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The Walkaround grows up

The versatile walkaround still offers a safe platform for family boating or fishing, but the trend toward cruising means cabins are getting bigger and better appointed

The versatile walkaround still offers a safe platform for family boating or fishing, but the trend toward cruising means cabins are getting bigger and better appointed

Read the other stories in this package: Walkaround Spec Boxes   Pacific 22: have it your way

The walkaround long has been lauded for its fishing and family-friendly features. And that’s what appealed to first-time boat buyer Derek Rudd when he purchased a Grady-White Seafarer 226 two seasons ago.

The 22-foot walkaround has a cabin for protection from the elements and the versatility to spend a couple hours or a couple nights on the water. “It had enough cockpit space to fish out of, yet it still had enough cabin space to get out of the sun, wind and the weather,” says Rudd, an engineer from Storrs, Conn. “It seemed like a good mix.”

Not only is it comfortable, but the walkaround design also lends itself to safety. Rudd and his wife, Anne Wiant-Rudd, a registered nurse, have three daughters ages 6, 10 and 13.

The Grady offers a deep walkaround and bow rail, and the girls have no trouble making their way to the bow to perch on the forward end of the cabin top. “It’s more difficult for an adult than a kid anyway — they trust their balance more than we do,” says Rudd, who is 46.

Among the activities he and his daughters enjoy is spending the night aboard the Seafarer, usually in a slip at Boats Inc., the Niantic, Conn., dealer from which they bought the boat. “It’s just like camping to them,” Rudd says.

The Rudds also swim and fish, and they have more activities planned. “The kids are keen on tubing, so we’ll probably step up to that this summer,” says Rudd.

Rudd, his wife and eldest daughter all have their safe-boating certificates, and the family cruises Long Island Sound and nearby areas — the Connecticut River, Rhode Island, Fishers Island, GardinersBay. For cruising and fishing in cool weather, Rudd says the Grady’s helm area is nicely protected. “I’ve been very satisfied with having the cabin, from a wind-blocking standpoint,” says Rudd. “It makes the rides in and out on those brisk mornings in the fall much more tolerable.”

Grady-White’s lineup of walkarounds ranges from 20 to 30 feet. And the Greenville, N.C., builder lays claim to pioneering the concept with the Hatteras 204C in 1975, although it currently has no new walkarounds on the drawing boards.

Walkarounds and the increasingly prevalent walkaround/express hybrids offer small-boat convenience, weather protection and overnight capability. The topside layout is designed to be handy for fishing and secure for the family, while below deck the once- Spartan cabins are growing larger and better appointed. And they’re not just for young families.

Older boaters also are drawn to walkarounds, notes Bob Chew, senior vice president and general manager of Seaswirl Boats, which recently relocated from Culver, Ore., to Sarasota, Fla. “As the consumer grows older, I think there’s more and more emphasis on that style of boat because, let’s face it, people — me included — want more comfort,” says Chew, who says walkarounds and pilothouse boats are becoming more popular in warmer climates.

Seaswirl’s walkaround design incorporates generous freeboard, a substantial walkaround and a pronounced “water channel” that drains overboard before reaching the cockpit. As for the new Seaswirl 3301 Walk Around, Chew says it’s a serious fishing boat with a large cockpit. (Because of helm placement, many walkarounds have larger cockpits than same-size center consoles.) For cruising, the 3301 has air conditioning, bunked berths, a standard flat-screen television and DVD player, enclosed head, and a galley with sink, stove, microwave and refrigerator.

The Polar 2700 Walk Around’s galley comes similarly equipped. “The walkarounds are slowly morphing [into] cruise boats, while keeping the ability to fish,” says Todd Sanders, director of sales for Vinemont, Ala.-based Polar Boats. “It’s more of a family boat than a center console,” he says, adding that Polar builds its walkarounds with a good amount of freeboard because it sells a lot of them to families with children.

“It’s more about how to spend the weekend on the water than how to go fishing for a couple hours,” says Sanders, contrasting the walkaround and center console. And unlike many smaller cruising boats that offer only sterndrive power, the walkaround is largely outboard-powered, which appeals to many boaters.


With the trend toward cruising, many boatbuilders say customers want larger and better-appointed cabins. The Mako 284 Walkaround, for example, has forward and midcabin berths, a stereo system, enclosed head compartment and a galley with sink and microwave standard. And the Forest City, N.C., builder offers such options as air conditioning, a flat-screen television and DVD player, electric stove, Westerbeke generator and a cockpit enclosure.

To provide additional cabin space, some builders have shifted to express styling, with raised side decks and beamier cabins. “This type of design allows us as manufacturers to offer more room in the cabin and, thus, more luxury appointments, as well as expanding the helm area of the boat to accommodate more passengers,” says Dean Burnett, general manager of Century Boat Co., in an e-mail to Soundings. Based in Panama City, Fla., Century builds walkarounds from 22 to 32 feet, in addition to bay boats, center consoles, dual consoles and express fishing boats. “The downside of the express styling is that it limits the ‘walkaround’ capability, because it moves the deck more outboard and raises the traditional walkaround area,” he says.

