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Best Boat Manufacturers
Choosing the world’s best boat manufacturers is a Herculean task; after all, boats come in countless different sizes, shapes, and types, each one with its own specific purpose. Some are built for off-shore fishing or for towing wakeboards and water skis, while others are for skimming over shallow coastal flats or providing hours of family fun on an inland lake. For every type of boat, there are many different specialist manufacturers, and choosing between them is often a matter of personal preference. Here we chose the best boat manufacturers, so you can pick the one that most fits your needs.
Our Top Picks
Best Saltwater Fishing Boats: Boston Whaler
Why We Chose It: We chose Boston Whaler as the winner of this category for its legendary “unsinkable” design, which was famously put to the test when founder Richard Fisher sawed his boat in half on live TV in 1961 and then motored the stern half back to shore.
Intuitive design and high-quality finishes
Limited depreciation after the first year
Expensive in comparison with competitors
Most models have limited weather protection
Limited storage space on smaller models
Based in Edgewater, Florida, Boston Whaler has been producing some of the industry’s most sought-after and reliable coastal and offshore fishing boats since 1958. Boston Whaler boats owe their unsinkable nature to their innovative Unibond construction—just one of many patented innovations the brand has bought to the boating industry.
There are seven distinct series to choose from: the Montauk with its open-plan deck and stable, shallow draft (ideal for fishing in bays and coastal waters); the Dauntless (best for watersports); the Vantage (for off-shore cruising); the Realm (for those who want the comfort of a cabin cruiser); the Offshore (cutting-edge technology paired for offshore cruising); the Super Sport (trailerable, load-and-go boats); and the Outrage (perfect for fishing with in-floor fish boxes and a summer kitchen in the cockpit for preparing your catch). Most models have a center console, which allows for plenty of casting space and the ability to walk all around the boat when fighting a fish.
As of March 2021, Boston Whaler has been awarded the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) Customer Satisfaction Index Award 16 times, proving the brand’s continued popularity and loyal customer base.
Best Pleasure Cruisers: Sea Ray
Why We Chose It: We chose Sea Ray for its many design innovations, which allow for superior speed and maneuverability while also ensuring style and comfort. Sea Ray interiors are luxuriously appointed, with spacious seating, sleeping, and cooking areas.
Reputation for meticulous craftsmanship
Some of the most extensive warranties in the industry
Loyal following makes for excellent resale value
More expensive than many competitors
Most models are not ideal for serious fishermen
Many accessories incur an extra charge
Pleasure cruisers are designed for overnight adventures with a berth, cooking facilities, and a protected helm, and Knoxville, Tennessee-based company Sea Ray bills itself as the world’s largest manufacturer of pleasure boats. Even better? It's known for its meticulous craftsmanship, high-quality materials, and strict testing protocols.
Sea Ray offers five series, with the Sundancer option dominating the market for mid-cabin cruisers. Owners can choose between the inboard and outboard motor configurations. Either way, the company offers a three- to five-year bow-to-stern warranty and a limited, 10-year or lifetime structural hull and deck warranty, depending on the model. In fact, with 24-hour call support and more awards for dealer performance, quality, and customer satisfaction than any other marine brand, Sea Ray’s customer service is second to none.
The brand’s faithful following and overall desirability mean that Sea Ray boats retain their value well and are a good option for resale should you decide to upgrade in the future.
Best Sailing Yachts: Catalina
Why We Chose It: We chose Catalina Yachts for its reliable, honest reputation, with most models prioritizing safety and a capacity for family fun over keeping up with changing trends.
Designed and built in America for more than 50 years
Emphasis on practicality and safety at sea
Renowned for world-class customer service
Not as stylish as some competitors
Interiors focus on low maintenance rather than luxury
Mass production results in a lack of exclusivity
Founded in North Hollywood in 1969, Catalina Yachts have been designed and built under the same ownership since day one. Its unassuming design also helps the company remain affordable in comparison with other luxury brands.
