Bay Boats vs. Flats Boats – What’s the Difference?

If you think of getting a fish boat, you probably know there is a wide choice on the market. They differ in size, design style, construction, and power. Besides these features, your choice should also depend on your taste, fishing preferences, and water type.

However, most anglers limit their selection to two boat types for inshore fishing. So, the dilemma is bay boats vs. flats boats – what’s the difference? Some of these vessels’ attributes overlap, but there are also a few distinctions. Let’s discuss them.

 

Flats Boats

Flats Boats

Flats boats got their name thanks to their purpose, shallow saltwater flats fishing. Most of them won’t run aground in 12 inches (0.3 m) deep water, but some models can run smoothly even in 5 feet (0.13 m) water.

Most owners describe flats boats as versatile, agile, and quiet despite an outboard motor. That last feature is why many anglers opt for this boat, as they prefer not spooking and chasing away fish.

On the other hand, a flats boat agility and lightweight means you can quickly maneuver it as needed. You won’t have any trouble even if you push this vessel forward with a pole.

History

History

Robert Bob Hewes was the designer of the first flats boat back in the 1960s. Most boat manufacturers used wood for making flats boats until Hewes and his father made two light fiberglass vessels, the Tarpon and the Wild Cat.

The key difference compared to other boats was a shallow draft. In the following decades, the Hewes Company produced many flats boat variations, but the original design characteristics remain the same until these days.

Its design includes a casting deck on the front side, but some models also have a polling deck on the rare side. That makes it ideal for a two or three-person trip, and you can fish accompanied by friends.

Flats boats can vary significantly in size and style, but they are typically between 16 and 22 feet (4.9 – 6.7 m) long. However, you can find up to 30 feet (9.1 m) long models on the current market.

If your list of desired fish includes grey mullet, sprats, garfish, bonefish, snook, or red drum, you need a flats boat. These are shallow-water fish, so you can only catch them near a coast. 

Flats boat types

If you decide on buying a flats boat, you will have plenty of choices at your disposal. The flats boat category includes several types, such as:

Micro skiff

Micro skiff

Micro skiff is better-known as a 12 and 16 feet (3.6 – 4.9 m) long small flats boat. Their design allows you to go even in highly shallow grass flats. They typically come with minimum boat equipment, tiny storage space, and a limited power motor with a maximum of 100 HP (horsepower).

Mid-size flats skiff

Mid-size flats skiff

Mid-size flats boat, ranging from 16 to 20 feet (4.9 – 6.1 m), typically includes fish boxes with insulation, freezers, and tackles storage. It is more comfy and spacious than a micro model, but no more than three people can use it simultaneously.

Large flats boat

Large flats boat

If you plan to stay longer on water, you will need a large flats boat over 22 feet (6.7 m) long. Many laymen confuse this type with bay boats since they are pretty similar in size and primary features. You can expect this boat to have:

  • Storage place
  • Live well for keeping caught fish alive
  • Plenty of space for passengers
  • A few in-deck drawers and boxes for putting your equipment away

Other options

Other options
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You can also pick out a technical poling skiff, flat deck, or hybrid flats boat with a specially designed power motor. Still, most fishermen, particularly amateurs, traditionally use small or mid-sized flats boats.

 

Bay Boats

Bay Boats

Many fishermen consider a bay boat an ideal compromise between shallow-water flats and offshore vessels. Its design combines the best of both worlds and includes:

  • A deep V-shaped hull
  • A shallow water anchoring system
  • Freeboard
  • A powerful onboard motor

Most bay boats range from 19 to 25 feet (5.8 – 7.6 m) in length, but you also find some larger models. Heavyweight types have a deeper draft, making them unsuitable for fishing too close to shore.

However, you can still use this boat in shallow water, limited to 15 inches (0.38 m) in depth. On the other hand, taking a bay boat on an open sea can be a challenge, but you can use it for two or more day trips and fishing adventures if you don’t move too far from the shore.

Planning a fishing trip with tuna, billfish, flying fish, or sauries in mind means you need a bay or offshore boat. Another great thing about this boat type is it can accommodate four to five people. A typical model also includes:

  • A beamy center console
  • Plenty of storage space
  • Broad live well for keeping caught fish alive

On the other hand, the bay boat comes with a few disadvantages. First of all, it can strand when getting too close to the shore since it has a deep draft. Plus, an average vessel has a limited scoop, meaning you can’t go far away.

If you want to take a long open sea journey, the bay boat is far from a perfect choice. As its name suggests, it is an ideal option for bays. You can’t take it too far from the coast due to the insufficient fuel tank and lack of equipment for sailing at open sea.

 

Bay Boats vs. Flats Boats

Both flats and bay boats have their purpose as fishing vessels. However, you need to consider a few essential differences before purchasing one or the other.

Coastal fishing

Coastal fishing

A flats boat is a clear winner compared to a bay boat for coastal fishing. It is lighter, smaller, and easier to maneuver than any bay model. However, a flats boat will be a wise choice for catfish or bass fishing.

Using a bay boat for this purpose means a risk of getting stuck in the mud, seaweed, or hit some rocks. On the other hand, a flats boat can go over these obstacles effortlessly and without trouble.

Freshwater fishing

Freshwater fishing

Some flats boat owners use it to go on open waters at their own risk. You should be aware that this type requires calm water without powerful waves and stable weather conditions.

It has lower walls than a bay boat, meaning any high wave can surprise you. In the worst scenario, you will be at risk of the boat capsizing in the event of a storm.

A bay boat is bulkier, more stable, and more powerful than a flats boat. That makes it a much better option for catching salmon or trout.

Storage

Large flats boats have spacious storage, boxes, drawers, and live wells, but their capacity is limited.

Once the passengers are in, there is not much room left for any additional gear or bags. A bay boat wins this point thanks to its larger decks and more under-deck room.

Seating capacity

Seating capacity

As I have already mentioned, three is the maximum people capacity for a large flats boat. That means you can bring along a fishing buddy or organize a romantic date if you have this model. Having a group onboard is not an option with this vessel.

On the other hand, a bay boat usually accommodates four to five people, depending on its size. It is a better option when you plan to have fun with company.

Equipment

Equipment

Generally speaking, both boats come with essential equipment. In most cases, it includes:

  • Navigational equipment
  • Safety equipment like life jackets and belts
  • Live bait tank
  • Outboard motor
  • A shallow water anchoring system

In some cases, a flats boat also has a forward casting platform or a trolling engine. However, you can always install additional equipment when the pre-built bay boat’s gear is not enough.

Weather

Weather

A flats boat is not designed to withstand strong winds or high waves. Plus, most models offer little to no sun and rain covers and protection. You can use it only on moderately sunny days with a predictable forecast.

You can go through the moderate storm on a bay boat without too much worry, even when you are away from the shore. Its weight will prevent significant course changes, and the high walls will provide shelter from the waves.

Cost

Luckily, both boat types have a wide range of prices and models available on the market. You can buy either of these vessels for under $10,000 or spend over $100,000.

Still, bay boats are slightly expensive, so you need to set aside $49,000 on average for this model. Most common flats boats will typically cost $32,000.

 

Summary

The crucial difference between bay and flats boats is the fishing area. If your choice is coastal, extremely shallow water, you can’t go wrong with flats boats. On the other hand, a bay boat is an excellent option for sailing in shallow waters and deeper areas. The ultimate decision is yours, depending on your preferences.

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