A skiff provides an inexpensive alternative to the big boat and delivers a different sort of boating experience.
So what is a skiff anyway? While there are many official definitions, for our purposes we’re going to call it a light, relatively flat-bottomed fishing boat that can operate in shallow water and be powered by a low-horsepower engine.
The other major ingredient is that it be inexpensive enough to allow almost anyone to get out on the water — important because most people reading this magazine already have a family boat eating into their boating budget. But the beauty of a skiff is it makes ca viable option for a second boat … one that’s easy to own and allows the owner to get away with maybe one or two friends or family members. It is a more intimate flavor of boating that really makes occupants feel one with the water, mostly because there’s usually not much separating them and it.
Fiberglass Jon Boat
Carolina Skiff is the major player in the skiff world and has probably built more boat hulls than any other boat company. Founded in the early 1980s by Terry Stark, who sold the company in 1998 to travel the world, the company’s goal was to build a boat anyone could afford. The original models had totally flat bottoms that beat riders up in a chop and took corners like a car on black ice. Newer entry-level models have a modified Shallow Vee hull that rides softer and knocks down spray better and their keel tracks better in corners. Many current models are more like fancy-pants boats, with liners and deep-V hulls, such as the 27 HFC that sells for more than $100,000, but Carolina Skiff still makes skiffs the likes of which built its reputation. They feature a rolled-edge design and a speckled interior devoid of a liner. J-models such as the J16 CC are durable, functional and affordable. For buyers looking to get one as inexpensively as possible, Carolina Skiff’s dealers will even sell a kit, which is a barebones hull that allows buyers to add only the features they want.
Most of the boats in this category are far too expensive to be called affordable. Even a used Egret, Hell’s Bay, Chittum Skiff, or Lake and Bay can cost $65K or more. Often they are made from exotic materials such as Kevlar, which will come in handy for folks who do their boating in bullet-infested waters. But there are some inexpensive models, such as the Xpress Boats Skiff 165, which is powered by a Yamaha F70 and comes with a trailer, for a nationally advertised price of $19,995. The secret ingredient? Although it looks like a fiberglass boat from a distance, its hull is made from 0.100-gauge aluminum. Like its more expensive brethren, this 16-foot, 3-inch boat features a raised casting deck in the bow that’s totally devoid of any obstruction that could snag a loose fly line. It can float in inches of water with the motor raised and even offers a raised platform at the stern that can accept an elevated platform, to allow the “guide” to push the boat with a pole while spotting fish for the angler in the bow.
Original Jon Boat
This is the original skiff and is one of the least expensive ways to get on the water. They haven’t changed much over the decades other than being much safer with greater flotation. They feature flat bottoms, which allow them to be very stable for their size, and they don’t need a lot of power to move them. Models such as the Lowe L1648 M Aura can be powered with up to a 35 hp FourStroke Mercury and has a hull weight of just 275 pounds but can carry up to 1,014 pounds (including the engine). Most Jon boats are designed for calm inland waters and some are small enough to be hauled in the bed of a pickup truck. Because of their light weight, most Jon boats don’t need a traditional boat ramp, just back up the trailer to the lake or pick it up and carry it.
Tunnel Hull Skiffs
This is the exception to our relatively flat-bottomed skiff description in the opening paragraph, but these boats are clearly in the skiff family. Models such as the Mako Pro Skiff 17 feature a unique catamaran-like Advanced Inverted V hull shape that traps air under the hull and makes it fast and stable and gives it a more comfortable ride than flattish-hulled boats. This variant is one of the more “seaworthy” models in this roundup, even though its own literature notes it is designed for inshore waters. Powered by a modest 60 hp Mercury FourStroke, the nationally advertised price with a trailer is a budget-friendly $15,995. Its deck layout includes fore and aft casting platforms that can accommodate pedestal seating. A center console design, it has a padded cooler for a seat, whose low height encourages the driver to stand while underway, which provides better visibility. Some care needs to be taken when turning it hard over for the first time, because its ability to hook up and carve a tight turn is surprising.
