In the early 1990s, Joe Neber decided to focus his considerable knowledge of boatbuilding and deep-water angling on the design of two new center console fishing boats. These models would come to define Contender Boats, the company he founded in the mid-1980s. Both the 31 Open and the 27 Open were prized among serious fishermen who wanted to venture farther from the coast than typical center consoles allowed, but the 31 Open stands out for its forward-looking application of big four-stroke outboards.
Neber gave the 31 Open a deep-V hull with a 24.5-degree deadrise aft, two pairs of full-length lifting strakes for quicker planing and wide reversed chines aft to help minimize rolling at slower trolling speeds. He included a substantial integrated swim platform with molded recesses for trim tabs to support twin 250-hp outboards. The boat also had a sharp entry and a nicely flared bow to mitigate spray when running hard in messy conditions.
The 31 Open’s 9-foot, 4-inch beam allowed a substantial helm console with a T-top above and a step-down head compartment below, plus a sturdy double-wide bench seat/leaning post. Wide side decks flanked the helm console.
More importantly, a single-level deck stretched from the anchor locker to the transom. It was spacious enough for four anglers to move easily around and lend a hand with lines in the water or when a fish was alongside. The boat did not have a casting deck or seating on the forward console, which meant that an optional coffin-style fishbox could be mounted on the foredeck.
Smart fishing features included twin livewells in the transom, a transom door to starboard, and four fish boxes beneath the sole. Cockpit depth was above the knee, and there were thick cockpit bolsters and a recessed stainless steel handrail on the inside of the coaming.
One thoroughly satisfied owner of a 31 Open equipped with twin Yamaha 250 two-stroke outboards quoted wide-open throttle speeds approaching 52 mph, and typical cruising speeds of 29 to 30 mph at 3500 rpm. Upgrading to Yamaha 250 four-strokes would add weight and diminish performance but improve range and efficiency. Standard fuel tankage was 240 gallons.
The 31 Open enjoyed a successful production run from 1995 to 2007. Today, Contender Boats continues to build boats from 25 to 44 feet at its factory in Homestead, Florida. —John Wooldridge
This article was originally published in the September 2022 issue.