What Is An Open Bow Boat

Looking forward over an open bow boat out in the water with mountains at waters edge on a sunny day.

There are many different boat styles that are considered as open bow boats. Bowrider boats are what most people think of as an open bow boat, but there are more that just that.


An open bow boat has deck level seating for passengers within the bow area of the boat which is forward of the helm. Bowrider and deck boats are the most common of the family friendly open bow boats, but here are a few other styles that can also qualify as open bow boats:

  • Bowrider
  • Dual Console
  • Center Console
  • Deck Boat
  • Wake Boat
  • Fish and Ski
  • Ski Boat (most)
  • Jet Boat


With the exception of Dual Console and Center Console boats, open bow boats are primarily designed for inland lakes that are not susceptible to large swales and waves. They are designed around family fun and watersports usage, but each has a specific design purpose to enhance a particular boating need.



Bowrider Hull and Bow Seating Design


Looking from outside an open bow boat that is on it's trailer, noting the seating is arranged all around the bow interior.The bowrider boat is the boat most often called an open bow boat. While the statement is in fact true, it’s also true about 7 other different boat designs. The bowrider design is the most sold boat design because it’s so versatile and family friendly.


There are a few different propulsion systems for the bowrider style of boat. Most common propulsion systems found on bowriders are the I/O (inboard/outboard) also known as a stern drive, an Outboard, and the Jet Drive. Each drive system has their specific uses in which they prevail over the others.


The bowrider has an open bow that is more narrow in shape and comes to a point at the front. This allows the shape of the hull to cut the waves and be more nimble in turns. Bowriders are also known for having a hull design that allows for a higher top speed when compared to other hull designs for open bow boats.


The bowrider has the main cabin of the boat separated from the bow by a full windshield. The center of the windshield opens up to allow access into the bow area. Some larger bowriders are equipped with on-board fresh water, sinks, toilet, and even a shower. For example my Monterey 268ss has all this.


Bowriders can be fitted with a multitude of accessories depending on your personal needs. Adding a bimini top or wake tower can not only add to the functionality of your boat, but really enhance the looks as well. I have even installed a grill mount and stowable grill on some of my open bow boats.



Dual Console Has An Open Bow


A dual console boat with dual outboards out in the water on a nice day showing that it also has an open bow layout.Dual Console boats are sometimes confused with bowriders, but there are some differences. While they both have open bow designs, the Dual Console boat is set up to be a little more sea worthy. It’s more utilitarian in nature. It doesn’t have carpet or some of the other creature comforts found in a bowrider’s more plush interior.


Not only does the Dual Console not have a carpeted floor, but the deck is actually designed to drain off any water that comes in over the sides of the boat, directly back into the sea/ocean/lake. Dual Console boats have really gained in popularity in coastal areas as the hull design can handle much larger waves than the Bowrider hull.


They are considered a “crossover” boat. For those boaters that want the sea worthy abilities of the Center Console boat, but aren’t ready to take the full leap away from the Bowrider style, The Dual Console is the perfect choice for there next open bow boat.


One thing about moving into the open bow Dual Console, is that you will be most likely switching drive systems. Dual Console boats are equipped with outboards motors. It’s a better drive system for this type of boat. But don’t worry about power, because there are some real powerhouse outboards available to hang off the transom.


If fishing is your primary goal for your boat, then you will find some limitations over the Center Console. The open bow of the Dual Console is usually more designed for sitting rather than standing. There is no way to walk the sides of your boat, up into the open bow area. It’s equipped with a console and windshield on the port and starboard sides. This does bring one benefit though. A head! The port side console generally includes an enclosed toilet and sink.



Center Console Has An Open Bow


A center console boat sitting on it's trailer showing that it also has a open bow configuration, but is more for walking than sitting.If you want to primarily fish with your boat, then you really can’t beat the design of the Center Console boat. The open bow has very simple seating, which makes way for the ability to walk from bow to stern along the inside walls. When you have a nice fish on the line, you want to be able to walk to keep the line clear.


For the most part, the hull design is pretty much the same between the Dual Console and the Center Console boats. They have a nice deep V and taller gunwales (top edge of the sidewalls of the boat). This is true most of the time, however there are several manufactures with slightly different designs.


These features, along with powerful outboards, make these two open bow boats very sea worthy for those who want to travel further off shore in the ocean.



Deck Boats Have A Spacious Open Bow


Looking from the bow backwards showing this deck boat has a very spacious open bow and a family enjoing it out on the lake on a sunny day.The Deck Boat has not only an open bow, but the whole idea behind the design is to create a very open design, much like a pontoon boat has. For overall family fun and watersports activities, the Deck boat is really the superior design when considering seating and floor space.


Generally speaking, a deck boat has little to no separation between the front and rear sections of the boat. The helm is the main console and has the only windshield in the boat. So it definitely fits the open bow category and has the most open concept throughout, of all the open bow boats.


Primarily powered by either and I/O or and outboard motor, the Deck Boat has a hull design that is different than it’s close cousin, the Bowrider. Most deck boat hulls are more broad at the bow and flatten at the stern. Still provide a decent ride, but certainly improves usable space when compared to the open bow Bowrider.


When it comes to handling and top speed, the Bowrider is going to win out, but for family fun, the deck boat will perform more than adequate and give you a bit more usable and open floor plan.



