So you want to buy your first boat
  |  First Published: June 2013

One of the great truisms is that life is better with a boat.

Recreational boating is enjoying a great resurgence in popularity as many anglers and their families realise that the days are gone when you had to put up with inferior boats, trailers and just as importantly, facilities like launching areas. There is such a massive range to choose from with options extending from the humble and traditional car topper aluminium dinghy to specialist tournament boats, offshore trailer boats and everything in-between.

Many boat owners these days are looking for more than just a fishing boat as well. Often these days a boat has to be a great fishing platform, a comfortable cruiser and tow sports capable as well.

For the first boat buyer the range is impressive, and daunting at the same time. Should it be made from aluminium, fibreglass, poly/plastic, should it be cuddy cabin, half cabin, a bowrider, centre console, side console or tiller steer. Do I want a four stroke or two stroke engine. And what about trailers? What follows is a basic guide to what style suits what application for the first time boat owner.


There are three main materials boats are made from; aluminium, fibreglass and ploy/plastic. Boats are of course also made from wood, but these days this is a specialised and expensive option. Each material has its advantage and best application – it isn’t really a case of what is better overall, just a case of horses for courses.


It would be fair to say that the majority of boats on the water in Australia are aluminium. Most boats in the 3.3m to 5m range used for fishing are mostly aluminium as well. That is changing, but as a rule, aluminium rules the roost for fishing boats.

Aluminium is lighter, tougher and able to withstand a great deal of punishment from a whole range of things such as shore lines, beaches, rocks, trees, boat ramps and rough jetties, not to mention the odd rough launching or retrieve. Most small aluminium dinghies are not painted, and therefore don’t have any real issues with protecting the finish, however once you get into the 4m and above range most alloy boats are painted with good quality finishes, and show the battle scars as much as any other finish.

As a general rule once aluminium boats get over about 5.5-6m they tend to be made from plate aluminium rather than from pressed aluminium sheet. Mostly this is because they are for serious rough water or offshore work and plate boats are able to be made from thicker material to withstand the pounding of bigger waves.

As pressed aluminium boats are lighter than other materials, it does make them easier to handle when launching and retrieving, a significant issue when buying your first boat. Heavier and larger boats are best launched and retrieved by driving the boat on and off the trailer, which is something the tyro boat owner maybe shouldn’t be worrying about to start with.

The only real maintenance issue with aluminium is corrosion through electrolysis. All factory supplied boats won’t have this issue as a rule, although it is something to consider when buying second hand boats, as inadvertent installing of electrics/electronics can cause an issue. Electrolysis is a complex issue and outside the scope of this piece, but certainly worth researching if you are in the market for a used boat.


Fibreglass boats are certainly making a resurgence in popularity with boat owners, especially those looking for a multi-use vessel that can be a serious fishing boat, a cruiser for a relaxed family day and something that can pull a ski tube for the kids.

It is often said that fibreglass offers a better ride in rough water than aluminium, primarily due to the ability of boat makers to construct hulls with complex designs to smoothen out water that aluminium can’t. Fibreglass is often heavier, which is also an asset in rougher water. It is in general a very quiet material as it softens water noise against the hull.

Fibreglass construction allows for greater flexibility for builders to create curves and designs that are either difficult or impossible with aluminium. The flip side is that generally fibreglass doesn’t like contact with hard surfaces like rocks, oysters and so on. It is extremely tough though, and finishes on fibreglass boats are definitely a lot tougher than say 15 years ago. In any case, a scratch on the gel coat is easily repaired and you have to try very hard to put a hole in a fibreglass boat.

Most fibreglass boats tend to be 4.8m and up. There is no real upper limit; some of the big luxury cruisers and game boats are well over 50’ long. In situations like Port Phillip and Western Port and the Gippsland Lakes, most fibreglass boats with be between 5m and 6.5m.

There are no electrolysis issues with fibreglass boats, although it is very important to keep the underfloor areas and the transom dry when stored. The main issue with older fibreglass boats is rotting timber structures such as floors, transoms and stringers, although it is fair to say that modern Australian boats rarely have this as an issue.


Poly hulls or plastic hulls have become an increasingly popular option for Australian made boats. In terms of durability it is comparable with aluminium, in terms of performance it is up there with fibreglass. These are basically constructed from a mould and then finished off as a normal boat. The range of design options isn’t as extensive as alloy and fibreglass boats in terms of cabins and so on, but in open boats or cuddy cabins they have a lot to offer.


