top of page

The Pros and Cons of Performance Boats

By: Captain Bill Jennings

With the many different 'types' of boats on the market, and with most of the information available being advertising related, it is hard to know which boat is best for you. To help, I have written a series of pros and cons for a variety of boat types. In this article, we discuss performance boats.

There are two kinds of boaters: those that like to go fast, and everyone else. For those who "feel the need for speed," I have divided performance boats into three categories to make it easier for me to discuss pros and cons and for you to determine which category, if any, relates to you.

The simplest way to divide performance boats into three categories is to compare them to performance automobiles.

(1) The highest level performance cars are those built specifically for racing within the rules of racing classes. Cars for racing are built to match different race series, such as USAC racers, Indy cars, and Formula 1. Likewise, there are many different race series for which a performance boat can be built. While not always the fastest of performance boats, these are the most specialized.

(2) A second group of performance car owners, are those who buy a high priced exotic sports car for personal use, such as a McLaren, Lamborghini, or Ferrari. In the world of boats, the equivalent would be high-end, super fast offshore boats and custom lake boats with four digit horsepower engines.

(3) The third and largest group of performance boaters compares to car buyers who buy cars like a Corvette, Mercedes AMG, or a Porsche. Boat buyers in this category are willing to pay more in order to get better performance in their drive and place themselves above a run-of-the-mill boat buyer. There are many boat builders who manufacture boats in this class of performance boat.

All three of these performance boat categories have one thing in common: When you drive them at speed, you get an adrenalin rush and adrenalin is addictive. The more you get, the more you want.

(1) An overview of my first category of performance boats, "racing" does not come with any rational pros or cons. You either have the desire to race, or you don't. For those who do, establish a financial budget and estimate the time you can dedicate to the sport. An understanding of race categories and rules as detailed in the rule books produced by the applicable sanctioning bodies is equally important. For race boats, sanctioning bodies include national organizations such as the APBA, (USA), CBF (Canada), and IJSBA, (International Personal Water Craft). In addition to satisfying your adrenalin addiction, racing will also introduce you to some very interesting people with similar interests. Surprisingly, you can go racing on just about any budget. A stock outboard hydro budget boat can cost less than $8k a year. At the other end of the budget allotments, an offshore open class budget can be over one million dollars per race.

(2) Moving down one category, we have performance boats that are the boating equivalent to exotic cars. These include offshore "go-fast" boats over 32 feet and custom specialty boats. The cost of these boats can cost more than their exotic car counterpart. Their hull configuration can be a deep-V or catamaran. These boats provide comfortable cruising for passengers in a variety of water conditions but you may have to sell your first born to buy one.

(3) Thirdly, we have the general performance boat category. It is by far the largest of performance boat categories. There is no clear definition as to when a regular boat moves into this performance category, but they will generally run over 65 mph with many topping out at over 100 mph. They will also exhibit above average abilities in acceleration, top speed, and cornering. Here are the pros and cons for this third category of performance boat.


  • I would rate the most important "benefit" to a fast boat as the feeling it gives you. It is you and your boat's capabilities that gives you a plethora of sensations. Water is a good place to go fast because there are no stoplights, no lane restrictions, and much less traffic.

  • There are plenty of fun events all over the country where you can take your boat to join other like-minded boaters in club events and poker runs without being involved in all-out racing.

  • Owning the best of something, even if it is just in your area, is always good.

  • The new places you visit, because the boat travels further/faster, will expand your boating horizons.

  • You will be perceived as an experienced boater, even if you are not.

  • Lots of people will walk up and ask you that inevitable question: "How fast will she go?" (Of course, this is not really a benefit.)

  • Because of the problems that can result from a lapse of concentration, drivers are more likely to focus on the job at hand -- and that is good.

  • True performance boats are better built to withstand added stresses. You don't just add horsepower, you need boat quality to increase proportionately to the added horsepower. The manufacturer of a performance boat should be able to explain in detail the special care and strength that they have built into their boat.


  • Performance boats can be expensive. Purchase prices are higher and you may want to have service performed by a specialized dealer who may not be close at hand. Some performance sterndrive engines require maintenance after just 50 hours. Also, operational hours are usually less than a general purpose boat, so your cost per hour will be more. Higher fuel consumption is not a significant factor because fuel costs are relatively low as compared to other costs. Nonetheless, a single 350 HP outboard can burn around 29 gallons per hour.

