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The Ever-changing center console

Features such as wraparound forward seating and new transom designs show the continuing development of these versatile boats

Regulator Marine in 1997 offered three deep-vee center consoles — 21-, 23- and 26-footers. All were traditional outboard-powered boats with a leaning post and a T-top option.

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“People loved the ride, the quality of our boats,” says Regulator sales and marketing director Wyatt Lane. “They just wanted some seating, any type of seating.”

The Edenton, N.C., builder responded by adding bow seating to its 26-footer. “It was introduced at the 1998 New York National Boat Show,” says Lane. “The response was overwhelmingly positive.”

Since that show, Regulator has added several larger models to its fleet — all with forward seating. The latest and largest is the Lou Codega-designed 34 SS, which features a huge settee that wraps around the bow and an air-conditioned console with a two-

person berth, a small galley and a head. Regulator’s growth — both in the number and size of its boats — illustrates the continued development of the center console genre. What was once a Spartan hardcore fishing platform has morphed into a versatile boat utilized for a slew of other activities in addition to fishing — sunset cruises, overnighting, wakeboarding, snorkeling, beach-hopping.

Even the builders of center consoles that are 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 Fishing Boats in Homestead, Fla. “Contender now also appeals to the guy who wants the best but is not necessarily a die-hard fisherman.”

Outboard impact

Advances in outboard technology — cleaner, quieter, more powerful — have given boatbuilders the ability to build larger center consoles with more amenities. Just how big have the boats gotten? Hydra-Sports has a 42-footer (4100VSF), as does Yellow Fin. Edgewater and SeaVee both build 39-footers (388 and 390, respectively), and a handful of builders offer center consoles from 34 to 38 feet, including Regulator (34SS), Pursuit (C 340), Contender (36 Open), Grady-White (Canyon 366), and Boston Whaler (370 Outrage).

Four of the five major outboard manufacturers offer engines packing at least 300 hp. Builders hang three and even four of them on the transom for top speeds in excess of 60 mph. The Yellowfin 42’s maximum horsepower is 1,400, achieved with four 350-hp Yamaha 4-strokes for a top speed of 70 mph.

“As technology has progressed with engines, boatbuilders have adapted and taken advantage of those advancements,” says Carl Herndon, president of Jupiter Marine in Palmetto, Fla., which builds eight center consoles from 29 to 38 feet. “With a big center console, you can go offshore just like the more expensive, bigger diesel-powered boats. You cut down on your operating expenses, and the boat is easier to handle at the dock and maintain.”

2,200 miles

The center console’s simple layout, along with its ability to handle rough water, have been the one-two punch that has attracted anglers for decades. In 1975, Mark Hauptner owned a Mercury dealership in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and was approached by a customer who wanted to make a 2,200-mile fishing run through the Caribbean. The customer owned a 23-foot center console and was looking for something larger, a boat that would be up to the task but still outboard-powered. Unable to find the right boat, Hauptner decided to build one.

The result was a 31-foot outboard center console called The Only One. It attracted a lot of attention, and requests started coming for Hauptner to build the boat for other customers. In response, he formed Ocean Master Marine that same year. Anglers took the 31 on some pretty ambitious runs for an open boat — from Florida to the Bahamas, for example, and from New York and New Jersey to the Northeast Canyons, an area of the Atlantic known for big-game fishing. Hauptner still builds the 31.

“It’s fundamentally the same boat, as the design has proven to be incredibly seaworthy and fishable,” he says. “We extended the bottom of the boat to 33-1/2 feet to hold the big 350-hp V8s.”

At least three transom designs for the center console have emerged through the years. Some boats, such as the Regulator 34 SS and the Jupiter 31 Open, are built with engine brackets mounted on a full transom. Earlier center consoles had notched or cutout transoms. The majority of today’s center consoles are built with what is known as a Euro transom, a design that joins the transom and the raised portion of the cockpit. The design adds buoyancy aft, provides a solid barrier between the cockpit and the water, and often houses a live well, sink and other equipment. The transom must be very strong to hold today’s heavier 4-strokes, and it’s usually low to the water with a splash well directly forward of the engine and flat areas outboard for boarding or to access the outboard. The Euro transom provides better flooding protection than the cutout transom, but it’s tougher to fish off the stern.

Below the waterline, one hull type dominates the class: the deep-vee. Regulator, Contender, Hydra-Sports, SeaVee and others rely on this hull form to provide a smooth ride in rough seas. “Every one of our boats has a [transom] deadrise of 24 degrees,” says Regulator’s Lane. “It’s a proven design.” (Naval architect Codega has designed every Regulator in the seven-boat fleet.)

But it’s not the only one that works, says Hauptner. His boats have flatter, wider aft sections, allowing them to maintain a lower planing speed in choppy seas and providing stability, especially while drifting and at low speeds.

‘A box in a boat’

Today’s center console no doubt appeals to a larger audience, but its fundamental design and purpose remain the same, according to manufacturers. “You need to be able to get around, to traverse the entire boat,” says Frank Longino, vice president of Southport Boat Works in Leland, N.C. “That was the idea of the first open boats, like the Makos of the ’60s. The first center console was nothing but a box in a boat.”

Even in a 20-footer, a center console’s open layout allows three or four anglers to fish simultaneously. Usually, the console is situated farther aft than on other boats, such as walkarounds and dual consoles, so the helmsman and companion experience less pounding. Electronics are flush-mounted on the console, which may be topped with a windscreen or a T-top that affords protection from the elements and provides a place for such equipment as rod holders, outriggers and antennas. Insulated fishboxes and live wells round out the other essential equipment.

“Live wells have to be big,” says Longino. “You can’t fool them with a 25-gallon live well.”

All boats involve compromise of some sort, and the center console has its downsides. Besides the T-top and maybe a canvas bow dodger, the boat offers little protection from the weather. And if the boat has no cockpit seating, passengers must stand and hold on to the T-top or the back of the leaning post at high speeds.

“For children, older people or others unused to a boat’s motions, the center console may not be a great choice because of the lack of inherent cockpit safety,” Soundings technical writer Eric Sorensen points out in his book, “Sorensen’s Guide to Powerboats.” “It’s very easy to lose your balance at high speed, and just hanging on can take considerable upper body strength and coordination.” These drawbacks, however, have been addressed by adding cockpit seating, designing boats with deeper cockpits, and installing plenty of hand-holds.

Another key element in today’s center console is the builder’s ability squeeze out two or more uses from various components, says Longino. “If it’s going to obstruct the fisherman, then it should at least be dual-purpose,” he says. “A seat can also serve as a cooler or fishbox.”

Longino believes a settee abaft the leaning post — mezzanine seating like the big sportfishermen have but for the center console — will become popular in the coming years. Southport offers this as an option that replaces a tackle center. “For every customer that wants the tackle center, three want the mezzanine seat,” he says. “You can sit here and watch the action comfortably.”

He also sees the center console becoming even more popular with baby boomers who are downsizing to smaller boats. “A quality center console boat carries a brand image or personality,” says Longino. “It says, I’m an experienced boater. It says, I’m an outdoorsman. I’m a little saltier than you.”

See related articles:

- Center console evolution

- Center console views

This article originally appeared in the October 2009 issue.