For boaters of a certain age, their first introduction to a center console powerboat was probably the 16-foot Boston Whaler in the ‘60s. Traditionally, boats had been arranged like automobiles: long hood (forward deck), windshield, steering controls on a dashboard and then seating for guests.
Breaking the rules, the Boston Whaler placed the controls on a large box in the middle of the boat, leaving not only space both in front and in back, but ample walk-around room on each side. Anglers embraced the idea of being able to fight a fish without obstructions around the boat and families loved the open space. Never mind that, with a smoky 50-horsepower Evinrude outboard, those early Whalers could barely reach 40 miles per hour and they would shake your fillings loose in choppy water. The center console was born.
Today, center consoles dominate the boating market, but everything is vastly improved: construction, speed and onboard comforts. Those early Whalers had room for a couple of sandwiches and sunscreen inside the console, while some of today’s center consoles have enclosed cabins with air conditioning, shower stalls and full galleys, while still retaining the walk-around decks. Even smaller center consoles have flushing heads (toilets) inside the console, making them all-day boats for families.
And while my wife, She Who Must Be Obeyed, thinks “roughing it” means slow room service, she would happily spend a weekend in the islands on several of these. You guess which.
Here, then, are 11 interesting center consoles on the market in the Tampa area, ranging from 24-footers up to 48 feet (in alphabetical order). Enjoy your time on the water.
If you want to turn heads, this Finnish 28-footer sports rakish styling from Germany-based Porsche performance builder Brabus. The pilothouse with double-row seating provides for all-weather boating. Twin Mercury outboards to 500 horsepower provide speeds over 60 miles per hour for the carbon-reinforced hull and the cockpit features a wet bar with a grill and a fridge. Inside the walk-in console is an electric flush head and sink. For enjoying time at a sandbar, a sun shade protects the forward deck, supported by carbon-fiber rods.
Building on what it started, Whaler now produces several series, but the new 380 Outrage takes the next step with a second steering station above the fiberglass hardtop. Powered by triple or quad Mercury outboards to total 1,800 horsepower, the top speed of 60-plus miles per hour is balanced by amenities, such as a summer kitchen outside and air conditioning both at the helm and in the cabin with a double berth and an enclosed head with a shower. Ample storage is provided for bulky items, such as dive tanks, and a gyro-stabilizing system is available. One feature carried from the early Boston Whalers is the unsinkable hull for peace of mind.
From this legendary Sarasota builder dating to 1874 comes a clean, stylish center console with a reversible helm seat for entertaining, wrap-around seating forward, a side door for divers and a head inside the console. Powered by up to a single 400-horsepower outboard, the dashboard has space for a full Garmin electronics display. The standard fiberglass hardtop includes side window protection from wind or spray.
Flagship of its fleet, this 45-footer from Everglades is unsinkable, and powered by up to Yamaha quad 425-horsepower outboards. Two rows of seating are behind the helm, the cockpit has dual side dive doors, in-floor fish boxes in the cockpit and forward, twin 50-gallon live bait wells and 40 rod holders. Anglers will delight in the built-in tackle storage drawers and trays, as well as the Gemlux carbon fiber outriggers. An upper helm station on the fiberglass hardtop overlooks the fishing action, with full controls and electronics. The cabin is made for long weekends, with a king-sized convertible berth and mini-galley, plus an enclosed head with a shower.
Clearly aimed at a fishing audience but with family friendly features, this 23-footer has a 15-gallon livewell and a transom door for boarding fish or enjoying the water from the swim platform. Seating is for up to 10 guests, including the lounges forward, while the console holds an oversized head compartment for all-day outings. Easily trailerable (3,900 pounds), it handles up to a 300-horsepower single outboard, but the standard 250-horsepower kicker gives a top speed of 44 miles per hour and a fuel-friendly cruise at 32 miles per hour.
