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This week's Feature Blog

Utility Boats

By: Mark Romanack

A utility hull such as this SmokerCraft Sportsman 1866 are often the perfect platform for custom hunting blinds such as pictured here.

​ These days it seems that special purpose boats are all the range. Bass boats, crappie boats, flats boats, walleye rigs and the list goes on. There is a lot to be said for boats that are designed for targeting specific species, but there is also something to be said for boats that do a lot of things well.

​ The lowly “utility boat” isn’t sexy and it doesn’t come factory ready with a lot of bells and whistles. In fact, a utility boat is likely going to come with the bare minimum when it comes to creature comforts.

​ That however doesn’t mean that a utility boat is useless. In fact, it could be argued that utility boats have all the features they need and none they don’t!


​ The idea behind utility boats is to create a platform that is function and also affordable. The best way to achieve that goal is to keep accessories to a minimum and focus on the essentials. In my mind a utility boat needs a place to store batteries, a bow suitable for mounting an electric motor, it should offer pedestal seat bases and a modest but functional livewell. Anything beyond that is gravy.


​ During my career I’ve owned several boats that would fit into the utility category. All of these boats had some things in common and most noteworthy utility hulls feature a wide open floor plan. An open floor plan maximizes space in a small to medium sized boat. This roominess comes at the expense of not having lots of storage.

The open floor plan of most utility boats make them very desirable as either a fishing or hunting platform.

​My mantra when fishing from utility style boats is to take just what you need and nothing else. Keeping gear to a minimum can actually be an enlightened experience. Instead of hauling along everything including the kitchen sink, pick a presentation or two and roll with it. There is a lot to be said for taking the minimalist approach.


​ Utility boats bring versatility to the party. Many of these hulls are designed for not only fishing adventures, but they double well as a hunting boat. When folks think of “hunting boats” they are usually thinking about hulls painted dead grass green for waterfowl hunting. It’s important to note that utility boats are also useful for accessing remote areas where big game thrives.

The author has owned two Starcraft Freedom 180 boats over the years. A utility boat such as the Freedom is a seaworthy boat that is ideal for fishing rivers, larger natural lakes and even the near shore waters of the Great Lakes. In the winter, a utility boat is a dream to trailer, launch and load compared to larger and heavier boats.


​Utility boats are also routinely tuned into pack mules. Fishing and also hunting camps typically use utility boats for hauling everything from customers and groceries to lumber, fuel and UTV’s! It’s amazing how much gear can be packed into and transported by even a modest sized utility boat.


​A utility hull is also the perfect platform for those who are looking to add a custom and or personal touch to their boats. Like the guy who buys a cargo van and then customizes it into a camper on wheels, a utility boat is a bare canvas just waiting to be designed into the perfect hunting or fishing machine.

The new center console versions of the Starcraft and SmokerCraft Freedom 160 and 180 offer a whole new category of utility boats.


​One of the unsung features of a utility boat is these craft are easy to tow, launch and load even with a family vehicle. Most utility boats can be easily towed with a mini-van, small SUV, station wagon or 1/4 ton pick-up truck making them perfect for the family that can’t justify owning a tow vehicle in addition to their every day driver.


​Utility boats typically are produced in two different hull types including traditional V hull designs and also modified V hull designs. The V hull is a little more seaworthy and the better option for those who expect to use the boat on larger lakes and the Great Lakes. The modified V hull design features a more modest dead rise and is therefore better suited to shallow water, smaller bodies of water and rivers.

The author’s SmokerCraft Sportsman 1866 is a Modified V hull design that works well as both a fishing and hunting platform. The author uses this boat routinely for accessing wilderness and remote fisheries.


​The utility boat is not a new concept, but rather a tied and true boat design. While the utility boat isn’t going to win any beauty contests, she is a functional, affordable and versatile craft. In a world where boats are getting more and more expensive, the utility boat stands tall as craft that does a lot for not a lot of money.


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