Twenty-two years ago, when Alan Lang started work at Scout Boats, he made regular use of his center console, spending weekends off the coast of South Carolina hunting dolphin, tuna, grouper and snapper. He loved to fish in his 20-footer, which was a pretty typical design at the time: a center console with a reliable hull for offshore work, and a bare-bones interior with a leaning post, tackle stowage and rod holders. But were there creature comforts?

“I had a jump seat off the console, and that’s about it,” Lang says with a laugh. “It’s what I needed. I was young and trying to save money. I didn’t have a family yet, and my friends and I weren’t interested in taking the boat to nice restaurants. We just wanted to fish.”

Things are different today for Lang, his friends and other anglers whose lifestyles have changed over the years. They have bigger jobs, active kids and less free time. “We work hard, so when we have the chance to relax, we enjoy being around nice things,” he says.

That includes nice boats, particularly center consoles, which have evolved with the tastes of mature anglers. No-frills designs have given way to bluewater machines with softer sides, in the form of fishing craft that double as family cruisers and runabouts. These models have cabins for overnighting and Ultraleather cockpit lounges that most people would not want to see covered in fish blood. They are pelagic-meets-plush, in every possible sense.

SCOUT 305 LXF

Lang, who is director of sales and marketing for Scout, now spends his weekends aboard the company’s new 305 LXF. The boat has a 30-foot, 4-inch length overall and a 9-foot, 10-inch beam. “It’s good for trolling, a harbor cruise with friends, tubing with the kids, or for date night,” he says.

The LXF series includes eight models ranging from a 255 to a 530, each designed as a “luxury” center console. The 305 takes that concept to the next level, says Lang, with features like a standard dive door for swimmers going in and out of the water, or for guests stepping aboard from the dock. The swim platform forward of the standard twin 300-hp outboards is an upgrade from the splash well found on earlier models.

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As for seating, which is one of the most important elements on center console boats today, Scout tried something new in the bow of the 305: Two lounges have molded fiberglass backrests, rather than removable pieces, so guests can feel secure leaning against them when the boat is underway. And yet, the lounges won’t get in the way of an angler who needs to walk forward when a fish darts toward the bow.

The 305’s console has a cabin for overnighting tucked inside. The berth, head and air conditioning are ideal for a couple to use if the weather turns and they don’t want to make the run home. “It’s been drawing interest from people who bought more conventional cabin boats in the past thinking they would be spending many nights aboard, but then never did,” Lang says.

Other key components include the leaning post—which comes in a few configurations, from a basic setup with a cooler, to a custom bait well and bait-prep station that doubles as a wet bar. “The tackle drawers are large enough to hold all my lures and a stack of Solo cups for cocktail hour too,” Lang says. “We want to incorporate all of the things that boat owners want, but we have to add these things in such a way that they don’t use up too much space or interfere with the boat’s fishability.”

Pursuit S378 Sport

Pursuit S378 Sport

PURSUIT S 378 SPORT

Pursuit was one of the first builders to put true cruising features on its center console models, when demand for the combination increased about a decade ago. “We’re well-poised to make boats that can do a lot of things on the water, in addition to fish,” says Christopher Gratz, vice president of engineering.

The builder’s newest model is the S 378 Sport (40 feet, 5 inches LOA with a 12-foot beam), which has some things not found on other boats. In the cockpit, for instance, there’s a fiberglass console with a bait center that abuts the leaning post. Press a button, and the unit slides toward the transom, opening up space for a crew member to prep bait while facing aft, so he can keep an eye on the spread in the wake. And yet, even with the bait center moved aft, there’s still plenty of room in the cockpit for anglers to work lines. “We call that uncompromised functionality,” Gratz says, “and it’s something fishermen will appreciate.”

The S 378 by Pursuit has bi-level seating in the bow and a cabin with hullside windows that allow passengers to see the water from inside.

The S 378 by Pursuit has bi-level seating in the bow and a cabin with hullside windows that allow passengers to see the water from inside.

There’s a cabin in the console with a U-shaped lounge that converts to a berth. There’s also an enclosed head with a shower, and wood veneer on some of the bulkheads. Large windows are here, too, facing out to more glazing integrated in the gunwales at the side decks. It’s a unique setup that allows passengers to look out onto the water from inside the cabin.“When we design a center console, we think about the value of a person’s time,” Gratz says. “Sure, the owner wants a fishing boat, but he also wants a platform on which he can enjoy every moment on the sea, even if he’s in the cabin.”

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The S 378 rides on a deep-V hull powered by triple 425-hp Yamaha outboards coupled to joystick steering. Cruise speed nears 29 knots, according to the builder, and top end is just north of 52 knots. The Yamahas are the only power option for this boat, which is noteworthy given that triple engines as standard power on a center console were unheard of a couple of years ago.

“It used to be that owners would start with a single engine on their first center console then move up to twins when they had more experience and were ready for a bigger boat,” Gratz says. “That paradigm is broken these days, in large part because of joystick controls, which make boats so much easier to operate. The learning curve is different, and that’s very apparent in the center console market.”

