This may come as a shock to some, but it’s OK to be comfortable when you’re headed offshore to fish. You don’t need to be standing for hours on end. Nor do you have to sit on a cooler or a fishbox when you’re taking a break to grab a sandwich.
“Just because we’re hard-core fishermen, it doesn’t mean we don’t like to sit down and be comfortable,” says Tyler Cesar, vice president of Cape Horn Boats. And when nature calls, the bucket-and-chuck-it routine won’t cut it, especially if his wife and daughter are on board. “We’ve got porcelain toilets, and they’re nice.”
Compared to traditional offshore diesel battlewagons, many center consoles are faster, burn less fuel, and are easier to clean and maintain. And some builders equip them with more cruising amenities, such as removable tables and televisions, along with grills and coolers.
It’s not just the list of creature comforts that’s growing. With HCB Center Console Yachts leading the way, the boats also are getting bigger. HCB builds four models from 39 to 65 feet, and Yellowfin is working on a 55-footer. Scout unveiled the 530 LXF center console, Contender launched a 44-footer, and Regulator launched a 41-footer in 2015.
And while the increased versatility is undeniable, let’s not forget the center console’s prime mission: to fish. “We’ve always tried to maximize live well sizes and fishboxes,” says Grady-White vice president of marketing Shelley Tubaugh. The company’s live wells incorporate a system that circulates water from top to bottom, so bait keeps swimming as you run offshore — and sometimes back home.
Regulator customers still ask for as large a live well and fishbox as possible. “We can’t swing the pendulum all the way over and focus only on family features,” says Owen Maxwell, vice president of production at Regulator Marine.
When the crew from Cape Horn heads offshore, Cesar says, the bait of choice are large blue runners, so the Cape Horn 32 has a 60- gallon primary bait well and a 30-gallon backup.
Yellowfin Boats owner Wylie Nagler says he outfits boats to suit how the owner fishes. Live-bait anglers want huge live wells. “More is always better,” he says, “but you’re limited in design, too.”
Bahama Boat Works was known for hard-core fishing boats with huge fishboxes in the bow. “Then we came out with a forward-seating boat, and the difference in sales was dramatic,” says Scott Henley, company founder. “We haven’t looked back.”
He says the 41-footer with forward seating still has such fishing features as oversized live wells and dual freezer plates in the forward fishboxes. “We just make it more appealing to the cruising side with a hull-side door, a Seakeeper, and we pioneered a couch on the transom,” Henley says.
Bahama Boat Works also has what it calls mezzanine seating that consists of bottom cushions across the stern and a wraparound backrest that removes to ready the boat for fishing. Contender’s new 44-footer can be outfitted as a no-frills boat or as a more cruising-oriented model with seats in the bow and on the forward part of the console, with custom upholstery and detailed stitching.
Cesar says Cape Horn is offering two versions of its boats, including the most popular one in the company’s lineup: the 32-foot center console. A boat with a “T” designation is a tournament fishing boat, while an “XS” has extra seating and more cruising amenities. “The guy that has the T would never be caught dead in the family version,” Cesar says. “It would be like going deer hunting and showing up with a pink rifle.”
One of the biggest areas where Grady-White has focused on comfort is the head compartment. “Men and women open the head compartment on our smaller boats and say, ‘Wow, my family could actually use this,’ ” Tubaugh says.
With the exception of Grady-White, whose boats tend to have a wider chine beam that makes them more stable, virtually every center-console builder has customers who expect Seakeeper gyrostabilizers on bigger models. Boaters also want bigger electronics displays that do more, as well as connectivity. Every boat mentioned in this story has 12-volt and USB ports, whether standard or as an option.
Almost universally, joysticks also are expected. Whether it’s Yamaha’s Helm Master, Mercury’s Joystick Piloting or SeaStar’s Optimus 360, the systems make it easier to run a boat and typically include station-keeping functions. “It’s a great feature for the angler,” says John Caballero, director of sales and marketing for SeaVee. “We do a lot of sailfishing using kites, and now you don’t have to use a sea anchor.”