Bringing a touch of French style, this Jeanneau center console was designed by Sarasota yacht designer Michael Peters, known for his seaworthy hulls. At 24 feet, 4 inches, it has a top speed of 46-plus miles per hour with a single 300-horsepower Yamaha and a 200-mile range at 30 miles per hour. Large platforms on each side of the outboard make boarding or swimming easy and for time at the sandbar, optional sunshades protect both forward and aft cockpits. Perfect for weekend cruising, water skiing, fishing and diving, the console hides a double berth, mini-galley and even a private head, making overnighting possible.
The Family Sportsman name tells it all with fishing features, such as aerated live wells, a side door for divers and swimmers and a head in the console. Powered by up-to-600-horsepower twin outboards, this 4,800-pound yacht is trailerable and with no wood in the construction there is no worry about any possible rot. Flexible forward seating converts from lounges to sunpads, while anglers will appreciate the twin aerated live bait wells and 22 rod holders. The protective fiberglass hardtop with powder-coated supports is standard, as are the anchor windlass and built-in, 94-quart cooler.
This Mississippi builder has carved a niche with seaworthy fiberglass boats for offshore fishermen, such as the 2302 at MarineMax, which — unlike the current rage — has a single 200-horsepower Yamaha outboard to simplify maintenance while maintaining speed. The high-flared hull sides (no wood!) ensure a dry ride with enough fishing features to delight anglers: a baitwell, dual insulated fish boxes with drains, rod holders and rod racks. Families will appreciate the private head inside the console with a locking door, as well as the wrap-around boat seating with table.
From this longtime builder of fishing favorites comes the entry-level 24-footer with unexpected touches of luxury, such as the standard fiberglass hardtop with powder-coated supports and a wrap-around tempered glass windshield. The forward seats have lounge backrests and the double-wide helm seat converts to a leaning post for fishing. The walk-in console sports a private head, while folding rear seating and a 45-gallon Yeti cooler make for all-day fun. Standard power is a Yamaha 300 outboard, giving a top speed of nearly 50 miles per hour.
The largest outboard-powered boat Tiara has built, this 48-footer has entertainment areas in the bow and stern, plus up to 1,800 horsepower with triple Mercury V-12 outboards for 50 knots. Innovative rotating lounge seating in the cockpit provides alfresco dining next to the outdoor galley, while additional seating is in the bow. Inside, two private cabins include an island double berth, plus a head with a stall shower. Sliding doors protect the pilothouse, which is air-conditioned. An innovative terrace folds down from the cockpit side to increase space and add to the watersports fun.
From yacht builder Viking comes an entry in the center console wars with twin Mercury or Yamaha outboards to 900 horsepower, plus amenities, such as gyro stabilization and a bow thruster. With a heritage appealing to anglers, there are oversized live bait wells and under-deck fish boxes for storing your catch. Inside, the spacious head includes a shower. With the patented Stepped-V ventilated hull, the V-33 easily hits 70 miles per hour.
There are, of course, many other center console boats on the market. You’ll find more than a few choices from Tampa-area boat dealers, so check them out, give them a test run and have fun on the water.
Axopar Nautical Ventures, nauticalventures.com, (727) 939-8900
Boston Whaler MarineMax, marinemax.com, (727) 536-2628
Chris-Craft Viage, viagegroup.com, (727) 270-9009
Everglades Tom George Yacht Group, tgyg.com, (727) 734-8707
Grady-White Quality Boats, qualityboats.com, (727) 530-1815
Jeanneau Thunder Marine, thundermarine.com, (727) 381-4444
Key West Family Boating Centers, familyboatingcenters.com, (813) 884-1395
MarineMax, marinemax.com, (727) 536-2628
Pursuit Quality Boats, qualityboats.com, (727) 530-1815
Tiara Quality Boats, qualityboats.com, (727) 530-1815
Valhalla Galati Yachts, galatiyachts.com, 727-334-0151
Chris Caswell is an award-winning writer and the former editor of several yachting magazines. He has appeared on Oprah as a boating lifestyle expert and hosted the Marine Voyager series on the Speed Channel.