By: Craig Ritchie
Dual console? Side console? Center console? Or tiller? The options are endless, and they all have advantages.
When it comes to selecting a fishing boat, deciding between fibreglass or aluminum is only the beginning of the choices a buyer needs to consider. Today’s boats come with a dizzying array of choices in terms of interior layouts with side consoles, dual consoles, and center console floorplans all competing with traditional tiller steering for a buyer’s attention. So how do you decide what’s best for you?
Side consoles are most often seen on boats of 16 to 20 feet powered by outboards of 40 to 200 horsepower. The advantage to a side console – normally positioned roughly amidships on the starboard side – is that it provides a familiar, automotive-style steering wheel that’s more comfortable to use with higher horsepower outboards, especially when combined with some sort of no-feedback or power steering system. The side console puts all of the engine gauges like the speedometer, tach, oil pressure and fuel level right in front of the driver where they’re easily seen while still providing space for a GPS, fishfinder or chartplotter. It also allows the use of a gas pedal-style throttle control, all while eating up a minimal amount of floor space – something that’s especially important in smaller boats with beams of less than 102 inches.
The disadvantages of a side console are that it does eat up a certain amount of real estate, and controlling the steering and throttle requires two hands.
By adding a second console for the passenger along the port side, dual console boats take all the advantages of a side console model and make it that much better by adding secure storage space for valuables like wallets, cell phones and the truck keys while giving both the driver and passenger protection from the wind when running from spot to spot. Dual console designs can use a “double bubble” type of windshield arrangement with each console topped by its own independent windscreen, or a full walk-through windshield for even greater protection from the elements. Some boats extend this even further with a retractable bow gate to close off the area below the glass for the ultimate in occupant comfort, allowing owners to comfortably extend their season earlier and later into the year.
Larger dual console models can offer a surprising amount of secure storage space in the passenger side. Or, a discreet head compartment – something that will always appeal to the ladies onboard.
The trade-off is that where one console eats up a certain amount of deck space, dual consoles gobble up even more. That’s why they’re most often seen on larger boats above 17 feet, and especially those with wide hulls that can afford to give up a bit of real estate for greater comfort. Anglers sometimes find boats with particularly tall walk-through windshields can interfere with casting space when fishing from the front deck.
Originally popularized on large saltwater fishing boats used by anglers heading far offshore, center consoles offer the benefit of providing unrestricted, 360-degree access to the water all around the boat. Hook a big fish and you can literally follow it as it circles the boat without ever having to reach over a windshield, climb over seats, or deal with any other obstructions. It’s not just anglers who appreciate this capability, which is why center consoles have grown increasingly popular with divers as well.
On larger boats over about 22 feet, center consoles may be large enough to allow the inclusion of a head compartment – a definite plus when you’re far offshore. And with the weight of the occupants balanced over the boat’s centerline, center consoles can be used with high power engines – or multiple engines on bigger boats.
The disadvantages to a center console are that it’s located right in the middle of the boat, forcing occupants who want to move forward and aft to negotiate comparatively narrow passageways along each side of the boat. They also tend to offer less occupant protection compared with dual console designs – not a big deal in sunny Florida, but very much a consideration when venturing onto the Great Lakes on a cool October morning.
For those who worry about losing floor space to one or more consoles, the answer is to eliminate them altogether and go with traditional tiller steering.
Once restricted to smaller boats and low-power engines, tiller steering is now available with outboards of up to 250 horsepower, making it a viable option for even large and heavy big-water boats. Tiller control is immensely popular with serious walleye and smallmouth bass anglers, in particular, who appreciate the ability to control the boat’s direction and speed with just one hand – leaving the other one free to hold the rod and feel for sensitive bites. Tiller steering also provides unequalled control when trolling, and particularly when operating in reverse and using the blunt form of the transom to achieve much slower boat speeds than are possible when running in forward gear.
High-end tiller boats now include compact “consoles” that stretch along the aft end of the port side of the boat with engine gauges, space to mount electronics, trim switches and all of the other amenities that once set console boats apart. With the midships and bow areas fully opened up, tiller boats offer a huge amount of usable space for their size, often including oversized casting decks that make full use of the space that otherwise would be occupied by the consoles.
The disadvantage to tillers is that the driver is seated far to the rear of the boat, where their visibility can be restricted by seated passengers.
So what’s the best?
So what will it be – side console, dual consoles, center console or tiller?
The biggest factor in choosing the best layout is the size of the boat, since it directly impacts how much floor space will be lost to adding one or more consoles. On a big boat, it’s less on an issue than it is on a 16-footer.
Your own usage is also a factor. Those who enjoy fishing early or late in the season often gravitate toward dual console boats regardless of size, simply for their greater protection against the cold. But serious anglers who like to keep their hand on the rod at all times inevitably lean toward tillers for their unmatched fishability. There should also be some consideration for technological options and how you might like to outfit the boat.
Ladies in the family? If you plan to be out for a while, the option of having a head onboard will definitely have you looking at dual or center console models.
The good news is that buyers have never had so much choice, so finding exactly the right boat is just a matter of taking a good look at your needs then taking a couple of test rides to see what works best for you and your crew.