We Compare Four 26'-31' Dual Consoles: Which One is Best? - 03/26/2018
Robalo R317
Robalo R317
Grady-White Freedom 285
Grady-White Freedom 285
Sailfish 275DC
Sailfish 275DC
World Cat 295 DC
World Cat 295 DC

Dual consoles are displacing center consoles as the "go-to" boats for all but true scales-in-their-veins fishing fanatics. Why? Dual consoles have more creature comforts: Better, more comfortable seating; the protection of a full windshield from wind and spray; they can be buttoned up with cruising canvas for rain protection; they are better suited for entertaining and watersports; they have more stowage space; and, in larger models (including the boats in this comparison), there is room for an enclosed head.

THE COMPARISON STARTS HERE

Dual consoles are the perfect boats for most people not looking to cruise overnight, or to be able to work fish around the boat. Most DCs ride on the same seaworthy hulls as their center-console cousins, so have the same open-water ability for offshore excursions in search of our finny friends.

Buying a DC rather than a center console doesn't take fishing off the table -- in fact, DCs are a lot more comfortable on the ride out and back. But they're also fine for day cruising along the shore, much more utile than a center console. Here are a couple of DC advantages:

Where to Put It?

Dual consoles have valuable stowage space in one console, the one not used for a head. (Even if the second console has rudimentary sleeping accommodations, the berth provides stowage space.) Where else to keep PFDs, flares, and other safety gear; duffle bags with spare jackets and sweaters; fenders and docklines; and cleaning supplies?

These things used to stow under the foredeck, until every boat became a bowrider. Now that builders put seating in the bow instead of a cuddy, finding space for necessary gear is problematic, and that problem is solved by the dual console.

To Fish, or Not to Fish?

Everyone likes to drop a hook now and then, and most builders equip their dual consoles with more fishing gear than most casual anglers really need. Non-anglers might be put off by this, but shouldn't be. Most fishing gear can be used for other things: Insulated fishboxes work great as self-draining iceboxes, or for stowage; bait-prep stations are good for making sandwiches (DC builders often call them "cockpit galleys"); tackle drawers hold nuts, bolts, screws, and other small odds and ends; livewells will chill a bottle of wine in no time; horizontal rod racks hold the boathook and deck brush.

In short, don't hate a DC because she has fishing gear. For more about these boats, and about four of them in particular, read on. Check out our Captain's Reports, and contact us at BoatTEST.com with your comments and questions.

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The Robalo R317

Robalo R317

The Robalo R317 is the biggest boat in her builder's lineup. She's 31' (9.45 m) LOA, 10'6" (3.20 m) beam, with a walkaround swim platform. An aft-facing bench seat at the transom will be a popular perch for hanging out at anchor. Just forward, there's a fold-out sun pad usable when the boat's underway, and a pair of L-shaped cockpit lounges, one with a table.

Helm and companion seats are benches, roomier than pedestal buckets, but not roomy enough for two adults, unless they're thin.

We like these better than typical pedestal seats which can get wobbly after a season or so. The forward cockpit allows a person to sit facing forward with their feet on the deck, rather than having legs and feet forward in chaise style. A filler cushion can be placed here for sitting chaise style if desired.

A 25-gallon livewell can double as a cooler (there's also a removable cooler), and a 50-gallon fishbox lies under the aft seats.

A door in the port side can be used to haul a fish aboard, and as easy access from a floating dock. A fiberglass hardtop with LED lights, rod holders, and stowage is standard; it can be fitted with a retractable sunshade.

Beam Pays Off. The R317's beam is the widest in this comparison by at least a foot -- and beam equals living space in boats, more so than length. The result is a roomy, comfortable cockpit that should satisfy family members and all but the most hard-core anglers, too. There is a head in the starboard console, accessed from the forward cockpit, and a small cabin to port, big enough for kids to nap. There's secure rod stowage here, too.

Performance? Our captain tested the R317 with twin 300-hp Yamaha four-stroke outboards, and reported a top speed of 45 knots. At 30 knots cruise, the Robalo was efficient, with a fuel burn of 1.8 nmpg., or 416 nm of range: Plenty for offshore fishing, or for minimizing trips to the fuel dock when cruising with the family.

Pros:

  • 10'6" (3.20 m) beam means lots of cockpit space

  • Large, walk-around swim platform

  • Versatile cockpit seating, and lots of it

  • Side access door

  • Head compartment with sink and rod stowage

  • Hardtop is standard

  • Excellent fuel economy at cruise

Cons:

  • Not as good a fishing boat as a dedicated center console; upholstery will be vulnerable.

  • Helm and companion bench seats not quite wide enough for two chunky adults, in our opinion, but portly men will appreciate them.