Polar overcomes the lack of a deep walkaround on its 2700 by giving the boat 7-inch-wide side decks and bolting the bow rail stanchions to “pods” that bulge from the side of the boat. “We’re able to cheat that way,” says Sanders, the director of sales.

Burnett says demand for “pocket yachts” — primarily from boaters moving out of traditional, larger inboard boats — is helping fuel the move to the express-style layout. They want the convenience and lower-cost maintenance of a trailerable boat, he says, but with many of the same amenities to which they are accustomed. He lists “real” berths and bedding, big-screen televisions and audio-visual options — DVD, video game and MP3 compatibility — among the most desired interior options.

“The customers today, they want 35-foot features in a 25-foot boat,” says Johnny Walker, president of Pro-Line Boats of Sarasota, Fla. Pro-Line builds traditional walkarounds with recessed side decks from 21 to 25 feet, and recently introduced the 23 Express with raised side decks and a larger cabin.

“More and more builders are trying to get away with as little walkaround room at the windshield, which opens up your cabin area,” says Denny Warren, vice president of sales and marketing with Cairo, Ga.-based Seminole Marine, builder of Sailfish Boats. “[And] they seem to be going to a lot nicer interior.”

With the Sailfish 30-06 Express, Seminole tried to split the difference between walkaround and express. It has as much cabin space as possible, Warren says, while still offering safety when crewmembers must go forward, especially in open water.

When first announced, the new Sailfish was called the 30-06 WAC, for walkaround cabin, but that was later changed to express. “The word ‘express’ seems to trip a customer’s trigger more than a walkaround,” says Warren.

That could be due, in part, to the profile the boats have shown in the past. “The older ones were more bulky,” says Ryan Balderson, vice president of sales and product development for Sea Fox Boats of Moncks Corner, S.C. “The newer ones have a more sleek look to them; they’re more pleasant to the eye. And with these deeper hulls with the bigger flare, you can get the headroom you need in the cabin.”

The Sea Fox 256 Walk Around rides a deep-vee hull with Carolina-style bow flare. “You can go out cruising, having cocktails, or take it out to the Gulf Stream for some serious offshore fishing, or you can do overnight trips on it,” says Balderson. With the 256 WA, Sea Fox, which builds walkarounds from 21 to 28 feet, offers a single-engine package popular among family and near-shore boaters. Or an owner can opt for the redundancy of twin outboards if running far offshore.

Even the latest smaller walkarounds ride big-boy hulls. The Triton 225 Walkaround, the smallest such model from the Ashland City, Tenn., builder, has a deep-vee hull with 20 degrees of deadrise, and is powered by a single outboard from 175 to 250 hp. The all-composite boat has a galley unit with a sink and cooler in the self-bailing cockpit, and a V-berth and portable marine head below (a porcelain is also available).

The latest technology

In addition to styling changes that are improving aesthetics and increasing cabin space, a handful of technological advancements are changing — or are about to change — the walkaround. For example, some builders are installing low carbon monoxide generators, and many of the new walkarounds carry the latest propulsion on the transom.

“These boats were specifically designed to hold the weight of 4-strokes,” says Polar’s Sanders.

Big 4-stroke outboards, such as the Yamaha F350 V-8 introduced earlier this year, have arrived. And with bigger engines come longer-range cruising capabilities and, in turn, more sophisticated electronics. Century’s Burnett says more manufacturers are preinstalling electronics aboard walkarounds and express fishing boats.

The big new engines often are paired with digital gauges and switches at the helm that better handle the saltwater environment. “It’s a nicer, cleaner, more modern look to the dash than the old toggle switches,” says Sailfish’s Warren. “Other than little things like that, the boat-manufacturing end is still old school. Until technologies like VEC [closed-molded] technology become less expensive … we’ll never be automated like the auto industry.”

That’s not to say builders aren’t working toward this goal. “Century is looking at all kinds of new technologies from the manufacturing side, most of which have to do with close-molding techniques, which offer more consistent raw material ratios,” says Burnett. “In some cases these techniques can offer lighter overall weights while retaining structural integrities. These techniques are also more environmentally friendly.”

Times may change, but the walkaround is keeping pace. “A walkaround still provides you that safety and security and fishability as you walk all the way around,” says Joey Weller, Grady-White’s director of sales and marketing. “Shapes might change, but the concept’s still pretty solid. To have a kid walk forward — and still hold onto a rail — is important.”



Growing Up Viking

Pat Healey has a passion for boatbuilding that came from his father, and a love for fishing that is all his own.