As technology improves, the outboards that power these boats are multiplying. “It wasn’t but four or five years ago that a quad-engine boat was an oddity,” says Steve Potts, founder of Scout Boats.
Of course, we wouldn’t have 50- and 60-plus-foot center consoles if there weren’t big engines to power them. Seven Marine leads the pack with V-8 outboards that make 527, 577 and 627 horses. Last year, Yamaha introduced the 425-hp XTO Offshore. Mercury pulled the sheets off nearly 20 new outboards in 2018 in V-6 and V-8 configurations with max ratings of 300 hp and, more recently, introduced a 400-hp version of its Verado outboard targeted at big center consoles and dual consoles.
“Center console fishing boats are getting bigger because we have horsepower that allows us to push a bigger product,” says Nagler, of Yellowfin.
When large center consoles are compared to offshore diesel sportfishermen, two of the biggest benefits are speed and efficiency. A convertible in the mid-40-foot range might run 48 mph on a pair of big diesels; the Contender 44 ST pushes 80 mph with quad 425-hp outboards. Anglers who head far offshore are looking for a boat to get at least 1 to 1.2 gallons per hour and as much as 1.5 gph. Nagler says an offshore angler wants a 450- to 500-mile range at 40 mph.
“People want faster, better,” says SeaVee’s Caballero. “It’s a little concerning that if people can afford it, they get into a boat that goes 60, 70-plus mph.”
A legendary name in offshore fishing has introduced a line of center consoles. Viking Yacht Co. has a new division, Valhalla Boatworks, whose initial offerings are the outboard-powered V-33, V-37 and V-41. The boats ride Michael Peters Yacht Design’s Stepped-V Ventilated Tunnel running surface, which has been used on everything from U.S. military RIBs to Hallett performance boats.
The Valhalla models will have a Seakeeper gyrostabilizer, a port-side dive door, and Llebroc or Release Marine helm and companion chairs. Fishing features include a raised transom live well, in-deck cold boxes, rod holders and open stowage. Each boat will have a lounge forward of the helm console; inside the console will be a head compartment with a sink, stowage and access to the electronics. Owners also can opt for bow seating with forward-facing backrests.
To help their boats achieve better fuel economy, many builders have gone higher-tech with their construction processes. Yellowfin uses resin infusion to help keep weight down. Scout builds its big boats using infused epoxy resin and carbon fiber. Bahama Boat Works and Cape Horn use conventional hand-laid solid-fiberglass bottoms.
Perhaps the biggest disagreement among center-console builders is about bottom design. Grady-White hulls are not stepped. Neither are boats from Bahama Boat Works, Regulator or Cape Horn. “When you’re running in 2- to 3-foot seas at 40 mph, the ocean is your step,” Henley says.
Cesar says Cape Horn hulls used to be stepped. “I explain to people that steps are like a stopped clock — they’re right twice a day,” he says, adding that the changing loads that come with burning off fuel while adding weight with the day’s catch affect a stepped hull more than a conventional one. “You learn that you can do things without the steps.”
Yellowfin, Contender, SeaVee and Scout all have stepped bottoms. For his bottoms, Potts worked with Ben Robertson and Kenny Adams, both of whom have been involved with Fountain Powerboats and its kilo speed record attempts. “What we know is that almost all bottoms are sensitive to loading,” Potts says. “We’ve learned more of what not to do.”
Most companies are using computer software, including computational fluid dynamics, to develop new models. “We have software that not only lets you design the boat, you can sea-trial it inside the computer — the running attitude, the speed,” Caballero says. “What that means for the consumer is a far greater likelihood that the boat is going to perform the way it was envisioned.”
When it comes to center consoles, builders continue to be challenged to provide a boat that can fish hard but also has amenities for cruising. “It’s not that it’s any less of a fishing boat,” says Jordan Delong, director of marketing at Contender. “It’s just much more comfortable.”