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The Pros and Cons of Center Consoles

By: Captain Bill Jennings

Grade White Fisherman 257 centre console boat
Center console boats are amazing at what they're designed for, provided you stay within those limits.

With the many different 'types' of boats on the market, it is hard to know which type is best for you. Most information that you see is advertising driven, so while benefits are easy to find, the downsides are not. To help boaters navigate through the realities of different boat types, I present this series of articles that reveal some of the not frequently advertised characteristics, in order to help you, the boat buyer, select a boat type that is best for you. In this article, we discuss center console boats.

Center consoles, as the name implies, have a centrally located console on which controls are mounted with a seat or leaning post behind it for the driver. Technically, there is a huge range of center console boats with sub-categories to match their purpose. The smallest are called poling 'skiffs.' Move up in size and you have the low gunnel, shallow draft 'bay boats,' which as their name implies are suitable for fishing in bays and shallow water. Then we have what most people think of when they say 'center console,' and that is models between 18 and 28 feet. These are the center consoles we will discuss in this article. While larger CC boats do exist (up to about 40 feet), these are really specialty center consoles designed with full amenities, multiple engines, and a price tag to match.

As with any boat, our most popular range of center consoles have some drawbacks. The open floor plan that makes for easy fishing provides minimal protection against weather elements. The seats themselves are generally not built for comfort. Most models include a T-top over the console, but they do not completely protect the driver from either cold weather or rain. The remaining seats in a CC boat are completely in the open. And worse, the floor plan separates the seats into two distinct sections -- those in the bow and those at the transom aft of the console. This very much restricts social interaction while boating.

When people join you for boating in your center console, they tend to bring a lot of stuff, like sweat shirts, eyewear, drywear and more. With limited locker space, these items usually get tossed into the center console itself, on top of the head, if the boat comes with one.

Countering these concerns are some interesting positives. Any recreational fisherman will tell you that a center console is ideal for offshore fishing. With the console centered in the floorplan, fishing can be conducted from any position around the boat. Surfaces are anti-skid, and there is storage for rods and rocket launcher-style rod holders. Even padded combing is often standard.

For the captain, there are four strong features that make center consoles a dream to drive. The wheel location places the driver almost exactly over the balance point of the boat, giving the feeling of total control. This central location also gives the driver a 360 degree field of vision. The console on almost all CC boats is large enough to house a full array of electronics and controls that extend the captain's ability to drive and navigate. Perhaps most importantly, center consoles incorporate a hull design that works well in rough water. The deep V and strong stringers can make slicing through less than friendly waters a simple task. CC boats of this type are also easy to tow. These same features can be what a boater is looking for when buying a family boat as a fun day cruiser or transportation to local destinations.

Prices for center console boats will vary with location and manufacturer. In the 18 foot range, look to spend $30 to 35k. Lengths in the low 20 foot range begin at around $46k. Move up to 24 feet where the best performance begins and you will spend $55k plus with ease.

Here is how I would rate specific factors:

Life Expectancy: Great. Because of the open simplicity and solid construction of a CC there is less to break or wear out. There are lots of well used and well loved CC boats around.

Storage: Limited. The center console on mid-sized CC boats is where most carry-on stuff gets tossed. Even with under seat lockers, a CC has less storage space than other boat categories.

Ride Comfort: Good. Center console boats deliver a comfortable ride thanks to their deep-V hull. Water that might spray or rain into the boat is quickly exhausted through the twin scuppers in the floor. More comfortable seats would raise this rating to "excellent."

Capacity: Limited. CC boats can carry considerable weight, but seating is at a premium. Keep in mind that the design of a CC boat is primarily for fishing.

Power: Flexible. Almost all center consoles are powered with outboard motors. This provides buyers with a wide choice of horsepower to suit their needs.

Cost: Above average. CC boats, especially the best known brands, command a slightly higher price than can be justified considering the list of equipment they do not include. The only reasons that I can see for this pricing, are the popularity of the type, the added hull strength/potential longevity, and where applicable -- multiple outboards.

Maintenance Required: Excellent. With the simple floorplan of CC boats, if you can clean a bathtub, you can clean a center console. Seat covers are removable and storable in lockers so they do not get damaged by sun or salt. That leaves the engines to maintain, and you will have to deal with those on any power boat you buy.

Bottom Line: So how do we answer the question, "is a center console boat right for you?" Every boater will have slightly different opinions, but the correct answer for your circumstances can simply evolve by picturing yourself in the following scenario:

You like fishing and you like day cruising with friends or family. You buy a center console boat. For most of your fishing (if not all), you travel over 25 miles offshore before dropping a hook. In addition to fishing, if the weather is warm, you sometimes take friends out for a day cruise. You soon learn that your CC boat is not ideal for socializing and close to shore operation, so you begin to weigh the importance and frequency of your offshore fishing hobby. If your primary goal is fishing, you will keep the CC. If you find that your priorities call for a boat with a different layout and more amenities, you will soon decide to sell your CC and move to a different type of boat. Thinking through this scenario, you will find that the correct answer will magically surface for you. You can check out the rest of our Pros and Cons series below: 1) Inflatables

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