The universe of fishing boats includes a huge range of sizes, styles, and designs, from diminutive Jon boats to massive sportfishing yachts, and one category of angling machine that’s gained serious popularity in recent years is the bay boat. This genre of boat was developed by and for inshore fishermen along the Gulf coast, who had very specific needs as they pursued redfish, speckled trout, flounder, and other species in the coastal bays and bayous. But through time their use spread among inshore anglers throughout the nation, and today, you’ll spot bay boats from Mississippi to Maine — and beyond. Let’s take a detailed look at:
What is a Bay Boat
Bay boats are a subcategory of center console boats. They can range in size from about 18’ to 26’, although there are a few outliers on either side of that spectrum. Their main purpose is to deliver maximum fishing prowess for the widest range of light tackle fishing. This means they need to be able to access very shallow waters where anglers sight-cast to species like bonefish and reds, much like a flats boat. However, they also have to be able to cross and fish in relatively large, open bays and bodies of water like a deep-V boat, when it’s time to throw baits to cobia or jig for stripers. Whenever you build a boat for multiple purposes it tends to be less than ideal for any one specific purpose, so the bay boat’s job is to straddle these lines and deliver maximum versatility.
As a result of the need to fill multiple niches, you’ll find some bay boats that tilt a bit more in one direction than another. Some, for example, focus more on minimizing draft. One trade-off to attain this goal can be putting less transom deadrise in the hull to flatten waves. For every trait and feature, there’s usually some level of give and take.
Different Types of Bay Boats
While all bay boats are focused on fishing, you will find different types that stress other uses as well. Many bay boats are also intended to serve as family boats, and these tend to incorporate more seating as well as crowd-pleasers like potent stereo systems, head compartments in the console, and freshwater showers. Some take a bit of a watersports angle, too, adding accessories like ski tow bits or elevated pylons. You’ll also see bay boats that are part bowrider, part speed boat, or part deck boat.
Among all the different varieties of bay boats you’ll see, however, the core of this boat type consists of two basic styles: traditional bay boats, and “hybrid” bay boats. Hybrid bay boats, which have become just about as popular as the more traditional variety in recent years, are those that are a bit bigger, beefier and more capable of handling large waves and open waters. They’re called hybrids because they’re more less a hybrid between traditionally defined bay boats and offshore center consoles.
Key Bay Boat Features
Bay boats have a number of features that may be more or less prevalent depending on their exact type and the fishing mission they’re designed for. That said, all of these features would be considered key:
- A shallow draft, so you can get to skinny water fisheries.
- A moderate V-hull (or in a few cases a power catamaran design) that can knock down the chop and provide some level of rough water capability, while also maximizing stability.
- Low sides and gunwales, to provide easy access to the water for landing and releasing fish.
- Elevated casting decks for accurate and maximum distance casting.
- Lots of livewell capacity for live-bait fishing and keeping fish alive when tournament fishing, if necessary.
- Fishing rod holders, rod holders, and more rod holders.
- Some level of integrated tackle stowage.
There are also some features that would be considered critical for use in some specific fisheries, and less important in others. You may see some bay boats lacking one of these items or another, but you’ll see all of these on many bay boats.
- Bow-mounted trolling motors for stealthily approaching fish and utilizing virtual anchoring functions.
- Electric-actuated pole anchors that can be used to “stake out” the boat in relatively shallow water.
- Significant electronics packages including multiple MFDs and side-scanning fishfinders.
- Large fishboxes for hauling home the catch.
- Hydraulic Jack plates for precisely adjusting the outboard’s height while underway.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Bay Boats
As we mentioned earlier, the biggest advantage of a bay boat is also its biggest disadvantage, in that the boat’s overall design is intended for multiple applications. As a result there’s always some give and take. Bay boats generally can’t get quite as shallow as a flats boat, but they can handle heavier seas. Their hulls aren’t ideal for punching through huge waves, but they can get a whole lot shallower and are more stable than a standard deep-V center console. They have gobs of fishing features, but as a result may lose some seating capacity. Every aspect of the boat is a trade-off in one way or another.
Some people may also consider size constraints a bit of a disadvantage for bay boats. Simply as a matter of mass you can only build them so big before they draft too much water to count as a true bay boat. Even when it comes to hybrid inshore/offshore bay boats, a 28-footer would be considered by most bay boat anglers as huge, and possibly too big to fit the bill.
Bay Boat Cost
Check out the many bay boats for sale on Boat Trader, and you’ll quickly notice that the price range for them is huge. Large, fully-equipped models can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars new. Small, simple models can be found for far less than the average new car. As we prepped this guide the listed range spanned from $325,000 for a Sea Vee 27Z with twin 225-hp outboards, to $21,999 for a G3 Bay 17 with a 75-hp outboard. And when it comes to the used market, prices are all over the place.
Most Popular Bay Boats
There are plenty of boat builders offering bay boats these days, but some of the most popular on the market include:
It’s fitting that Blue Wave appears on the list of most popular bay boats because they’re one of the original builders of the design. Blue Wave first began offering boats in 1992, with their 189 Classic. Today, they have a lineup including three hybrid style bay boats and six traditional bay boats, as well as a couple of models that blur the lines between flats boats and bay boats. It’s impossible to say who truly “invented” the bay boat design, but there’s no question that Blue Wave was at the forefront of its development.
See Blue Wave boats for sale on Boat Trader.
Built in Mississippi close to the heart of the original bay boat territory, NauticStar boats builds an extensive line of four bay boats and four hybrid bay boats (along with deck boats and some dedicated offshore models). They range in size from 19’ to 25’ and on the whole their lineup has a reputation for being designed and built with an eye towards family-friendly features and layouts. Their models — even the smallest ones — feature extensive angling armaments like fore and aft livewells, vertical rodracks, and large fishboxes.
See NauticStar boats for sale on Boat Trader.
Pathfinder is part of the Maverick Boat Group, which also builds Maverick, Hewes, and Cobia boats, so these people know fishing machines inside and out, ranging from flats skiffs to oceanic center consoles. The Pathfinder line is their answer to bay boats in specific, and it includes seven models between 22’ and 27’. All feature their high-tech VARIS vacuum-infused stepped hulls, and as one might guess, performance is a big part of what these boats are known for. In fact, even the smallest model, the 2200 TRS, is a 50-mph boat. Several of their models, including the flagship 2700, can break the 60-mph mark.
See Pathfinder boats for sale on Boat Trader.
Although they aren’t a dedicated bay boat builder, Sea Pro does offer four very popular bay boat models in their mixed fleet. Ranging from 17’2” to 24’8”, these are known for maintaining a solid construction, fit and finish, and quality level, while maximizing a boater’s bang for their buck. They also check all the bay boat boxes, delivering perks like multiple livewells, big fishboxes, and extensive casting decks even on the smallest models. Notably they all also incorporate the Sea Pro Connect system, which adds remote monitoring, 24/7 alarm response and mechanical support, and GPS tracking to your boat all via BoatFix and the accompanying app.
See Sea Pro boats for sale on Boat Trader.
A large lineup of nine different models are included in Tidewater’s bay boat offerings, ranging from the small and simple 1910 Bay Max to the beefy 2700 Carolina Bay. Performance varies through the fleet but can hit impressive heights, with the 2700 Carolina Bay hitting speeds in excess of 65 mph. They also have several specialized boats in the fleet, like the 25 TPC Raptor with an elevated helm station and casting platform for sight fishing, and the 2110 Bay Max Tunnel, which incorporates a tunnel hull to run shallower than most similar boats can.
See Tidewater boats for sale on Boat Trader.
Naturally, there are plenty of other excellent bay boat builds which may not be quite as popular as these five, but deliver exactly what you, personally, want in a bay boat. Let the boat shopping begin!