5 Best Center Console Boats for New Boaters

These outboard-powered boats deliver high value and simplicity for beginners.

Outboard-powered saltwater fishing boats for first-time boat buyers
Five great center console starter boatsCourtesy Manufacturers

“Simple” seems to be a foreign word in today’s world. Our human nature constantly nags us, urging us to buy that souped‑up, multi-feature mega product, whether that product is a cellphone or a fishing boat.

But when buying your first boat, keeping it simple can make your ownership experience eminently more enjoyable. That’s what five of today’s top boatbuilders told me when I asked them what makes a good starter boat.

The other factor they echoed: value. You can buy a cheap center console boat, but you’ll get cheap. Instead, aim to buy what you think is the best value center console boat. Value is where quality and price intersect. Small center console boats often fit the bill as a good value, and some might say it's the best boat for beginners at an affordable price.

Here's how builders answered our questions about this topic and about their most popular starter-boat models. (Boats are listed by LOA. Answers have been edited for space.) And if these boats don't do it for you, check out our list of the best center console boats under 26 feet.

Boston Whaler 170 Montauk

Boston Whaler 170 Montauk starter fishing boat fishermen casting
Boston Whaler 170 MontaukCourtesy Boston Whaler

Q: What makes a good starter boat?

A: A good starter boat should be small and simple, assuming the customer does not have any boating experience. Most customers choose something between 13 and 18 feet as a starter boat.

Q: Who is the starter-boat buyer and what is he looking for?

A: New buyers are looking for a hassle-free boating experience with a simple boat to operate and maintain. They want low maintenance costs, and a boat that's easy to operate, easy to trailer, and easy to load and unload.

Q: Why should a buyer consider your brand versus a cheaper intro model?

A: A Boston Whaler 170 Montauk is the perfect starter boat. It's easy to operate, with very few mechanical items that can break. It can carry seven people, which makes it perfect for a family of four that wants to take a couple of friends along with them.

It is easy to trailer and load. One ­person can do everything. It’s also easy to clean at the end of the day. We use the term “hose and go,” meaning it’s a very worry-free boat to clean.

Whalers have the highest resale value in the industry and will garnish the most on a resale or trade-in.

Boston Whaler 170 Montauk starter fishing boat livewell
Boston Whaler 170 MontaukCourtesy Boston Whaler

Q: What’s your best advice for first-time buyers?

A: Take your time in the purchase decision.

  • Do your research.

  • Make sure to test-drive each boat you're considering.

  • Compare factory warranties.

  • Compare resale value.

  • Don't just purchase the cheapest boat.

Boston Whaler 170 Montauk Specifications

LOA: 17 ft.
Beam: 6 ft. 10 in.
Transom Deadrise: 16 deg.
Draft: 9 in.
Dry Weight: 1,400 lb.
Max Power: 90 hp
MSRP: $29,995 (w/ Mercury 90, trailer, fishing package)

Scout 175 Sportfish

Scout 175 Sportfish starter saltwater fishing boat running
Scout 175 SportfishCourtesy Scout Boats

Q: What makes a good starter boat?

A: Anything in the 17- to 21-foot range.

Q: Who is the starter-boat buyer and what is he looking for?

A: Starter-boat buyers are looking for something safe to get them and their families out on the water. They want a boat that is fuel-efficient, easy to drive and handle, and easy to trailer and possibly store in a garage. Low maintenance and low cost of ownership are also important.

Scout 175 Sportfish starter saltwater fishing boat helm rod holders
Scout 175 SportfishCourtesy Scout Boats

Q: Why should a buyer consider your brand versus a cheaper intro model?

A: Scout Boats has a three-year limited stem‑to-stern warranty. Our fuel economy is second to none, and we use the same build methodology in our small vessels as we do in our larger boats. Fit and finish are second to none. Scouts also have a quality reputation, they're unsinkable, and they offer incredible resale value.

Scout 175 Sportfish starter saltwater fishing boat transom livewell
Scout 175 SportfishCourtesy Scout Boats

Q: What’s your best advice for first-time buyers?

A: Buy a boat that you'll be proud of, backed by the best warranty. Look at the overall cost of ownership and resale value. You get what you pay for. Don't just go for the cheapest price tag.

Scout 175 Sportfish Specifications

LOA: 17 ft. 5 in.
Beam: 7 ft. 5 in.
Transom Deadrise: 13 deg.
Draft: 10 in.
Dry Weight: 1,260 lb.
Max Power: 115 hp
MSRP: $24,995 (w/ Yamaha F90, trailer)

Grady-White Fisherman 180

Grady-White Fisherman 180 first-time boat buyer fishing boat anglers
Grady-White Fisherman 180Courtesy Grady-White

Q: What makes a good starter boat?

A: It's very important that a great starter boat be safe and easy to operate. It should offer a terrific ride and quality construction, be reliable, and require low maintenance.

To choose a good starter boat, new buyers should think clearly about the type of boating they’ll be doing. Fishing, destination cruising, water sports and diving all require specific features. Most people want a boat that does more than one thing well.

Q: Who is the starter-boat buyer and what is he looking for?

A: Today, with quality time at a premium, all boat buyers want a vessel that can do many things, is easy to take out, and is even easier to clean up at the end of the day.

That’s why it’s so important to find a boat that has the necessary ­accommodations: things like a cooler, a livewell, rod holders and ample storage compartments.

You want a true self-bailing cockpit and boxes that drain overboard instead of into the bilge to make cleanup simple and quick. You also want a boat with a strong, sturdy feel, that handles well and is fun to drive.