  • Added beam means more material in the boat and added weight which makes the boat harder to push and burns more fuel than narrower, lighter boats.

Robalo R317

Robalo R317 Interior
Robalo R317 Interior
  • LOA: 31'0" (9.45 m)
  • Beam: 10'6" (3.20 m)
  • Draft: 21" (.53 m)
  • Displacement: 9,050 lbs. (4,105 kg)
  • Deadrise at Transom: 21-degrees
  • Fuel Capacity: 260 gal. (984 L)
  • Maximum Power: OBs, 600-hp total


Grady White's Freedom 285

Grady White Freedom 285

Grady-White's Freedom 285 is one of 11 models in the builder's dual-console Freedom line. There's a Grady-White Freedom positioned about every couple of feet between the smallest model, the 19'2" (5.84 m) Freedom 192, and the largest, the 36'7" (11.2 m) Freedom 375. We think the 28' (8.53 m) LOA Freedom 285 lives in just the right place in this line: She's big enough to include all the benefits of the dual-console design -- a head compartment; both ample seating and open space for fishing; a fully functional cockpit galley; and plenty of stowage space -- but small enough to be easy to handled around the marina, and not overly demanding in maintenance and operating costs.

Hull Design. Grady-White builds the Freedom 285 on the same C. Raymond Hunt-designed SeaV2 hull that's been proven over many years and many sea miles, and to the same rugged standards as their "serious" fishboats. If the skipper of the Freedom 285 decides he'd like to head offshore, the boat is capable of taking him there. Grady equips the Freedom 285 with all the necessities: a livewell, a couple of insulated fishboxes, under-gunwale rod racks, tackle drawers, cockpit bolsters, and toe rails for added security when wrestling with a fish.

When the family's aboard, or the kids want to waterski, the Freedom 285 can do that, too; The ski pylon is optional, but an extendable lounge built into the companion helm seat, a wide bench seat aft and face-to-face benches in the forward cockpit are all standard. The boat comes with a cockpit wet bar, fine for bait prep or laying out sandwiches, but serious foodies will want the optional refrigerator, and maybe the 1300W electric grill, too.

The optional grill includes an inverter, but also requires adding optional shore power and battery charger, so it's a major addition to the base boat. On the other hand, it turns the Freedom 285 into a capable day cruiser.

Pros:

  • Hardtop is standard

  • Anchor windlass is standard

  • SeaV2 hull is proven offshore design

  • Hydraulic trim tabs, steering are standard

  • Head compartment has a teak-and-holly sole

  • Deck hardware, through-hulls are stainless steel

Cons:

  • Shore power/charger system is optional

  • No berth in starboard console

  • Grill, refrigerator optional in cockpit galley

  • Deadrise at the transom is 19-degrees, a trade-off between performance and stability vs. ride in sloppy conditions at speed.

Grady-White Freedom 285

Grady-White Freedom 285 Interior
Grady-White Freedom 285 Interior
  • LOA: 28'0" (8.53 m)
  • Beam: 9'6" (2.89 m)
  • Draft: 20" (.51 m)
  • Displacement: 5,980 lbs. (2,713 kg) w/o engines
  • Deadrise at the Transom: 19-degrees
  • Fuel Capacity: 201 gal. (761 l)
  • Maximum Power: OBs, 600-hp total


The Sailfish 275DC

Sailfish 275DC

The Sailfish 275DC isn't simply a center console fishboat recast as a dual console family boat, with just a few extra seat cushions and cup holders added for show. She's designed specifically for fish/family crossover use. We'd say she was new from the keel up, but that's not so: She rides on Sailfish's variable degree stepped (VDS) hull, the design the company uses on all its boats. The 275DC's hull is strengthened with Kevlar in critical areas, with carbon-fiber reinforcement to stiffen the deck, while keeping it light and strong.

High Freeboard. When our captain tested the 275DC, he noted the boat's high freeboard, 47" (1.19 m) from waterline to gunwale forward, 36" (.91 m) aft. That's higher than most other boats in this class, and has two advantages. First, more freeboard, combined with lots of bow flare, keeps the boat dryer -- spray is deflected aside rather than blowing into the cockpit. Second, higher gunwales make the cockpit deeper, which makes it safer for kids and adults, too, in sloppy conditions.

The 275DC's cockpit measures 30" (.76 m) from sole to gunwales; 30" is nearly hip-level for a full-sized man.

Although she's the smallest boat in this comparison, the 275DC is big for her size: She has 9' (3.74 m) of beam, 6" (.15 m) more than is usual in 26' (7.96 m) hulls. That means more cockpit area, an advantage Sailfish makes the most of by relying on fold-down benches at the transom and along the port side, rather than fixed seats. Fixed seats take up room all the time; folding seats stay out of the way when not needed. Folks who want to fish their 275DC will appreciate this.

