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Key West 203FS (2013-)
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Brief Summary

One can not cruise along the ICW from Florida to Maryland without discovering that one of the most ubiquitous center console brands on the water is Key West. To some degree this is probably because of her competitive price point and the location of her two plants (both in South Carolina) but as we were to discover when we drilled down into the brand, Key West boats have much more going for them than price and location. And that is undoubtedly why a number of high-profile and respected dealers in the Northeast have recently taken on the line.

Key Features

  • No wood-no rot construction
  • Ten (10) year hull warranty
  • Self-bailing cockpit
  • High speed pick-up livewell
  • Foam injected fiberglass stringer system
  • Bow and rear casting decks
  • Tinted windshield with stainless steel grab rail
  • 4 stainless steel trolling rod holders with integrated drain
  • Molded in swim platform with telescoping 3 step ladder
  • Specifications

    Length Overall 20' 3''
    6.17 m
    Beam 8'
    2. 44 m
    Dry Weight 1,900 lbs.
    861 kg
    Tested Weight N/A
    Draft 12''
    0.30 m
    - Draft Up N/A
    - Draft Down N/A
    - Air Draft N/A
    Deadrise/Transom 19 deg.
    Max Headroom open
    Bridge Clearance N/A
    Weight Capacity N/A
    Person Capacity N/A
    Fuel Capacity 60 gal.
    227 L
    Water Capacity N/A
    Length on Trailer N/A
    Height on Trailer N/A
    Trailer Weight N/A
    Total Weight
    (Trailer, Boat, & Engine)
    N/A

    Prices, features, designs, and equipment are subject to change. Please see your local dealer or visit the builder's website for the latest information available on this boat model.

    Engine Options

    Std. Power Not Available
    Tested Power Currently no test numbers
    Opt. Power 1 x 115-hp Yamaha F-115 XA 4-stroke engine
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    Captain's Report

    Mission Statement

    The Key West 203FS (for Family Sportsman) center console is intended to appeal to the whole family for a variety of purposes, not just fishing. To that end she has a "changing room" in her console that can fit a Porta-Potti, has padded bolsters around the gunwales, and has a padded bench seat across the transom. Both this seat and the bow platforms can be used for sunbathing as well as casting.

    Key West 203FS
    The floor layout of the Key West 203FS.

    While she is marketed as a family sportsman, she has virtually all of the equipment an avid inshore or coastal angler could want.

    Key West 203FS
    The Key West 203FS was introduced last year and is equipped with amenities to make her more family-friendly.

    Most important, the Key West 203FS sells for a price that is significantly below most other center consoles on the market. This, in a word, is her primary mission -- to make getting on the water in a 20' center console affordable to more people.

    Key West 203FS
    Women and kids will like the "changing room" in the console which can be fitted with a portable head. It's obviously tight but better than nothing.

    Distinguishing Features

    Price.

    There are few boats on the market more competitively priced.

    Smallest, Lightest in Class.

    Most of the center consoles in class are 21' long, a bit beamier and heavier.

    Construction Technique.

    Key West inserts a sheet of plastic between its hull laminate and foam flotation. (See below).

    Employee-Owned Business.

    40% of Key West is owned by its employees. (See below.)

    Key West 203FS
    There is a bench seat with cushions standard along the transom of the boat. There is a livewell under the center cushion and storage under the outboard cushions. The cushion of the seat in front of the console is also standard.

    Construction

    The Key West 203FS appears to be built using conventional boating industry practices and modern materials. For example, no wood is employed in the transom, stringers or anywhere else in the boat. She has a molded fiberglass inner liner and the cockpit is self-bailing. The boat is foam filled and is said on the builder's website to have "positive level and upright flotation" when swamped.

    Different Drummer.

    The most unusual aspect of Key West's construction method is the insertion of a thin sheet of plastic in the hull sides over the fiberglass and resin laminate. This sheet of plastic is intended to keep the floatation foam from adhering to the hull sides. Interestingly, this is precisely what many builders want to happen. Once the liners and deck is in place and bonded together, foam is blown into the hull filling voids in the hull sides and parts of the bottom -- but not into the keel under the stringers.

    Key West 203FS
    The 203FS has a surprising amount of Carolina of flare and a bit of hawk which makes her longer but dryer as well.

    No Wrinkles in the Hull.

    The reason that Key West does not want the foam to stick to the hull laminate is because temperatures affect the expansion and contraction of the fiberglass laminate and the foam differently. As a result because these two materials are stuck together the hull surface can become distorted in the hot sun. (This is one reason some boat builders like white hulls -- they reflect more heat than a colored hull.) The result can be ripples in the hull which can be seen when light plays across the shiny surface.

    No Foam in the Keel.

    Key West leaves the keel devoid of foam in order that it will fill with water in the event that the boat is swamped. Open boats in a swamped condition are likely to turn turtle because of the free surface effect. No boat builder can do much about that law of nature but Key West has taken the step of creating what amounts to "ballast" in the boats keel in order to help keep the boat upright.

    Water Ballast.

    The concept is to have as much as possible to permit the keel of a Key West to act like the lead ballast in the keel of a sailboat. (Whether or not this enclosed water ballast is heavy enough to have any noticeable affect against the free surface effect, we don't know.)

    Standard Features.

    The 203FS has more than mere basic standard features, including, among other things --●Anchor●Compass●Raw water washdown kit●Livewell with high speed pick up ●Cockpit bolsters●Padded aft bench seat ●Cooler helm seat●Hydraulic Steering

    Key West 203FS
    Rod racks and bolster is standard.

