Boats

5 min read

Avoid These 9 Boat Brands: Your Ultimate Guide to Wise Buys

Set sail on a sea of wisdom, not woes—before you dive into boat-buying, discover the nine ship-shape flops to steer clear from, and the worthy vessels that deserve a captain like you.

Tobi Miles
October 8, 2022

Picking a boat out is difficult whether you’re an experienced seafarer or a novice. There are so many brands and schools of thought as to what dictates a great boat. Even still, boat enthusiasts and disgruntled customers can generally agree on a list of boat brands to avoid.

The top boat brands to avoid are Luhr, Monterey, Kingfisher, and Bayliner. Avoid Sea Ray boats as well because they’ve had dozens of recalls up until 2022 for serious issues such as electrical problems. Brands such as Renken, Maxum, Charger, and Sea Fox Boats all have bad reputations for poor customer service, poor performance, and physical problems.

Instead, you should choose a reliable boat brand such as Bennington, Boston Whaler, or G3 Boats. These brands have had limited recalls and all boast excellent and invaluable customer service. Follow along as we explore the top boat brands to avoid so that you don’t get stuck with buyer’s remorse.

Worst Boat Brands

The worst boat brands include everything from Kuhr to Sea Fox Boats. There are several boat brands to avoid, and we use criteria based on recalls, performance, consistency, and customer service to determine this. Let’s take a look at the main boat brands to avoid.

The biggest complaint that many customers have about Kingfisher boats is that the sides are too low. This can be visually unappealing, and it can let water into the boat more easily. It can also create a tripping hazard if the waters are rough, and you fall into the side.

1. Kingfisher

Credit: Ed Dunens / Flickr

Loud operation is another major downside to Kingfisher boats, and it’s hard to overlook. That is because Kingfisher boats are typically constructed out of aluminum which is the loudest material. Aluminum is great because of how it withstands water exposure, but fiberglass is much quieter.

Kingfisher boats cost up to $50,000 grand and more in some cases, but they don’t generally go up in value. You can find much more reliable boats at a lower cost from brands such as Starcraft Marine as an alternative. Kingfisher is one of the top boat brands to avoid because of the high cost compared to the strange build and loud operation.

2. Luhr

Credit: John / Flickr

Luhr boats are no longer in production, but you can find countless used models on the resale market. Understandably, many people buy used Luhr boats because of the reduced price tag compared to a new one. However, it’s not worth the cost when you consider difficult-to-access engine hatches and tiny galleys.

It’s also difficult to find replacement parts for Luhr boats since they don’t manufacture them anymore. This becomes a problem if and when you experience problems, and you likely will. That is because Luhr boats are far behind modern boat technology which is another problem.

Modern boats feature elaborate GPS systems, better fuel efficiency, and sturdier construction. You will be missing out on all of those commodities if you get an old, used Luhr boat. Luhr has also recalled hundreds of boats with the last recall in 2007 over bilge pump problems.

3. Bayliner

Credit: Dave Parker / Flickr

Bayliners are popular among novice boaters, particularly because of how affordable they are. However, the low cost is also reflected in problems with their engines, walls, and galleys. The worst time for Bayliner was during the mid-to-late 90s and early 2000s when they had their worst reputation.

Avoid buying used Bayliner boats from this period at all costs, especially if it’s the Bayliner 180 from 2004. Seam issues, leaking windows, generator failure, and structural problems have all been reported as recently as 2014. The 873 Bowrider 160 BR was specifically a big problem in 2014 and Bayliner recalled just under 880 boats.

Besides the quality inconsistencies, you won’t be able to turn a profit off of a Bayliner boat. There is no shortage of Bayliner boats, and the market is saturated with them so they’re a bad investment.

4. Monterey

Jesse Fuentes / Flickr

A smooth ride is all that any lake or seafarer can hope for. Well, that’s something that you cannot count on with a Monterey boat because of its size and weight. Fiberglass boats aren’t always rough with harsh waters, but Monterey boats are quite small for something that heavy.

Luckily, not all of their boats are that small and the larger ones seem to offer a smoother ride. Other problems include unreliable hardware that either gets stuck, doesn’t work, or quickly becomes rusty. The used boat market is flooded with old Monterey boats but be careful if you buy one from the late 90s through the early 2000s.

