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On Powerboats – dual console

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What to look for in a dual console - They’re rugged and versatile, but check out these comfort, performance and safety factors before buying

What to look for in a dual console - They’re rugged and versatile, but check out these comfort, performance and safety factors before buying

Like people, boats have personalities of their own. In one case, it’s a genetic blueprint that assigns talent, capabilities and limitations; in the other it’s a boatbuilder’s vision — and know-how.

Some boats are extroverted and in your face (Fountain, Cigarette, Donzi, et al), while others are more Clark Kent by nature — mild-mannered on the surface but bruisers below the gelcoat (Nordhavn, Krogen and company). Still others are just what they seem to be: practical, multifunctional and easy to live with.

Such is the case with the dual console. Like the walkaround and center console, whose DNA it shares, the dual console has clear-cut capabilities, including a broad charter as a dayboat. It has saltwater bloodlines and often shares the same hull as the builder’s center consoles and walkarounds. Since the center console has the ruggedness demanded by hard-charging anglers, the highly functional dual console gets the same rugged construction and coastal capability.

These saltwater-bred boats are marketed as coastal family boats, so they ought to perform well in a mild chop. Indeed, there are plenty of dual consoles out there with smooth- and dry-running hull designs. However, many dual console, center console and walkaround hulls, especially those smaller than 25 feet, are too flat and full forward to deliver a smooth, dry ride.

With a surprising number of brands, hull form quality is inconsistent throughout the model range. I can think of several builders that have good-running 30- to 35-footers but kidney-jarring boats in the 20- to 25-foot range. And don’t take what an owner has to say about his boat at face value, since he might like the ride simply because he has never experienced a truly good-riding boat. Be certain to take any boat you are considering out on a choppy-water test ride before you buy. Here’s some advice on what to look for in a dual console.

The versatility factor

The outboard-powered dual console ranges from around 18 to 30 feet, and the basic idea behind it is to create an open-air family dayboat that can do it all — fish, ski and wakeboard, picnic, cruise and dive. There’s no cabin to take up valuable topside space or accumulate collectibles, like your garage. If you don’t want to spend the night on the boat, the dual console — with what should be a good measure of seaworthiness, easier maintenance and general coastal capability — is a great way to go.

Even a 20-footer works great as a family boat. The kids can stake out the bow while the adults can have everything abaft the windshield to themselves. (Fortunately, the hinged center windshield pretty well seals off the two areas.) If you fish, which the dual console is very good at, you can play a striper from bow to stern, much like on a center console. If the Bimini is up or the boat has a hardtop, then whatever you hook from the bow will have to come over the bow, but that’s a small price to pay.

Some dual consoles have a filler forward between the molded seats that creates a raised casting platform. And since the cockpit is pretty much identical to its center console stablemate, it likely will have a live well, insulated fishbox, saltwater washdown and freshwater cockpit shower, either standard or as options.

Practicality

Look for a self-bailing cockpit, with a full fiberglass liner, that drains directly over the side, not into the bilge. This all-fiberglass design (no attached carpeting) makes scrubbing and hosing down a lot easier at the end of the day. Look for a deck that’s high enough off the water at full load for the scuppers to drain out, rather than in, with clearance to spare. Deck hatches should have gutters that are at least 3/4-inch deep and drain rapidly overboard. The hatches should have boosts, or shocks, to help you lift them and keep them up when you let go. Look for a few cockpit courtesy lights to help you find your way around once tied up after dark.

You should find storage space under the helm console, under the forward seats, and sometimes under the stern, helm and companion seats. All storage compartments should be designed to keep their contents dry, with gutters around the hatches and gaskets on the doors. The boat should have canvas that blocks off the airflow between the two consoles, so when you close the windshield and snap in the plastic between it and the Bimini you’ll be snug as a bug in a boat.

Any dual console beyond 20 feet should have a roomy, enclosed head inside the port console. Every dual console model I know of is outboard-

powered, which makes them great for beaching and enjoying a picnic ashore. Just raise the engine and let her drift in. This is where a bow ladder comes in handy; you can climb right off the bow and onto the dry beach.

Safety considerations

One very simple safety factor is freeboard, especially in the bow of an open-bow boat designed to venture farther out. The higher the bow the better, since you’re less likely to ship water aboard in rough conditions. Bring your tape measure to make comparisons. Also, measure the interior coaming height to be sure it will keep you and your kids safely in the boat. Anything lower than 24 inches, and you’ll want to be careful who’s standing up and when; 30 inches, on the other hand, is fortress-like.

Make sure the non-skid is rough enough to do its job but easy to clean with a scrub brush. Some fine-grit surfaces can be a bear to keep clean, so check them out. Back aft, make sure there are deep toe-kicks under the gunwales to keep you on balance. If the boat has a low outboard well, consider adding a 28- to 30-inch rail, leaving enough room to trim up the engine.

