett rolling around South Beach in a pastel blazer with the sleeves rolled up, but when this Tom Fexas design was launched in 1981, her styling was cutting-edge. Long before someone coined the phrase “Euro-styling,” Fexas and Cheoy Lee were driving fresh thinking and innovation, which influenced yacht design for generations.
Chris Craft 33-foot Futura
1955-n/a Designed by Don Mortrude
Reader Fred Holland gave a thumbs up for this 33-footer. Her clipper bow replaced the bull nose of the ’40s, and the express style, often known as a semi-enclosed layout at the time, led the way for the modern express-style boat of today.
Chris-Craft Corsair 28
2001-Present Designed by Michael Peters
Chris-Craft has always built American classics, but when the company was taken over in 2001 by the Stephens—Julius and Heese, respectively—the Corsair 28 was the boat that helped resurrect the brand, get it back on its feet, and pave the road toward success. Notably, her lines harkened to the classic Chris-Crafts of days of yore, but with enough of a modern feel to charge confidently into the future. Seriously, just look at her. That’s a new classic.
Cigarette 38 Top Gun
1991-Present Designed by Craig Barry, Bob Gowens, Val Jenkins, and Cigarette Racing Team
A boat that symbolized a bygone era ... powerful, supremely fast, to-hell-with-the-world fuel burn. Sure, environmentally incorrect, but way more fun than you can have with virtually any other sort of boat. There used to be a lot of high-performance boats around back in the day, but this firebreather always got the look!
Contender 31 Open
1995-2007 Designed by Joe Neber
This center console design instantly won the admiration of tough-to-please anglers. The 31 also began to prove that well-built, well-designed center consoles could compete on the tournament circuit by getting out to the fish early with a cruise speed in the low 40-knot range. And moreover, she just looks sweet.
Cruisers 390 Express Coupe
2014-Present Designed by Cruisers Yachts
In order to build a better mousetrap (or express cruiser) the Wisconsin builder turned the concept upside down and started with a clean slate. Heck, they even dismissed the design tenets of their successful 380. The result is a huge deck area with modular seating options, in addition to some very ample accommodations, achieved by moving the helm and windshield far forward. The helmsman will need to get used to the fact that a big part of the boat is now behind him.
This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.