The best boat that you can buy for under $10,000 in 2024 is the S4 Microskiff. All factors considered, this $3,000 portable boat offers what no other boat can.
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Is there such a thing as a ‘best boat’?
Arguably, every boat design, class, and category offers some advantages, and has some disadvantages, but it doesn’t necessarily prove that there is no such thing as an overall ‘best boat’, because there is one, as will be shown in this article, point by point –
1. Trailer or no trailer?
Most people would agree that that the cost of a trailer that you use to transport your boat should be included in the overall cost of the boat itself. The alternatives to using a trailer are renting a slot in a marina, or owning a waterfront property, and both are more expensive.
And what if there is a high performance, comfortable boat that you can easily cartop by yourself on the roof rack of any vehicle, without help from anyone, or transport inside a large size vehicle such as a van, or a large size minivan or SUV, or simply attach on the truck bed of your pickup truck? This Trailer-Free Boat is the S4 Microskiff.
Problem solved without a trailer, and that’s at least $1,500 that you can save, or spend on outfitting your boat for fishing, or any other activity that you like.
The S4 frees you from launching at boat ramps, and it saves you the aggravation and time loss associated with them.
The S4 weighs just 100 lbs without a motor, and you can launch, go, and beach it practically anywhere, as seen in this demo video –
2. Built – How durable is your boat?
Can you launch, drive and beach your boat anywhere you want, or do you have to be watchful not to damage its hull?
Very important question indeed, and the answer to it is that the S4 is roto-molded from High Density Polyethylene (HDPE), so its owners don’t have to worry about any of these problems, unlike owners of boats made from other popular materials such as aluminum and fiberglass, and inflatable boats.
Note that polyethylene is an extremely durable resin, both in terms of impact resistance (resilience) and chemical resistance, e.g. resistance to rusting, corrosion (e.g. saltwater), solvents (e.g. gasoline), and Ultra Violet (UV) radiation.
Aluminum is generally a good material that’s commonly used in small and medium size boats. Aluminum sheets can be easily assembled with rivets or by welding, but you’ll be surprised to see how many online discussions you’ll find on the subject of “Welding vs Riveting”, since if you’re not careful in handling your aluminum boat, rivets could pop, and welds could crack.
Aluminum is also vulnerable to galvanic corrosion in saltwater, and if your aluminum boat is not properly protected against corrosion, you’re looking for trouble.
Fiberglass is a popular material for making boats of all sizes, but it performs poorly in terms of impact resistance (i.e. it’s brittle), which is why owners of fiberglass boats avoid driving them near rocky shores and in rocky rivers, and they are prevented from launching, driving, and beaching them anywhere they suspect that rocks are present.
Since many boats are made from wood and coated with fiberglass, and since boat manufacturers counter affect the brittleness of this material by making the boats’ walls thicker, fiberglass boats are often heavy, and this is not a good thing when going in shallow water is considered, especially in places with a rocky bottom.
Inflatable boats are popular as dinghies and tenders, but you won’t find that many anglers who like to fish out of them, for reasons that are quite obvious.
3. Maintenance is no fun, and time is money
Boat maintenance is a painful subject, any way you look at it. Scraping, cleaning, sanding and painting the bottom of your boat is hard work and it’s time consuming too, and it can be expensive if you pay others to do it for you.
The S4’s polyethylene hull requires no maintenance, and you can’t beat that.
- More on the S4, the maintenance-free boat »
4. Size – Is a bigger boat always better?
Most people would think, intuitively, that the bigger the boat the better, and many would think that a boat is required to fulfill certain requirements, and once a boat has, it’s good enough. In reality the bigger your boat is the more problematic it could be, including price wise, the space it takes on your driveway or front yard, maintenance, etc. Such space isn’t cheap, especially in dense urban communities, and you can definitely include this consideration when you figure the overall cost of ownership of a boat.
Size and stability –
A big Flats boat, Jon boat or Bass boat is still a boat that’s designed to provide stability for inland fishing, mostly on flat water (i.e. initial, or primary stability), which is why it typically features a flat bottom. A flat bottom is counterproductive in terms of stability in moving water (secondary stability), as this article’s ‘Fishing in the ocean’ section explains.
