Contents of Report
The Southport 33 FE is an exquisite center console designed and built for the enthusiast who wants a versatile boat that can fish effectively and also serve family boating needs. That’s why this model is called FE, which stands for Family Edition. Southport Boats now builds five models on this 33’ (10.06 m) hull, including a dual-console design, but we wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the FE is the most popular version.
The Southport 33 FE has been designed from the running surface up to perform, but she also has some curves, such as a reverse transom and tumble home, that make her an attractive vessel. Almost no reasonable expense has been spared on the build of this boat, so she provides the consumer -- right out of the box -- with nearly everything needed to go to the canyons in reasonable conditions, or to cruise with friends to the islands for a day-trip picnic.
We have been watching Southport for 12 years as the brand has evolved and new models have been added. Southport's boats have always been first rate in virtually every detail. The tooling is superb, the finish work impeccable, and this boat’s fishing amenities and equipment are among the best in class.
The Back Story
Right from the beginning in 2003, all Southport models have been designed by C. Raymond Hunt Associates, which is located in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The founders of the Southport brand were boatbuilders who cared passionately about building an open boat that looked beautiful and was made as strong and as seaworthy as the size and type would permit.
Over the years Southport has been owned by various entities who were undercapitalized and the boat really never got the traction one might expect for such a high-quality boat. In 2011, Southport was bought by the owners of Kenway Corp. in Augusta, Maine, a custom composites manufacturer that has been in business since 1947, and which owned several other boat brands. These owners breathed new life into Southport, while at the same time embracing the vision of its founders. The Southport 33 FE is the largest boat in the company's three-hull, seven-model line. Because the Kenway owners were boating and composite-tech savvy, the techniques used in the craft of boatbuilding over the last 15 years evolved, along with the build quality.
In 2017, Southport Boats was acquired by Carbon Craft Inc., a builder of custom carbon-fiber yacht tenders. Both boatbuilders are managed under the auspices of a holding company called Tuxedo Yachts.
The basic specifications of the Southport 33 FE go a long way to telling her story. She has a LOA of 32'6" (9.91 m), a beam of 10'8" (3.25 m), and has a dry hull weight of 9,200 lbs. (4,173 kg) light, without engines. She has a variable-deadrise deep-V hull with a deadrise of 22-degrees at the transom. When we compare her to other premium boats in her size range, we discover that her beam falls pretty much in the middle.
What Makes the Southport Beautiful?
Certainly beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but when it comes to boats there are some generally accepted design features that signal an appreciation of the best that the breed has to offer. Some of those cues are an S-shaped sheer, a well-executed reverse transom, tumblehome in the stern quarters, pronounced Carolina flare, and a clipper bow.
All corners and edges must be rounded with a radius that is -- again -- just right. Veteran connoisseurs of yachts instinctively know what the angles all should look like, and of course C.R. Hunt Associates is among the world's best artists in this class. Indeed, it might well be that our nautical eye has been trained over the years by naval architects such as John Deknatel, head of the Hunt firm.
Let’s take a look at her onboard features.
A Gentleman’s Center Console
Yes, this is a man's boat, and a fisherman's boat at that -- but she doesn’t go out of her way to be a stripped-down fishing machine. Quite the contrary, the 33 FE's interior is sculptured, edges are rounded, proportions are classic. The boat's exquisite fit-and-finish will say a lot about the owner of this vessel and his knowledge of boats. In short, the Southport 33 FE is a "Gentleman's Center Console." Let’s make an in-depth inspection of her.
The all-composite transom is where the pair of 300-hp Yamaha F300s are mounted in the second mounting hole. The outboard rigging is tidy, with a tube for each engine holding the fuel and throttle and shift lines, and the steering hydraulic lines. The splashwell runs the entire width of this aft section, and is 6” deep. Southport has put a piece of polyethylene decking here at the starboard side to level the surface abaft the transom gate for safe transit.
Bluewater anglers should consider the transom door as the scupper of last resort in the case of lots of green water coming aboard, something that rarely happens -- but if it does… The 33 FE's transom gate opens out, as it should, and will dewater the boat in seconds.
A pair of stainless steel emergency reboarding steps are mounted on the lower transom to allow boarding, and they are designed to serve as handholds as well as steps. A stainless steel grab handle is mounted to the reverse transom at the hullside, which facilitates boarding from these steps.
