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Choose your boat with care. Get the right boat, and you’ll have plenty of enjoyment from your time on the water. Choose carelessly, and you risk being turned away from a lifetime of pleasure.

This guide will give you options

Hull design

The design of a boat’s hull determines how it will handle, how fast it will go, how steady it will be at sea.

Basic Hull Types


displacement hull –relatively low power for size – deep round hull – cannot plane.


semi-displacement hull – deep V shape forward and round or flat towards the stern – planes at higher speeds.


Planing hull – generally V-shaped forward and flat aft – many variations – efficient only when planing at high speeds.


Displacement hulls

These craft move through, not on, the water. They have good directional stability, have good stability in loading, and generally handle heavy weather well. Their maximum speed is determined by the waterline length rather than the engine power. Most displacement craft have inboard or inboard/outboard motors, and are usually kept on moorings. Trailer sailers and keelboats are also displacement-hulled craft.

Planing hulls

The powerful motor of a planing craft lifts the hull up and out, well ahead of the bow wave, with only a small part of the flatter after-section of the hull in contact with the water.

Deep V-section hulls cut through the water, giving a softer ride than boats with shallower hulls.

All planing hulls are designed to go fast in smooth water. They can also plane in rough conditions, but speed may have to be reduced to below planing speed. The planing hull is also less efficient at slow speed, so care must be taken in order to maintain stability. This also means careful loading is critical.


Full inflatables or semi-rigid inflatable boats have great stability and give a soft through wet ride at speed, although in choppy water there is the risk of occupants being bounced out by an unexpected wave.

Inflatables are widely used in surf rescue work because of their low freeboard, soft sides and ease of launching. They are also popular as divers’ workboats or yacht tenders. They have their drawbacks – they have poor directional control and are susceptible to punctures as well as deterioration through ultra-violet radiation.

Hull construction

Each construction material has its advantages and drawbacks – you’ll need to consider factors such as weight, robustness, maintenance and appearance.

Glass reinforced plastic (Fibreglass)

Fibreglass hulls are strong and impact resistant.  They need little maintenance, if you take care not to damage the surface gel coat.  If a fibreglass boat is kept permanently on a mooring, water can penetrate the layers of mat through chipped or rubbed patches, and an expensive case of osmosis can result.  U/V degradation can be a problem with fibreglass hulls, and the material can also be quickly abraded if dinghies are dragged across sandy beaches.  Small patching jobs in fibreglass are straightforward, but major repairs are best left to professionals.


Wood is a traditional and well-proven boat-building material.  Wooden hulls are quieter and warmer than hulls of other materials, although they are susceptible to rot and attack by marine pests such as borers and worms.  The finishing paintwork is critical – whether built with solid timber planking or marine ply sheeting, wooden boats must be properly protected.

Rubberised canvas (inflatables)

As small tenders, they have the advantage of being easily stowed aboard a larger boat, inflated or deflated.  Inflatable dinghies are stable and can carry surprisingly big loads, although U/V can break down the material and they can be easily chafed or cut – care is needed when loading, beaching or coming alongside.


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