Boat and Watercraft Classifications

New to boating? Find out the meaning of those boat and watercraft classifications.

Posted on July 28, 2014 | Updated on November 28, 2023


These are smaller boats capable of being trailered, hauled, or launched using automobiles of suitable power.


– length 14′ to 18′, power outboard 10HP to 90HP

The majority of utility boats are constructed of aluminum, others are fibreglass or steel. They are very popular in fishing camps since they are easy to maintain and are very durable.  The vast majority of these boats are operated from the stern using the tiller for steering and speed control.


– length 14′ to 25′, power outboard or inboard/outboard 50HP to 250HP

These are aptly named and are very popular among younger boaters.  Their open bow allows these craft to be suitable for most water sports such as skiing, fishing, and cruising in addition to providing extra passenger capacity at the front.


– length 14′ to 25′, power outboard or inboard/outboard 50HP to 250HP

These runabouts as the name implies, have an enclosed bow and their performance is similar to that of the bowrider.  The difference is that the enclosed bow makes these craft safer to operate in rough water and keeps their forward passengers relatively drier in choppy water.  One navigating disadvantage to these vessels is that one usually has to climb around, through, or over the windshield to get to the bow during docking and anchoring operations.  Consequently, most of the boats of this design have handrails on the foredeck for the safety of the operators.

Ski Boats/Parasail

– length 17′ to 21′, power outboard or inboard 120HP to 275HP

The true ski boat in most cases looks like a closed deck runabout.  The professional models used in ski shows and skiing competitions are powered by large inboard engines which provide the power and acceleration to haul more than one skier out of the water at a time.  These boats are equipped with special mirrors, seat configuration, the driver seat faces forward and the spotter’s seat faces the skier and there is a high post in the middle of the boat for attaching ski ropes.  This allows the skiers to travel 360 degrees around the boat without hitting part of the boat or getting tangled. Parasail boats are very similar to ski boats but some have a large winch in the middle of the boat to allow for hauling in the line that attaches the boat to the parasailer.


These boats have a top speed of over 50mph.

Off-Shore Racers

– length 22′ to 30′, power outboard or inboard 200HP to 1,000HP

These boats are constructed for speed.  They may have up to 4 engines providing more than

1,000HP.  Most have a top speed of over 70mph.  The true off-shore boats require three operators….a driver, throttle man, and navigator who all operate standing up due to the severe pounding these vessels give when operating at top speed.  They are very popular in the Great Lakes for Poker Runs.

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The standard definition of a cruiser is a vessel that has a cabin (sleeping quarters), a galley (kitchen), and a head (toilet), or at least a combination of two of these facilities.  The normal size is over 18′ in length and powered by an engine of over 50HP.

Cuddy Cabin

– length 21′ to 28′

The term is used to describe smaller cruisers with small cabins located at the bow.


– length 27′ to 40′

These vessels would contain “living amenities, cabins, galley and head” located in the space from the bow to the middle of the vessel.  It is not uncommon for these vessels to be equipped with auxiliary generators and air conditioning.  Some may even have a washer and dryer aboard.


These vessels would contain “living amenities, cabins, galley and head” located in the space from the bow to the middle of the vessel.  From the middle to the stern, they may be open or contain seats.

Motor Yacht

This term is used to describe more luxuriously appointed cruisers that are more than 35′ long.  The purchase cost of this type of vessel is usually in excess of $500,000.


Cruiser with a displacement hull.  This type of hull design limits the speed of the vessel no matter what horsepower engine is installed.


Fishing Utility

– length 12′ to 17′, power outboard 5HP to 90HP

Most fishing utility boats are made of aluminum and are outboard-powered.  They are sparsely equipped to allow their occupants to move freely around the boat when trying to land a fish.  Thus the occupants are also free to cast lines without hooking items in the boat on the backstroke.  They are also designed for easy cleaning and maintenance, however, they are not designed for rough water navigation.  Emergency floatation is usually provided either by styrofoam blocks built into the seats, or the seats themselves are made up of airtight chambers.

Bass Boats

– length 17′ to 20′, power outboard 70HP to 250HP

Their distinguishing features are pedestal seats and an electric trolling motor at the bow with a large outboard motor on the transom.  They are not designed for rough water navigation.  The distinguishing features of a good bass boat are high speed to get to fishing holes very quickly, low freeboard, the distance between the waterline to the deck, and no impediments to casting such as bow rails or similar projections.