  • Depreciation is high. The world of boat design is continually coming up with tweaks and additions. Since every performance buff wants the latest stuff, performance boats become less desirable more quickly. Also, for ones that are used, there is buyer concern about previous owner care.

  • Not all people are comfortable opting to ride in a fast boat, so you could be limiting your list of travel buddies. Stumble into a little 'air time' when cruising and the list gets even shorter.

  • Because problems can result from a lapse of driver concentration, drivers need to continually focus on the job at hand. This reduces socializing with your passengers.

  • Insurance can be very high, or not available at all.

  • A performance boat cannot be left in the water, as any dirt or film that forms on the bottom will create significant drag, which harms performance. Therefore, you will either need to keep your boat on a boat lift, or on a trailer.

  • Multiple outboards seem to be the trend for many performance boats. Twin sterndrive performance engines can be found with super high HP, but outboard motors provide the less costly option.

  • You travel further distances in the same boating time periods, so ideally you will need to be based on a larger body of water.

  • Contrary to popular opinion, a gentleman's performance boat is not a rocket in all water conditions. For example, a 32 foot deep-V style performance boat may run in a light chop between 75 and 100 mph (depending on power). However, in four foot seas, you may need to slow to below 35 mph to proceed safely. Having driven too many offshore performance boats and raced offshore, I offer my ratings on an average gentleman's performance boat

Strength Rating: Water travel has a third dimension. While road vehicles can go left or right, a boat also goes up and down -- a lot. Molded stringer systems secured by quality adhesives are critical in providing a hull with the structural boat strength it needs. When buying any performance boat make sure the stringers are fully encapsulated in fiberglass fabric and resin. Thanks to new composite technologies, all boat hulls are thinner and stronger than they used to be, but you should still question the materials and methods used to build your performance boat.

Storage Rating: Usually quite sufficient for the things that boaters bring with them on a performance boat.

Ride Comfort: As with most boats, the greater the overall length the better the ride. Shorter boats are more susceptible to hard rides and stuffing. Don't be tempted to buy a short performance boat because it costs less. Be sure your boat is long enough to keep you comfortable by taking a test ride in different sea conditions.

Handling: Because of the latest design features of performance boats, they handle very well. You will generally not notice any low speed hunting and higher speed cornering is sharp and precise. You may find shifting more clunky due to heavier duty transmissions.

Amenities: Creature comforts that you will find in most regular style boats are not a priority in a standard performance boat. Of course if you move up to the high priced 'exotic' performance boats and they will have everything.

Safety: Performance boats are not dangerous until pushed beyond what they were built to handle, or if the driver is careless. Most injuries, if any, are minor sprains from people bumping into interior boat parts. A grab handle for every seat can cure this. An automatic inflatable vest for all onboard is highly recommended. Other safety equipment should include a first aid kit, smoke flares, radios and some basic tools. Use a safety checklist to ensure you are prepared.

Passenger Capacity: Expect a lower seating capacity in performance boats. Between 5 and 7 seats is normal. This is because weight is counter-productive to performance. Seats are usually individual, rather then bench, for maximum fit and comfort.

Design: The two basic designs for performance boats are deep-V hulls and air entrapment catamarans. Both may have 'steps' built into the hull and tuned lifting strakes. The V-bottoms may also have a keel 'pad' and a higher than average freeboard.

Maintenance Required: Mechanics tell me that as a general rule, multiple outboards require less maintenance than high compression sterndrives. But every performance boat owner's manual is more detailed than that of a large runabout, but you expect this. What might come as a surprise is the dramatically higher cost of insurance. Insurance companies look for any excuse to charge high rates, but they will not charge less because the driver is experienced and promises to be careful.

The Bottom Line: If you are debating the purchase of a performance boat, ask yourself this: Will performance be my main reason for owning this boat, at the exclusion of other general boating activities? If so, you fit perfectly into the mold of a performance boater. Have fun.

You can check out the rest of our 'Pros and Cons' series below:

3,998 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page