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.
While she is marketed as a family sportsman, she has virtually all of the equipment an avid inshore or coastal angler could want.
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.
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.
Key West inserts a sheet of plastic between its hull laminate and foam flotation. (See below).
40% of Key West is owned by its employees. (See below.)
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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
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.
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.
The boat is rated up to 200-hp and Key West will rig the boat for any of the five major outboard brands.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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
|Washdown: Raw Water||Standard|
|Outlet: 12-Volt Acc||Standard|