Grady-White Fisherman 180 first-time boat buyer fishing boat bow
Grady-White Fisherman 180Courtesy Grady-White

Q: Why should a buyer consider your brand versus a cheaper intro model?

A: Grady-White has spent ­countless hours perfecting its products to provide the most exceptional details in every boat we build. First, our trademark SeaV2 hulls give you a smooth, stable, comfortable and efficient ride even on days when other boats would not be able to go out. Second, the true self-bailing cockpit adds safety and easy cleanup.

Add our carefully chosen high-­quality materials that are long-lasting and low-maintenance, and they’ll save you time.

Q: What’s your best advice for first-time buyers?

A: Boating is an investment of time and money, so it's important to research and buy the boat that will give you the most enjoyable time on the water. Talk to folks who have boated for a long time, and make sure you take a demo ride on a day when weather is less than ideal. Get to know your local dealer; he can support you as you learn more about boating. And he can be there to help you transition to your next boat.

Grady-White Fisherman 180 first-time boat buyer fishing boat bow box
Grady-White Fisherman 180Courtesy Grady-White

Grady-White Fisherman 180 Specifications

LOA: 17 ft. 10 in.
Beam: 7 ft. 5 in.
Transom Deadrise: 15 deg.
Draft: 15 in.
Dry Weight: 2,150 lb.
Max Power: 150 hp
MSRP: $46,000 (w/ Yamaha F150)

Contender 22 Sport

Contender 22 Sport starter ocean fishing boat
Contender 22 SportCourtesy Contender

Q: What makes a good starter boat?

A: A starter boat needs to be a package that allows owners to learn about boating without introducing them to too many options. With that said, buyers should have a few choices so they can experience different technologies and buy a boat that fits their needs and style.

A good starter boat would be in the lower 20-foot range with a single outboard. It should offer family-friendly amenities, and be versatile enough to accommodate several boating activities. It should be easy to trailer and store, and not be overly expensive to maintain and operate.

Q: Who is the starter-boat buyer and what is he looking for?

A: Starter-boat buyers have been on the water with friends or family. More often than not, they're educated about certain aspects of boats, but might not be fully aware of the boat-buying process.

They usually want a boat that is as close to turnkey as possible, though with some choices available so they can make it their own.

Contender 22 Sport starter ocean fishing boat
Contender 22 SportCourtesy Contender

Q: Why should a buyer consider your brand versus a cheaper intro model?

A: When purchasing a starter boat, it's really important to take quality into mind. There are plenty of boats that you could get for less money, but what is your experience with those boats going to be like?

If things are constantly breaking, the boat beats you up, your friends and family are uncomfortable on it, you’re unable to use it in less than optimal conditions, or it doesn’t perform several functions well, your experience is going to be a negative one, and you’re less likely to want to continue boating.

Q: What’s your best advice for first-time buyers?

A: Take your time. Get opinions from a variety of people who use different products, systems and boats and who fish like you do.

Use boat shows to your advantage and look at everything that might fit your size and price range. Let the sales staff know you’re looking for a starter boat, and ask them as many questions as you can. Narrow your search and ­compare boats head to head. Make sure to sea-trial each boat to gauge handling, ride and performance.

Contender 22 Sport starter ocean fishing boat
Contender 22 SportCourtesy Contender

Contender 22 Sport Specifications

LOA: 22 ft. 8 in.
Beam: 8 ft. 8 in.
Transom Deadrise: 22.5 deg.
Draft: 18 in.
Weight: 4,450 lb. (ready to fish)
Max Power: 300 hp
MSRP: $86,177 (w/ Yamaha F250)

Everglades 230CC

Everglades 230CC starter saltwater offshore fishing boat
Everglades 230CCCourtesy Everglades Boats

Q: What makes a good starter boat?

A: The most important quality of a starter boat is simplicity. Keeping a boat's design simple inherently increases the ease of operation, and consequently keeps the captain and passengers safe. This simplicity applies to general operation — reducing maintenance with fewer systems, such as generators and ­macerators — but also includes actual use. A good starter boat is easy to trailer and launch, which builds the confidence of inexperienced boaters.

Q: Who is the starter-boat buyer and what is he looking for?

A: This buyer is generally new to the boating world and interested in finding good, long-term value with his ­investment. Again, simplicity is key. Someone who's new to boating will want a turnkey vessel that he can become well acquainted with in a fairly short amount of time.

Everglades 230CC starter saltwater offshore fishing boat
Everglades 230CCCourtesy Everglades Boats

Q: Why should a buyer consider your brand versus a cheaper intro model?

A: Everglades boats are built with unsinkable engineering. They're well-known as the safest family fishing boats on the market. Keeping you, your friends and your family safe on the water is our number one priority. Second to safety, our boats offer unmatched value year after year. Add to that the yacht-quality fit and finish and easy-to-use operation.

Q: What’s your best advice for first-time buyers?

A: Remember that you always get what you pay for. It may be tempting to settle for a lower price, but in doing so you'll undoubtedly sacrifice safety and longevity.

Starter boats don’t need to be cheap boats; they need to be safe and easy to use. Don’t settle!

Everglades 230CC starter saltwater offshore fishing boat
Everglades 230CCCourtesy Everglades Boats

Everglades 230CC Specifications

LOA: 23 ft. 7 in.
Beam: 8 ft. 6 in.
Transom Deadrise: 19 deg.
Draft: 15 in. (hull only)
Dry Weight: 4,300 lb.
Max Power: 300 hp
MSRP: $106,008 (w/ Yamaha F300)