Sailfish includes a full complement of fishing gear as standard, including under-gunwale rod racks, a baitwell, three large insulated fish boxes, and plenty of rod holders. An in-sole ski locker can be optioned for rod stowage, too. There is a head compartment in the portside console (but the toilet is optional), with stowage to starboard.

Performance? Our test showed a top end with twin 150-hp Mercury FourStrokes of 39.8 kts. wide-open, and best cruise of 23.5 knots, with a range of 389.5 nm at that speed. That's plenty for offshore expeditions -- something we predict many buyers of the 275DC will undertake often. Although designed as a family/fish crossover, she's still got Sailfish DNA in her fiberglass.

Pros:

  • Performs well with twin 150 OBs

  • High freeboard keeps the boat dry, makes the cockpit deeper and safer

  • Ski locker under cockpit can hold rods, too

  • Taller windshield than most boats in class

  • Fold-down bench seats are ideal for entertaining

  • Four-step swim ladder

Cons:

  • Marine toilet, or Porta-Potti, is optional

  • Hardtop or radar arch with canvas are optional

  • Many "family friendly" features are optional

  • Max horsepower is 400

Sailfish 275DC

Sailfish 275 DC Interior
Sailfish 275 DC Interior
  • LOA: 26'2" (7.98 m)
  • Beam: 9'0'' (2.74 m)
  • Draft: 18" (.46 m)
  • Displacement: 7,040 lbs. (3,193 kg)
  • Deadrise at Transom: 22 - 24 degrees
  • Fuel Capacity: 188 gal. (712 L)
  • Maximum Power: OBs, 400-hp total


World Cat's 295 DC

World Cat 295 DC

World Cat's 295 DC rides on two hulls and a tube of compressed air, a combination that makes for a smooth ride in choppy waters. What's that mean? World Cat's VectorFlo design utilizes not just the twin fiberglass hulls, but also the space between them to cushion the ride. The boat's narrow hulls slice through chop with a minimum of pounding, compared to a typical monohull.

All power cats are generally more stable than monohulls.

The 295 DC has seating for 12 people, six in the forward cockpit, and comes with almost everything as standard, including, among other items, a well-appointed head compartment; the usual fishing gear; a windlass with anchor and rode; and a functional fiberglass top with a radio box, overhead and spreader lights, and a six-rod rocket launcher.

One item that's missing is a cockpit galley; a basic version is standard on the other boats in this comparison. (Although turning it into a bona fide galley takes options on all the boats.) Instead, World Cat lists an Entertainment Package on the short options list for the 295 DC; the package includes a drawer-style refrigerator, stainless steel sink, stowage areas and a propane grill -- the other boats have electric grills. We like propane, since it requires no electricity and no inverter. A tank of propane lasts a long time. Standard power is a pair of 300-hp Yamaha outboards.

Pros:

  • Head compartment has lockable stowage for six rods

  • Boarding gate at transom has sturdy handrails

  • Sharp-entry VectorFlo hulls minimize pounding in choppy water

  • Wide-beam forward cockpit for lots of seating

  • Anchor windlass, anchor, and rode are standard

  • Dual fuel systems for added dependability

  • Most stable boat in this size range

Cons:

  • Cockpit galley is optional, but has propane grill, rather than electric -- a plus, in our opinion

  • All cats are weight sensitive

World Cat 295DC

World Cat 295DC Interior
World Cat 295DC Interior
  • LOA: 29'1" (8.87 m)
  • Beam: 9'6" (2.90 m)
  • Draft: 15" (.38 m)
  • Displacement: 8,900 lbs. (4,037 kg) w/max hp
  • Deadrise at Transom: N/A
  • Fuel Capacity: 233 gal. (882 L)
  • Maximum Power: OBs, 600 hp total

Conclusion

Choosing one of these four boats over the others is a subjective decision. For us, and we think for most buyers, it would boil down to budget. All four are good boats, and can take care of themselves well offshore. Major considerations for all four boats:

*The Robalo R317 has a wide beam, lots of seating, a large swim platform, the side access door, and napping cabin for kids -- all pluses.

*The Sailfish 275 DC has as standard two fold-up seats in the cockpit and a third is optional; plus , high gunwales.

*The Grady-White 285 Freedom is the most traditional-looking boat of the four with its Rybovich sheer line; and, she is packed with equipment that are optional on many boats.

*The World Cat 295 DC has more deck area, is the most stable and best riding of the four, and has dual fuel systems.

As always, don’t hesitate to drop BoatTEST.com a note if you have a question.

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