The right boat for most people

If you collect boats, or aspire to, then you can probably stop reading right now. If you’re like most of us, though, you’re looking for the one right collector boat to use and enjoy. But with so many options, how do you choose?

In the simplest of terms, there are two basic styles of vintage wood boat: runabout and utility. A runabout is a boat with cockpit-style seating and an engine covered by a deck. There may be one or two cockpits fore of the engine, and one behind the engine. When you visualize a boat of the 1920s or ‘30s, it’s usually a runabout. While stylish and beautiful, you’re pretty much committed to sitting for the entire boat ride.

The second style, utility, says it all in its name. Utility boats usually have a more open interior arrangement, with a bench seat forward and a bench seat across the boat’s stern (back). Depending on the boat’s size, a third partial seat may exist behind the forward seat but ahead of the engine, which is contained under a “box” relatively in the center of the boat. The utility-style boat tends to be less pretty than a runabout, but more than makes up for it in usability. Think woody wagon versus Corvette.

When we talk to folks looking for their first vintage boat, we begin by asking “the questions.” How will you use the boat? How many people will usually accompany you? Do you have kids or grandkids who will be boating with you? Are you going to want to swim or fish off the boat? Even brief reflection about these questions usually leads to the conclusion that a utility is the right choice. You can stop in the middle of the lake, get up and walk around, get in and out easily for a swim, have a picnic on the engine box and just generally be less confined.

Every so often though, we get a call from someone who wants “one of those barrel backs.” They may or may not know the specific term refers to the 1938 to 1942 Chris-Craft Deluxe Runabout. But when we ask why they want a barrel back, it’s invariably because they’ve seen one and have fallen in love with its appearance. Granted, it’s a great look, a beautiful boat, but often not the right boat for the way they want use it.

Gently, we ask “the questions”, and try to point them to the right boat for them. Why is that important? Well, we don’t want to sell anyone the “wrong” boat for their lifestyle, have them use it for a season, learn the answers to “the questions” real-time and fall out of love with vintage boating.

Fortunately, there’s no rule that you can only own one vintage boat at a time! Begin with a utility, and add a beautiful runabout later.

Editor’s note: The author, David Bortner, is “captain” at Freedom Boat Service.