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Center Consoles

Today’s center consoles do much more than fish.

They’re bigger, faster and no longer angler-exclusive. Center consoles have undergone a sea change in the past 10 to 15 years, morphing from hard-core fishing machines to multiple-mission, all-purpose boats.

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You’ll see plenty at the Miami and Boston shows in February. At the most recent Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, Regulator Marine president Joan Maxwell stood in the cockpit as she introduced her company’s Regulator 25 center console — the boat that has replaced the legendary 26. Unlike its predecessor, the new boat has a flush deck, as well as more seating and deck space, thanks to a 10-inch bump in beam to 8 feet, 10 inches.

And this next-generation Regulator offers dayboating amenities. “How about this grill?” said Maxwell as she pointed to the aft end of the leaning post. “Did you ever think you would see one on a Regulator? Well, I tell you what, we didn’t think we’d have one, either. But that is what our customers are asking for. The center console gives us an opportunity to entertain the family as well as take care of the fisherman.”

The addition of creature comforts and more seating stand out as two of the top changes the center console has undergone. Builders also have thrown more curves into their profiles, softening the corners and leaving behind the boxy look of years past. “Take a look at this boat,” said Maxwell. “Look at the curve on the console. One of the things we have been doing over the past few years is working on the styling of the boat, so it’s a lot better to look at aesthetically than that old 26 you all love.”

The center console is one of the most popular types of open boat, but don’t think of them as small anymore. Several companies build a center console north of 40 feet. Imagine, an outboard boat as big as some motoryachts. Today’s high-horsepower outboards have fueled the center console’s growth from 25 to 45 feet, says Rob Kaidy, CEO of Ocean 5 Naval Architects, which has designed center console hulls for SeaVee, Pursuit, Boston Whaler and Century, among others. “I can remember when a 26- or 28-footer was a big center console,” he says.

SeaHunter and Intrepid build 45-footers, and a few others — including Yellowfin, Hydra-Sports and Invincible — build 40- to 42-footers. American Marine builds a 45-foot power cat, the Insetta 45. And you can expect to see more center consoles on steroids. In fact, Boston Whaler and Regulator have 40-plus footers on their drawing boards.

SeaVee has come out with a cross between a center console and an express in its new 430 Fish Around. The boat is designed with an oversized console but maintains a flush open deck from bow to stern.

The SeaVee 390 has continuously evolved since its introduction in 2008; a twin-stepped version recently debuted.

The increased size has allowed builders “to design monster consoles and monster leaning posts,” Kaidy says. “It has turned the center console into the ultimate sport utility boat.”

The console T-tops and windshield designs have improved, as well. Manufacturers now enclose the helm with front and side windshields that extend to the hardtop. Intrepid even has a model with powered windows that raise and lower just like a car’s.

Boaters want much more than a fishing platform these days, and builders are responding with multipurpose boats that are not only bigger, but also faster and higher-tech. American Marine builds its catamaran using vacuum infusion, vinylester resin and PVC coring, and it powered its latest model with a pair of Seven Marine 557-hp outboards. Yellowfin also rigged a pair of 557s on its 40-foot center console RIB, the RHIB 40.

Center consoles now are available with joystick steering, and outboard manufacturers Seven Marine, Suzuki, Mercury, Yamaha and Evinrude are offering this technology for precise low-speed maneuverability. The latest in electronics from leading companies such as Garmin, Raymarine, Simrad and Furuno is also finding its way aboard.

The center console also has served as a testbed for hull designs. More builders are offering models with stepped hulls, promising increased efficiency and greater speed. Invincible, Contender, Scout, SeaVee, Intrepid, Yellowfin and SeaHunter all use steps in one form or another.

Intrepid powers its 375 Open with Seven Marine 557-hp outboards.

Family-friendly day tripping is a big part of the center console’s mission today, but builders also have kept the angler’s needs in mind, packing the boats with better live wells, more rod holders and storage, larger T-tops, bigger fishboxes and better heads, as well as wraparound glass windshields. Intrepid even makes a mini-pilothouse center console with an electric-powered front windshield and side windows.

The hybrid center console has emerged as an offshoot of this revolution. Pathfinder, Yellowfin, Scout and Grady-White all offer hybrids in the mid-20-foot range. With their lower freeboard, raised fore and aft decks and shallow draft, these boats thrive on inshore waters. But they also ride vee bottoms that can handle some offshore slop.

Builders say they’re simply giving boaters what they want. The economic downturn helped spark the center console’s surge, says Steve Potts, president of Scout Boats. “Boaters started wanting more out of their boats — it’s that simple,” Potts says. “People started desiring more than what a typical runabout does or a traditional center console has done. They’re rugged but have creature comforts, like nice seats with styling.”

Customers at boat shows told Southport’s Peter Galvin they liked the size of his 29 Tournament Edition center console but preferred the seating arrangement in the bow of the 27-footer. Southport responded with a model that replaces the coffin box at the forward end of the console with wraparound bow seating like the 27’s. The modification was one of several changes Southport has made to the 29-footer so it can be used for both fishing and day cruising. “People today are looking for more of those crossover capabilities,” says Galvin, Southport’s vice president of sales and marketing.

The Grady-White 251-CE (Coastal Explorer) is the first inshore/offshore hybrid offered by the builder.

To deliver, the boats need an intelligent mix of fishing features and creature comforts.

The Scout 275 LXF seems to have those ingredients: a fiberglass leaning post with a bait-prep station, a sink, stainless steel tackle drawers and fold-up helm chairs. You can also get a refrigerator, grill, stovetop and a high-end stereo system. “Three or four decades ago they were strictly fishing machines, but today they are as nice as the finest motoryacht out there,” Potts says.

A center console being compared to a motoryacht. Who would’ve thought?

February 2014 issue