Used Monterey customers have reported leaks, rotten wood, and even leaky windows on boats from that era. Models such as the 234 FSX were recalled due to fuel tank cracks, and the 350 Sport Yacht was recalled because of electrical system problems. New Monterey boats cost $30,000 which is somewhat standard but steep for a brand with a history of failures and recalls.  

5. Renken

Credit: oakbluffcamper / Flickr

Avoid Renken boats at all costs even if you are trying to save money. They are no longer in production, so you will have to scramble online to find spare parts if you can even find any at all. Don’t buy the Renken 1080 because it was recalled for problems with level flotation and stability.

Used Renken boats are easy to find but they are not worth the trouble because of how outdated they are. This applies to the body as well as the special features, especially when you compare them to modern boats. Granted, Renken boats were generally made of fiberglass which means they hold up better than if they were made of aluminum.

6. Maxum

Credit: Dennis Marchwinski / Flickr

Maxum has had a poor reputation in the boating community for a long time, and it’s mostly with good reason. They have produced some great boats, such as the Maxum 1800 MX, but they’ve also had a slew of recalls over the years. Between 2006 and 2010 alone, 4 models of Maxum boats have been recalled for problems with bulkheads and even steering.

There’s arguably no worse problem for a boat than faulty steering, and that was a problem with the Maxum 1800 SR. Even models that were never recalled are prone to problems and you may need to replace parts. Luckily, parts are widely available even going back to their 90s models, but it’s worthwhile to upgrade to a better one.

The surprising thing is that Maxum is owned by Brunswick Corps which is a major name in the boating community. However, their other flagship brand Bayliner is much better than Maxum. Avoid Maxum and stick with Bayliner because it’s been around for longer and is more reliable.

7. Charger

SONICA Photography / Flickr

It’s not that Charger is a horrible boat brand, but it is somewhat unreliable. Charger boats can perform well under perfect conditions, but waves and wind can mean bad news for them. Charger boats are the last ones that you would want to take out into rough waters.

Customers also reveal difficulty with starting Charger boats during the winter, but to be fair, that can happen with many brands. Charger has also had a few recalls since 1998 due to overheating and faulty battery chargers. Those aren’t chances that you want to take when you’re out on the water.

For example, a Charger 198 Elite Boat costs over $73,000 which is steep considering the deceleration problems that some customers report. They have made some great boats over the years, but the steep price and inconsistent performance are hard to overlook.

8. Sea Ray

Credit: Rhea C / Flickr

Sea Ray has had some of the most recalls of any boating company of all time. Granted, they’ve been around for a long time and many of the recalls date back to the 1970s. They have also had dozens of recalls from the late 1980s until 2022.

Models such as the DA320, DA350, and DAC350 were even recalled for steering problems in 2022. Electrical system failures from 2021 also resulted in recalls for the Sea Ray SLX250 and SLX280. It is disconcerting that they’ve been around for so long and continue to have a similar recall to what they had in the 1970s.

With that said, people will likely continue to buy Sea Ray boats because of how cost-effective they are. Sea Ray is one of the top boat brands to avoid because of problems with everything from steering to the engine. Search online for Sea Ray recalls if you purchase one that is used to make sure that yours wasn’t affected.

9. Sea Fox Boats

Credit: Rico Pfirstinger / Flickr

Sea Fox Boats is a somewhat smaller company based out of Berkeley County, South Carolina. The biggest trend in negative reviews for Sea Fox Boats is that patrons say the customer service is terrible. This is a harsh reality with many of the boat brands to avoid on this list.

Sea Fox customers have also reported problems with the windshield brackets and even screws poking through the boat’s hull. That is a serious problem and it’s the last thing that you want to think about when you’re out on the water. Since 2009 alone, Sea Fox has had to recall 6 different models of boats for port stability and level flotation problems.

It’s nice to support smaller brands, but it’s tough to justify when there are that many problems. Avoid Sea Fox Boats because there were even 2 recalls in April 2022. 

Most Reliable Boat Brands

Luckily, there are plenty of reliable boat brands out there that you don’t have to avoid. Whether it be Bennington, G3, or Boston Whaler, many brands excel in both construction and customer service. Let’s take a look at the most reliable boat brands.

