By John Brownlee
Buying a new center console can be equally exciting and frustrating.
The center console design remains the most popular style of fishing boat for a great many reasons: First, it’s eminently practical and simple by nature, with 360 degrees of space in which to move around. Second, it offers a relatively low initial purchase cost, and the subsequent maintenance costs won’t break the bank either. And third, the center console simply outperforms other designs in terms of both performance and efficiency. When speed matters, a center console will get you there fast.
So once you’ve decided a center console should be part of your boating and fishing future, where do you begin looking for the right one? The choices can be bewildering. Even with the inevitable attrition in center-console manufacturers brought on by the recession of the past seven years, there still exist a large number of companies eager to sell you their particular center console. Obviously, price plays a large part in any buying decision, but once you’ve determined how much you want to spend, here are some additional things to consider that may help you narrow down the remaining choices.
Ask yourself how you’ll use the boat. Are you a fisherman, or will the boat be used strictly for family weekend outings and picnics? And if you do fish, how serious about it are you? Maybe you’re a weekend warrior, or a hard-core tournament professional? Most likely, you’ll fall somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.
Let’s start with the first example: If you want a boat to haul the kids to the beach and will rarely fish, you want to find a boat with plenty of the one thing that many center consoles lack, adequate seating for everyone aboard. Aft seating along the transom bulkhead provides a great resting spot for passengers, as does forward seating in the bow. These extra seats often get deleted by fishermen who want to maximize fishing space, but if you regularly boat with guests, you’ll be glad to have them.
You’ll also be glad to have a head. The level of comfort and fit and finish in the heads aboard center consoles varies greatly, so examine them closely and ask yourself if your family and friends will really use them in the real world, or will that space become yet another repository for loose gear? If you’re serious about family cruising, finding a spacious, well engineered and well ventilated head compartment will make life much easier.
The Needs of the Fisherman
If you’re an angler, you must ponder all of the options mentioned above, along with an equally important, separate list of considerations. Think carefully about how and where you typically fish: Do you live in the Northeast and cast lures around the rocks for striped bass, or maybe you live on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico and run far offshore for snapper and grouper? Maybe you prefer trolling for pelagics. No matter how you fish, the modern center console can provide options to make that fishing easier and more productive.
In the fishing examples listed above, you may not ever find a need for a functional livewell, for instance. But if you live in Florida, the hottest center console market in existence, you may fish with live bait quite frequently, so having a quality livewell aboard becomes of great importance. No matter how you fish, you’ll want well designed, insulated fishboxes to bring home
the day’s catch when appropriate. Pay attention to how they drain, because that makes a big difference when trying to clean up a box full of melted ice, blood, and fish gurry. Some boxes drain directly overboard while others drain through a macerator pump: Inquire how the ones drain on the boat you want.
A Place for Everything
Center consoles have gotten much better over the years in terms of providing stowage space. In the early days, the simple open boats often provided little or no stowage at all. Tackle boxes, coolers, and the assorted bags of stuff that inevitably make it aboard simply sat on the deck, where they slid around when it got rough, and got wet when it rained. Modern boats, though, have made great strides in this area with multiple stowage spaces for both tackle and loose gear. Some of these spaces keep things bone dry, others will not. Look closely to make sure you’ve got room for all the gear you like to take with you and then some.
Never buy a boat without a thorough sea trial first. No matter whether you fish or not, you’ll want to buy a boat with excellent sightlines from the helm and great ergonomics. Can you see the water in front of the bow when steering, or does the bow block your line of sight due to bow rise? Is there ample space for mounting the electronics you’ll want, and are they easily viewed and reached from the helm? And can you drive the boat comfortably while seated and also while standing?
How Is She Built?
Perhaps the most fundamental choice involves construction details, things like hull form, construction methods and materials. Most builders of quality center consoles eliminated the use of wood in their boats long ago, with high-tech composite materials forming the basis for things like transoms and stringers. And vacuum bagging has become commonplace as EPA clean-air mandates have tightened the rules on the release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the atmosphere. That’s good news for the environment and for you, as it enables builders to deliver boats that are not only stronger, but lighter as well.
Many center consoles now come with stepped hulls, one or more breaks in the hull’s running surface to allow the introduction of air and decrease drag. This provides a faster ride and better efficiency, but it also creates a few challenges in the design area, namely in the placement of items like water pickups and transducers. These things don’t like streams of air and so should ideally be placed ahead of the step or steps. Fortunately, most builders of stepped hulls have long since figured out this fundamental concern and solved it.
Lastly, determine what type of top you want: T-top or tower? Or maybe no top at all? Should the metal be bright anodized aluminum, or powder-coated? These various options have many regional fans, and in the end, that may be the most important consideration: Where and how will you use it? Make intelligent decisions about those things, and you’re well on your way to finding the center console that will (almost) perfectly suit your needs.
John Brownlee is an Editor At Large at Power & Motoryacht and Anglers Journal
and host of Anglers Journal TV.