Whether you’re at the helm or on the end of the tow rope, the boat you’re using makes a big difference in your water skiing or wakeboarding experience. Manufacturers know this, which is what makes water sports boats one of the most competitive of any segment in the marine industry—and that’s good for you, the customer.
What follows is a list (in no particular order) of our picks for the ten best tow boats available today—and in one case, tomorrow. There’s everything from flagships to value leaders, so whatever your pleasure or pursuit, you’re sure to find something here to make your heart go pitter-pat.
1. Centurion Enzo SV244
Centurion has been upping its game over the last several years, and nowhere is that more evident than in its Enzo line of tow boats and the flagship Enzo SV244. A wake-surfing machine, the Enzo SV244 holds up to 1,750 pounds of water ballast in its tanks for wakes so big, a tow rope is superfluous. Designers included a clever walk-over deck atop the rear hatch, which is concealed by a hinged and upholstered pad. That way, you get a full sun pad and the conveniences of a fiberglass nonskid walkway.
The optional Pro Ballast Package includes two ballast bags amidships and two built into the hull itself, so there’s no loss of stowage space. There’s even an option for a ballast bag in the bow, for riders who want that extra-large footprint in the water. With the standard Gladiator tower and swivel board racks, the Centurion Enzo 244 is ready to rock, right off the trailer.
2. Malibu Wakesetter 247 LSV
“Go big or go home” is an appropriate mantra for the Malibu Wakesetter 247 LSV because, well, it’s big—in a literal sense. This is the largest model in the Malibu line, and it’s rated to carry seventeen people.
It’s also big on features, including everything Malibu knows about building tow boats. It has rear-facing transom seats, flip-up wet stowage accessible from the swim platform, a rubber step pad and a brawny 410-horsepower Indmar engine. An Illusion G3 tower and the coolest steering wheel in any boat anywhere—the one-spoke Isotta—are standard.
The designers purposely pushed the windshield as far forward as possible to create more cockpit space. Even so, the playpen bow area is a great place to ride.
3. Moomba Outback
For a long time, Moomba has excelled at building a competent tow boat for a nice price. The industry needs that, which is why it’s so refreshing to see the Moomba Outback is still in the company’s lineup.
New buyers who are perhaps cross-shopping a tow boat with a stern-drive runabout are almost always surprised at the difference in prices. The boats are comparable in terms of size, amenities and equipment, so why do tow boats cost upward of twenty percent more? Difficult to say, but it isn’t hard to see the value in Moomba Outback, a versatile tow boat that can accommodate skiers and boarders. With a base price of $38,980, it comes standard with an Oz tower, four-speaker stereo system, a 330-horsepower 5.7-liter Indmar engine, and a single-axle trailer. What’s not to like?
4. Nautique Super Air Nautique 230 E
The automobile industry is still coming to grips with building a decent electric car, so I figured it would be another decade before the technology would emerge in the marine industry. But the electric wakeboard boat is here in Nautique’s new version of the Super Air Nautique 230, the 230 E.
Scheduled to make appearances at Nautique events throughout 2012, it likely will not be easy or cheap to buy a Super Air Nautique 230 E, but it is a breakthrough.
Details are still scant, but here’s what we know. Twin electric motors with a peak output of 160 kW (about 215 horsepower) draw energy from lithium ion batteries with an available storage capacity of 78 kW-hours. The motors route the power through a special transfer case to the shaft-driven propeller. According to Nautique there’s enough power for “three or four skier sets” on a single charge, and the battery bank recharges completely in 4.5 hours with current technology. Early adopters, line up now.
5. MasterCraft X30
The only new model from MasterCraft for 2012, the X30 has great features that make it a standout in the industry. It can be fitted with three different towers, each of which fold down easily to windshield height and lock in place with some very trick latches. It also has the new swim platform with the dovetailed rear lip, so sliding off into the water is a snap, particularly if you’re already strapped onto a wakeboard.
The X30 also features some of the most intricate mold work in the tow boat market, with sculpted sides and pronounced rear hips that give it the “Coke bottle” shape reminiscent of sports cars from the 1960s.