Typically, the bigger the boat the more stable it is, which is good, but there are many exceptions to this, including inflatable dinghies, RIBs, personal watercraft (PWC) dubbed ‘jet ski’, and of course the S4 Microskiff, which is seaworthy in waves up to 3 ft, where even large size Jon boats and bass boats fail to prevent their passengers from becoming seasick, which doesn’t happen to passengers of an S4, or a PWC, thanks to their superior ergonomic design based on a saddle-seat.
Carrying capacity –
It goes without saying that a bigger boat can carry more load onboard, which means more passengers. In this sense, size is a critical advantage if you like to take many people in your boat, but it’s irrelevant if you prefer to go in it by yourself, or with just one or two passengers, which the S4 offers.
5. Speed – For what purpose, and at what cost?
When outfitted with a 6 HP outboard motor, for which it is rated, and a 9″ pitch propeller, which we recommend, the S4 can go at a speed of 15 mph (24 kmh). This makes it a extremely fast in comparison to motor kayaks and canoes, as well as any electric powered boat, but somehow sluggish compared with any small boat powered by a big motor.
The reason for this deficiency in speed is that the S4 is designed to serve as a paddle craft (kayak / canoe) as well as a motorboat, and paddle crafts mustn’t be too wide, or too heavy, or else they would be ineffective in paddling terms. The S4 weighs just 100 lbs, and it is 38″ wide, so it works perfectly both in the kayaking and canoeing paddling styles, in a solo as well as a tandem mode.
And most importantly, its light weight and small size are the attributes that make the S4 portable, and a perfect cartop boat.
To summarize this subject, the S4 is fast for its size, its versatility, and its portability.
6. Flats fishing and shallow water fishing
Shallow water is popular with anglers, whether it’s in slow moving rivers, marshes, lakes, or in tidal waters known as tidal flats.
The typical flats boat is wide, and features a flat bottom. Its width provides primary (initial) stability to its crew, and its flat bottom enables it to travel in shallow water. This design doesn’t work in choppy water, e.g. in the ocean, and surprisingly, it doesn’t work that well in extremely shallow water dubbed ‘skinny water’, unless the boat is powered by a surface drive (mud motor).
Alternative, human powered propulsion, doesn’t work well for such a boat, because poling it hard, so it’s not something that you’d like to do yourself, while paddling it is quasi impossible, because of the combination of excessive width and weight. Walking in skinny water and pulling your flats boat behind you is not easy either, and it may even be impossible, in case you’re stranded due to an ebb tide, or simply because you got stuck on a shoal.
Remember that every planing hull is always a displacement hull at slow speed – A planing hull can work as such only when the boat’s motor produces enough power (i.e. speed) to put it on a plane, but it’s a regular displacement hull at speeds that are lower than this, which means that if your boat is heavy, you have to move a lot of water out its way in order to enable it to go forward…
Moving water by hand is called human powered propulsion, and it doesn’t work with a big and heavy fishing boat.
In fact, unless you’re young and athletic, you can move a boat without a motor only if it is very lightweight. The rule of thumb here is that the boat plus its motor should weigh less than you, and this rule works only if you’re not overweight.
Alternative propulsion, namely paddling, poling, and pulling (PPP) is much quieter than motorizing, and the ability to go quietly is priceless when you’re sight fishing in shallow water.
An electric trolling motor solves this problem, to some extent, but even these motors require a minimum of 6 inches of water for their propeller to produce enough thrust to move the boat, and the last thing you want is to have your propeller hit bottom.
The S4 Microskiff is immune to these problems, since its extremely light weight (just 100 lbs without the motor) makes it easy to paddle, pull, and even pole. In fact, the S4 is lighter than most full-size fishing kayaks out there, and it drafts less.
Some S4 owners mount a 6 HP outboard gas motor at the stern, and an electric trolling motor at the front. This setup is favored by owners of bass boats, Jon boats, microskiffs, flats Boats etc, and it works perfectly with the S4 as well.
Read more about shallow water fishing »
7. Fishing in the ocean and in fast moving water
The key term here is Seaworthiness, which encompasses criteria from vessel motion to passengers’ comfort and seasickness. And when seaworthiness is concerned, the boat’s size may not necessarily be of help, because a flat bottom boat, as large as it may be, cannot be seaworthy, since the feature that makes it more stable on flat water (primary stability), reduces its stability in waves (secondary stability).