Our inspection of the transom also revealed the presence of Volvo Penta interceptor-style trim tabs. These black boxes mounted on the lower edge of the transom deploy a blade 1” to 2” into the flow of the water, changing the trim of the boat. The tabs are equipped with an automatic mode that lets them adjust to the motion of the boat to stabilize running in a seaway.
The Southport 33 FE has a versatile cockpit in keeping with the dual nature of this boat’s mission. Our test boat cockpit measured 9’ (2.74 m) wide by 4-1/2’ (1.37 m) long. That’s more than 40 sq. ft. (3.72 sq. m) of space. The cockpit sole has three hatches in it. To either side are the insulated fishboxes, with openings that measure 13 ¾” (.35 m) by 4’ (1.22 m) under gasketed lids held open by gas-assist rams so one can dig around in there with both hands. Inside, the boxes stretch 8’ (2.44 m) from one end to the other – large enough for skis or wake boards, and rolled-up water toys. The lids have turn-and-lock latches.
On centerline is another locker aft that measures 3’ to 2¼” (.91 m to .69 m) wide by 1’5½” (.44 m) long by 1’9” (.53 m) deep. This locker also serves as a mechanical space, housing the sea strainer and 1,100-gph pump for the livewell and salt water washdown. On the port end of the transom is the hatch where the batteries are stowed.
Fishing Features. The cockpit has many fishing features including eight rod holders (many of these stainless rod holders do double duty as beverage holders as well as rod holders) in the covering boards around the cockpit, three to each side and two in the transom. There are also rod racks beneath the gunwales to either side, to stow six rods out of the way.
Even though our test boat was the FE instead of the fishing-oriented TE version, the hardtop had no fewer than 11 rocket-launcher rod holders welded to the frame on its aft end. The cockpit is surrounded by bolsters, except at the transom gate. There’s a 35-gallon (132 L) livewell in the transom, plumbed to drain overboard, and it’s painted blue inside to keep the fish calm. What won’t keep the fish calm is the butt end of the rod holders that jut into the livewell from the covering boards, an odd design misstep for Southport.
The Side Door. Our test boat had the optional dive door in the starboard hullside. The covering board had a hinged section, held in place with a stainless slide bolt on its underside. That folds over aft, out of the way, and the door folds in, with a beefy stainless latch with a positive locking button at its center pivot point to keep it shut.
This door makes boarding easier for less-agile passengers or children at a floating dock. Some would suggest a variety of other functions, such as reboarding crew after open-water swimming, or a scuba diver, or using it to bring a large tuna or other game fish aboard.
Offshore Ready. First of all, the Southport 33 FE is "offshore-ready." That is the most important fishing feature of all. Her relatively high topsides (without being ugly), her Carolina bow flare and buoyancy forward make her as seaworthy as virtually any open vessel in class can be. That, coupled with her wide side decks and four 2” (5 cm) diameter, direct-line scuppers, two to each side at the transom, and the outward-opening gate for emergency dewatering, means that thought has been given to keeping water out – and then getting it out fast should it come aboard in sloppy conditions.
Personal Comfort – Cockpit Depth
There is a thick, padded bolster cushion nearly all the way around the cockpit gunwales with a 28" (.71 m) coaming height, and continuing forward. The only places on the boat where the bolster is not present are on the transom gate and next to the console on either side. They resume coverage around the bow seating area to provide back support for the forward bench seats, or as a balance aid if the forward cushions are stowed and the area is used as a casting deck.
Anglers fighting fish will find plenty of boat to lean against. Coaming height is 29” (.74 m) amidships and 34” (.86 m) forward.
There are four, large dedicated fishboxes: two forward under the built-in seats that are 6' (1.83 m) long and have a 57-gallon (216 L) capacity each. Aft in the cockpit deck there are two more 8' (2.44 m) lockers that have an even greater capacity each. All of these boxes have gasketed lids with turn-and-lock latches, are insulated and drain overboard.
These fishboxes are large for a boat of this size and are useful for stowage as well as keeping the catch. On an open boat it’s key to guest comfort to have the places to put gear, towels, fenders, and other equipment, so everyone can relax and get around without tripping over the stuff people seem to need to bring aboard, and without worrying it will blow over board at speed.
The Leaning Post
The leaning post had an aft-facing bench seat with a pair of drawers beneath it for stowing odds and ends. On our test boat, a coiled shore power cord was in one drawer while the other held the docklines.
