Grady-White 251 Coastal Explorer
Wellcraft 262 Fisherman
Boston Whaler 270 Dauntless
Mako 284 CC
Originally designed for serious fishermen, most of today's center consoles can be rigged for tow sports, diving, beach picnics, day cruising and, yes, fishing; when one's ship comes in, a center console makes a great tender. Today’s roundup -- 24' to 28’ -- represent an excellent balance of size, cost, utility, and simplicity. But although close in size, these boats are very different. We compare and contrast them so you can find the best one for your application.
Each of these six boats has been inspected by a BoatTEST.com captain, and received his thumbs-up. That means that each one is built by a reliable company with integrity and the infrastructure to give aftermarket support. They are all built to accede basic industry standards, and some go far beyond that.
Most come with plenty of standard equipment, and will do the trick when it comes to having fun on the water. They span the price point range from relatively low cost to premium, with several in the middle.
Some of our boats are designed for serious offshore fishing, others are geared more for the dual roles of family fishing and longshore cruising. Here's a little advice on what to look for when choosing a center console.
Builders usually show their boats with twin outboards -- they look cooler rigged that way -- and supply twins for testing. But most boats in this class don't need twins; a single 300- or 350-hp outboard will be plenty. Offshore fishermen like twins for the redundancy factor, speed demons want to squeeze out the last knot, but folks who stay within range of their towing service will do fine with a single. And modern outboards rarely break down, anyway. A single engine is less expensive to buy and maintain, and leaves more of the swim platform available if the boat is so equipped.
The first center consoles were unapologetically fish-oriented, but that was then. Many builders now offer options to make their center consoles more fun, and more comfortable, for the whole family. Bow casting platforms that convert to U-shaped lounges, removable tables, stern benches with plush upholstery, consoles big enough for a toilet -- options like these turn a fishboat into a family day cruiser.
Center consoles in this size range can be challenged for stowage space, especially for clothing. There are plenty of insulated fish boxes and stowage for rods, but no hanging lockers for foul-weather gear, no place to stash an extra sweater. Most center-console owners keep spare clothes in a waterproof duffle, stowed somewhere dry. The console is the best place, but using it for a head takes away from its utility for stowage.
All CCs have stowage under the bow platform, and an in-sole fishbox makes good stowage, too, until it's used for fish. Consider stowage when choosing a center console.
Folks really into waterskiing, wakeboarding, diving, or simply swimming off the boat should consider the often rudimentary swim platforms of most center consoles. This is the situation with all outboard-powered boats, not just CCs. Generally, there's a small platform on either side of the motors, usually with a ladder on one side. That's enough for taking a dip, but hardcore watersports enthusiasts might prefer a sterndrive boat with a full-beam platform. All boats are compromises, and this is one trade-off to consider.
So many questions, but that's part of the fun of buying a boat. It's difficult to choose just six center consoles from over 50 brands on the market.
Consumer Caveat: Generally, the lowest priced boats on the market have drawbacks that must be considered before buying. Some of them are:
1.) Little infrastructure to support owners in the aftermarket.
2.) Limited design and engineering staff, so the boats are often not rigorous, well-performing, or ergonomic.
3.) Short cuts are often taken in the build which weaken the structure for long-term durability.
4.) Inexpensive hardware is used or there is not enough of it installed.
5.) Wiring and plumbing installations and equipment may be sub-par.
6.) QC is generally sub-optimal.
The boats that follow are not apples-to-apples comparisons because some are designed for coastal work and others are intended to be able to go far offshore. Rather, this comparison is intended to give consumers a good idea of the range of center consoles that are available for fishing and cruising beyond protected water. All of the boats that we compare below are recommended, but not all are best for every consumer or application. Let’s take a look.
The Sailfish 270CC, as her name suggests, is an offshore-capable center console targeted at the serious fisherman. She has two 260-quart (246 L) fish boxes with overboard drains under the forward benches, a 30-gallon (113.6 L) livewell, cockpit bolsters, and stainless-steel toe rails to secure an angler's footing in lively conditions. She comes with 12 rod holders as standard, four more in the optional fiberglass T-top. She's a dedicated fishing machine with a relatively high freeboard and deep cockpit which helps her far offshore in sloppy conditions.
Creature comforts are not ignored. The console houses a bona fide head compartment (5'8"/1.73 m of headroom) with a sink (fresh water capacity is 14 gallons/53 L), mirror, and stainless steel port; no toilet is standard, but buyers can choose either a Porta-Potti or a marine head with overboard discharge. This compartment also holds the batteries, switches, and access panels to the helm wiring.
Power and Performance. The Sailfish 270CC is rated for 400 hp, but the most popular engine package is twin 150-hp Yamaha or Mercury four-strokes. With Mercs, our test boat hit 40.7 knots, cruised at 23.5 knots with 405 NM of range. This is greater range than many boats in class.
