There’s a reason why there are 25 boat launch ramps scattered around Tampa and St. Petersburg — and that would be two words: trailer boats.
In today’s hustle-bustle world, amidst business meetings, soccer games, ballet lessons and all the rest, boating is sometimes a difficult fit. But because of the pandemic, families have migrated to the water to safely mingle with friends and family, resulting in a rush of sales for trailerable boats.
Ultimate Marine in Tampa primarily handles trailer boats of all varieties. Marketing manager Kevin Cook says, “Trailerable boats are reasonably priced with none of the complications of marina slips and in-water maintenance.”
What does “all varieties” mean? Trailer boats come in styles to fit every possible niche of boating, from family outings to watersports, offshore or inshore fishing to performance boating.
The essence of the demand for trailerable boats is pure simplicity. Store it at home, pack it with your picnic goodies and rinse it off after use in your yard. When you need service, just drive it to the dealership rather than paying for a marina service call, and you don’t need bottom paint to prevent barnacles either. Even better, you don’t pay any monthly slip fees.
Several Tampa Bay-based dealers noted that many families are using the money they might have spent on a pre-pandemic vacation as a down payment on a trailerable boat that will provide year-round fun.
But if there was a single reason for trailerboat popularity, it would be this: Go anywhere. Marina-based boats rarely travel more than a few miles from their home slip, while a trailerable boat whizzing down the interstate at 65 miles per hour opens vast new boating areas to explore. Draw a circle around your home at say, 150 miles and you’ll find enough rivers, lakes, harbors and coves to satisfy a year of boating adventures without ever duplicating yourself. All are easily reachable for a day’s outing.
Ultimate Marine’s Cook points to the Sea Cat 260 as a popular trailerable choice, particularly for fishermen who appreciate the center-console styling for walk-around space and storage for fishing gear. With a draft of just 18-inches (outboards up), it invites families to enjoy sandbars, as well as fish the shallows but, with twin hulls, it has immense stability offshore in choppy water. And with outboards to 600 horsepower total, it can top out at over 60 miles per hour to satisfy the “need for speed.”
Sea Ray, responding to the demand for trailerable boats, recently debuted its LSX 260 Outboard, which meets the all-around needs for many families. It has comfy wrap-around seating for 15 (please, not that many!), fishability with the large aft platform and to handle family all-day outings, an enclosed toilet compartment. With a 300-horsepower outboard, it has speed to thrill (nearly 50 miles per hour) and plenty of oomph for water sports, such as towing inflatable toys.
Other trailerable boats popular in the Bay area are pontoon boats, which are just what they sound like: a wide, flat platform atop twin aluminum pontoons, creating a “patio” for family outings, fishing, exploring sandbars and swimming. Usually protected from the sun by either hard- or soft-tops, they have couch-like seating comfortable enough for Aunt Edna, a turn of speed with single or twin outboards and even pop-up private toilet areas.
Also blossoming in popularity are watersport boats, which are aimed at towing water skiers, creating large swells for wake surfers or providing thrill rides on the variety of inflatable water toys, such as tubes and bananas for hang-on-for-dear-life excitement. Want all the quivery kicks of a roller-coaster ride? These are for you!
For all-day outings, many trailer boats have surprisingly well-equipped galleys or outdoor kitchens. Pontoon boats, in particular, feature barbecue grills for torturing hot dogs and burgers, plus sinks with running water, fridges to keep everything cold all day and plenty of storage for supplies.
Some tips for picking just the right boat for your needs: First, be brutally honest about your boating interests. If it is fishing, then a center-console boat (like the Sea Cat 260) will give you and your fishing friends ample walk-around space to chase a fish around the entire boat without tangling up and they also provide insulated fish boxes to store your catches until you get home. Although they have a fishing orientation, with built-in tackle boxes and bait preparation areas, most center consoles are still family friendly, with fold-down seating both forward and aft.
If family outings appeal, go for an all-around boat like the Sea Ray SLX 260 outboard, which has comfortable seating, plenty of speed and that all-important day head so you don’t have to make stops. Bowrider styling, with wrap-around seating in the bow forward of the windshield, provides thrills with plenty of grab rails and high, secure sides for youngsters (under supervision, of course!) and adults alike.
Pure watersports fun? Gravitate to a boat designed for water skiing or wakeboarding, which allows surfing on a small board using the wake behind the boat. Wakeboard boats have easily filled (and emptied) tanks or bladders that add water weight to create Hawaii-sized wakes for surfing and jumping. These are available from major builders, such as Mastercraft or Nautique.
Now for a story to illustrate the delights of a trailerable boat: Near my home there is a lake popular with water skiers and when I pass at dawn on weekdays I see several boats on the water or at the docks getting ready for outings. I finally decided to stop and get the inside scoop.
One fellow suited up in a wetsuit (the water was nippy) said that he goes water skiing two to three times a week. A pair of friends (you need a driver and observer) will show up early and they’ll hitch up the boat, launch it at the lake and take turns towing each other for a couple of hours. Then they pull the boat out, head for their homes, shower and go to work feeling refreshed and invigorated by their outing on the water.
I see the same and other boats at the lake in the late afternoon, clearly with skiers who have left work and used the ease of a trailerable boat to get in an hour or two before dinner. This also applies to fishermen, who are able to get in a couple of hours wetting their lines early, claiming the fish are hungry at that time!
The trailerable boat — it’s a modern solution to getting on the water at minimum expense, minimum effort and maximum fun.
Chris Caswell is an award-winning writer and the former editor of several yachting magazines. He has appeared on Oprah as a boating lifestyle expert and hosted the Marine Voyager series on the Speed Channel.
Want more boating tips? Check out our 2022 Tampa Bay Boating Guide.