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Wake Boat vs Ski Boat: What is Key Difference?

Written by J. Harvey / Fact checked by S. Numbers

wake boat vs ski boat

Wakeboarders and water skiers have had many debates regarding the topic of wake boat vs ski boat. This leads beginners to confuse one vessel for the other and wakeboarding and water skiing altogether.

You get told to “choose depending on what you’re going to do with the boat.” But what does that really mean? Fret not; this comprehensive comparison and explanation of these two vessels are all you need to finally get all the facts straight.

What is a Wake Boat?


People who ask “What is a wake boat?” often think it’s no different from a ski boat. But ultimately, a good definition for wake boats is that they’re mainly meant for wakeboarding.

Also called “wakeboard boats,” they’re known for the bigger wakes they create, thanks to their built-in ballast tanks and a rear-mounted engine. These provide the additional heft at the vessel’s stern to create those coveted wakes.

As wake boats’ weight is mostly distributed in the rear, they are usually considered to be V-drive vessels.

How does it work?

Knowing the answer to “How do wake boats work?” requires looking at their dedicated equipment and components. The basic wake boat comes equipped with a tower, ballast system, deep-V hull, hydrofoil, wake plate, and engine that comes in various horsepower.


  • The tower serves as an attachment point for tow ropes that riders hold onto.
  • The ballast systems work by filling compartments/tanks to add weight to one side to list the boat. Wake boats typically use an aerator pump that pushes or pulls water in a single direction to either fill or drain the said tanks.
  • The distinct V-hull design displaces water and enhances control and stability while riding on the wakes produced.
  • Wake plates let you control the wake size.
  • The engine provides the necessary acceleration to create various wakeboarding conditions.

What is a Ski Boat?


The answer to “What is a ski boat?” is again readily found in the name of this type of vessel. It’s made for water skiing, first and foremost.

If you’ve done water skiing before, you already know that the activity requires far smaller wakes than what avid wakeboarders are used to. These boats don’t prioritize mass that much so they tend to be on the more diminutive side as far as overall size goes.

How does it work?


  • The tow rope is typically attached to a center attachment point (ski pylon) on the boat.
  • The engine’s placement in the middle of the boat ensures it won’t list that much and, thus, produce the flatter waves needed for skiing.

Various Types of Ski Boats and Wake Boats

The following classification provides clear proof that the different types of ski boats and wake boats overlap.

Based on drive system

  • V-Drive

In the past, whenever we say wakeboarding boats, we almost always categorize them as V-drives. Even now, most wake boats use this drive system simply because the engine only adds more weight to the aft side of the boat.


The rare exception to this case would be the forward-drive Chaparral Surf 30—a famous biggest wake boat at one time.

  • Direct Drive


If you see discussions online that state that ski boats use an inboard engine system, know that it’s just another term for a direct drive system, which is favored for its power efficiency.

As said before, the direct drive puts the engine on or near the center of the boat to raise it and create the ideal wake for skiing.

Based on adaptability

  • Crossover


Crossover boats are really more about getting the most control over the wakes and waves you make. Their versatility shows in how they’re also configured to mount a ski pylon in the middle while having the freedom to adjust the wave’s size.  

Ski Boat vs Wake Boat Key Differences


Ski boats tend to be shorter than wake boats. They span at least 15 feet, with the specialized ones often reaching exactly 20 feet. For wake boats, 18 feet is often the minimum, with more recent models up to 30 feet or more.

How much does a wakeboard boat weigh? Some models can reach up to 6,700 pounds and more. For comparison, the average ski boat weight is only a little over 3,000 pounds.

This table outlines all the notable differences between the two.

Chief Considerations Wake Boat Ski Boat
Purpose Wakeboarding and other wake-related sports Water skiing
Ballast Present for the need to add weight to create bigger wakes Absent since there’s no need to create larger wakes
Wake Shape Large and usually customizable Mainly flat
Tow Rope Attachment Point Tower Center pylon
Speed Requires a slower speed range of 15 to 25 mph Adults may need speeds of more than 35 mph
Inboard Engine Placement Aft or stern Middle of boat
Deck Space More space Limited space
Can it smoothly accommodate both wakeboarding and skiing? Yes No

Pros and Cons

These are the pros and cons of wake boats and ski boats compared to other boats.

  • Specialized to make an authentic wakeboarding and water skiing experience.
  • Typically use engines with enough power that most watersports activities require.
  • Customizable with various accessories.
  • Encourages people to have fun and thrilling experiences while offering the opportunity to socialize.
  • Certain models are on the top of the price ladder when comparing boat prices overall.
  • Heavy vessels will require specialized trailers and storage facilities.

Pricing and Value for Money


Assuming you have the budget, you shouldn’t entirely close your doors to the most expensive wake and ski boats. For the money you shell out, you get assurances of longevity, fuel efficiency, and plenty of bells and whistles.

Once you decide to buy a wake boat, you’d have to prepare a budget of around $9,000 to $320,000, with $65,000 being the minimum amount for a decent vessel.

As for ski boats, you can get direct drives for as cheap as $7,000, which are usually the cheapest nowadays. There are mid-range and high-end options that cost around $35,000 and $120,000, respectively.

Which One’s Better?

The “better” boat will always be the one that will give you a top-notch experience. Going back to the first and common advice I mentioned above, you simply need to choose the boat that suits your activity the best.

Knowing the difference between wakeboarding and skiing, as well as ski boats and wake boats, this shouldn’t be difficult anymore.

How to Choose the Right Boat for Your Needs


  • Determine your purpose for buying either a wake boat or ski boat.
  • Don’t hesitate to test ride, assuming it’s available.
  • Get as much space as you can.
  • You want to pick the fastest you can afford to have more versatility. This often means aiming to have as much engine power as possible.
  • I understand that wakeboarding price remains an issue. If you’re considering a used wakeboard boat, pick the one that’s been well taken care of.
  • If you’re aiming for the smallest wakesurf boat your money can buy, be sure to pick reputable brands like Super Air Nautique, Axis, Mastercraft, and Yamaha.

Frequently Asked Questions


Can you wakeboard behind a ski boat? How to?

Yes, wake surfing behind a ski boat can be done, but you have to be sure that your ski boat can handle the extra weight that you’re going to add via additional ballasts. You have to know how to position them, so you won’t sink your boat, though!

You’ll also want a higher pull as much as possible, so consider installing a higher pylon or tower.

Can you ski with a wakeboard boat?

Yes, since most wake boats give you the ability to control the size of your wake. Just keep it small and adjust based on your preference.

What safety measures should I consider when using a wake boat or ski boat?

Wear a PFD and the correct apparel all the time. Practice your wakeboard stance to not lose control. It doesn’t hurt to hone your swimming skills, too, since you’ll end up in the water one way or another.

More importantly, don’t go over speed limits and use only a vessel that you know can safely handle any activity you’re doing.


Some people like to use brands as the main differentiator for the various types of wake boats available. But, really, you should be looking more at the drive systems and the apparent versatility now present in more modern models.

Wake boats and ski boats may be bulked into the same category by most, but the distinctions are clear upon closer inspection. It’s part of why the wake boat vs ski boat discussion is still going on.

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