Aft Bench Seat. Most boats in class have a transom bench seat and so does the 33 FE. When it comes to a ride, this is the best seat in the house, the outboard noise notwithstanding. This seat is wide and finished like the upholstery forward, but most important is the super-strong stainless steel bar stock that Southport has used to make sure these seats will be in service as long as the fiberglass hull. Check out other boats in class and you'll see what we mean. Also, some seats are easier to deploy and fold back up, than are others. Again, the Southport seat we encountered was well engineered.
The aft-facing seat has a backrest that folds up, transforming the seat into a counter on stainless steel hinges. This workspace will be helpful for prepping food, or rigging baits or lures for fishing. The counter is finished with a nonskid surface, the better to keep everything in place there.
The leaning post on our test boat had tackle stowage in lockers to both port and starboard, and each has space for six plano boxes as well as drawers to stow tools like pliers and bait scissors, spools of leader, and more. A stainless steel refrigerator may be a smart option for one of these spots.
On the forward side of the leaning post is a fold-down aluminum footrest, adding to the versatility of the seating position. There’s also a hatch in the front end of the leaning post that grants access to stowage and in there we also found the pumps and reservoirs for the SeaStar electro-hydraulic steering system.
Of all of the finely finished upholstery on the boat, we like the construction and finish work of the helm and companion seats the best. The pictures on this page speak for themselves. This seating is called a "leaning post" but it certainly isn't the one one’s daddy was used to. The seats are plush with multi-density foam, have firm side supports, and the obligatory flip-up bolsters, and moveable armrests. They are not pedestal seats that can wobble, but rather are firmly connected to the fiberglass structure below.
Superior Design. The helm seats are designed to offer a variety of comfortable positions. The wheel is on the port side. The seat is designed to accommodate two adults and is nicely upholstered with cutouts in the back for ventilation on hot days, and custom stitching in the seatbacks. The forward end of each seat has a hinged section that can flip up to serve as a bolster if the driver or passenger want to lean or stand.
Beneath the flip-up bolster on the forward part of the leaning post is a fixed, padded bolster to make leaning more comfortable for drivers or companions of nearly any height. The seat has fold-down armrests on centerline and at each end, and the end armrests have a positive locking latch to keep them in the down position for a feeling of security.
The standard leaning post has two cabinets and three-drawers for tackle. It can be a bait-prep center if fitted with the optional grill or a mini on-deck galley. Anglers might want to put a second livewell here.
The console has a molded dashboard that places steering wheel, throttle-and-shift binnacle, joystick, and trim tab control on an elevated, angled base and places them easily to hand. The stainless steel Edson wheel with steering knob is mounted on a tilt base, and the compass is mounted atop the console in line with the wheel to keep things on course.
The Yamaha electronic shift and throttle works hand-in-hand with the SeaStar Optimus 360 joystick system for close-quarters maneuvering.
The helm dash of our test boat was equipped with a pair of 16” (.41 m) Garmin GPSMAP 8617 touchscreen multifunction displays. There’s room for displays up to 19” (.48 m) on the panel, and in fact, our camera boat was so equipped with a pair of Raymarine units.
On a panel below, the dashboard had the Yamaha CommandLink plus display, which tracked and displayed engine information including fuel burn and economy, rpm, and speed. The Volvo Penta interceptor tabs have a dedicated control pad, with indicator lights and auto setting. Switches to operate onboard electrical systems, with reset breakers placed right next to them, are handy right across the panel, along with two 12-volt accessory outlets at the starboard end. A glove drawer beneath stows odds and ends.
The console is proportioned to fit in the space on deck, with wide walkways to either side that let an average-size man pass by with ease. There’s a beefy aluminum tubular frame built around the console that supports the finely finished fiberglass T-top above. A frameless acrylic windshield is mounted on brackets mounted to the forward posts of the frame, and is served by a single electric wiper mounted to its top. The windshield does not butt up against the console or the T-top with this mounting system, so air can still pass by.
The Head. There’s a two-piece door on the starboard side of the console that allows entry to the interior. The top half of the door is hinged and opens upward with the help of two gas-assist rams. This clever design makes it easy for grown men to enter the head without having to crouch down.
The compartment has a freshwater marine head equipped with a 12-gallon (45 L) holding tank, an opening oval Bomar portlight, and a sink with pull-out shower. Our test boat had some hanging compartment bags to stow lightweight items. Behind a mirrored locker door is a hatch that allows easy access to the backside of the helm dash with its electronics. The house battery is in a locker, and there’s a crawl-in berth measuring 77” (1.96 m) long.
