Center consoles are being called upon for much more than fishing these days, and builders are responding with fresh ideas

Customers at boat shows were telling Peter Galvin they liked the size of Southport Boats’ 29 Tournament Edition center console but preferred the seating arrangement in the bow of the builder’s 27-footer. The Augusta, Maine, company responded, designing a model that replaces the coffin box at the forward end of the console with wraparound bow seating similar to the 27’s.

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The modification was one of several Southport has made to the 29-footer so it can excel as a boat for both fishing and family day cruising. “People today are looking for more of those crossover capabilities,” says Galvin, Southport vice president of sales and marketing. “What they’ve told us is they want a boat that can still be a good offshore center console with the same type of fishing features the hardcore fisherman wants, but they also want the boat to be able to convert into a more family friendly day-tripping boat.” To deliver, the boats need creature comforts such as a refrigerator, a grill and a table for dining, he says.

The center console roundup you’re reading focuses on midsize boats. In this size range, center consoles begin to take on that inshore-offshore role. Call them hybrids, crossovers, multipurpose boats. They have shallow enough drafts to get into some skinny water, but their vee-hull designs — some with stepped bottoms for better efficiency — can handle some relatively rough water. No heading home when Mother Nature whips up a 2- or 3-foot chop.

Many of the company owners have been at the helm of their operations for 20-plus years, so they have a keen perspective of the changing needs and desires of today’s boaters who are interested in center consoles. “We don’t see the walkaround much anymore,” says Wally Bell, owner of Composite Research, the builder of Sea Born, Sundance and Spyder boats. “We don’t overnight on our fishboats much at all. As these center consoles get bigger, they are getting heads, and the leaning post has become a large fiberglass, tooled part that has seating and tackle drawers and other features — maybe a grill. So what you end up with is a mini-pilothouse in the center of the boat. The leaning post and center console and hardtop are becoming one feature.”

And boaters want larger hardtops for more shade, says Regulator president Joan Maxwell. “People are saying, ‘We want more coverage,’ ” Maxwell says. “So our 25s, 28s and 34s all have much wider T-tops, and they’re lighter. We were able to do some things in the molding process to cut down on weight.”

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The Regulator 26, which the new 25 replaces, was wrapped with a band around the seam between the structure’s top and bottom. That no longer exists on the 25, making for a cleaner, more streamlined profile, Maxwell says. “We’re excited, and we think it looks really good.”

The economic downturn fueled another evolution of the center console, 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. Some people don’t like to use the automobile analogy, but SUVs and pickup trucks are multipurpose. They’re rugged but have creature comforts and nice interiors and styling, and we see that trend happening in the center console world now.”

Six years ago Potts launched a posh line of boats to respond to customers’ changing expectations. “We have our LXF series — a luxury fishing series — and we’re up to six of these models now,” he says.

The 275 LXF features a fiberglass leaning post with a bait prep station, a sink, stainless steel tackle drawers and deluxe fold-up helm chairs. You can also get a refrigerator, grill, stovetop and a high-end stereo system. The desire for more luxury has been evident in other segments of boating, such as convertibles, Potts says. “Three or four decades ago they were strictly fishing machines, but today they are as nice as the finest motor-yacht out there,” he says. Boaters are unwilling to sacrifice what they want in features and luxury for fishability, Potts says.

Scott Deal agrees. He’s president and CEO of the Maverick Boat Co., which builds Maverick, Pathfinder, Cobia and Hewes boats. “Buyers are much more interested in multi-utility functions and [boats] they can do a lot of stuff with,” he says. “They want to be able to use their boat every day, regardless of their mission. They may want to have a family mission one day and a fishing mission the next time. Multiple use — that’s what it’s all about.”

His company satisfies a broad range of boaters with its four brands. “We are a multiniche builder,” Deal says. “We build in the flats boats market with the Maverick, which is a more technical market. We are in the bay boat market with the Pathfinder, which is an expansive segment that depends on where you live and how you fish. We have the Hewes, which is sort of a general flats boat, and of course we build center console family fishing boats with the Cobia brand. They all have their own story to tell and operate in their own way.”