The 270CC rides on Sailfish's variable deadrise hull -- sharper along the centerline, a couple of degrees flatter at the chines, with reverse chines for added stability. Her construction uses Kevlar and carbon fiber reinforcing in the hull and deck.
Robalo's R242 is the smallest boat in this roundup, but is rigged and equipped as well as the larger ones. She has the usual assortment of fishing features -- insulated fishboxes, livewells, and so forth -- but has a couple of extras that we like. First, there's a stainless steel handrail running from amidships completely around the bow. It's low-profile, so lines won't catch on it, but it is still easy to grab. It's nice to have something to hold onto when moving around in the forward cockpit; too many boats fall short in this regard.
Good Mechanical Access. Aft, there's a machinery compartment in the transom, with batteries, pumps, and other components that need periodic attention. Rather than cutting a minuscule door, Robalo hinged the transom face to provide almost full-beam access to this compartment for no-sweat maintenance.
There's a livewell and fishbox at the transom, with a padded bolster to lean against while rigging bait. That bolster becomes the backrest for a foldaway bench seat for two adults, or three small kids.
Power and Performance. Robalo powers the R242 with single or twin OBs to a maximum 400 hp. We tested the boat with twin 150 Yamaha four-strokes, hitting a top speed of 39.6 knots, best cruise being 24.4 knots for a range of 284.4 NM.
Robalo will rig this boat with Evinrude, Mercury, or Yamaha outboard engines.
Pricing. The standard boat with twin 150 Yamahas lists for $70,695; with a single 300 Yamaha, $66,275. The single OB saves about 400 lbs. (181.4 kg) of weight and a little drag, so that should add some speed, and the $4,420 saved will pay for some nice options.
Grady-White's 251 Coastal Explorer is for folks who boat on exposed coastal waters, but don't need open-ocean seaworthiness and range. Her smaller fuel capacity, just 78 gallons (295 L) vs. 125 gallons (473 L) and up for other boats in this roundup, reflects this. Most people use their boats this way -- they don't race 50 or 100 miles offshore to fish, but stay fairly close to home. So why carry around the weight of excess fuel?
Hull Design. The 251 Coastal Explorer rides on a shallower-deadrise SeaV2 hull than other Gradys; 16 degrees of aft deadrise vs. 20 degrees for other Gradys. The shallower sections make for faster planing, higher top speed vs. power, and more stability at rest.
The downside is usually a harder ride when jumping over waves, but Grady solves that by steadily increasing the deadrise from aft to forward, finishing with a sharp entry. (Most V-hulls carry a constant deadrise from the transom to amidships, then sharpen quickly towards the bow.) Use the hydraulic trim tabs (standard) to push the 251 CE's bow down a bit and the ride will be plenty soft in the conditions for which this boat is designed.
Power and Performance. Grady-White powers the 251 Coastal Explorer with a single 250- or 300-hp Yamaha four-stroke; there is no twin-engine option. Our test boat, with the 300 Yamaha, cranked out 42.8 knots WOT, with a cruising range of around 180 NM at 24.3 knots; plenty of performance for most people.
The single-engine-only power setup means the Grady-White 251 CE has more deck space aft, enough for a full-beam casting platform or an athwartships sun lounge. An optional bow table serves as a filler to create a large forward casting platform, turns the seat on the forward face of the console into a lounge, and also functions as a pedestal table. The 251 Coastal Explorer comes with a long list of standard equipment.
The Wellcraft 262 Fisherman (formerly the 262 Scarab Offshore) is a fishboat bow to stern. She has three aerated live wells: one in each corner of the cockpit, a third in the rigging station on the leaning post -- the 34-gallon (128.7 L) well at the rigging station has a clear panel and an LED light, so it's easy to keep track of the mullet. A fishbox in the cockpit sole drains overboard, and there's lockable rod stowage under the sole that'll hold five 8' (2.44 m) rigs.
Standard Equipment. Rod racks live under each gunwale, and there are holders across the transom, on the fiberglass T-top (which is standard) and, of course, in the gunwales. All the fishing gear is standard.
Wellcraft sells options that either make the 262 Fisherman more comfortable, or take the edge off her fish-ability, depending on one's outlook. The Family Package, for example, upgrades bow seating, adding forward-facing backrests port and starboard, a bow table, and a filler cushion to create a forward sun lounge.
The Scarab Offshore designation that our test boat carried is itself a package, added to Wellcraft's 262 Fisherman. The Scarab package includes leaning post, cockpit and helm upgrades vs. the standard Fisherman, and jazzes up the aesthetics with a tri-tone topsides color scheme, done in gel coat, and other custom graphics.
