Boat Size. It Matters.

“So, how big is your boat?”

People ask this question for one of two reasons:

1.  They’re also a boat owner and they want to see how yours measures up.
2.  They’re hoping that you’ll invite them out on your next trip and have room for a plus one.

There is a lot that goes into owning a boat – just ask anyone who owns one. You’ll hear about the responsibilities, the memories and you might even hear someone mention boat size. But does that really matter?

Ask a boat owner in Texas or Florida and they might say, go for the biggest one you can get. That advice will be great for show, but might be terrible for your budget. Size matters because not everyone uses a boat the same way and there’s much more to a boat than its size.

There are about 22.2 million boats in the U.S. That’s a lot of boats! More than 10 million are powerboats, with kayaks and canoes competing for a distant second place with 3.9 million and 2.5 million, respectively. Even with so many boats occupying the water, boaters aren't necessarily competing for the same space or fishing spots.

If you're interested in purchasing a boat, you first need to think about how you plan to use it.  The United States Coast Guard (USCG) has identified 15 boating-related activities:

1.  Relaxing alone or with friends
2.  Socializing
3.  Cruising
4.  Sightseeing or nature observation
5.  Swimming or diving
6.  Fishing or crabbing
7.  Sunbathing
8.  Waterskiing, wakeboarding, or tubing
9.  Water paddling
10. Rowing
11.  Sailing
12.  Scuba diving or snorkeling
13.  Whitewater boating
14.  Racing
15.  Hunting

These activities can be more easily divided into three categories: cruising, fishing and watersports. It might be surprising, but the majority of boaters, approximately 88 percent, just enjoy relaxing. Socializing, cruising and sightseeing are the next three highest activities while wakeboarding and fishing attract between 38-57 percent of boaters.

Many boaters, close to 50 percent, choose to cruise around in a boat that’s less than 16 feet in length. Larger boats will come equipped with more features and advanced operating systems, however, the larger size can also mean that it can’t be trailered and you’ll have to rent or buy a slip. A good rule of thumb is to start with something you know you can operate and maintain, and then add features or upgrade in the future. Innovation in the marine industry ensures that boaters have access to the best vessels and gear.

Boat size also matters when it comes to a boater’s safety. Just because your powerboat can comfortably fit 10 people doesn't mean it should. Big or small, if you’re not sure how many people your boat can handle, you should know before you extend the invites on your next trip to the lake.

Every boat has a capacity limit and in most cases it’s indicated near the operator’s seat or the transom of the boat. If your boat doesn’t include this information, then you can easily calculate it using the formula below.


The length of your boat and the number of people on board and/or being towed determines how many personal flotation devices (PFDs) or life jackets and what type you should be carrying on your vessel. Every state has specific rules governing the use of life jackets, but the USCG has set the standard with this:

The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) requires that all vessels have at least one Type I, II, or III personal flotation device that is USCG-approved, wearable, and of the proper size for each person on board or being towed.”

In addition to life jackets, your boat should also be equipped with the proper safety gear and equipment.

If you’ve never taken a boater education course or it’s been a couple years since you passed, it’s highly recommended that you do so before you get in the operator’s chair. Visit to take your state’s official boat education course or refresh your skills by reviewing the free online study guide.