Best Boats for Water Sports
Sport boats can provide a thrilling way to enjoy the water and bring family and friends together for hours of fun, but before you dive into a purchase, you’ll want to consider how you spend time on the water. Are you looking for a boat for wakeboarding or wakesurfing, skiing or all of the above? You’ll find there are three major types of boats for water sports:
- Ski boats: Designed to create as little wake (the waves behind the boat) as possible so the skier can carve slaloms through smooth-as-glass water.
- Wake sports boats: Create a rolling wave or wake so a surfer or wakeboarder has a platform for jumps and flips.
- Crossover boats: Boats set up for both skiing and wake sports.
We looked across these three categories at a range of price points to select the best boats for water sports. In doing so, we examined reviews and ratings for dozens of makes and consulted with industry experts from the Water Sports Industry Association and Boating magazine to focus on some of the top boat builders in the market.
- Best ski boats
- Best wake sports boats
- Best crossover boats
- How we chose the best water sports boats
- How to find the best water sports boat for you
- How to finance the best boats for water sports
Best ski boats
Ski boats attach the tow rope using a fitting on the stern of the boat or a pylon attached to the deck. The best ski boats have inboard engines, which we’ll discuss in greater detail in a later section.
2020 Malibu Response TXi
Length: 20 ft. 6 in.
The hull is designed to produce a minimal wake, and the GPS control maintains the pre-set speed. “Skis boats are a little faster, more like a sports car compared to an SUV,” said Kevin Michael, executive director of the Water Sports Industry Association.
2020 Mastercraft Prostar
Length: 20 ft.
Approved by the American Water Ski Association for use in sanctioned tournaments, the Prostar offers precise control for competition-level skiing. A tower and ballast system are available if you want to add wake sports to your repertoire.
2020 Ski Natique
Length: 20 ft.
Another American Water Ski Association-approved tow boat, the Natique has room for seven people. The lightweight hull, a blend of carbon fiber and fiberglass, is designed to produce very little wake and minimize spray to create a smooth ride. Tracking fins and a tunable rudder help drivers stay on course.
Best wake sports boats
Like a ski boat, the best wake sports boats have inboard engines, a wake sports boat will have a tower to attach the tow rope over the boat.
2019 Heyday WT-1SC
Length: 19 ft. 6 in.
The Heydey has “hot-tub” style seating so passengers can watch the rider or see what’s ahead. It’s built from the keel up for wake sports, pushing out a curled wave for wake surfing.
2020 Moomba Helix
Length: 20 ft. 5 in.
The award-winning AutoWake technology automatically manages the position of the hull in the water for a crisp and repeatable wake, using the onboard ballast system. The Helix has room for 12 passengers.
2020 Axis Wake A20
Length: 20 ft.
With an all-new design for 2020, the Axis A20 will hold up to 11 people for sports or socializing. The premium Surf Package adds wave-making capabilities, which the rider can control from the Surf Band wearable remote control.
2020 Cobalt R5 Surf
Length: 25 ft 8 in.
The Cobalt R5 Surf uses the Volvo Penta forward drive, which moves the propeller to the front of the stern drive for precise control and a higher level of safety. The computer-controlled surf system adjusts the surf tabs (plates that stick out from the side of the boat) to create a wake on either side of the boat.
“Water sports boats with [a] forward drive are designed specifically for more safety with wake surfing, and then they have performance characteristics and features on their boats that are in line with the rest of the water sports boats,” said Garrett Cortese, water sports editor for Boating magazine.
2020 Mastercraft X26
Length: 26 ft. 5 in.
With seating for 18, the X26 offers a luxurious ride for a crowd. It’s also equipped for wakeboarding and wake surfing with GPS speed control, dual-screen dashboard and standard 430-horsepower motor. When it’s time to make a stop, a sundeck with footrests gives passengers a place to sit and stretch.
Best crossover boats
If you’re really into skiing or wake sports, you’ll get the best performance from a boat designed for that particular favorite. But if you want one boat that can do it all, consider a crossover.