Power and Performance. In keeping with the company that built Scarab high-performance boats, Wellcraft engineers the 262 Fisherman, to handle plenty of horsepower: twin OBs up to 500 hp total. That's the highest power rating of any boat in this roundup. What kind of performance does 500 hp produce? Our test boat, with twin Mercury Verado 250s, hit 49.4 knots WOT, cruised most efficiently at 27.8 knots. Wellcraft will rig this boat with Evinrude, Mercury, or Yamaha outboards.
Boston Whaler's 270 Dauntless is maybe the most family-friendly boat of this sextet, with nine forward-facing seats, including a triple-wide bench at the transom and a twin helm seat with removable backrest; plenty of stowage, including a lockable vault for rods or other valuables in the console; a portable head with pump-out in the console, with an opening port for ventilation; lots of handholds around the gunwales both fore and aft, and more on the integrated, but optional, hardtop. She is designed for coastal and open bay work, primarily, but can be taken offshore if weather permits.
We consider a T-top a “must-have” attribute of any center console, so in this case we would want the optional fiberglass, even though it adds $9,000 to the price. Further, it adds great utility to the boat with cockpit lights, PFD stowage, rod holders, and molded-in bases for outriggers, for hardcore fisherfolk.
Power and Performance. Save more than twice the cost of the hardtop by choosing standard power, a single 300-hp Mercury Verado DTS, over the twin 200 Verados (a $20,000 upgrade) on our test boat. The twin 200s drove our test boat to 37.3 knots wide-open, with best cruise in the low-20-knot range. Boston Whaler tests, published on their website, claim the 270 Dauntless with twin 200s hit almost 44 knots WOT, but with the same best-cruise speed. (Estimated test weights were about the same for their test boat and ours.) A single 300 Verado will push the 270 Dauntless to 38.7 knots, according to BW, with best cruise in the mid-20-knot range.
Why the discrepancy? Boat testing isn't an exact science, and the results can vary from test to test, even with the same boat, due to varying circumstances. But forgetting top speed, both our test and BW's test show the 270 Dauntless can cruise most efficiently at the same speed with the less expensive single 300 as with the twin 200s. We'd choose the lone 300 Verado, use the $20,000 we saved to buy options.
“Swim Patio.” One option we'd certainly buy is the "swim patio" built into the hull on the port side. It's a drop-down door sturdy enough to serve as a swim platform, and it's safely away from the outboard. (There's a conventional molded-in swim platform aft, with a ladder.) An ignition lock-out prevents the engine from starting with the patio open; there's an override for emergencies, but an alarm will sound until the door is closed. We'd like to see this swim-platform arrangement on more outboard-powered boats. It keeps kicking feet well clear of sharp props.
“Level Flotation.” The Boston Whaler 270 Dauntless is the only boat among the six here which has “level flotation” as described by ABYC standards and the USCG. That means if the boat is swamped, it will float level. Most center consoles have “basic flotation” which means that if swamped, some part of the boat will be above the water – usually the bow because the engine weighs the stern down.
The Mako 284 CC has withstood the test of time to be recognized as one of the most able offshore center consoles in her size range. Like other models in the Mako line, the builder has done a significant job of upgrading the 284 so that she can go toe-to-toe with other boats in the offshore category.
Warranty. Mako’s warranty is noteworthy because it includes a limited lifetime structural warranty, five-year stem-to-stern coverage, which is quite unusual, and three-year gel coat coverage. The warranty is also transferrable to a second owner.
Construction. The Mako 284’s build is 100% composite and she has a one-piece, foam-injected stringer system. Her windshield is tempered safety glass, and the inside of the console is gel coated. The boat’s wiring is tinned with submersible connectors. All below water thru-hulls have Marelon corrosion-free seacocks. The 228-gallon (863 L) fuel tank is aluminum with four baffles.
Major standard features include her fiberglass hardtop, a leaning post with integral storage, and a bait prep station with sink and cutting board. She has a 21-degree deadrise at the transom. Perhaps most noteworthy is her 9’10” (2.99 m) beam, which is the widest among the boats we are comparing in this report. There is 6’ (1.83 m) of headroom in the console.
Fishing Features include a 50-gallon (189 L) aerated, anti-slosh livewell, a 470-quart (445 L) in-deck storage compartment forward with a drain, and port and starboard 290-quart (274 L) fish boxes in the aft cockpit deck. The boat comes with six gunwale-mounted rod holders and six in-gunwale rod racks. The hardtop also has five more rod holders and pads to mount spreaders.
We like the fact that the company says that all boats are water-tested for leaks, including the integrity of the plumbing.
Price: Equipped with 200 XL Mercury Verado outboards -- $102,995, excluding a trailer.
As always, don’t hesitate to drop BoatTEST.com a note if you have a question about any of the boats in this comparison.