Even a 2 ft chop might prove to be too much for the passengers of a large size Jon boat or flat-bottomed skiff to handle. In fact, the boat itself might not be able to handle such conditions if it doesn’t have enough freeboard to prevent water from getting into its cockpit, since this water would increase its instability.
Smaller vessels such as PWC and the S4 Microskiff are seaworthy thanks to the fact that they offer their passengers the ability to easily and effectively balance themselves, as well as control the boat’s reactions to waves, including motion and direction.
8. Microskiffs and cartop microskiffs
Pressure from anglers seeking increasingly lightweight boats, combined with manufacturers’ technical and design innovations, have yielded new types of ultralight motorized vessels that are grouped under the term ‘Microskiff’.
Typically, the smaller microskiffs are motorized boards, that is vessels that lack a proper cockpit, and instead, feature an exposed deck, populated with a rudimentary seat, and often a grab bar that helps the driver keep their balance when driving standing.
Some of these watercraft are molded from fiberglass, others from polyethylene, and some are inflatable, or rigid-inflatable, that is an inflatable hull (bladder) glued to a bottom made from a plastic resin, typically ABS.
These small microskiffs are not proper boats, since they offer no internal space for passengers and gear, and no freeboard to protect either from incoming spray and breaking waves.
Moreover, these watercraft are not particularly stable, mainly because their passengers are required to sit and stand on top of a deck that’s several inches above waterline.
So, regardless of their lower price, one wonders what could be the point in fishing from a watercraft that’s neither very stable nor comfortable, and doesn’t even offer adequate means for driving it in sensible manner, even if you’re young and athletic, and possess some acrobatic skills.
We don’t know the answer, and it seems like eventually, it’s just be the fact that most of these watercraft are cheaper than real boats, and since these products are skillfully hyped, it can happen that naive people end up buying them.
9. Should kayaks be counted as boats?
Kayaks and canoes are vessels, but they are not classified as boats, because they are designed primarily to be human powered, and they cannot be safely powered by a motor that’s more powerful than 3 HP.
Unlike other motor kayaks, Wavewalk’s W720 Kayak-Skiff is very stable and comfortable, and easy to drive as well as to paddle. The W720 is classified as a kayak, because we feel that operating it with a motor that’s more powerful than 6 HP might be risky for inexperienced users, and we did not design its motor mount for bigger motors.
Why mention kayaks? –
The reason we felt we needed to mention kayaks in this article is neither because kayak manufacturers classify their products as boats (they don’t), nor because these vessels are worth mentioning, except the W720, but because some authors of ‘Best Boat For Under $X‘ articles include a kayak in their choice of boats, and we think this is wrong. Even the biggest fishing kayaks are notoriously unstable and uncomfortable for anyone who’s over 40 years old, and/or suffers from a sensitive back. Kayaks are hazardous even in mild chop, and a motorboats’ wake can capsize your kayak. Kayaks’ passengers are not only seated uncomfortably, but they’re also continuously exposed to spray and waves, and it seems like the main reason for people to use them is that they cost less than boats, and they are easier to maintain and transport.
10. Personal Watercraft (PWC) Anyone?
PWC (“jet-ski”) are among the most exciting boats out there, and many of them are priced under $10,000. There are anglers who fish out of PWC, and there are even PWC offered as fishing boats »
But there is no such thing as a cartop PWC, and no PWC that’s light enough to be portable, as the S4 is, so that typically, you have to launch your PWC and take it out at a boat ramp, which is no fun.
And if you’re looking to fish in skinny water, doing it with a PWC could get you stranded during an ebb tide, or because aquatic vegetation and pebbles would jam your jet drive, and you won’t be able to paddle your way out of there and into deeper water. Walking and puling your ride behind you might not work either, because it could be too heavy for this.
In comparison, the S4 is immune to all these problems.
How much more boat can you get if you spend more than $10,000?
Spending more money on a boat can get you more speed, more comfort, such as a cabin to protect you from rain and sunshine, and maybe even for you and your guests to sleep onboard, an onboard toilet, a longer range of travel so that you can go on long trips, a radar, and so on, but if you’re not going to spend this much money (and time) on a boat, the S4 Microskiff is your best choice for a boat under $10,000 in 2024.