There are six vertical rod holders in the head compartment, and horizontal rod racks under the gunwales that will hold 7' (2.13 m) long rods. The standard T-top has rocket launchers and pads for mounting aftermarket outriggers.
Every offshore open boat should have a T-top, and the one on the Southport 33 FE comes standard. It is also a bit larger than normal, extending back well over the helm seats. The top itself is made of a light-but-strong composite material. The top is held up by four aluminum supports that can be powder coated as an option -- something that we recommend.
The four aluminum supports attached to the deck are positioned as close as possible to the console and leaning post, and both are molded to work with the T-top frame design. The advantage of this system is that much of the strain of supporting the T-top is transmitted directly to the cockpit sole, which is supported by the grid belowdecks. The aft supports are also attached to the side of the console and provide handholds for standing passengers. Overhead are multi-colored LED lights and aft there is an LED deck flood light.
The bow area is where the 33 FE really shines, thanks to a versatile use of the space that meets the needs of both the family and fishing missions of this boat. The forward-facing seat on the front end of the console has a padded backrest and an insulated drink box beneath the seat cushion, measuring 14” (.36 m) by 2’ ½” (.62 m) by 5” (.13 m) deep, and closes with a magnetic latch.
Fishboxes/Storage. The molded-in benches forward with gasketed lids can be used as fishboxes or for dry storage. The openings measure 13 ½” by 43 ½” (.34 m by 1.10 m). There’s also an in-deck locker forward between them.
There are low-profile stainless steel handrails along each side of the bow seating area to meet ABYC specifications. A pair of padded seatbacks turn these benches into forward-facing lounges, and those seatbacks are set into zero-degree rod holders (meaning they hold the rod vertically), with nylon inserts so they mount solidly, slide in and out easily, and, thanks to the rod holders, add to the fishing-feature list as well as the family comfort package.
A hinged step fills between the forward end of these benches. It uses two-part hinges to allow the step to be removed easily. The step is latched in place in the down position by a stainless barrel bolt on its underside.
A Picnic Table. There is an optional table with a gas-assist hi-lo pedestal that mounts between the benches. With the table in the low position, a filler cushion makes this a large sun pad area. With all of the cushions stowed, this area becomes a casting deck.
Standard Ground Tackle System
The broad foredeck area has a hatch for access to the ground tackle. There’s a horizontal Lewmar windlass to retrieve the anchor, and it has a cable snubber to keep it from deploying unintentionally. An 8” (.20 m) pull-up cleat is on the centerline. There’s good access to the rode in the locker to manage tangles.
Another strong point of the Southport 33 FE is her construction. Like virtually everything else in the boat, it is done right and with the latest industry "best practices." All major parts are made with vacuum-bagged resin-infused lamination. This permits a glass-to-resin ratio that maximizes strength and minimizes weight. Even today, not all premium builders of center consoles in class use this technique, and still use hand lay-up which is inevitably resin-heavy.
Southport says that any color may be selected by the customer for the gel coat. After the gel coat is applied the builder says they hand-apply a double thickness of vinylester resin. This is what keeps the hull from blistering and stops water osmosis. All strakes are filled in with a solid, proprietary composite material and then covered with two layers of 45-degree knit glass fabric, according to the builder. This is a good practice for two reasons: 1) it keeps the strakes from being easily damaged; and 2) it adds extra stiffness to the bottom.
No Woven Roving
Woven roving, usually 20 or 24-oz. used to provide the major strength of boat hulls, and still does in many. However, more high-tech builders have gone to other fabric weaves that have been developed over the last decade or two that soak up less resin and provide more strength. Knitted, bi-axial glass fabric is placed in strategic locations where stresses are greatest. Southport says that it uses the same laminate scantlings that are employed in offshore racing boats.
All Vinylester Resin
Once the sheets of glass are placed into the hull, the vacuum bag is placed over the hull and the boat is infused with a pre-measured amount of vinylester resin. Here is another place where Southport departs from virtually all other builders -- they tell us that they use 100% vinylester resin in the hull. This is a huge difference.
Not only is it stronger than the polyester resin most builders use, and stops all possibility of water migration in any direction, but it is also much more costly. We only know of a handful of builders that go to the expense of using 100% vinylester resin in hulls, rather than just a skin coat or two to prevent blistering.
