6 Best Boats for Tow Sports

While some of us can remember learning to water-ski on wide, wooden skis behind 14-foot runabouts with 18-hp outboards, the world of tow boats for sport has evolved considerably over the past half-century. Today, state-of-the-art towboats tend to be inboard-powered with engines chosen more for thrust than for speed. These boats have specialized hull shapes, mechanical trim controls and ballast tanks, all controlled by sophisticated software to shape wakes for slalom skis, boards, hydrofoil boards, barefooting and wake-surfing. At least one is powered entirely by a battery-electric system. 

Even so, simple water-skiing is still great fun, as is riding an inflatable “tow toy.” Here are some examples of towboats. The first three represent versatile boat layouts from 17-foot to 25-foot, with three specialized tow boats to follow. The list is meant to be suggestive more than prescriptive. And yes, it’s still possible for an adult to ride two skis and smile broadly behind a 14-foot skiff with a 15-hp outboard. You don’t have to be a watersports athlete to have fun out there this summer.


Seventeen-foot Boston Whalers have always been quick and nimble enough for basic tow sport toys like water skis, wakeboards and inflatables. The current (4.0) version of the Boston Whaler’s classic center console 17-foot Montauk is arguably the best of the series, a do-it-all utility boat that is seaworthy, safe, durable, economical and able to serve multiple tasks very well for many years. Add the 170’s optional sturdy, transom-mounted tow arch to complement its standard fiberglass swim platform with grab rail and telescoping stainless-steel ladder. Reverse the pilot seat at the helm to accommodate an observer. There are coolers in the pilot seat, an insulated fishbox in the bow, and an optional (but highly recommended) cooler seat with cushions in front of the console for ice, beverages and snacks when the 170 is on ski duty. 

Tens of thousands of people young and old(er) have learned to ski behind these boats over the model’s 60-year lifespan (and counting). Many of those boats are now serving their third generation, because families tend to hang onto them. The standard engine for this model is Mercury’s efficient FourStroke 90 with Command Thrust lower unit, which is also powerful enough for 17- to 26-knot cruising speeds (3,500-4,500 rpm) with a top speed of 34 knots— plenty of shove for pulling skiers. Opt for Merc’s FourStroke 115 (same basic powerhead and weight) for 20- to 28-knot cruise and 40-knot top end. Base price for the 170 Montauk is $44,009 with a FourStroke 90. Visit or these dealers for more information:


LOA: 17’4″ 

Beam: 7’3″ 

Draft: 12” (engine up)

Weight: 1,700 lbs. (dry, w/o engine) 

Transom Deadrise: 16 degrees 

Transom Height: 25”

Bridge Clearance: 4’11” 

Fuel Capacity: 25 gal. 

Persons Capacity: 7

Livewell Capacity: 12 gal. 

Max HP: 115


Well-designed dual console boats can be great choices for family ventures like tow sports as well as fishing. Pursuit’s DC 246 is a good example. The layout provides several essential features: a comfortable helm with clear sightlines, a strong engine (Yamaha’s efficient, durable F300), an aft-facing observer’s seat (an ingenious portside lounge), a sturdy aft door to a large transom platform with boarding ladder, and a rugged but easily removable tow pylon between a full-width stern seat and the outboard. Digital steering and controls for the outboard make for a neat installation that keeps the stern platform open. A 60-inch-long centerline locker between the consoles stores boards, tow toys and other bulky gear when not in use. There’s a big storage locker in the starboard (helm) console, along with secure racks for the tow pylon and a table for the bow cockpit. 

The DC 246 has a sweet hull design that offers a best efficiency range of 19 to 28 knots (4,100-4,700 rpm), with a top end of 45 knots at 6,000 rpm. With sharp bottom strakes and broad chines to damp all spray and 21 degrees of deadrise in the running bottom, the boat has an easy motion at rest as well as at speed. At 25 feet 8 inches length overall, it’s large and able enough to handle any weather a prudent Chesapeake skipper should venture out in from the Virginia Capes to the Susquehanna Flats. With its dual-console layout, the DC 246 serves well for pure boat rides, picnics, and tow sports as well as fishing. Nicely equipped with a hardtop, electronics, and other useful options, Pursuit’s DC 246 comes in at an estimated $195,000. Visit or these Pursuit dealers for more information: 


LOA: 25’8” 

Beam: 8’6″ 

Draft: 21″/35” (engine up/down 

Weight: 6,138 lbs. 

