So You Want A New Boat

By Steve Huber - February 1, 2002
So, you're bored out of your skull, waiting for spring to come, ice conditions are lousy and sitting on a bucket, staring into a hole in the ice isn't your cup of tea anyway. What are you going to do?

If you're like me, you're dreaming of warmer weather, open water and CASTING for fish. My casting thumb is getting itchy and my casting arm is twitching. With current low interest rates, a slow economy and boat dealers willing to make a deal, now just might be the time to get that boat of your dreams.

Admit it, you've been thinking about it. You've been running the same toothpaste green 14' MirroCraft with a 1964 Johnson 10 horse outboard for the last couple of years and while it's a great little boat, you WANT MORE......

So you pack the spousal unit and kids up in the family truckster and cruise to the local sports, travel and boat show. The excuse is that "maybe we'll get some vacation ideas and it's good family bonding time." But you really want to look at the shiny, sparkly new boats, don't ya?

Now, you've been to the show, the kids all have their duckbill shaped quackers and plastic safari hats, you've eaten all the alligator jerky, and you've got a plastic bag full of boat literature. There's different hull designs, interior layouts, hull materials, horsepower ranges, what to choose?

Well, ultimately, the final decision is totally yours, but here's some things to consider, at least when choosing hull materials.

Fiberglass or Aluminum?

There's as much controversy and different opinions out there concerning the different hull materials as there is between Ford and Chevy owners. It used to be that if you wanted a lightweight hull, you bought an aluminum boat, if you wanted a smooth ride, you bought a glass boat. But, new materials in boat construction and advanced manufacturing techniques are narrowing the gap.

Aluminum boats are very popular with many boat owners. Pros to aluminum boats are that they're quite often less expensive than comparable fiberglass hulls, meaning that you can get more boat for the money. Aluminum boats are also used more often in water where you're likely to bang into something. Where fiberglass might scratch or crack, aluminum will dent and possibly not leak. The hull weights of many aluminum boats are less than fiberglass as well. This means that you can tow a bigger boat with less of a tow vehicle. It also means that you can use a lower horsepower outboard, which translates to a lower package price.

But, with the popularity of adding casting decks, rod lockers, tackle storage systems and livewells to aluminum boats, weight on this type of hull has increased. I had a 17 foot fiberglass boat that actually weighed less than a friend's aluminum 17 footer.

Aluminum is strong and durable, but there are limitations using this material when designing a hull. You can only bend aluminum so many ways, which in turn limits contours on the hull. This limitation means that an aluminum hull won't have the same efficiency as a glass hull. When fishing, you probably won't notice the difference, when you will notice the difference is when you're running to your favorite fishing hole.

Fiberglass, because it can be molded into any shape or contour, means that there are fewer limitations imposed on a hull designer. Subtle curves can translate into a more efficient and smoother riding boat. Also, with new materials like Kevlar being used, the strength to weight ratio of molded glass hulls is higher than ever. More and more boat manufacturers are using these materials instead of wood, meaning that hull weight is reduced and dryrot worries are a thing of the past. With the lighter hull weight, it means that glass boats are now able to go faster with less horsepower, meaning you'll have more time spent fishing and less time getting from Point A to Point B.

Last season, I had the opportunity to experience the difference in hull design/materials first hand. I fish from a fiberglass boat, a ProCraft SuperPro 190, I also fished from 2 different aluminum boats of the same size class. One of the aluminum boats was actually heavier than my glass boat! The weather conditions were roughly the same each day, nice summer day with 10 - 12 inches of chop on the water.

Fishing from these boats was great, lots of room and nice layout/storage, but what I did notice was that when running from spot to spot, there was a very noticeable pounding on the hull from the waves. Running under similar conditions in my ProCraft was smooth as glass and dry. The effect of the subtle curves of the glass hull smoothed out the ride and directed the spray in such a way that it never blew back into the boat. When you spend the amount of time in a boat that I do, you rapidly learn to appreciate these things. I also noticed that the speeds I attained with the aluminum boats were nowhere near what I can cruise with my boat, even with a reduced throttle setting.

Sure, you're probably saying now, "But what about if I hit something with my boat, what then?" Well, there's a couple different thoughts on that. If I hit something with my glass boat, it'll scratch, that's for sure. But then again, so will aluminum, especially painted aluminum. What is nice about aluminum is that it will simply dent where glass might crack, creating a potential leak. But, what I especially like about glass is what happens when you really clobber something, hard enough to punch a hole through the hull.

