If you’re in the market for your first boat new or used, you may feel at first like there’s a huge range of options with many boat builders offering an ever-increasing number of features and options.
However, at the 5-year mark is where high-end boats from top brands like Mastercraft, Malibu (and others) stand out from the pack in terms of craftsmanship and materials.
Mastercraft and Malibu are two leading names in wake and surf boats. They are generally considered equivalent for build quality, reliability, fit and finish, value for money, and quality of wake/wave. Mastercraft has a slight edge for rough water handling a slightly better surf system.
Mastercraft vs Malibu: boats specs
These are the specs for 4 of the most popular Mastercraft wake & surf boats – X22, XT23, NXT22, and XStar:
|Hull length||22′ 4″||23′ 4″||22′||23′|
|Weight||5500 lbs||5250 lbs||4300 lbs||5800 lbs|
|Weight capacity||2250 lbs||2500 lbs||2312 lbs||2400 lbs|
|Max ballast||3550 lbs||3300 lbs||2150 lbs||4100 lbs|
|Fuel capacity||68.5 Gal||79 Gal||49 Gal||76 Gal|
Here are the specs for two uber-popular Malibu wake and surf boats – the 23 LSV and the 20 VTX:
|Weight||5200 lbs||3500 lbs||5400 lbs|
|Weight capacity||2115 lbs||1551 lbs||2256 lbs|
|Max ballast||4250 lbs||3585 lbs||4670 lbs|
|Fuel capacity||65 Gal||39 Gal||58 Gal|
Factors to consider for choosing a Mastercraft or Malibu boat
When buying a used boat, even more important than the brand are considerations like how well the current owner maintains the boat, where the boat is stored, and how much distance the boat has been trailered.
For both new and used boats, an essential factor is the proximity and quality of the dealer you will be taking the boat to for maintenance and repair – assuming you wont DIY.
When buying a used boat, be aware that you’ll begin to see some small signs of wear at about 400 hours. Some boats come with thin vinyl that quickly starts to rip. Boats with abundant wood often start to have screws coming out on the transom locker.
With regards to the boat brand and model to choose, you need to consider whether you’ll be primarily using the boat for wakeboarding, surfing, skiing, or just hanging out.
The size is also a key factor depending on how many people you plan to have in the boat. While bigger boats can fit more passengers, they are generally harder to tow and store away and often don’t drive as smoothly as smaller ones.
Mastercraft vs Malibu: durability
The general consensus is that Malibu and Mastercraft boats are comparable in terms of durability. It’s quite common to see Mastercraft boats with 1150 hours on the engine still running without issues.
Likewise, Malibu VLX multi-owners often report their boats being trouble free for long durations. 2005 VLX boats are commonly kept for 7+ years and 500 hours with near zero issue.
Engine reliability is very comparable between older Bus and MCs, as both typically came with Indmar engines with similar wiring.
When it comes to interior, owners tend to agree Malibu has a bit of an upper hand, with older Malibus often holding up better than younger Mastercrafts with 300 fewer hours – even though they’ve been used and maintained the same way.
That said, some owners report still having the original vinyl on their 18-year old Mastercraft, with only a little reupholstering needed on a bench or two.
Malibu vs Mastercraft: rough water handling
Many boaters feel Mastercraft boats handle rough water better than Malibus due to the way their hull is designed: most classic Mastercraft models carry the V to the rear
As a result, MC boats like the X2, X25, X35, or X45 ride a lot better in rough water than the Malibu, handling like heavier boats. The X23 is known to have a very deep V and hence handles chop quite well.
Malibus on the other hand, tend to have flatter hulls compared to MCs, being completely flat in the rear. This results in a very nice and clean wake at low speed (e.g. for wakesurfing) but also a bit rougher feel on the water.
A good example is the Malibu 23LSV which handles great overall but pretty rough in choppy waters due to the lack of deep V in its hull.
Mastercraft vs Malibu interior design
Except perhaps for a couple of years with poor quality vinyl, Malibu and Mastercraft both tend to have outstandingly durable interiors.
Boat owners generally agree the vinyl in Malibus tends to outlast that of Mastercraft. This especially applies to models in the 2000 to 2010 year range, where a lot more MC boats suffered from vinyl cracking than Bus.
Starting 2008 – 2008, Mastercraft started including billet aluminum accents, snap out carpet (some models), diamond stitched interiors, as well as great sound components such as JL Stereo.
Malibu, on the other hand, chose to kept the lines simple and elegant. While Mastercraft had one-piece molded top decks, Malibu’s distinct build approach made their cabins a lot quieter with respect to engine noise.
