Flats boats are one of the most popular styles of boats on the market today. They are becoming more and more popular with fishermen around the world for their versatility, fishability, and style. Flats boat builders live on the bleeding edge of manufacturing processes to keep weight and draft at a minimum while also providing a smooth dry ride. If you are in the market for a new boat and can't decide on what way to go, here are 6 reasons why the flats boat is a great boat to consider for you.
1. Flats Boats Are The Shallowest Drafting Boat On The Water
The number one reason so many anglers are drawn to a flats boat is the minimal draft. Some flats boats will put fishermen in waters once only accessible by kayak or canoe. If you are someone who spends some time in waters 12 inches or less, a flats boat probably should be top of your list of boats to consider.
We went out and gathered specifications from over 50 different flats boats, including how much they draft. From this research, we found that flats boats can have a draft anywhere from 14 inches on the high end to as little as 3.5 inches on the low end. The average draft, based on the 50 flats boats we researched, is 7.5 inches.
Even on the high end of this range, with the Hewes Redfisher 21 drafting 14 inches, flats boats have a very low draft in comparison to larger offshore fishing boats which are usually 14 inches or greater. Having a boat that will float in shallower waters will open your fishing opportunities to much greater areas, which can ultimately give you opportunities to reach more fish.
For more information on the draft of flats boats, take a look at my article “Average Draft of a Flats Boat (With Examples)” where we go more in-depth on the research referenced in this article.
2. Flats Boats Are Ultra-quiet on the water
Fish are getting smarter and more aware of fishermen all the time. Fish that spend their time in an area for their entire life, such as Redfish in Florida's Mosquito Lagoon, start to get very wise to the presence of fishermen and can become very “spooky” which makes them very difficult to catch. With this, you need a boat that is stealthy enough to get you right up on them without scaring them all off.
One of the design considerations that went into the first flats boats was to build a boat with the ability to be stealthy while also maintaining a low draft. Flat bottom Jon boats were great at the shallow job, but the water slap on the boat as it traversed through the water proved too noisy. Not to mention, they generally beat you to death on the ride out.
To solve this problem, the flats boat manufacturers introduce a boat with a composite hull with a sharper point of entry that allows the front of the boat to cut through the water which greatly reduces water slap noise and increases ride comfort, all while maintaining the shallow water capabilities. These boats will let you slowly and quietly pole right up to tailing redfish, or elusive bonefish and permit, without scaring them off before they're in reach.
3. Flats Boats Are Light Weight and Easy to Transport
Our research found that the average weight of a flats boat is 870 lbs. The lightest flats boat identified in our research is the Dragonfly Marsh Hen 15′, weighing in at only 200 lbs. On the larger side of the flats boats was the Hewes 21 Redfisher, which comes in at 2850 lbs. Compare this with the larger bay boats and offshore fishing boats (that can be transported via trailer) that will start at about 2,500 lbs on the low end and climb well past 11,000 on the high end.
The overall weight of the flats boat is also a very big advantage when it comes to handling and transport. Having a lightweight boat decreases the difficulty of moving the boat around on the trailer, as well as in the water. A heavier boat will need a vehicle with a higher towing capacity, which can drive up the ownership cost of your boat.
There have been a couple of times with my 21′ Robalo where I was flat out unable to get the boat off the ramp. When I first started taking this boat out on my own I was 16 and drove a '91 Chevy Silverado. The truck could pull the boat down the road just fine, but I had a very hard time getting it out off a steep ramp. I once had to give the truck a boost (do not do this) with the boat motor itself, and another time I had to get help from another vehicle (also dangerous).
With a flats boat, especially one that weighs under 1000 lbs, most vehicles will be able to tow it and pull it out of most ramps with no problem. This ultimately can be a huge advantage with owning a flats boat.
4. Flats Boats Are Easy To Operate
A huge advantage of a smaller flats boat is its ease of operation. Having a large boat is not only harder towing, but can also be a nightmare at the dock when loading, unloading, and even docking. Smaller boats, like a flats boat, take a great deal less effort in all of these aspects.
I have a 21′ Robalo center console, that I like to take out with my family of 5, which has almost been the cause of divorce more than once. We laugh when we see those pillows that say, “I'm sorry for what I said while docking the boat”. It isn't even that big of a boat, but it still requires coordination and some extra skill especially when approaching the dock or loading the boat onto the trailer. Single-person operation is doable with this boat, but the second set of hands is a huge help.
