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What type of boat should I rent in Chicago?

Updated: May 9, 2023

There are so many different types of boats out there to rent for your special event - you may find it overwhelming! In this post we will break down some of the different boat types you might decide between for your Chicago boat rental experience.

Express Cruisers

Sea Ray Express Cruise on Lake Michigan


  • Most widely available rental boat type in Chicago,

  • Multiple hang out areas - front and rear

  • Interior cabin (downstairs) area

  • The interior of the boat takes up some of the usable space. On a perfect weather day you may not end up that part of the boat very much.

Express cruisers are the most popular type of rental boat in Chicago, and for good reason! Express Cruisers of around 35 feet and up can handle typical Lake Michigan conditions with ease, and provide plenty of seating for groups of around 12 people. Most express cruisers will have a back seating area called the 'cockpit', an area on the front of the boat to hang out which sometimes has lounge cushions. An express cruiser 35 feet and larger will always have a bathroom and a kitchenette. Some owners will outfit an express cruiser with incredible sound systems to help turn your boat rental experience into a dance party! Check out our express cruiser options for rent!

Pontoon Boats

Example of a Sun Tracker Pontoon Boat

  • Wide, open seating

  • Poor maneuverability

  • Passengers get tossed around in even the smallest waves causing sea sickness

Some love them others hate them - pontoon boats are polarizing! Many love pontoon boats for their wide, open seating layout and comfortable couches. Others criticize the poor sea worthiness, stability and maneuverability of these boats, which can typically accommodate groups of 6-12 people. A pontoon boat is comprised of a flat and wide deck, usually made of plywood, laying on top of aluminum or steel hollow tubes - the "pontoons". Since these boats are very light and don't have a "V" shaped hull with a keel they are poor performers in anything except the most perfect water conditions. Wind and waves push these boats around and cause a lot of rocking and rolling which can be uncomfortable for guests who are prone to sea-sickness.

Bow rider Boats

Bow Rider boat on Lake Michigan


  • Plenty of lounge seating

  • Experienced boaters can usually "drive it yourself".

  • No indoor or "downstairs" area.

  • May be too small for some Lake Michigan conditions.

Bow riders are definitely the boat of choice for inland lakes, and they are growing in popularity on the Great Lakes as well as boat manufacturers continue to develop larger and more sea-worthy models. The name "bow rider" comes from the fact that the front part (or "bow") of the boat is an open seating area, typically with a large and comfortable lounge seat on either side. Although there is not a downstairs "indoor" area like you would see on an express cruiser, bow riders are sometimes equipped with a small bathroom and an outdoor sink area. If you are already experienced driving this type of boat you may be able to find a boat rental company in Chicago willing to rent you a bow rider to drive yourself! Check out our bow rider boat options for rent!

Flybridge Cruisers

Azimut Flybridge Express Cruiser on Lake Michigan


  • Upper deck provides unique vantage point and "flying" over the water experience!

  • Inside area typically has large wraparound windows to make it feel more like a living room and bring in tons of daylight

  • Multiple outdoor lounge areas - flybridge, back deck, bow

  • Usually more expensive to rent and operate as fuel cost can be higher, and captains with skills to operate these boats can cost more per hour.

  • These vessels often require additional crew / deckhand to assist with operation which is an added cost.

People are drawn to flybridge cruisers because of one thing - the flybridge! This is an upper deck level which has a captain driving station (or "helm"). Of course, the higher up you are from the water the better the views! Another major benefit of flybridge cruisers is that the living room or "salon" will often have large wraparound windows which makes the inside feel more open and airy as opposed to typical express cruiser salons which you climb down into and can feel a bit cave-like. Check out our flybridge yacht options for rent!

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