Fishing Runabouts

– length 17′ to 20′, power outboard 100HP to 200HP

Constructed of aluminum or fibreglass, these crafts are designed to navigate larger rivers, lakes, and even coastal waters.  Most have windshields to protect occupants from wind and spray.  The freeboard (height above the waterline) on these boats is higher than the bass boats.


– length 20′ and up, power inboard/outboard or inboard 120HP+

These vessels are designed to pursue larger fish such as salmon or saltwater species.  They usually have a small cabin for comfort, and bow rails for their occupants to hold onto when navigating in heavy weather.  Most are equipped without riggers and designed for trolling for fish 20 lbs and up.

Centre Console

– length 17′ to 20′, power outboard 120HP to 200HP

These crafts, as the name implies, have controls that are located in the centre of the boat for stability and also to keep their occupants dry.  They are suitable for fishing, skiing, and many organisations use them as rescue boats since they are very seaworthy.  Often the best way to operate these craft at cruising speeds is with the operator standing instead of sitting as this provides better visibility.

Flat Boats

– length 17′ to 20′, power outboard 120HP to 200HP

These boats are very similar to bass boats but without the electric motor on the bow.  One distinguishing feature is a small platform on top of the engine at the stern where the “poler” stands as he spots and poles toward target fish.  These boats were originally designed for Florida and Bahamas reef fishing but are becoming popular among bass fishermen in Canada.


– length 8′ to 17′, outboard powered 7.5HP to 75HP

These flat-bottomed boats are built of aluminum or wood and are primarily used for fishing in shallow waters and duck hunting.  Due to their size and design, their navigation is restricted to protected waters only.

House Boats

These craft are designed as a compromise between a summer cottage and a power cruiser due to their large living quarters above deck level.  The typical hulls are flat-bottomed, v-bottomed, or pontoon.  Due to their design, most are suitable for navigation in sheltered waters only.

Jet Boats

– length 12′ to 20′, power 90HP to 180HP inboard jet

This breed of boat was re-introduced around 1992 and is very popular.  They are powered by an inboard engine mated to a “jet” pump.  Some manufacturers put twin engines in their top-of-the-line models.  Their propulsion machinery is similar to those of the personal watercraft.  One distinguishing feature is that these vessels are designed to make very sharp turns and are self-bailing.  They are designed to carry up to four people.

Personal Watercraft

– length 7′ to 11′, power 40HP to 90HP “jet”

These are also known as jet skis.  Typically, they seat 2 or 3 people.  The difference with this vessel from all others is that the driver and passengers straddle, stand, or crouch on the vessel instead of sitting in it.  The safety feature found on most of these craft is a “kill switch” which shuts off the engine if the driver falls off.

Pontoon Boats

– length 18′ to 40′,

Pontoon boats depend on two or more watertight aluminum or fibreglass chambers for floatation.  These are connected with a frame, usually metal, onto which a platform is built to form the deck.  This deck is then surrounded by either an open or enclosed barrier.  These boats are built for navigation in protected waters only, since they have little freeboard and are difficult to control in windy and rough water conditions.


– length 8′ to 10′, power outboard 1HP to 90HP

These are soft-sided vessels with several sealed chambers which are inflated with compressed air.  Sometimes the bottom of the boat is made of fibreglass.  These are popular as tenders or lifeboats to larger yachts.


– length 28′ to 38′

These vessels have a small inboard engine usually between 20HP and 80HP to assist in docking.  They would normally have cabins, a galley, and a head.  Off Shore-Sail – length 40′ plus

These vessels are larger auxiliary sailboats equipped with cabins, a galley, and a head.  They are designed for heavy weather and offshore navigation.  They require at least two persons to operate.

One Design-Sail

– length 8′ to 25′

These vessels are designed for club racing by class.  They are also very popular with sailing schools as training boats.  Larger ones may have an outboard engine to aid navigation.


These vessels are powered by sail and have an outboard motor usually in the 10 to 15HP range which is used for docking or when no wind is blowing.  The larger boats would have cabins, a galley, and a head.  The difference between a sailboat and an auxiliary sailboat is that the auxiliary sailboat has an inboard engine.


These vessels would range from 14′ to over 40′ and are also known as catamarans (2 hulls) and trimarans (3 hulls).  They can be cruisers, high-performance racing boats, and sailboats.  Multihulls have larger hull capacity and more stability than single units, but less integral strength than mono-hull vessels.

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