No part of an outboard-powered hull receives more abuse than the transom. It is here that the torque of the outboard engines -- up to 700-hp in the case of the 33 FE -- and the G forces of a couple of thousand pounds of iron bouncing up and down on the transom are all directed to what we call the boat's "epicenter of stress". To handle this challenge, the builder uses a "full width section of high-density Airex PXC-385 reinforced structural foam.”
Airex has perfected the art of closed-cell, glass fiber-reinforced foam that has very high mechanical properties. It is especially strong in compression and sheer and is ideally suited as a core material in this application. It replaces plywood that has traditionally been used in boat transoms. In fact, there is no wood used anywhere in the 33 FE's hull, deck or other structures.
Like many of the best boat builders, Southport laminates its stringers in molds which means the outer surface is smooth gel coat. The traditional method of stringer-making was to use plywood or contoured foam as the form and then slather resin and glass over them by hand. Because Southport uses molds, the outer surface of its stringers are as smooth as the boat's hull. Further, the molding method ensures precise dimensions, exactly the right glass-to-resin ratio, and means that there are no rough edges to chafe through wires and fuel lines. The stringers are then foam filled and chemically bonded to the hull with Plexus, the methacrylate adhesive that is used by the best boat builders. It is actually stronger than the fiberglass laminate itself. Methacrylate has revolutionized boat construction over the last decade or so and is one of the reasons there are so few hull-to-deck failures these days on even the most abused hulls.
Once the stringers have been placed in the hull, the wiring, plumbing, fuel lines, storage bins, and polyethylene fuel tank (note that it is not aluminum which can corrode), the whole area under the deck and between the stringers is foamed which keeps everything in place and protected, in addition to creating flotation and making the boat more quiet when running through chop.
Next, the molded liner is installed and bonded to the stringers and hull with methacrylate, and the deck is put on the same way. Finally, the helm console, leaning post assembly, and T-top are all installed. They are built off line where it is more efficient.
Note the intricate mold work for the trim tab assembly.
Other Quality Items
Needless to say on a boat of this level, all hardware is 316 stainless steel and through-bolted with backing plates. Most boats these days come standard with either stainless steel or bronze thru-hull fittings. Southport departs from those metals, preferring instead to use ABYC-approved, non-corrosive Marelon thru-hull valves.
Options to Consider
There is virtually nothing that we could recommend for most people to add to this boat as an option. Scuba divers or aging baby boomers might want a side door. Those planning more than casual entertaining should consider a grill on the leaning post console. Keen fishermen will want to add a few things in the aftermarket, but that is about it.
A Thruster. Some boaters moving up might be concerned about docking a boat this big in a tight marina with cross currents. They may want to consider an optional bow thruster, or the Yamaha Helm Master with joystick. We think a bow thruster will do the trick and it saves a lot of money as well.
A Shady Proposition. Owners planning on using the 33 FE mostly for picnics and classy outings with friends might want to consider an awning for the bow seating area. While such an aftermarket addition will shock center console purists, the fact is that family boats that will be at anchor any length of time during the mid-day simply need more shade. We are beginning to see stow-away awnings on three or four poles used on center consoles in the Mediterranean and our guess is that the idea will make its way to the U.S. in time.
Base price with twin 300-hp Yamaha engines is $309,000.
The Southport 33 FE is a boat designed and built for connoisseurs of fine yachts. She is not intended for Joe-six pack and his friends, nor is she intended for people with lots of funny money who have no interest in the finer things in the boat-building art. They will not appreciate the Southport 33 FE for the jewel that she is. Nevertheless, the 33 FE is expensive by nearly any measure. And sadly, it simply costs a lot of money these days to build a boat as well as it can be done, even for a company like Southport which is located in Maine. But for those who appreciate fine yacht-building and who know the value of it, we think this is a boat that one can be proud of for a very long time.
Test Result Highlights
- Top speed for the Southport Boats 33 FE (2018-) is 48.7 mph (78.4 kph), burning 52.8 gallons per hour (gph) or 199.85 liters per hour (lph).
- Best cruise for the Southport Boats 33 FE (2018-) is 24.8 mph (39.9 kph), and the boat gets 1.5 miles per gallon (mpg) or 0.64 kilometers per liter (kpl), giving the boat a cruising range of 401 miles (645.35 kilometers).
- Tested power is 2 x 300-hp Yamaha F300 4.2L.
Standard and Optional Features
|Washdown: Fresh Water||Standard|
|Outlet: 12-Volt Acc||Standard|
Full Warranty Information on this brand coming soon!
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