The Cobia 296CC is a big fishing battlewagon with a 10-foot beam that also functions as the family station wagon. Maverick took over Cobia in 2005 and has redone the entire fleet. All deck components are well made and useful. I fished the 296 during a recent Maverick press event, and it struck me as a no-nonsense, rugged all-around center console (

At their core, these boats are still fishing platforms, and builders are finding innovative ways to free up fishing real estate. Transom seats fold up and out of the way, and backrests can be removed and stowed. Ten to 15 years ago, stern seats were often poorly designed and hard to manipulate. The Scout’s bow seats include forward-facing backrests that can be lowered with gas shocks to become armrests for passengers facing inboard while seated. Nifty.

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Center consoles offer a few other benefits — resale value, durability, and ease of cleanup and maintenance. “I think they do hold their value better than a typical runabout or cruiser, maybe because they are exposed more to harsher elements so they are designed and built to last longer,” Potts says.

Boaters want a vessel that will have a good resale value after five or six years, he says. Center consoles, with their open layouts, are easier to clean after a day on the water, which helps extend their lifespan, he says.

And Potts finds it exhilarating to drive an open boat. “There’s something about having the wind in your face,” he says. “It’s like driving a convertible, but instead of the sound of the road you’re treated to the sound of the water.”

No doubt, the center console plays a bigger role than ever in today’s boating community, Eastern Boats president Bob Bourdeau says. “Most manufacturers are making a model with a head in the console, and this one feature alone has broadened their acceptance,” he says. “They have truly become a family dayboat for fishing and pleasure.”

The center consoles featured here range from 24 to 29 feet, and single outboards power most of them. Horsepower ranges from 115 hp to 700 hp, and top-end speeds start at 40 mph. The fastest boat hits 60-plus mph. In the fuel economy department, most of the boats get about 2 mpg or more at cruising speeds from 25 to 40 mph; one boat gets an impressive 5 mpg. Beams range from 8 feet, 6 inches to 10 feet, 6 inches, and drafts start at 11 inches and reach about 2 feet. Retail prices with power range from $58,000 to $215,000.

Eastern 248

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The Eastern 248 center console has a simple layout and modest conveniences, compared with the other models in the builder’s lineup. But it’s also the least expensive, is easy to clean and maintain, and it wins hands-down when it comes to fuel efficiency. With flat aft sections and a relatively long and narrow hull, the Eastern 248 gets better than 5 mpg at 31 mph, Bourdeau says. The F150 Yamaha at that speed burns about 6 gph.

With its full keel, the boat tracks with precision, and the fine entry cuts through chop, he says. The 8-foot, 6-inch beam makes her trailerable, and passengers can spread out on the uncluttered deck for day cruises and runs to the beach. Eastern builds the 248 with a solid bottom and sides, and composite coring for the deck, console and other topside parts. For increased balance on deck, Eastern has built into the mold toekick space around all deck components — forward seats, the console and leaning post. Between the center console and pilothouse versions, the New Hampshire company has built 87 of the boats.

Sea Born FX25

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The FX25 is becoming the “next boat” for baby boomers looking to downsize, says Wally Bell, president of Composite Research, which owns Sea Born. “Those guys who were running offshore 15 years ago have grandkids now,” Bell says, noting that naval architect Jeff Seyler designed the FX25. “They still want a good-size boat but want to be able to run inshore as well as offshore.”

For offshore use, the boat was designed with a sportfish-style cockpit, as opposed to a bay boat-style casting platform, says Bell. The huge foredeck gives inshore anglers plenty of room for casting. With its tumblehome transom and stepped hull, the FX25 mixes style and technology in a fully equipped fishing/cruising platform.

The engineering stands out as a strength, Bell says. For instance, a sea chest with a centerline strainer stores raw water to feed the live well and other pumps, negating the need for multiple through-hulls, he says.

The FX25 has a top end of 60-plus mph, but fuel economy deserves attention, too. With a single F300 she gets 4 mpg at 29 mph. The boat competes with other high-end bay boats, such as the Contender 25 bay boat and Shearwater 26LZT, Bell says.

Regulator 25

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Regulator Marine celebrates its 25th year with a new 25-foot center console, retiring a longtime stalwart, the 26 Regulator, which was launched in the fall of 1990. “The 26 had a profile with sharper corners,” company president Maxwell says. “The 25 has a more rounded appearance and looks more modern. We wanted to match the look of our boats introduced recently, like the 34 and 28, but we didn’t want it to compete with the 26 … so the 26 is going away.”