Catalina offers three series: the Sport Series (8- to 27-foot daysailers), the Cruiser Series (mid-sized yachts from 31 to 35 feet), and the Ocean Series (38- to 44-foot yachts for offshore adventures). All of them are built with certain criteria in mind, including an ability to stand up to real-world conditions, comfort above and below deck, and easy maintenance. This is a proven formula, and Catalina has won countless industry awards; the Catalina 545 was named Cruising World’s Overall Boat of the Year for 2020.
Customer service is excellent at Catalina, with founder and CEO Frank Butler famously answering many customers' calls himself until his passing in November 2020.
Best Ski Boats: MasterCraft
Why We Chose It: Backed by a team of 400 engineers and with more than 50 years in the game, U.S. company MasterCraft is a clear leader in the ski and wakeboard boat industry.
Innovative technology for fully customizable waves
Exceptional power and maneuverability
Premium upholstered interiors
High-end series are very expensive
Built specifically for towing; not an all-purpose boat
Some technologies are limited to high-end models
MasterCraft is the world’s largest producer of specialist watersports powerboats with branches in over 40 countries and has received many awards including Boating Industry’s Top Product Award for 2020. Innovation is the key to all five MasterCraft series—the NXT, XT, X, XStar, and ProStar—all of which are designed for speed, maneuverability, and wave control.
Highlights include the GEN2 Surf System, which allows you to control ballast, speed, and shaping device angles to create your perfect wave with the push of a button. Certain models also boast a Switchback Ballast Tank (for perfect waves regardless of weight distribution or rider side) and the FastFill Ballast System (for moving water in and out of the ballast system at record speed). Aluminum towers can be operated manually or hydraulically, depending on the model you choose, while the quiet Ilmor engines are backed by a seven-year, 1,000-hour factory warranty.
MasterCraft also sells custom-designed trailers and offers you the chance to design your boat according to your exact specifications.
Best Jet Boats: Yamaha
Why We Chose It: We chose Yamaha because they have been manufacturing and perfecting jet boats since 1995, giving them more experience than newer competitors.
The world’s bestselling jet boat brand
Innovative, award-winning technology
Models available for a wide range of purposes
Can’t be trimmed to accommodate rough water
Some reviewers claim other brands have better low-speed handling
Some people prefer the aesthetics of newer jet boat brands
Powered by water jets instead of a propeller, jet boats are great for rapid acceleration and clearance in shallow water.
Yamaha labels itself as the "world leader in jet boats," a claim backed up by sales records that show it to be the number one bestselling brand. Yamaha jet boats are often cheaper than rival brands, and customers claim they’re also easier to maintain.
Models range from 19 to 27 feet and come in configurations designed for specific purposes. Center console boats cater to fishermen, while wake-boarding boats come with an integrated WakeBooster and triple ballast system for the most surfable wake in the jet boat category. Many models now feature Yamaha’s award-winning DRiVE paddle control system, for effortless handling even at low speeds.
Best Bass Boats: Bass Cat
Why We Chose It: We chose Bass Cat as our favorite manufacturer for its longevity and stellar reputation. Founded in 1971, it’s one of the longest-operating bass boat builders in the world.
The smoothest ride in rough water
Innovative vacuum bonded build for exceptional strength
Industry-leading customer service
Premium models are very expensive
Some reviewers prefer the storage layout of other brands
Less deck space than some competing brands
Sleek, speedy, and purpose-built for one thing, bass boats comprise one of the most competitive categories in the boating market. The choice of bass fishing pros like Mike Iaconelli and Shin Fukae, Bass Cat boats boast immaculate craftsmanship and effortless handling and are particularly well-known for performing well in rough water.
The brand is responsible for many industry innovations, including recessed trolling motor pedals and vacuum molded processes that allow for one-piece construction of the hull, floor, and stringers. The latter results in the incredible strength and energy transfer that Bass Cat boats are known for.
There are three series to choose from: Vision, Advantage, and Premium, with models that are 17 feet and 7 inches to 22 feet. You can also custom-design your dream boat from scratch. A relatively small operation, Bass Cat offers best-in-class service and has an incredibly loyal customer base. Plus, all Bass Cat boats come with a transferable lifetime structural warranty.