Switching over to the 17′ 8″ Hells Bay Professional was a night and day difference when it came to ease of operation and handling. I can load and unload without much effort and can make sharp maneuvers with ease, which makes docking a breeze. Not once have I wanted to toss my wife overboard from frustrations in this boat.
This is even more of a factor if you are just getting into boating and want a boat that you can easily handle to gain some skill and experience. The last thing you want to do is get behind the helm of a large boat as a starter boat. Not only is this more dangerous, but it can also be a very discouraging entrance to the boating world.
5. Flats Boats' Open Layouts Provide Superior Fishability
Flats boats provide one of the most wide-open fishing platforms of any other boat on the water. Made for one thing in mind, fishing, these boats are optimized to provide as much storage space as possible without compromising the fishing platform. These boats are usually low on the bells and whistles, but high on fishability.
Most flats boats are designed with a wide-open deck that is flat all the way to the edge of the boat. You will generally not find any lip or railing between the fishermen and the water. This gives the fishermen more area to cast, as well as better access to the water to fight and land fish.
Flats boats also typically have an elevated casting platform on the front deck of the boat where fishermen can stand to sight and cast to fish. This elevation provides a better point of view to be able to see more fish in the water. Additionally, these boats also have a much higher elevated poling platform that is used to stand on while poling through the shallows. Again, this is another great spot on the boat to spot fish in the water, and can also be used to cast to fish.
6. Relatively Low Purchase, Operation, and Storage Cost
Alright, nothing is cheap which is why I added the word “relatively”. Flats boats can be found on a wide range of purchase prices all the way from $13,000 for the DragonFly Marsh Hen 15 to well over $85,000 for the coveted Chittum Skiff Islamorada. However, when compared to most larger boats, you will find more flats boats in the more affordable range.
Based on manufacturer listed prices of about 30 flats boats, the average cost of a flats boat is right at $45,000 with boat motor and trailer. Again, not cheap, but much better than most offshore boats that start in the mid 100K range.
One of my biggest frustrations with owning a boat is the cost of storage. For example, since I live in a neighborhood with an HOA, I am not allowed to keep my 21′ Robalo center console in my driveway or yard. It is also way to long and tall to fit in may garage. Therefore, I am forced to keep my boat at a local storage facitlity that costs me $280 per month! I know, this is highway robbery, and I hate it. However, this is the best option for me since I like to work on the boat regularly and this is the most convenient spot to keep it.
Now, switch over to a flats boat, such as the 17′ 8″ Hells Bay Professional, which is just under 20′ with the boat, motor, and folding tongue trailer. It fits in my garage! That is nearly a $300 per month savings in storage costs alone!
Another big saving you will find with a flats boat is the cheaper operating and maintenance costs. Because the flats boats are generally smaller and are powered by outboard engines 115 HP or less, the fuel economy is much better than that of larger boats. Additionally, thanks to a smaller and simpler engine, there is much less to repair. When you do inevitably have to service your boat or perform any maintenance, it will be cheaper.
Reasons You Shouldn't Buy a Flats Boat
There are pros and cons to every boat out there. You will have to compromise somewhere with any boat that you purchase and a flats boat is not free of downsides. Here are three reasons why you might not want to go for a flats boat on your next purchase.
1. Flats boats are not best at handling rough seas
Because of their lightweight, short length, and relatively flat bottom, a flats boat will not handle seas as well as heavier, deeper V boats. If you are someone who expects to spend a lot of time offshore or in areas where rough sea conditions are common, I would persuade you against a flats boat.
2. Flats boat do not have much capacity
If you have a large family or like to take out a large crew, a flats boat may not be ideal. Most flats boats will be rated for 2 to 4 people with a few out there that may fit up to 5. However, if you are like me and have a family of 5, this isn't going to work. If you are lucky enough to be able to have multiple boats, one for the fam and one for fishing, you are in good shape. Otherwise you will need to make a choice between skinny water fishing boat or a boat that can handle the amount of people you like to carry.
3. Low freeboard height and flat deck can increase safety risk
Flats boats can be somewhat uncomfortable to people who like to have more of a sense of security while on a boat. When riding on a flats boat, it definitely feels like you are ON TOP of the boat vs nestled inside the boat. This can increase risk of passengers falling overboard since there is less to stop them if they lose their balance. Again, another trade off would be, do you want un-intruded fishing space or a little more sense of security.
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