6. Supra Sunsport 242
Three things make a wakeboard boat stand out. First, it needs to be visually striking, to grab your attention and hold it. Second, it needs to be comfortable and accommodating to its occupants. And third, it needs to throw wakes that bring out the best in every rider.
The Supra Sunsport 242 does all that and more. Its profile is so sleek and refined it makes you want to wash it by hand. Inside, the Sunsport 242 provides 270 degrees of wraparound lounges, with innovative pop-up backrests to support passengers watching the action behind the boat.
In terms of water sports features, the Sunsport 242 comes standard with everything needed to bring out your best, from its Progressive tower and 1,700 pounds of ballast to its VISION control system and its multisport electric wake tuning tab. You also get a tandem axle trailer standard and the smug self satisfaction of knowing this is the official hull used in World Wakeboarding Association championships.
7. Tigé RZ4
No tow boat company has been pushing the boundaries of design further than Tigé. Over the past few years, the company’s choices of gelcoat colors, graphics packages and overall design have broken new ground and demonstrated some genuinely fresh thinking, and its RZ4 is a perfect example.
But Tigé takes it further with exceptional attention to detail, function and ergonomics. For example, Tigé was the first tow boat company to mount its touch screen controls to the right of the steering wheel—because it’s easier to reach and use—instead of between the analog gauges on the dashboard, behind the steering wheel. Tigé also added thoughtful touches to the RZ4, like hinged cushions in the cockpit lounges, a locking stowage compartment behind the backrest on the starboard lounge, and a built-in trash can and cooler.
A further testament to convenience, its aft lockers to either side of the engine are hinged on the inner edge, which makes them accessible from the cockpit, swim platform, and from the dock or outside when the boat is on a trailer. Take a look up close and personal, with our video boat review of the Tige RZ series.
8. Ski Nautique 200 Closed Bow
Slalom skiing is no less challenging or exciting than it used to be, but it got overshadowed by wakeboarding. So tow boat manufacturers jumped in with both feet, turning out lots of new models geared to throwing the largest wakes, boasting the loudest stereos, and carrying the greatest number of millennials.
Skiers were left to choose from older designs with snazzy new graphics or a minor freshening, until Nautique debuted the game changing 200 Closed Bow in 2010. From its soft wakes and innovative gunwale stowage to its generous use of teak decking and sleek profile, and it was aimed right at serious slalom jocks. For 2012, the model continues with keyless ignition, easy-fold swim platform brackets and Nautique’s optional LINC display system.
9. Malibu 21 vRide
It’s common for tow boat manufacturers to keep good hull designs from top-shelf models in their lineups for so long that they eventually become a company’s value leader. There are a few of them in this story, including Malibu’s 21 vRide, and there’s a good reason for that: lots of bang for the buck.
Malibu’s 21 vRide is a dedicated wakeboarding platform that comes standard with the features you need to keep you satisfied for boating seasons to come. For example, the standard model comes with speed control, a rear ballast tank and an Illusion G3 tower with swiveling board racks. A swim platform and a rear ski tow bar also are standard—as they should be—but a dual-axle trailer is not.
Still, the 21 vRide is a great way to get into one of the leading manufacturers’ boats for less money than you might expect, and the Malibu name is something that might come in handy when it’s time to resell.
10. MasterCraft X-7
The X-7 has been in MasterCraft’s lineup under one model name or another for more than a decade, which can mean the company is either too lazy or cash-strapped to tool up a replacement—or that the product still rocks.
In this case, it’s the latter. The X-7 was designed when Clinton was president, but it is still one of, if not the only, hull design ever approved for all five competitive events: slalom, trick, jumping, barefooting and wakeboarding.
If no one’s told you, we editors tend to be a picky and particular bunch. It’s part of the job. And we think this batch of tow boats represents the best of the best, and the best of the best deals on the market.
We’re also sure that no matter how picky you may be, there’s a ski or wakeboarding boat in here that will make your pulse quicken.