Boston Whaler

Credit: Sandip Bhattacharya / Flickr

What says “reliable boat brand” better than an unsinkable hull? That’s right, Boston Whaler’s modern offerings come fitted with an unsinkable hull. This fact alone makes Boston Whaler the most reliable boat brand, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Models such as the 345 Conquest are universally loved in the boating community. That specific model earned Boston Whaler the NMMA Innovation Award in 2014 which is a high honor in the industry. Every detail of a Boston Whaler boat is important from the tackle storage and fish boxes to the upholstery.

Boston Whaler boats are also a wise investment compared to alternatives that don’t hold their value. They are known to hold their value well which will come in handy when you plan to upgrade to another boat. However, upgrading may not be necessary as Boston Whaler boats are known to last for up to 30 years under perfect conditions in freshwater.

Starcraft Marine

Credit: The Best Boat Brands / Flickr

It’s hard to not trust a brand like Starcraft Marine that’s been around for so long. Over 110 years old, Starcraft Marine has been there through every iteration of what we consider impressive boats to this day. Everything from the digital wiring system in their modern boats to their classic yet advanced bimini release function is impressive.

They make everything from classic fishing boats and utility boats to high-end pontoons. Starcraft also has extensive customization options and can accommodate many requests. This applies to everything from flooring to panel colors and beyond.

Bertram Yachts

Credit: Riccardo Amati / Flickr

Bertram is one of the leading names in high-end boats and yachts. They put an equal emphasis on the interior design of the boat and the boat’s practical performance. This gives you the best of both worlds between luxury, power, and practicality.

Some of their models, such as the Bertram 28cc can hold up to 200 gallons of gas. It’s a nice feeling knowing that you can store that much gas without worrying about running out on the water. Bertram’s presence is felt at every trade show from the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show to the Palm Beach International Boat Show.

G3 Boats

Larry Bozka / Flickr

G3 Boats are owned by Yamaha which should tell you something about their quality already. Much like any other Yamaha brand, G3 Boats is a perfect mixture of reliable technology and impressive construction. Their boats are made of aluminum which some boat enthusiasts prefer over fiberglass despite the louder operation.

You can get a bow-to-stern warranty with your boat which is extremely useful, especially if you live somewhere with rough waters. Over the years, G3 has only had 3 recalls which pale in comparison to brands such as Sea Ray. You can always count on a G3 boat to function as advertised and provide smooth travel.

Bennington

Credit: Bill Word / Flickr

Bennington is the leading name when it comes to pontoons and triton boats. They are continually awarded for customer satisfaction and innovation by respected groups within the community such as the National Marine Manufacturer Association. The NMMA only recognizes reliable and innovative boat brands, and Bennington’s reliability is felt every step of the way.

From the customization options to the helpful customer service agents, few brands support the customer as well as Bennington.

What to Look For in a Boat

The main things to look for in a boat are comfortable floor plans and decent towing. You will need to tow your boat at some point, so you need to make sure that you can easily transport it. Another key factor is fuel economy, especially if you plan to spend long days out on the water.

Ideally, you should look for a boat that has a 1-4 gallon per mile capacity at 20 knots. You should also look into recalls and customer reviews before you buy a boat because they can reveal a lot. Never buy a used boat without looking into its recall history or even having it inspected if it’s old.

What Boats Will Not Sink?

Boats made by Boston Whaler and Everglades are generally unsinkable. Law requires that you must use an unsinkable boat out at sea if it is under 20 feet long. This law is enforced by the Coast Guard and it is in your best interest to comply to avoid problems and for your safety.

Your boat doesn’t technically need to be unsinkable if it’s over 20 feet long at sea, but it’s worthwhile. Modern brands like Everest and Boston Whaler make all of their boats unsinkable. Both brands are reliable and affordable so it’s worth choosing one of them even if it’s over 20 feet long.

Manufacturers make use of a foam core to make their boats unsinkable. Foam is buoyant and lets you stay on part of the boat even if it gets cut in half. You can even drive the half with the engine if your Boston Whaler boat gets cut in half.

So, What Are The Boat Brands to Avoid?

Kingfisher, Luhr, and Bayliner are the top boat brands to avoid. They have each had many recalls due to everything from electrical system errors to steering failure. Sea Ray, Charger, and Maxum are among the worst boat brands as well and you should avoid them at all costs.

The most reliable boat brands include Boston Whaler, G3 Boats, and Starcraft Marine. Bennington, Everest, and Bertram Yachts also produce some of the most reliable and safest boats on the market. Always check online for recent recalls before you purchase a boat whether it’s new or used.

Article updated:
January 5, 2024

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