This is where boating jargon can become confusing. When all else fails consider what you want the boat for. The bigger the cabin, the more comfort, but also less fishing room. Smaller cabin, more fishing room, not so much protection.


Essentially a cuddy cabin is a short cabin/windscreen that gives some protection from the elements and basic storage up front. The longer the boat, the bigger the cuddy will be at the front. Most cuddy cabins are below 5m long. Once boats get over 5m the cabin gets bigger until you reach the point where you have a half cabin, which as the name suggests, is a cabin which takes up about half the length of the boat.

Most boats aimed at anglers have a cabin that occupies about ¼ to 1/3 of the forward section of the boat.

This allows for plenty of room for the crew to get out of the wind or sun, and in bigger boats will have a couple of bunks. Just make sure with the cabin that you can stand up in it without constantly having to duck your head.


Side and centre consoles are for serious fishing boats. They offer no real protection from the elements but they do maximise the available fishing space. A side console basically is on the starboard side of the boat and has all the controls here and a seat, leaving the whole length of the boat available for fishing. These are preferred by many sports fishing enthusiasts in sheltered waters such as lakes, estuaries and bays when chasing freshwater species up and down the country and the popular estuary species like bream, perch and so on.

There can be some trim issues with side consoles, as there is an uneven weight distribution. This can be fixed by the judicious placement of batteries and gear, or simply always taking a mate fishing with you.

Centre consoles have console in the middle, leaving open each side of the boat for fishing. Many of the trim issues with side consoles are eliminated as the weight is generally distributed evenly.


Without getting too far into this very complex issue, here is a basic rule. The flatter the hull, the rougher it will ride, but will be very stable at rest. The deeper the V, the better it will ride in rough water, but it won’t be very stable at rest, where it will rock with the waves a lot more. This is the eternal compromise with boats.

Anglers who fish mainly calmer waters and do a lot of fishing from a stationary or drifting boat will be looking for something that is stable at rest, while anglers fishing open water from a moving boat such as bluewater trolling will be looking for a hull that rides softly in rougher water.

It isn’t as cut and dried as it was 15 years ago, as many local hull designers and builders have tweaked designs to bridge the gap between ride and rest performance. Some have a hull that partially fills with water at rest to provide greater stability, and others have tweaked the difference in hull angle between stern and bow to change the performance in difference sea conditions.

Many anglers who fish the waters of Port Phillip and Western Port face this compromise all the time. It can be as rough as any open sea out there on some days, and while it is great to punch out through it with a deep V, when it comes time to drop the anchor you need something that can smooth out a bit of that rocking action.


In this modern age I don’t believe you can buy a bad engine. Sure the old carburetted two strokes are on the way out, but direct injection two strokes and the modern range of four strokes are as good as you can ever find.

Just bear in mind the power rating for the hull. My personal preference is to fit the highest horsepower on the stern as the boat is rated for. Sometimes in a boating situation it is better to have the power on hand, even if you don’t use it very often. Be guided by the people selling you the boat too – they have the experience after all.


When it comes time to talk the deal with the boat you’ve decided on, don’t compromise on the trailer. While it can be easy to shave a few thousand off the price with a cheaper trailer, just bear in mind that the boat will be on the trailer a lot longer than it will be on the water. A good trailer makes it easy to launch and retrieve and will soften the bumps on the road much better. Good trailers are worth their weight in gold – the last thing you need when heading out to your chosen ramp after a hard week at work is trailer issues.


Make a checklist of what you want the boat for, and what is more important – can you compromise on fishing space to keep the family happy, or is the family happy to be fishing more than cruising or skiing. Are you going to be out in rough water a lot, or is your preference for lakes and estuaries. What size boat is best for you, are you eventually going out to chase a tuna, or are bay snapper your idea of fun. Will you be travelling interstate with the boat, or is it for a quick trip to the local ramp.

Make a list of your requirements, hit the www and read every boat test you can get your eyes on. Spend plenty of time at boat shows looking at boats and ask plenty of questions – sales staff are there to make sure you get the boat best for you – they know if you are happy with your first boat that you will come back to them for your second.

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