Back in the 1980s, the US boating industry's statistics confirmed that the largest selling boat on the American market was a half-cabin runabout, powered by an outboard motor, mounted on a trailer and measuring about 17'6" (5.36 metres) overall.
Well, the eighties are long gone, but nothing has changed; that style of boat remains the number one seller in the US and that's mirrored here in Australia.
Of course, economies of scale dictate that runabouts will always outsell the 'million dollar babies'. It has been said, however, that inside every runabout driver is a skipper desperate to climb the ladder to his very own flying bridge. That may be so, but unless you have an extremely friendly bank manager, flying bridge cruisers are beyond the price range for most of us.
For those either in the market for their very first runabout or those intending to upgrade to a new model, there's never been a better time to buy. The boating industry, just like any other manufacturing sector, is doing it a little tough. Marine dealers to a man (and woman!) are in the mood to do deals.
So let's talk runabouts.
Choosing the right boat for you
For those making the foray into boats for the first time, a few simple rules need to be followed.
Your first decision centres on the boat; are you a keen angler, a family man, a water skier or just planning on enjoying the waterways in picnic mode? The bottom line is that even though you can fish from a ski boat or ski behind a fishing boat, for obvious reasons it's best to buy the boat that most effectively meets your top priority.
If you think water skiing rates as the best thing since sliced bread, your obvious target is a specialised water ski or wakeboard rig, designed to cater to your every need when you hang off a rope out the back.
Fishing more your go? Then you're in luck, for almost every boat manufacturer in Australia counts a specialised sportfishing rig in their model line.
Now, if you just enjoy the occasional joust with water skis and only fish when the mood strikes you, your best bet could be the plain and simple family runabout. Appropriately powered, it can easily double as a ski boat and with a few well-placed rod holders and a portable bait tank it can also serve as a fishing boat.
Your next decision concerns power; runabouts are almost certainly outboard or stern drive powered.
In performance terms, there's not a lot of difference; today's outboards are durable, reliable and offer excellent performance.
Stern drive engines are essentially an automotive-style engine sending the power to the water via a stern drive 'leg', a unit which resembles the lower half of an outboard. The only real downside to stern drive engines, particularly aboard a small craft, is that the engine within the cockpit takes up quite a deal of space. Other than that, it's pretty much a matter of personal choice.
Choosing the build material for your runabout
The next decision is build material; is your heart set on 'glass, as in fibreglass, or tin, as in aluminium?
There are a couple of things to consider; fibreglass boats are generally 'prettier', thanks to the ability of designers and builders to mould attractive shapes. They're also heavier than an equivalently sized 'tinnie' and therefore require more horsepower for normal use. Weight also comes into play when it comes to towing, launching and retrieving; the family sedan will easily tow the majority of aluminium boats, but depending on size, big power is required to tow big 'glass rigs.
If you're a novice when it comes to boat buying, ensure you visit a dealership which holds membership to its State BIA (Boating Industry Association). They will happily offer the right advice and steer you towards the boat of your dreams.
Get afloat, you'll love it out there.