INTREPID 407 NOMAD

The rise in demand for long, luxury center consoles is evident at Intrepid, which launched seven new and redesigned boats for 2020, including the 407 Nomad. With 40 feet of length overall and an 11-foot, 1-inch beam, the boat’s size isn’t unusual today, but company President Ken Clinton remembers when big, open boats were exceptional. He built his first center console over 40 feet back in 2012, for a customer who placed a custom order. “This guy had owned a number of cabin boats, and had come to learn that he preferred to be outside most of the time,” Clinton says. “He liked the openness of a center console, but he wanted something bigger than the ordinary, since he entertained large groups of people on board. I was hesitant to build that type of boat at first, but he kept haunting me. I asked him, ‘How big of a fish are you trying to catch?’”

Intrepid 407 Nomad

Intrepid 407 Nomad

In the end, Clinton built the Intrepid 475 Panacea for that owner, and today, the size of center consoles no longer surprises him. The challenge now, he says, is integrating all of the stuff that owners want while providing good performance, despite the extra weight.

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“Our customers want gyrostabilizers, bow and stern thrusters, cockpit grills, cabins, heads, tackle stations and rod stowage,” he says. “The list goes on and on. It’s a balancing act.”

On the 407 Nomad, space in the bilge was reserved for fuel tanks holding 703 gallons, which provide a good range of 562 miles at a cruising speed of 50 knots with triple 425-hp Yamahas. And those motors push Intrepid’s stepped hull, which, Clinton says, absorbs the force of waves with no shudder. “It’s well-suited for cruising or fishing all day,” he says.

The Intrepid is one of a number of new center consoles to feature a robust helm enclosure. This one has a full-height glass windshield, for better protection at the wheel. “The hard part is making an enclosure that’s aesthetically pleasing,” Clinton says. “No one wants to feel like they’re driving from a phone booth. The Nomad is about sexy lines, and the fiberglass enclosure on the 407 complements them.”

The Nomad also has a hardtop with a sunshade, oversized lounges at the bow (one converts to a sunpad when a table drops down), and a head in the console. Fishing features include a pressurized live well and insulated fishboxes. “A lot of our customers will spend one weekend at anchor off a sandbar for a day of swimming; the next weekend, they’ll be out fishing,” Clinton says. “There may be a few people who don’t fish at all, but if their buddies say they want to go cast lines, these owners want to be able to go.”

Intrepid’s 407 has a full-height windshield for protection in bad weather. 

Intrepid’s 407 has a full-height windshield for protection in bad weather. 

GRADY-WHITE CANYON 336

“In recent years, we’ve seen more of these boats bought by couples, as a family purchase. That’s a big change from when I started in this business 31 years ago,” Shelley Tubaugh, vice president of marketing at Grady-White Boats, says of center consoles. “The buyer used to be a guy on his own, buying a boat for him and his friends. Now, the buyer and his wife are making the purchase together, and they want versatility so they can use their boat for anything they need or want to do.”

On Grady-White’s Canyon 336 (with a 33-foot, 6-inch centerline length and an 11-foot, 7-inch beam), which has been redesigned for 2020, the helm is protected by a wraparound windshield that meets the hardtop to block rain and wind. The dash is also enlarged, to accommodate a pair of 17-inch multifunction displays, which owners want because so much is now integrated on those screens. “Some owners even have satellite TV linked to their MFDs,” says Christian Carraway, product design engineer at Grady-White.

Grady-White Canyon 336

Grady-White Canyon 336

Also on board: premium seating. Grady-White switched to a softer-density foam that’s used in thicker layers on every cushion and bolster. “A man won’t typically complain about the way a seat feels, but when his wife gets aboard, she’ll express her appreciation when she feels comfortable,” Carraway says, adding that there are flip-up bolsters and armrests at the three helm seats. “Features like that make a difference for men and women when they’re traveling a long distance offshore; comfort just becomes more important.”

The 336 rides on Grady-White’s SeaV2 bottom, which is designed to eat up lumps in blue water. Power is triple 300-hp or twin 425-hp Yamahas with joystick steering. Cruise speed with the twins is about 26 knots at 3700 rpm, according to the builder, and top end is 46 knots. Most owners won’t spend too much time running at high speed, but, says Carraway, they like to know they have power in reserve to move a boat of this size, particularly when running through an inlet or climbing up a wave. “Most people feel more comfortable when they know they have access to the power they’ll need,” he says. “High-speed thrust helps around the docks too.”

Grady-White’s Canyon 336 has a bait prep station.

Grady-White’s Canyon 336 has a bait prep station.

The Canyon 336 also has a cabin with a berth, an enclosed head with a shower, and a VacuFlush head.

Grady-White didn’t forget about anglers, though. “We design fishing features into the boat first, and then think about how we can make the space more comfortable around them,” Carraway says. “The Canyon has all the stuff you’d expect to see on a Grady-White, including overboard-draining fishboxes, recirculating raw-water live wells and self-draining cockpit. It’s all here. We’ll never get away from that.” 

This article originally appeared in the May 2020 issue.

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