Pilothouse boats offer refuge from the cold and heat, a salty appearance and multitasking capabilities
The Down East lobster boat, with its tall bow, gently sloping sheer, trunk cabin and pilothouse, has influenced the design of many recreational boats through the years — the Dyer 29, Cape Dory 28 and Hinckley Picnic Boat among them. But there are plenty of other pilothouse boats without the lobster boat lineage — rugged, all-season vessels from about 25 to 40 feet, with outboard, inboard or sterndrive power.
The pilothouse itself is typically an enclosed fiberglass structure on deck with windows and side and/or aft doors. It houses the helm station and, depending on boat size and layout, may include other features, such as a galley and table with seating. Some even place the saloon in the pilothouse.
“Particularly around this part of the country and up in Alaska, your boating season can be short,” says Jeff Lindhout, president of SeaSport Boats in Bellingham, Wash. “The pilothouse allows you to extend the boating season by allowing you to be out there in the wintertime with heat and a defrost system and an Alaskan bulkhead. You can close the door and be nice and warm.” Perfect, too, for the Northeast and the Great Lakes.
The pilothouse also keeps you cool. “It’s not only of interest in colder climates, but also in the southern U.S.,” says Carl Skarne, president of Skarne Marine in Milford, Conn., which sells the Finnish-built Minor Offshore 27 as well as a 31-footer. “We have been receiving a lot of calls from Florida, for example, from people who want to spend time on the water and cruise, but don’t … want to be exposed to the sun. And with pilothouse boats, you can just shut the doors and windows, slide the sunroof shut, and turn on the AC.”
The pilothouse allows these vessels to multitask, says Skarne. “The Offshore 27 can serve as a comfortable and safe family day or weekend cruiser, as well as a functional workboat for shuttling loads back and forth, commuting or fishing.”
The Minor and the three other boats featured here illustrate variations in pilothouse design.
Closer to a center console, the Maritime 25 Patriot has a pilothouse consisting of a three-sided fiberglass enclosure (with forward and side windows) that provides weather protection for the helmsman and a companion. “It’s sort of a center console-
pilothouse hybrid,” says Maritime Marine vice president of sales and marketing Peter G. Galvin. “You get all the benefits of both. You have an open bow, but you also have a small cabin to duck out of the weather.”
The Minor Offshore 27 and the Nord Star 26 Patrol, both built in Finland, have enclosed pilothouses with trunk cabins that stop short of the bow for access. “This is a true walkaround with wide-enough decks even for a larger adult to get around the pilothouse safely and comfortably on one level — no steps at all,” says Skarne.
The SeaSport Commander 2800 also has a full house, but its trunk cabin extends all the way to the bow, much like an express cruiser. “We didn’t want to sacrifice the interior space,” says Lindhout.
The Finnish vessels and the SeaSport have forward-raked windshields, giving them a commercial look. “Yes, it looks like a workboat because that’s its heritage,” says Skarne of the Minor Offshore. “Some people will think it’s very cool. Other people will say, It’s not for me; it’s not beautiful. But these boats — the pilothouse boats in general — have a very nautical and salty look to them. I think it’s kind of an authoritative look that some people might like.”
The reverse-raked windshield also has a practical side, says Lindhout. “It keeps the windshield drier, you get less glare off the water, and we’ve found it frees up more dash space,” he says.
Besides their all-weather capabilities, these four boats offer excellent fuel efficiency. For instance, the Maritime 25 Patriot with a single 225-hp Suzuki
4-stroke gets more than 3 mpg at about 28 mph, says Galvin. With a twin 140-hp outboard setup, the Patriot can plane with just one engine and reach 20 mph. “If something should happen to one engine, you still have plenty of get-home power,” says Galvin.
The Nord Star 26 Patrol with a single 260-hp Volvo Penta diesel sterndrive burns 7 gallons per hour at 28 mph, or around 4 mpg, says John Uljens, president of New Haven, Conn.-based Nord Star USA.
With its standard single Volvo Penta 370-hp diesel sterndrive, the SeaSport Commander 2800 cruises at about 27 mph, burning about 8.5 gph, which delivers 3.2 mpg, says Lindhout. At 300 gallons, the SeaSport far exceeds the other three in fuel capacity. The three other boats each hold 83 or 84 gallons.
The Minor 27, powered with a 300-hp Volvo Penta diesel sterndrive, gets around 3.5 mpg at 31 mph, says Skarne.
The numbers are impressive, considering that these boats run on deep-vee or modified-vee bottoms. The transom deadrise of the SeaSport and the Minor measures 22 degrees, while the Nord Star’s is 18 degrees. The Maritime 25 has a 14-degree deadrise.
The SeaSport’s cabin houses a forward V-berth. In the pilothouse are a port-side quarter berth with accommodations for two, a dinette that converts to a bunk, and a standup head with a shower. The galley — with two-burner stove and sink — is to starboard abaft the helm station.
The dinette areas on the Nord Star 26 Patrol and the Minor 27 Offshore also are in the pilothouse, abaft the helm, with galley areas just forward of the companion seats. A sink accompanies the stove in this area on the Minor, while the Nord Star’s sink is concealed beneath the fold-down companion seat. Below on both vessels, you’ll find the head and sink (no shower) to starboard and a forward V-berth. Both boats also provide a second berth. The companion seat on the Nord Star converts to a berth, while the Minor’s bunk is under the bridge deck on the port side, accessed in the cabin.
“Really, for 26 feet, they’re giving you a lot of features and accommodations,” says Uljens of the Nord Star. “It’s a bit tight, but you’re getting that nice walkaround space on deck. You have to borrow space from somewhere.”
Without a full pilothouse, the Maritime 25 Patriot’s accommodations are limited to a V-berth, marine head and a storage area.
The commercial roots of these four pilothouse boats can also be seen on deck, with their deep cockpits, high gunwales and safety rails. The Finnish boats’ tall stainless-steel rails rim the entire deck from bow to stern. The cockpit on the SeaSport is nearly 30 inches deep, and you can grab both the bow rail and the rail on top of the pilothouse on passages to and from the bow. Maritime builds the 25 Patriot’s deck with toe-kick space along the gunwales for increased balance.
The knock on this style of boat has been a lack of ventilation and visibility in the pilothouse, but improvements have been made in these areas, says Skarne. “On one of the first [pilothouse boats] my grandfather had, the visibility out the back window was almost non-existent,” says Skarne, who grew up in Sweden. “It was a very small window and poorly located. Visibility improvements have certainly developed over the years just from input from the users. I’ve been listening to that input. When you’re standing in the pilothouse, you can see that there’s less fiberglass and more window.”
Whether you live in the North or South, looking to extend your season or simply get out of the sun, these rugged pilothouse boats are worth looking at. They are versatile, with overnight capabilities, and they offer a good turn of speed. They fit the bill for fishing, dayboating, small-boat cruising and more.
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This article originally appeared in the November 2009 issue.