    Comparison

    We categorize boats in this class as being moderately or low-priced center consoles that are from 20' to 21'6" (6.09 m to 6.55 m) in length. Of the nine boats in class that we looked at the Key West 203FS was the shortest at 20'3", had the narrowest beam at 8'0", and the lowest weight at 1,900 lbs.

    Lightest in Class.

    All of the 21'+ boats had an 8'6" (2.59 m) beam and the 20-footers ranged from 8'1" to 8'4". But it is in weight that we found the most dramatic difference. Among the 20-footers the 203FS was from 30 lbs. to 1,100 lbs. lighter. Among the 21'+ boats she was 400 lbs. to 1,250 lbs. lighter.

    Key West 203FS
    This flip-flop cooler and seat with backrest is standard.

    Performance.

    We have not tested the Key West 203FS but the folks at Yamaha have. According to the Yamaha techs when powered by the 115-hp Yamaha F-115 XA 4-stroke engine the boat has a top speed of 39.4 mph at 5950 rpm with a 13-1/4" x 16" prop. Best cruise was said to be at 4000 rpm, where the boat went 24.1 mph and burned 4.7 gph.Powered with a F-150 XA Yamaha 4-stroke turning a 13-3/4" x 19" prop, the company's techs report a WOT speed of 48.6 mph at 5900 rpm. Best cruise was said to be at 3000 rpm where the boat went 20.3 mph burning 4.3 gph.

    Power Options.

    The boat is rated up to 200-hp and Key West will rig the boat for any of the five major outboard brands.

    Key West 203FS
    There is a wide bench seat with padded backrest across the transom that can comfortably seat three people. Storage is underneath.

    What is ESOP?

    We think that Key West's ESOP program is so important that we are calling it a "distinguishing feature" of the boat. ESOP stands for "Employee Stock Ownership Plan" and it is designed to provide a retirement plan for employees. We are told that many of the company's employees have been there for 20 years or more and that the work force owns 40% of Key West.

    Ownership Has its Rewards.

    Unlike automobile manufacturers which has many robots involved in the manufacturing and assembly process, fiberglass boats are built virtually 100% by hand. We can't think of a better way to make sure that a boat is built right and with TLC than by having a work force which owns stock in the company.

    Key West 203FS
    The 203FS's helm console is clean and simple with plenty of real estate for nav screens. SeaStar hydraulic steering is standard.

    Warranty

    The Key West 203FS has a one-year stem-to-stern warranty. The boat has a 10-year hull warranty. Each outboard motor company has its own warranty for that product and system.

    Pricing

    The MSRP of the 203FS powered with the F-115 Yamaha is $32,800. Powered by the F-150 the suggest retail price is $36,300, and $42,275 with the F-200 XA 4-stroke. The standard 203 FS with pre-rig lists at $20,865. A trailer is not included in these prices.

    Key West 203 FS
    The bow casting platform. Note that the forward cleats are recessed as are the hand-holds behind and above the standard bolsters. The two cushions are optional and so is the stereo and speaker system.

    Why Such Low Pricing?

    First, Key West is not the lowest priced as there are others that are lower, but she certainly is very competitively priced. When we asked Hutch Holseberg, the founder and president of the company how he was able to keep his prices down, he answered, "We don't have many clip-board holders." Our guess is that he doesn't have any at all.

    Thin Management.

    Hutch says that his buildings are paid for, most of his 170 employees have been with him for 20 years or more so there is little time wasted on training and mistakes, and because the shop floor staff knows what they are doing they don't need a lot of management overseeing them. Holseberg and his manager Tom Marlow do most of the engineering and "white collar" work even though they are not engineers. "I have been building boats all my life, first at other companies, then in 1986 I started Key West and I have been designing them and building them ever since," Hutch says. "My hulls are so good, at least one other company has copied them."

    Family Affaire.

    Hutch's daughter, Nicki, handles customer service. His oldest and youngest sons also work at the company. In other words there are no suits or excess staff beyond what it takes to build the boats and get them out the door, and virtually everyone working for the company has a financial stake in it.

    No "Grow Boating Tax."

    Marketing expenses are kept low, too. Key West's participation at boat shows is minimal and its advertising is rarely seen. It does not participate in the industry association's "Grow Boating" program which taxes each new boat built according to horsepower, so that is another expense that is eliminated and not passed through.

    Key West 203FS
    The Key West 203FS in her element in the ICW.

    Observations

    The Key West 203FS has a lot going for it in addition to price and good value. Her light weight and narrow beam will make her easier to push which means that perhaps she can be powered by a smaller engine. She will also be easier to tow, which means a smaller vehicle can be used and less fuel will probably be burned in moving her around. Because of her beam she will also be easier to store.She draws just 12" with the outboard up, which is about 2''-3" less than the other boats in class which means she can get into skinnier water. As noted above, we think Key West's ESOP is a good idea for the obvious reasons. Key West does not use the foam it blows in the boat for strength as some builders do. Rather, it is there solely to float the boat should it swamp, and Holseberg says that all of his boats will float level and puts that in writing on his website. Only a few companies will do that.

    Standard and Optional Features

    Marine Electronics

    Fishfinder Optional
    GPS/Chart Optional

    Systems

    CD Stereo Optional
    Head: Portable Optional
    Trim Tabs Optional
    Washdown: Raw Water Standard

    Exterior Features

    Outlet: 12-Volt Acc Standard
    Swim Ladder Standard
    Swim Platform Standard
    Transom Shower Optional

    Canvas

    Bimini Top Optional

    Warranty

    Hull Warranty
    Transferable
    10 year


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