Joan Maxwell remembers when the suggestion that cup holders be included on Regulator center consoles prompted skepticism — even laughter.“How can you drink anything or try to drink anything when you’re running offshore?” says Maxwell, the president of Regulator Marine, the Edenton, N.C., fishing-boat builder. “Well, we realized people were doing it all the time.”
Today’s Regulator not only has cup holders, but also more seating, heads, showers, refrigerators — even barbecue grills. “It has to be about the family, too,” says Maxwell, who founded Regulator (www.regulatormarine.com) with her husband, Owen.
“When we started the company back in 1988, it didn’t have to be about anybody but the fisherman. We have to think about creature comforts and where we’re going to put a cup holder. Is there plenty of seating? Where is the shower? In the early years these types of things were not even part of the design plan.”
Regulator’s story illustrates how the center console has evolved. What was once a Spartan fishing platform has morphed into a versatile boat for fishing and a slew of other activities — sunset cruises, overnighting, wakeboarding, snorkeling, beach-hopping, you name it.
Even the builders of center consoles popular among tournament anglers have diversified. “About three years ago, we made our first boats with forward seating,” says Bill Cordes, vice president of sales and marketing for Contender, the Homestead, Fla., builder (www.contenderoffshore.com). “Contender now also appeals to the guy who wants the best, but is not necessarily a diehard fisherman.”
The role of the center console began shifting in the early 1990s. The boats have consistently taken on more duties since then, and their multitasking identity has crystallized over the last few years. One factor in the change may be that boat prices have risen dramatically, making a boat more of a family purchase, says Maxwell. “And because the amount of time we all work is greater, when we find time outside of work we figure out how to get the family together — how to use that family time in a way where we are all together,” she says. “Being in the boat provides that platform to do that.”
The changes to the center console mirror those in other consumer products. “If you look around and compare our lifestyle to the lifestyle of your parents, they had more of a Spartan existence than we do,” says Maxwell. “Look at your father’s La-Z-Boy or the car he drove. Everything we have in life is a little bit nicer, a littler plusher, has a little more function. We expect that now as we go into a boat.”
Besides cup holders, what are the major changes aboard Regulator boats? Seating is one. “Let’s find a way for people to be comfortable, a lot of people,” says Maxwell. “We’re not expecting people to stand up anymore. They need a place to sit down.”
There’s plenty of that aboard the 34SS, the Regulator flagship. The boat looks like a center console, but the forward portion of the console extends to the starboard gunwale, enabling a larger seat for the helmsman and companion and wraparound seating in the bow. It rides a Lou Codega deep-vee hull that’s ideal for offshore runs, and the air-conditioned console interior contains a two-person berth, a compact galley and a head.
You’ll find a similar design with the console side extension on the Pursuit ST310, with its pair of helm seats with armrests, a large padded settee on the forward side of the console and a settee that wraps around the bow. “The boat is really well thought out from top to bottom,” says Pursuit Boats marketing manager David Glenn. “It’s a good crossover model between a true center console and more of a cruising vessel.”
Pursuit also offers a more conventional 31-foot center console (www.pursuitboats.com). You’ll still find ample seating opportunities forward of the transom, at the helm, on the forward side of the console and in the bow, though not as plush as on the ST310.
Perhaps no company has changed its design criteria and view of the center console more than Contender. In 2011, the builder launched its Luxury Sport line — the 32LS, 35LS and 39LS. “We saw the market shifting,” marketing director Les Stewart Jr. said at the debut of the 32 LS at the 2011 Miami International Boat Show. “We saw that people want more of a multifunction boat, a boat that somebody can go fishing on with their kids and then pack up and go to a sandbar and grill a burger or hang around and listen to music. People are using boats more than for just fishing. We realize that, and we’re adapting.”
This year at the Miami show, Stewart stood next to another variation of the company’s hardcore offshore fishing boats — the new 25 Bay, a multifunction center console capable of inshore fishing, gunkholing and occasional runs offshore.
In contrast to Contender, Mako has played the dual-purpose role since its establishment in 1966, says John Bower, manager of saltwater products for the Tracker Marine Group, Mako’s parent company (www.mako-boats.com). “We build fishing boats first and foremost, but we try to have the boat be so much more than that,” he says.
Several years ago there were a number of boat companies building Spartan vessels that were “100 percent geared to angling,” says Bower. “And over the course of the years you have seen their option offerings come around to our philosophy.”
And what is that philosophy? “You can make a great fishing boat, but it can also accommodate the needs of a family, and that is really what our focus has always been,” he says. That means plenty of seating and swim ladders and coolers and T-tops and bow dodgers.
It’s quite simple, says Maxwell. “Give the boater what he wants. For Regulator owners, it’s all about seating, storage and comfort.”
The essential elements of a center console
- fiberglass T-top for weather protection and mounting rod holders, antennae, lights, outriggers
- coffin box seating, handrails, single-level deck with non-skid and toekick space, bow locker for windlass
- clear sightlines from the helm
- stand-up head and lockable rod storage in console
- large helm dash for two electronics displays, gauges, switches
- extra seating at transom bait box with sink and pull-out shower
- gunwale rod holders, tackle center with sink, cooler box and live well
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This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue.