What constitutes an entry-level center console? Basically, entry level is a reflection of price and everything flows from there. Because center consoles are such a competitive field, all builders work hard to keep the price as low as possible. As a result, the consumer can find good values here -- so long as he is not calling on the boat to go places and do things it was not designed for.
Some entry-level center consoles are so inexpensive, and so poorly built that we would not recommend them. These boats are sometimes built in little more than a garage and the companies behind them have virtually no infrastructure, engineering, or reliable warranty. You will not find them in this report.
The growing trend today among quality center console builders is to offer all-around family boats, although one or two of the ones we have selected are more fishing-oriented than the others. (Insulated fishboxes make excellent built-in coolers, and the boathook and deck brush will stow nicely in under-gunwale rod holders.) Folks more into towing waterskiers than towing baits will find something suitable in this sextet, too.
Each of these boats has a modified-V hull, and should perform well in typical bay chop and even in heavier weather if throttled back, and each one comes from a well-regarded builder -- so the difference is in the details. Some come with a trailer as standard; a trailer makes off-season storage easy and inexpensive, too. Check out standard and optional equipment lists carefully when comparing the boats.
You'll find full info on each boat in our Captain's Reports, and don’t hesitate to contact BoatTEST.com if you have questions.
The Mako 204 CC is set up for fishing, with under-gunwale rod racks P&S, a baitwell in the console and two insulated fishboxes under the forward seats. The hull is 100% composite, with a Coosa Bluewater transom core, a foam-filled fiberglass stringer grid and a chemically and mechanically bonded hull-to-deck joint. All hardware is marine-grade stainless steel. Mako covers the 204 CC with a limited lifetime hull warranty and five-year "stem to stern" coverage.
Standard power is a Mercury 150XL FourStroke outboard, but two- and four-stroke options to 225 hp are offered. We think folks needing more than 150 horses should consider the 200 XL OptiMax two-stroke, $3,000 more than standard power but $3,000 less than the four-stroke 200 XL Verado.
But is more power necessary? Fully loaded, the 204 CC will weigh a little more than 3,000 lbs., and with her 18-degree deadrise modified-V hull should perform well with standard power, in our opinion. (We haven't tested the boat, but have experience with many similar ones.) Boats this size have to throttle back when the chop builds, unless their crews are true masochists, so the extra horses are seldom allowed to run. Folks on lakes or sheltered, usually calm, waters might want the extra power.
Mako sells the 204 CC with a trailer as standard.
Wellcraft's 180 Fisherman is also angler-oriented, as her name suggests, and comes with the usual fishing gear (including raw-water washdown). But she has creature comforts, too, including molded-in jumpseats in the stern quarters, a lounge with padded backrest forward of the console, and a reversible backrest on the helm seat. There's a small swim platform on either side of the motor -- a step, really -- with a boarding ladder on the port side. A cushion for the bow platform is optional, as are bow rails. The trailer is also optional, and Wellcraft offers two: galvanized or aluminum.
Power options range from 115- to 150-hp two- and four-stroke outboards from Evinrude, Mercury, Yamaha, so every buyer should find one to his/her liking. With 20-degrees of deadrise aft, and the bow sharp enough to run with acceptable comfort in a decent bay chop, we think the 180 Fisherman will benefit from extra power; we'd opt for one of the 150 hp outboards.
Boston Whaler's 190 Montauk is a modern version of the boat that built the company: In 1956, Dick Fisher built a 13-foot fiberglass skiff with an unusual hull design (by C. Raymond Hunt, same guy who created the deep-V) using a construction method that made her unsinkable and nearly indestructible. Fisher was featured in Life magazine, watching unconcerned from the stern seat as a logging saw cut his boat in two. When the cutting was done, Fisher started the outboard and drove away in half of the Whaler.
Boston Whaler's building essentially the same boat today, but in several lengths with different hull configurations, different hardware, and of course with many more amenities available than 60 years ago: The 190 Montauk is next-to-largest in the line (her big sister is 21’).
Whaler builds her as a blank slate, with just the basic equipment; folks looking for an all-around boat without frills will be happy with the standard 190. It comes with a 115-hp Mercury 4-Stroke outboard and a trailer (which can be deleted for credit). Our tests show a top speed with this motor of 33.6 knots, cruise around 20 kts.
Most Montauk buyers choose options to make their 190 a fishboat, family boat, yacht tender, etc. Whaler offers a 150-hp Merc 4-Stroke for folks who want to tow skiers, or just go faster; this engine comes with hydraulic steering, which is otherwise optional. Angles can add a fishing package, with extra rod holders (two are standard) and tackle drawers; a livewell is also available. Serious fishermen can delete the bow rail to create a clean fishing platform.
The Grady-White Fisherman 180 is the smallest boat in that company's roster, but she's built and equipped to the same level as bigger Gradys. The folks at Grady-White spend a lot of time fishing, and know just what the avid angler wants in a boat – so virtually all of it comes standard. There are only a handful of options. We'd add hydraulic trim tabs and steering, and a second battery with selector switch, but that's about all. A trailer is not included, and there's no T-top option, just a Bimini.
Power is a 150-hp Yamaha four-stroke outboard; no engine options are offered. We agree with Grady-White that 150-hp is the right power for a boat this size and weight, enough to race home if the weather turns sour, or to pull a skier on days the fish aren't biting. (A ski pylon is optional.) We haven't tested the 190 Fisherman, but Grady-White claims a top speed of just over 40 kts., and we believe it.
Boats in this class can get somewhat active in a chop, but the 190 Fisherman rides on Grady-White's SeaV2 hull which was designed by C. Raymond Hunt & Associates. Combined with wide chines, multiple strakes and plenty of bow flare, the SeaV2 is designed soften the ride as much as possible without causing disagreeable characteristics, such as excessive rolling. Her wide chines and moderate V-bottom adds stability and fuel efficiency. Grady-White uses the SeaV2 botom design formula on all its boats, so it's a well-tested, well-proven bottom design.
The Sea Fox 206 Commander is a relatively good compromise between fishing boat and family yacht. She has twin fold-down jumpseats aft -- when folded, they create a casting platform -- and a bow platform with sculpted backrests that will become a sunpad with the optional cushions. And she's big enough to fit a portable head in the console, something anglers and families both will appreciate; the head is standard. A live well, under-gunwale rod racks, fishboxes, six rod holders and coaming pads aft are all standard.
Sea Fox builds the 206 Commander with a composite hull and deck -- coring in the deck and topsides, but solid fiberglass in the bottom. Like virtually all boats built these days the hull is protected with a vinylester resin barrier coat to guard against osmosis, important for boats left in the water, especially in warm climates. She has an isophthalic gelcoat.
She's well-equipped, too, with two automatic bilge pumps (most boats in this class have only one), SeaStar hydraulic tilt steering, six stainless steel pull-up cleats and a leaning post with backrest at the helm. Power is by Yamaha up to 175-hp.
Most buyers of the 206 Commander will want a few options -- hydraulic trim tabs, for example, and some sun protection: a Bimini or T-top. The T-top can be upgraded with an electronics box and LED spreader lights. An LED lighting package with blue mood lights in the cockpit and underwater lights is also optional, and will make the boat stand out at the marina at night, attracting visitors as well as to attract fish. Faux teak decking at the transom is also available, for a yachty effect.
Despite its low price, the 206 Commander is well built and has attractive design and striking stylistic elements.
Robalo's R200 comes with a standard package that includes an aluminum trailer w/brakes and an F115 Yamaha 4-stroke outboard; outboards from Evinrude, Mercury and Yamaha up to 200-hp are available. SeaStar hydraulic steering is standard with all engines. We haven't tested this boat, but given her size and, more important, weight -- 3,000 lbs. dry, with engine -- we'd recommend more than 115 horses – 150-hp at least.
The R200 rides on Robalo's proprietary V-bottom, the HydroLift hull. It's a variable-deadrise design, the deadrise changing at any hull section from the keel toward the chines: sharpest at the keel, flattest at the chines, and with a far greater deadrise at the bow than at the transom. When the boat's on-plane, the high-deadrise keel area provides a smooth ride; at displacement speed, or at rest, the flatter hull sections outboard, combined with wide reverse chines, to keep the boat stable, a benefit for drift fishing or casting into a school of blues.
On deck, the R200 has a console big enough for portable head (optional) and U-shaped seating at the bow; remove the cushions (standard) and the seats become a casting platform with fishboxes underneath. Jumpseats aft become a second casting platform when folded down, with a livewell in-between.
The aluminum-framed leaning post at the helm can be powder-coated as an option; a 72-qt. cooler fits under it. A long options list lets each buyer custom-fit the R200 to his or her needs. We'd add the higher bow rail, a T-top with electronics box and a white powder-coated aluminum frame, and have the leaning-post frame powder-coated to match. There are also several gel coat colors to choose from.
Again, don’t hesitate to drop BoatTEST.com a note if you have a question about any of these boats.