Since the dual console has an open bow, use extra care if the kids are forward when you’re on plane and running at higher speeds. Falling overboard is never a good idea, but going over the bow when the boat is moving and the prop turning is perhaps the worst scenario I can think of. The danger is accentuated by the vertical motion in the bow; it’s a lot more pronounced than back aft, since the boat effectively pitches around a fulcrum that’s close to the stern. This means the place from which you’re most likely to get tossed out of the boat also is the worst place to have it happen.

A rail around the forward seating area and a few grab bars down low will help prevent accidents, as will a high coaming around the seats. If you want the smoothest ride, sit back aft in a transomseat. The downside here is that, being near the engine, it’s louder, and it’s also going to be wetter than up forward.

Like any boat, the dual console should have lots of grab bars so there’s something to hang on to anywhere you can sit. However, all these grab bars and rails are no substitute for a prudent, experienced and observant driver who understands the need for safety when anyone’s riding forward. Even in calm water, you can hit a wake that comes out of nowhere.

Hull design

Since the dual console is built for the same water as the center console, it should have a bottom to suit. That means plenty of deadrise, a fine entry and high chines forward; and (this is very important) plenty of deadrise in the middle of the hull, below the helm, where the waves most frequently impact the bottom. If the chines come out of the water well aft in the hull, it’s a good sign of a smooth-riding boat, though not a definitive one.

The hull’s fineness at the bow — a critical component in determining ride quality — is quantified by a figure called the half-angle of entry, which is basically the angle at the bow, in plan view (looking down) of the “footprint” the hull makes in the water. If the half-angle is blunt, the boat has a full bow and will faithfully deliver a jarring ride in a light chop. If the angle is sharp and the boat has high chines and steep deadrise at the bow that carries well aft to nearly the middle of the hull, you’ll likely be sending the builder and dealer a Christmas card every year.

Deadrise at the stern matters a lot if you go very fast and the hull often becomes airborne. Otherwise, 18 or 20 degrees of transom deadrise isplenty for the average dual console. What really matters is the shape of the boat at the point where the waves impact it most, generally right below where you sit when driving.

Is it unsinkable?

I wouldn’t buy a dual console or walkaround of any size unless it’s unsinkable. This means the builder has pumped enough foam between the deck and the hull so that the foam will displace more water than the weight of the boat, keeping it afloat even if it swamps (floods completely).

“Basic flotation” means the boat will stay afloat, at any attitude, with passengers in the water hanging on to it. “Level flotation,” which the Coast Guard requires only on boats below 20 feet, adds a measure of stability so that when swamped the boat will float at something close to a level attitude, in calm water, with passengers aboard.

Helm ergonomics

At the helm, you can’t be too fussy. There should be plenty of room to stand at the wheel without jamming your heels against the helm seat box or your calves against the seat itself. Imagine where you would stand if there were no helm seat — ideally that’s how much clearance you’d have. You should be able to comfortably reach the throttle while sitting or standing, with the throttle mounted 20 degrees or so from horizontal. Any steeper and it’ll be uncomfortable to use. The wheel also should be within comfortable reach, sitting or standing, and there should be plenty of seated leg room.

When you’re sitting, you shouldn’t lose sight of the horizon, even momentarily, when coming up on plane, especially if the boat has trim tabs. The windshield should be high enough to block wind and spray when sitting, and its top frame shouldn’t interfere with your view of the water ahead, standing or seated.

Gauges and electronics should be easy to see and reach. A seat with plenty of fore-and-aft throw to accommodate different drivers is a must; height adjustment is a bonus. If the inside of the boat is covered with bright, white gelcoat, you’d better have good sunglasses. Why builders use white gelcoat inside the boat is beyond me, at least as a practical matter. (Maybe because most everyone else does it?) It’s hard on the eyes, and at the helm it increases glare off the windshield, both in daylight and when running at night, with the gauges and electronics lighting things up. This only makes sketchy nighttime visibility worse and for no good reason.

Finally, check out mechanical accessibility. Look for a bilge compartment aft that’s easy to get to and has a big hatch, so you can get to the bilge pump and its float switch and to the seacocks. There should be easy access to fuel filters, macerators and any other components that require maintenance. The battery switch should be easy to get to — preferably back in the cockpit and behind, at most, a single door. If you have to open a door and a hatch, or if it takes longer than around 10 seconds to get to the battery switch and turn it on, the builder hasn’t thought it through very well.

No matter what type of boat you buy, you likely won’t be happy with it unless it has reliable, low-emission power and a motivated, professional dealer network to back it up after the sale. Boat brands that do well in the annual J.D. Power and Associates marine study (www.jdpower.com) do so with a combination of well-designed, well-built, well-powered boats and responsive dealers with good attitudes and strong service support. Their customers are loyal for a reason.

As a boat type, the dual console comes from good stock; just make sure you pick the right family.

Eric Sorensen was the founding director of the J.D. Power and Associates marine practice and is the author of “Sorensen’s Guide to Powerboats: How to Evaluate Design, Construction and Performance.” A longtime licensed captain, he can be reached at eric@sorensensguide.com.

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