Transom Deadrise: 21 degrees 

Bridge Clearance: 7’2″ 

Fuel Capacity: 118 gal. 

Water Capacity: 20 gal.

Waste Capacity: 6 gal.

Max HP: 300


Grady-White Boats has been building compact “walkaround” cuddy cabin models for 49 years, and they have been among the company’s best sellers ever since. The Adventure 218, introduced last year, shows updated styling, with a curved windshield, increased bow flare and a Euro-shaped transom with twin swim platforms. There’s a telescoping ladder on the starboard platform. 

The Adventure 218 still offers a forward V-berth and a head, along with an optional modern fiberglass hardtop on a sturdy, painted aluminum frame. On deck are helm and companion seats with cushioned, aft-facing “mezzanine” seats immediately behind, over a pair of insulated cooler/fishboxes. The setup is simple, with tight-fitting features and few moving parts. For example, twin ingenious, patented, cushions in the transom corners offer secure seats with cushioned backs for passengers. Turn over the cushions, though, and they become non-skid steps to the swim platforms, with the seat backs turned inward on sturdy pipe bases. 

With a 250-hp Yamaha, the 218 cruises happily between 24 and 34 mph (3,400-4,500 rpm), with a top end around 45 mph (5,900 rpm) and plenty of shove for towing. The engines Yamaha digital electronic control system results in neat rigging. The transom’s twin boarding platforms, optional ski pylon, optional freshwater shower and folding ladder make the 218 a natural for watersports, with the two aft-facing fishbox seats for observers. 

Nicely equipped with a hardtop, electronics, and other useful options, the Adventure 218 costs around $150,000. For more information, visit or one of the three Chesapeake dealers: 


LOA: 21’3” (23’3” w/ swim platforms)

Beam: 8’6”

Draft: 16”

Cockpit Depth: 25”

Weight: 3,125 lbs. (estimated, w/o engine)

Transom Deadrise: 19 degrees (SeaV2 progression)

Bridge Clearance: 5’10” (7’7” w/ hardtop)

Fuel Cap: 100 gal.

Water Cap: 10 gal. (optional)

Max HP: 250


Cobalt’s 25-foot 5-inch R6 Outboard is a quintessential family runabout. With Mercury’s 300-hp V-8 Verado, an R6 tops out in the low 50s, with efficient cruise from the mid-20s to the mid-30s. True to Cobalt’s long reputation for excellence in design, engineering and construction, the R6 has a sturdy, solid feel underway, with an 18-degree running bottom curving to a sharp bow. 

The forward cockpit includes an L-shaped lounge to port, with a single seat to starboard. Beneath the sole in the walkthrough between the port (head) and starboard (helm) consoles lies a long, cushioned storage space for water skis, boards and tow toys. Multifunction settees extend down both sides of the R6’s cockpit. To port, the forward end forms the companion seat, but a swinging back on a stainless-steel frame converts to an aft-facing lounge for a towsports observer. The aft section of the port settee holds a similar seatback, which swings aft to provide a forward-facing lounge or forward to offer an aft-facing lounge for watching swimmers when the boat is at rest. The starboard settee offers the same aft-folding backrest, as well as dedicated space beneath for a carry-on cooler. A central walkway between the settees leads back to a transom swim platform. To starboard of the engine is a flip-down swim step, an ingenious, patented Cobalt feature. A telescoping ladder to port is an option.   

Base MSRP for an R6 Outboard with a 300-hp Mercury Verado V-8 is $153,094. Cobalt offers a Design Your Dream section on its website to outfit an R6 with a full range of options. For information, visit Cobalt Boats or the two Chesapeake dealers:


LOA: 25’5”

Beam: 8’6”

Draft: 17.5”/32.5” 

Weight: 5,300 lbs.