Well, with a glass boat, you can take it to any auto body shop that can repair fiberglass and they can patch the hole, many times to the point where the original damage isn't even noticeable. With the same impact on an aluminum boat, there's going to be first of all, a dent that must pounded out, then the hole must be welded to seal up the hull so are no leaks. Another potential problem area is that most aluminum boats have seams. These are potential leak points that aren't there with a glass boat. Hard impacts can pop seams, especially riveted seams. Many manufacturers are welding the seams on their boats, reducing the chance of seam leakage.

So, these are all points to ponder when you are looking at boats. Aluminum boats are a great value, offering you a lot of boat for the dollar. If you are looking at a boat that you can fish from for years, there are many good boats out there. Crestliner, AlumaCraft and Lund are very high quality boats. Quality fiberglass boats typically cost slightly more, but usually have a better resale value than aluminum boats of similar size/features. So if you're considering trading in every couple of years like I do, then glass might be the way to go.

Whatever boat you decide on, make sure that you look at the horsepower rating and MAX IT OUT! While you may not be interested in the top speed of your boat (and I never could understand that!), here's something to consider. When you first take that boat out for its maiden voyage, man are you impressed with the power, the acceleration and the handling. You didn't need all that extra power, that added fuel useage from the larger outboard, that boat salesman was just trying to pad the bill and make more commission. Ha, you fooled him huh?

Well, maybe you did and probably you didn't. Think about it. When you first got the boat, there was just you, a tank of gas, the wife and a couple of kids. The boat ran great, you had the wind in your hair and all the power you wanted. But now, a couple weeks later, you've got all your rods and reels, a tackle box or two, a cooler, life jackets, two anchors, a starting battery, a deep cycle battery, a trolling motor, a full livewell, a full fuel tank, PLUS your 300 pound brother in law AND all of his gear. Picture this......

You back away from the dock, spin the boat around and eagerly punch the throttle. The outboard winds up to a fevered roar, the bow lifts, and lifts and comes higher still. It hangs there for what seems an eternity while you're leaning over the gunnel to see where you're going. Finally, the bow starts to drop down and the boat just plows along. What happened to that screamer that you had just a couple of weeks ago? It seems like it's..........underpowered! Maybe that salesman knew what he was talking about after all!

I had a 17' boat with a 75 horsepower outboard. Just like in the above paragraph, I bought a boat with more horsepower than I'd ever had before, what need would I have for more? Well, I found out pretty soon. The boat seemed roomy when I bought it, it ran like a raped ape when I tested it. But once I got my gear in, it seemed to shrink. Once I got a couple of clients in, that HUGE, 75 horsepower outboard just wasn't enough. I too found out that one 6 gallon fuel tank wasn't enough and two barely cut it for a full day of fishing. Fishing like I do, I was always running the throttle pushed to the max and finishing the day running on fumes and personality.

Now, I have a 19' boat with a 175 horsepower motor. Sure, the boat goes like crazy, but more importantly, it gets up on plane fast and once I get the boat planed out, I can back off on the throttle, trim the motor out and use less fuel in a day's fishing, while getting to my fishing holes faster than I ever did. So my motor, while 100 horsepower larger, is actually less expensive to operate!

I also like the fact that if I'm out there, catching fish and a storm "sneaks" up on me, I fire up and I'm "out of there". I can be back at the landing, the boat on the trailer and snugging everything down when other boats from the same area are just coming into the landing. I've stayed nice and dry on more than one occasion because I was able to outrun the storm. I kinda enjoy sitting in the truck, watching others get soaked loading up the boat!

So, like I said, the final decision is yours, you're the one making the payments. But if I gave you something to think about, then I guess that my time was well spent. And hey, I don't claim to be an expert, but I have owned many different boats with different hull designs and materials. If you are in the boat market and have some questions, feel free to contact me at gofish@rhinelander.com and I'll give you all the help that I can.

Until next time, See Ya,

Author Steve Huber

Steve Huber
Steve Huber, an avid angler with over 35 years of experience (man, he's old) is one of the few multi-species guides in the Rhinelander area. He's been operating G & S Guide Service for 8 years now and loves to fish for Muskies, Northern Pike, Largemouth/Smallmouth Bass and the occasional Walleye (in no particular order). A person who loves to see others succeed, he's an educator while on the water and when he's not teaching you something, he'll regale you with tales of adventures and mis-adventures gleaned from his years on the water. If you liked this article, you can check out Steve's web site at http://www.herefishyfishy.com.