Malibu also used Solarfix, one of the best and most expensive threads for marine, highly stain and cut resistant. Mastercraft used Tenara thread, also a high-end marine thread, as well as highly durable French seams for nearly every seam in their boats.
Mastercraft started using a gel coat floor in many models before Malibu did, which can be a big plus vs a carpeted boat after a few years.
Besides carpet, some of the cons owners of older (e.g. 2014) Malibu LSV sometimes mention are the gas shocks blocking access to storage, flip up seats leaving storage wide open, or low ballast taking up all the bow storage.
Nevertheless, most people in the boating community rave about the fit and finish of Malibu boats.
Mastercraft vs Malibu: wake & surf wave
The following are the results of field testing conducted by Guinn Partners for comparing the wave quality of the MC XT21 vs the Malibu 20VTX (comparable rider, gear, and setup):
|Mastercraft XT21||Malibu 20VTX|
|Pocket size||33 sq ft||86 sq ft|
Based on the above results, the 20VTX seems to produce a better wave than the MC XT21.
Different models yield different results for wakeboarding or wakesurfing. An early 2000s Malibu 21 LSV with 1500lbs of ballast and a wedge tends to create a wake that’s very nice to wakeboard but harder to surf.
The Malibu 23 LSV offers a nice surf wave, however the Surf Gate and wedge are quite bulky, making it harder to drive at slow speed.
In contrast to Malibu boats, Mastercrafts don’t have the wedge, so their wake is consistently steeper. On a Malibu, by removing the wedge you have the option to make the wake softer, which is good for learners. MC boats lack this option.
Mastercraft Gen 2 Surf System vs Malibu Surf Gate
Tests performed by Utah Watersports comparing Mastercraft’s and Malibu’s surf systems give the Gen 2 an advantage over Malibu’s Surf Gate in term of wake size.
The wakes produced by the different boats used in the tests didn’t have a significant difference in length. “Normal” surfers were able to ride as far as 18 feet away from the boat with both the Gen 2 and the Surf Gate.
However, the wave produced by Mastercraft’s Gen2 offers more push compared to the Surf Gate system across boat sizes.
You can learn more about wave push here.
Malibu vs Mastercraft: pricing and resale
Used Mastercraft and Malibu models from good years can be found for a $40K – $50K budget.
MC and Malibu boats hold their value quite well. Case in point, it’s common for a early 2000s VLX boat to loose less than 3000$ after 7 years of usage. An early 2010s Mastercraft X45 will typically sell in two weeks at the market value.
MasterCraft vs Malibu Boats: companies
MasterCraft Boat Company (MCBC Holdings, Inc. – NASDAQ: MCFT) is a world-renowned innovator, designer, manufacturer, and marketer of premium performance sport boats under the MasterCraft name.
The company was founded in 1968 and has built an iconic brand image through a rich history of industry-leading innovation. More than four decades after the original MasterCraft made its debut, the company’s mission remains the same: build the world’s best ski, wakeboard, and luxury performance powerboats.
Malibu Boats, founded in 1982 in Merced, California, is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of watersports towboats by volume.
They are one of the global leaders in proprietary wake and wave generation technologies. Axis Wake Research and Cobalt Boats are also part of the Malibu brand family.
Malibu Boats and Axis are still built in the United States along the Tennessee River in Loudon, Tennessee. They feature unequaled American engineering, luxury, technology, and craftsmanship.
The Malibu and Axis Boats manufactured at their facility in North Albury, New South Wales, are all made with the same legendary craftsmanship.
Are Malibu Boats reliable?
Malibu Boats is considered a high-quality boat maker in the industry. Malibu has created a competitive advantage based on the strength of its brand, which is known in the wakesurf, wakeboard, and water ski boat market for premium performance and attention to quality.
What boat brands does MasterCraft own?
MasterCraft Boat Holdings, Inc. owns four brands: MasterCraft, NauticStar, Crest, and Aviara.
Choosing between a Malibu or Mastercraft is like flipping a coin. Both brands build very good boats, but you need to look at are the boat’s condition and its maintenance records.
It’s a good idea to speak to the dealer where the boat was maintained. If the dealer is familiar with the boat, they will be able to service it a lot faster in case of a problem, so less boating time will be lost.
Most of all, make sure you drive the boat and inspect every feature in detail: open and test the compartments, board racks, cooler, set up the table, pylon, bimini, and tower, adjust the seat and wheel etc