Transom Deadrise: 18 degrees

Max HP: 350

Fuel Capacity: 80 gal.

Water Capacity: 10 gal. 

Bridge Clearance: 61.5” (104” w/ tower)

Persons Capacity: 14 (2,100 lbs.)


MasterCraft has been building inboard water sport boats since 1968, with a reputation for high quality, attention to safety, and innovation. This year’s XT23 offers a styled V-hull with three stabilizing fins on the keel and a 365-hp, direct-injected, freshwater cooled 5.3-liter Ilmor V-8 engine turning a 2:1 V-drive for plenty of towing power. This engine is part of a comprehensive MasterCraft Saltwater Solutions package for boats headed to brackish and saltwater. 

A boat for hard-core tow sports, the XT23 offers a wide range of wake shapes to accommodate all sorts of endeavors and levels of expertise, as well as a ProStar clean wake for skiing and pure boat rides. The heart of the range is the SurfStar system, which combines the hull shape, a ballast system that can take on as much as 3,300 lbs. of water, a mechanical wake-shaping system at the transom, and software to coordinate the system’s elements. A touchscreen at the helm allows the skipper and rider to visualize a wake shape, fine-tune it, and after successfully riding it, even save it as a favorite Custom Surf wave profile for the next ride.  

Of course, any self-respecting towboat needs colorful hull graphics, comfortable seats for a posse of cheerleaders, a strong stereo system, an arch with racks for boards and booming speakers and a broad swim platform. For those essentials, MasterCraft offers a large range of options for customization. MSRP for the XT23 is $180,533. For more information, visit MasterCraft, Vonore, TN, or its Chesapeake dealer, Annapolis Watersports, Edgewater, MD.


LOA: 23’4”

Beam: 8’6”

Draft: 30”

Weight: 5,250 lbs.

Ballast: 3,300 lbs. (SurfStar System)

Fuel Cap: 79 gal.

Seating Cap: 16 people


Here’s a look at one direction for watersports in a carbon-neutral future. Ingenity Electric is a subsidiary of Watershed Innovations, a division of Correct Craft. The Super Air Nautique GS22E is an all-electric version of the company’s gasoline-powered Super Air Nautique GS22. It offers all of the same plush accommodations as its sister, including seats, arch, board racks and stereo, but its Ingenity electric motor turns out massive, instant torque that runs through a low 2.84:1-geared V-drive to a large 4-blade propeller with an 18” diameter. There’s more than enough tractor-like pull to generate waves even when the 2,250-lb. ballast tanks are full. 

Between Ingenity’s software and Nautique’s wake-shaping technology, the GS22E allows a skipper and rider to shape its wake for specific tow toys and expertise (or lack of it), working through a large touchscreen display at the helm. That software also allows the skipper to monitor all of the boat’s vital signs, including instantaneous battery level and range. Top speed is about 32 knots, with a 50-minute continuous runtime, but cruising speed is most efficient at 17 to 21 knots with about 80 continuous minutes running. Based on experience from the two years that the GS22E has been available to the public, those performance specs translate to two to three hours runtime. With a supercharger, that means an active morning on the water, a plug-in during a long lunch to rest up legs and arms, and another active session in the afternoon. Plug in overnight and go again the next day. Note that there’s no need to refuel and the seasonal maintenance is vastly lower, with far fewer moving parts. Plus as battery technology and software evolve, this all-electric towboat is readily reprogrammable. MSRP for Ingenity Electric’s Nautique GS22E is $312,952. Stay tuned. 


LOA: 24’2” (incl. stern platform)

Beam: 8’4”

Draft: 27”

Weight: 5,900 lbs.

Ballast: 2,250 lbs.

Seating Cap: 11

Battery Size: 124 kWh

Gear Ratio: 2.8:1

Average Runtime: 2-3 hrs.

Charge Time: AC: 10 hrs. @ 240V/50A; DC: 4 hrs. @ 25kW; Supercharger: 1.5 hrs. @ 80kW

Editor-at-large John Page Williams is a fishing guide, educator, author and naturalist, saving the Bay since 1973.