I saw a couple of Ultraskiffs in the Atlantic Ocean not long ago and didn’t fully understand why anyone who already owned a bigger boat would haul them offshore. They are powered by a trolling motor, which is used more for maneuvering around a set point than as propulsion to get from point A to point B. My first thought was that it would be great if your pesky brother-in-law wanted to go fishing. Just drop him off and tell him you’ll be back in a couple of hours to pick him up. But after watching them in action, I started to understand (sort of) what they are for. With a pedestal fishing seat in the middle, it makes a really stable platform for one person to catch a fish, either sitting or standing. On regular boats, fish will often make an angler circumnavigate the boat’s perimeter multiple times during a fight, but here, when the fish takes a lap, one can just spin around in the seat. Angled footrests all the way around provide good leverage when fighting a fish. Because of its shape, it can be moved around by tilting the 6-foot-diameter, 123-pound hull on its side and rolling it. The price before adding accessories is $1,495.
In 1956, Boston Whaler made skiff history when it introduced its 13. Featuring a hull designed by Dick Fisher and tweaked by noted naval architect C. Raymond Hunt, the Boston Whaler 13 was touted as the first unsinkable boat (technically the second, counting Titanic). Using a new material called polyurethane foam, Fisher constructed a hull that consisted of a fiberglass/foam sandwich that would float even when sawed in half. Whaler still channels the original design in its newer 130 Super Sport, which has a 14-degree deadrise, to give it a smoother ride in the chop than with flatter-bottomed boats. This 13-footer still can accommodate a payload of 933 pounds and has an amazing swamped capacity of 1,600 pounds. Powered with a 40 hp Mercury FourStroke, it’s priced at $13,995, with a trailer.
One of the fastest growing watersports is standup paddleboarding (SUP), and it started with boards that were designed for riders to paddle around, get a little exercise and check out the scenery. In recent years, this genre has exploded and the boards have evolved to handle many more missions. Just how far they’ve come was in evidence at this year’s ICAST convention, an industry-only show that is all things fishing. In the New Product Showcase were hundreds of new items that writers and buyers voted on to find out which was Best in Show. The winner? The 14-foot Bōte Rover, a standup board with some serious fishing chops. In addition to having clever features such as a slot to quickly store a paddle and a large Kula 5 bucket cooler that doubles as a seat, what turns it into a skiff is a motor bracket that can hold up to a 6 hp outboard and is designed to lift the nose out of the water to allow it to achieve speeds up to 16 mph, with a range of 180 miles. The bow features a sharp-V configuration, which allows it to slice through the water easily. The Rover ($3,499) can carry two people and gear, up to 500 pounds, even though it weighs just 105 pounds. For safety when running, there’s a Grab Rac that can serve as a “leaning post” while fishing. Other customizations exist. For anchoring, a Sandspear pole can fit through one of the holes in the board, or buyers can option up to an electric Power-Pole Micro.
Essentially a mashup of a kayak, an SUP and a skiff, Solo Skiff can achieve surprising performance — top speed up to 17 mph — with up to a 5 hp outboard. This rotomolded polyethylene skiff is designed for one person and is stable enough to allow an angler to stand up and fish. With a 200-pound passenger and the outboard in the raised position, it only draws three inches of water. It comes with a four-gallon cooler and a seat that doubles as a surprisingly large dry storage area. The skiff itself is priced at $1,895 but doesn’t include the engine, which Solo Skiff recommends buyers get at onlineoutboards.com. There, a 15-inch-shaft Tohatsu 5 hp model costs $1,395 and is the recommended engine because of its slim lower unit profile. Motors other than the Mercury 3.5 and 5 hp (also built by Tohatsu) may make it impossible to steer.
Essentially, Gheenoe is a flat-backed 13- to 16-foot long canoe that will accept a small outboard, up to 40 hp, and can reach 35 mph with a 25 hp motor. What makes this different from most other canoes is its extremely wide beam, 4 feet, 7 inches on the larger models, which gives it incredible side-to-side stability that makes it possible to stand while casting or poling it around on the flats. A wide array of accessories allows buyers to customize it. It can accommodate a livewell and a side-stick steering system. I used one to explore the Ocklawaha River, in central Florida, in places where conventional boats couldn’t go because of downed trees blocking the waterway.