Wake Boat Has An Open Bow


Looking down from above on a wake boat in the water showing that it has an open bow, but with less room.Wake boats have an open bow for seating. Wake boats primary use is for wakeboarding, but also works great for other watersports. Wake boats have built in ballast tanks that the driver can fill with lake water. By filling these tanks the extra weight added to the boat causes it to sink deeper into the water causing a much larger wake.


With the boat riding deep in the water, it creates a larger wake behind the boat which the wakeboarder or wake surfer use to enhance their riding and trick height. These ballast tanks can have water added or subtracted by the push of a button at the helm. There are multiple tanks to really customize the wake size and shape.


The open bow seating helps with space for passengers, because the aft section of the boat is active with wakeboards and surf boards coming in and out of the waketower along with riders preparing for their turn. The bow is a good place to wait your turn while staying out of the way.


A wake boat isn’t designed for speed, but they do have powerful engines for pushing the boat through the water when fully loaded with ballast tanks and people. Most wake boats are powered by a V-drive system. You can learn more about the different boat drive systems here.



Fish And Ski Boats Have A Dual Purpose Open Bow


A fish and ski boat on a trailer on a sunny day showing the open bow can be used with a pedistal seat or as open floor for standing.If you are a fan of fishing, but also have family that likes to get out and do some tubing and waterskiing, then a Fish and Ski is great on inland lakes. The Fish and Ski boat design has an open bow with the regular seating, but also has a removable pedestal seat that goes right up in the open bow.


I had a 1996 Bayliner 1954 Fish and Ski. Sitting on the pedestal seat up in the bow was my favorite location in the boat. I was comfortable and could see well and could fish more than 180 degrees around me. With the cushions out of the bow, I had quick access to the live well and other storage. It was a great open bow boat.


The Fish and Ski has the very same hull as the same model in the bowrider style boat. For instance, the Bayliner 1954 is the Fish and Ski model, and the Bayliner 1950 is the Bowrider model. Both boats use the same hull design, but feature different open bow designs.


Most Fish and Ski boats don’t have big engines, but are certainly well powered for fishing, tubing, and waterskiing. They are powered by either and I/O (inboard/outboard), or an outboard motor. A great option if you are going to be fishing for more than 50% of the time.



Ski Boats Have Open Bow Seating


A ski boat pulling a skier out on the lake and showing that some skii boats have an open bow and some don't.You can get a Ski Boat with out without an open bow. Closed bow is much harder to get in newer Ski Boats, because the demand has shifted toward having the versatility of an open bow. However, there are still plenty of older Ski Boats with closed bows still available as most were well taken care of.


Open bow vs closed bow is  a matter of opinion for true Ski Boats. There is a poll over on the MasterCraft site that shows there are more people that see the advantages of having an open bow. It comes down to getting more room for people and the ability to walk up and tie off at the dock.


Ski Boats are powered by a direct drive system. The engine is located in the center of the boat at a slight angle downward. A driveshaft comes off the engine’s transmission, through the bottom of the boat’s hull. At the end of that shaft is the prop, which is forward of the transom. The rudder rides just behind the prop. All this provides for spectacular handling and power.



Most Jet Boats Have Open Bow Seating


An open bow jet boat out on the water going fast on a sunny day.Jet Boats are not as popular as other open bow boats, but they do have a couple advantages in certain situations. A Jet Boat is better in shallow water, and the other advantage is that there is no propeller to get injured on.


Jet Boats run an impeller. The impeller basically runs inside the jet drive housing out of reach of accidental contact. I don’t often see Jet Boats out on the lakes. They wouldn’t keep making them if someone wasn’t buying them, but I just rarely see them.


I have had an older Jet Boat, that my son wanted as a project. We fixed it up, but it truly was a dog. It’s power plant was basically an outboard engine powering a jet drive. It rode like a rock and went about as fast as one too! LOL


Modern Jet Boats are MUCH better, but pricey. But I love personal watercrafts. Those old Jet Boats were also open bow, but really the whole boat was open (and tiny). I am 6’3″ and sitting in that little thing was hilarious.


With that all said, Yamaha has a line of open bow Jet Boats that are really impressive. For instance the 275SD is a 27 foot boat with twin 1.8s and is priced at a mere $130K! I will say though, it is a beautiful boat. You should watch the video at yamahaboats.com .


Yamaha even provides a wake series open bow boat. I have never seen one in person on the water in action, so I can’t speak to it’s effectiveness. As for the open bow seating in the 275SD, it is actually quite roomy and the design is really clean.



Open Bow Boats


I love open bow boats and that is primarily what BeginBoating focuses on. If I enjoyed going out on my boat and spending the night on the water, perhaps a closed cabin would make it very comfortable, but for me and most other people, the open bow platform is much more useable. When it comes to family fun for a day on the lake or a couple weeks at the lakeside cottage, there is just no beating a boat with the versatility of having an open bow.


I will leave you with one last thought on the open bow design.

When the water gets to become too rough, move all passengers to the main area of the boat. The last thing you want to do is take a large wave wrong and flip a passenger out of the bow. Use common sense and you will love open bow boats as much as I do.


I bought my first boat while in high school 1981. I had more hours working on it than using it in the water. I can't count how many boats I've had since, but I really enjoy reviving boats. I've had so many boats that I could never use them all. Once I fix a boat up, I play with it a couple times and sell it. My goal is to use my many years of experience, and help as many people Begin Boating.

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