Responding to customers, the builder has done away with the 26’s step-up foredeck and added 4 inches of beam and a recessed bow rail, Maxwell says. With its engine bracket, the boat’s LOA is 30 feet.

The 25 requires less horsepower, enabling the Edenton, N.C., builder to offer it at a lower price. The 25 is $130,395 with Yamaha’s new 4-cylinder 200-hp outboards. The 26 was $145,000 with 250-hp outboards. The design changes also have factored into the lower price, Maxwell says. With the throttles of those 200s pegged, the 25 hovers around the 51 mph mark and cruises at 31 mph for a mileage rating of 2 mpg.

Lou Codega has designed all of the Regulator boats, including this one, which rides his variable deadrise deep-vee hull. “We haven’t sacrificed anything with its ride or with its construction. All we have done is improve on what we’ve done for the last 25 years,” Maxwell says.

Pathfinder 2600 HPS

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Pathfinder calls the 2600 HPS the “Bay Crusher,” but the company wants you to know this bay boat can hold its own offshore, as well. The hull design includes twin steps, lifting strakes and a bustle transom “that frees up the aft deck of rigging obstructions and puts the engine farther back into cleaner water so that the prop gets a better bite,” marketing director Charlie Johnson says.

Pathfinder had built 30 of this model as of June, he says. “The boat is going crazy, with production out to January or February [2014],” he says. “We can’t build enough of them.”

Its inshore-offshore capability is a big reason for that, Johnson says. With its 15-inch draft, the boat allows anglers to explore the shallows and wet a line from fore or aft casting platforms, and the gunwales are high enough for fishing in unsettled waters. The boat comes standard with two live wells. “You can be chasing birds offshore one hour and pitching potholes on the flats in the next,” says Deal, the president of Maverick Boat Co., which owns Pathfinder. “That’s what this boat is all about.”

At 29 mph, the 2600 with a single 300-hp outboard gets 3.7 mpg. Top speed is 59 mph.

Scout 275 LXF

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If you see a 275 LXF (Luxury Fisherman) at a boat show, check out the electronically actuated sliding Plexiglas window at the helm that protects the electronics package, or the forward-facing backrests for the bow seating, or the sightlines through the forward and side windshields. In the fall of 2007, Scout debuted its patented T-top design. “We started getting rid of the gussets and framework common in T-tops — the kind that looked like a plumber’s nightmare,” Potts says. “We used structural tempered glass in the openings that supported the structure.”

But the Scout is more than just a design gem above the waterline. It rides the builder’s Nu-V3 variable deadrise hull. “We try to put a lot of emphasis on our running surfaces and try to make the designs more fuel efficient,” Potts says. “In this boat, we use three different panels varying in deadrise as they extend outboard.”

The LXF gets about 2.5 mpg at 34 mph with twin 200-hp outboards. Even at 40 mph the boat gets better than 2 mpg. In addition to the bow seats, you can plop yourself into a forward-facing seat in front of the console or in a transom seat that folds up when it’s time to fish. Options include a Kenyon stovetop, inverter and shore power, a teak-covered swim platform and power-assist steering.

Southport 29 FE

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The 29 FE’s hull remains the same as the standard 29 center console and Tournament Edition, but it’s a different animal topside — a softer, more domesticated animal. “The customer is saying, ‘Yes, I want a live well and fishing equipment and the same ride quality, but I also want a refrigerator and grill and the ability to dine on the boat in a pretty harbor,’ ” says sales and marketing VP Galvin. “I want everyone to sit and be comfortable — while driving and while socializing. These are the things we have in the 29 FE, either as a standard package or added easily as an option.”

The standard leaning post tackle station can be replaced with an optional entertainment center with grill and refrigerator. The cushions for the bow seating are covered with a suede-like material. The builder has redesigned the console/head steps for easier access, and the vanity and sink are now faux granite.

Instead of twin transom doors, the 29 FE has a three-quarter stern foldaway seat. Options include a quarter-berth in the console that extends beneath the console forward seat. Southport models now come with a key-fob-activated battery and light system that lets you control your battery power choices without having to access the battery storage area. Twin 300-hp Yamaha outboards settle in nicely at a cruise of 36 mph for a 1.7 mpg rating.

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