2020 Malibu Wakesetter 20 VTX
Length: 20 ft.
The versatile 20 VTX was designed for skiing on a glassy lake in the morning and making waves for boarding and surfing in the afternoon. Using the Surf Band wearable controller, riders can control the speed of the boat, the shape of the waves and the volume of their music. The 20-foot length and light weight make it easy to tow behind a medium-sized SUV.
2020 Bayliner 215 Deck Boat
Length: 20 ft. 8 in.
A deck boat offers lots of room for fun on the water, from tubing to skiing. To add wake sports capabilities, the tower is a $2,710 option and you can add a wakeboard rack for $310.
2019 Yamaha 242X
Length: 24 ft.
Yamaha’s boats use water jets instead of propellers to drive the boat, so they can operate in shallow water. The 242X includes the WakeBooster attachment, wake surf rope and a Slingshot surfboard designed specifically for use behind Yamaha jet boats.
“It’s a bit of a compromise,” Cortese said. “You’re not going to get the performance of a true water sports boat but Yamaha has made big strides in offering versatility.”
Chris-Craft Launch 28GT
Length: 28 ft. 9 in.
Chris-Craft is the Cadillac of boats, known for luxury and sophistication. The Launch 28GT is a true crossover, well-suited for entertaining, swimming or water sports. Add a forward-drive Volvo Penta engine, the WakeSurf Technology system, GPS speed controller and a tower, and the Chris-Craft is ready for the sporting life. The Volvo V8, 6.2 liter, 430 horsepower engine is a $20,950 upgrade, and the WakeSurf technology package is a $13,460 option.
How we chose the best water sports boats
Wake and ski boats. The best wake sports and ski boats have inboard engines, versus an outboard or inboard/outboard configuration also called a stern drive.
According to Cortese, outboard boats “just don’t have the performance characteristics of an actual water sports boat,” adding that “in some instances aren’t as safe because the propeller is sticking out from the back of the boat as opposed to being protected underneath it.”
Crossover boats. However, for general family fun boat, a crossover style could be the right choice.
“For most or average users, especially if they’re just getting into water sports, and they don’t need all the high performance of an advanced skier or an advanced wake boarder, the crossover boat is a great way to go,” Cortese said.
For most water sports, look for a boat with these basic features:
- Wake system: devices that create a deep wake or waves beside and behind the boat.
- Tower: a structure that’s used to attach tow ropes for wake sports and skiing, and can also mount speakers and lights.
- Ballast system: a system to take in water to make the boat heavier so it creates a bigger wake.
More expensive boats add technology and comfort features, like digital displays and touch screens instead of analog gauges and switches.
“Those choices come down to down to preference and budget,” Cortese said.
How to find the best water sports boat for you
The average price of a water sports boat is $75,000, so it’s no small investment for most families. Before you buy a boat, you have to think not only about how you’ll use it but how you’ll get it to your destination. Will you tow it to and from your home or a storage area? If so, do you own a tow vehicle that can handle the weight and length of the boat? Or will you store it at a marina?
Depending on the climate where you live, you may have to winterize the boat so it’s not damaged during cold weather. You’ll need to pay sales taxes and registration fees, and insurance is a must as well. And don’t forget regular maintenance to keep your boat ready to run whenever you feel the urge to hit the water.
Those who love the lifestyle say it’s about more than having the best boat.
“Being out on the boat really is one of the more unique things that you can do together as a family,” Cortese said. “And, it provides your family a really cool environment, because you’re in this sort of close-knit area that you’re out having fun, and just doing things together.”
How to finance the best boats for water sports
Boat dealers will have sources of financing, but you can and should also look to your bank, credit union or online lender. In addition, note that not all lenders offer boat loans, and some consider boat loans a personal loan secured by the collateral of the boat. It’s a good idea to make a down payment to reduce your monthly payments and the amount of interest you’ll pay over the term of the loan.
You could also consider filling out a single online form at Lending Tree, where you may receive up to five loan offers from lenders, depending on your creditworthiness.