Best Pontoon Boats: Bennington
Why We Chose It: Bennington bills itself as the world’s premier luxury pontoon boat manufacturer, a claim supported by worldwide sales statistics and the brand’s passionate customer base.
Innovative design for a stronger, quieter ride
Industry-leading, factory backed warranty
Excellent customer service
Expensive in comparison with some competitors
Some reviewers claim boats prioritize style over substance
Pontoon boats in general are more difficult to maneuver than V-hull boats
Bennington was founded in 1997 by a team with more than 100 years of combined experience in the pontoon boat industry and has since earned a reputation for the meticulous structural design and finishing of its products. There are four Bennington series to choose from, including the value S Series and the ultra-luxurious, flagship Q Series. Models range from 16 to 30 feet and include styles for fishing, watersports, and family cruising.
Certain innovations make Bennington pontoon boats stand out from the crowd. Foremost of these is the brand’s exclusive THRU-BOLT technology, which reduces flex in the hull for a more stable, solid, and noise-free ride. Other bonuses include thicker cross channels for increased vertical strength and fully welded aluminum construction.
Bennington boats come with an industry-leading, factory-backed lifetime structural warranty, and a 10-year bow-to-stern warranty; both are transferrable if you decide to sell in the future. A bonus: The company has received many NMMA Customer Satisfaction Index Awards, most recently in 2018 and 2019.
Best Rigid Inflatable Boats: Ribcraft
Why We Chose It: Ribcraft is our top pick because it specializes in professional-grade RIBS for first responders, military agencies, and commercial diving companies.
Favored by the U.S. Navy and other government agencies
Professional grade construction for every model
Exceptional safety and comfort in the roughest weather
Expensive in comparison with competitors
Commercial construction may be overkill for casual users
No cabin for shelter in poor weather
RIB boats have many advantages for the ocean-going adrenaline junkie: They offer great buoyancy and comfort in extreme conditions. Plus, they’re almost impossible to capsize, and they’re generally more affordable than fiberglass boats.
Ribcraft’s recreational RIBS are also built to commercial standards and are renowned for their durability and ability to excel in the most challenging offshore environments. This is thanks to the brand’s signature, reinforced deep V hull, and heavy-duty, multi-chamber Hypalon tubing.
Models range from 15 feet and 17 inches to 41 feet, and have a center console configuration for maximum deck space and 360-degree fishability. Although they may lack the luxury finishes and cabin protection of other brands on this list, Ribcraft RIBS are the ultimate accessory for adventure.
With so many different boat types to choose from, claiming an overall best boat manufacturer is im-possible. Instead, we have picked the manufacturers that stand out for their quality, longevity, and customer service in eight distinct categories. Looking for the best offshore fishing boat manufacturer? Opt for Boston Whaler if you prefer fiberglass boats and Ribcraft if you like RIBS. For water-sports fanatics, MasterCraft is the leader of the pack, while Yamaha is our winner in the jet boat cate-gory. Our other winners are Bass Cat, Bennington, Catalina, and Sea Ray in the bass boat, pontoon boat, sailboat, and pleasure cruiser categories respectively.
What Are Boat Manufacturers?
Boat manufacturers are competing companies that build and sell boats. Manufacturers span a variety of industries, making everything from yachts and sailboats to inflatable boats and pontoon boats.
How Much Do Boats Cost?
The cost of a boat depends on the type, size, design, and manufacturer you're choosing. To get a boat that meets your specifications, you'll likely need to get a quote from the manufacturer before purchasing.
How We Chose the Best Boat Manufacturers
With so many different boat manufacturers to choose from, we considered a number of different factors in order to narrow down our selection in each category. We gave preference to U.S.-owned and operated companies, and looked at their sales statistics, resale values, and independent industry awards. We read the comments on customer forums and used these to identify trends in pros and cons for each brand. We also prioritized companies that have made significant innovations in their field, and those that put an emphasis on customer service (as proven by the NMMA Customer Satisfaction Index).