Three of these four boats are so similar in size, layout, performance and standard equipment that choosing the best one is a fool's game: Any of them will do. So price and details of design and execution can be the deciding factors. And the fourth boat, a couple of feet smaller, is right in the mix, too, when her cost advantage is considered.
The Robalo R247, at 24' LOA, looks smaller than both the Grady-White Freedom 235 (25'7") and the Boston Whaler 230 Vantage (24'7.5") -- but both the latter two boats have swim platforms that extend a couple of feet aft of the true transom, while the Robalo does not. (The 21' LOA Wellcraft 220 Sportsman doesn't have a platform.) Without the platforms, the Grady-White Freedom 235 measures 23'7", the Boston Whaler 230 Vantage, 23'2", so the three boats are within less than a foot of each other in usable length -- other than for swimming and water sports, when the platforms become worth consideration.
All the boats have an 8’6” beam except the Robalo which has a 8’9” beam. She also has the deepest deadrise at the transom at 22-degrees, and has the greatest fuel capacity at 135 gallons.
When comparing boats, consider the use of cockpit space. Convertible lounge seats and wet bars take up space that boats in this size range can't afford to lose, especially if buyers want them to double as fishing boats. For some folks, boats with standard pedestal seats and fold-up benches are the way to go; others can upgrade to fancier digs.
For more about these four excellent dual consoles, check out our Captain's Reports, and contact us at BoatTEST.com with your comments and questions.
The Boston Whaler 230 Vantage is a stylish dual console built to the quality level we expect from Boston Whaler. She comes standard with the necessities, and buyers choose accessories to create the boat they want. There's a fishing package for anglers, a watersports package for active skiers and boarders, and many individual options as well. Our test captain found her to have an excellent ride and handling, too.
The forward cockpit is appointed for socializing, with U-shaped seating that'll hold five. Padded seat backs/bolsters are standard, and an optional table will turn the cockpit into an alfresco dining area. (The table can also mount in the aft cockpit.) The bow cleats aren't pop-ups, but are mounted in molded recesses that keep them from snagging clothes or toes. An anchor locker is standard, with anchor stowage in a hawsepipe through the stem; a windlass and beach boarding ladder are optional, and fit in the same locker.
The helmsman sits on an adjustable pedestal seat with bolster; our test captain said it was one of the best he'd seen in this class of boat. The companion bench seat converts to aft-facing seating, and to a lounge. Behind the helm seat, a cockpit utility center with cutting board, sink and cooler can serve for making lunch or prepping bait. A fold-up bench seat across the transom completes the seating arrangement.
Performance? Boston Whaler rigs the 230 Vantage with a single 225-hp Mercury Verado four-stroke outboard with power steering, with optional power up to a 350-hp Verado. Our test boat carried a 300 Verado, which pushed her to 37.4 kts. wide-open, cruised most efficiently at 23.1 kts. and 4000 rpm. Our test captain found the boat most comfortable at 5000 rpm, and 32.4 kts., albeit at a loss of 50 n.m. of cruising range. But cruising range isn't that important in a boat like the 230 Vantage, which rarely roams very far from a fuel dock.
Grady-White's Freedom 235 is a well-appointed family boat, one that's also fine for casual fishing, and with plenty of options to choose from. Grady-White pioneered the concept of the dual console in the late 1970s and has eleven models in its line-up.
To some degree the Freedom 235 goes against company policy: She isn't fully fitted out, as standard, for serious fishing, as most Gradys are. The live well is optional, for example; it replaces a 62-qt insulated box ideal for cooling drinks. There are two insulated fishboxes, one forward, one aft, that can also serve as overboard-draining coolers. Four rod holders live in the gunwales, and there are horizontal racks to hold six rigs.
Check out the seating: The forward cockpit is set up with benches port and starboard with padded backrests and coaming bolsters all round. A filler cushion and table are optional. No surprises here. Aft, there are more choices. The standard arrangement is no-frills pedestal chairs for helm and companion, and a folding bench seat aft. Either or both chairs can be upgraded to fancier adjustable models, with or without bolsters.
The companion pedestal seat can be replaced by either one of two lounge seats; one includes an aft-facing bench, the other a full-length sun lounge that can face forward or aft. Cool -- but they take up valuable cockpit real estate for anglers, so this boat has an emphasis on entertaining and having lots of friends aboard.
Optional Upgrades. Families who take fishing seriously can rig the Freedom 235 accordingly. A hardtop with spreader and running lights, rod holders, a radar flat and outrigger plates is optional, as are cockpit bolsters, outriggers and the aforementioned live well. A cockpit wet bar can serve as a bait-prep station, but it also takes up space; we'd rig our baits on the transom and gain fishing room in the cockpit (and save some money, too).
Power is a single 250- or 300-hp Yamaha four-stroke outboard. Our test showed a top speed of 38.7 kts with the 300, best cruise around 26 kts. Our test captain reported excellent handling.
Of the four boats, the G-W Freedom 235 has the saltiest look because of her Rybovich sheer which breaks amidships near the console. And, we like her rounded wind shield.
The Robalo R247 is the only boat in this comparison with the option of twin outboard power, an important factor to some buyers. Twin engines offer both redundancy and better maneuverability at low speed, but at higher cost. The Robalo R247 is rated for 400 hp max (the builder offers twin 200-hp outboards with mechanical or digital controls), but the least-expensive choice is a single 300. According to the Robalo website, the boat with the single 300 lists for $79,995; twin Yamaha 150s add almost $4,000, and twin Yamaha digital 200s $15,000, to the bottom line.
Our test boat had none of the above. Instead, she carried a pair of Evinrude 150 H.O. E-TEC G2s, engines that actually put out about 10% more power over their nominal 150-hp rating. At wide-open throttle, the Robalo R247 made 39.2 kts., with a best-cruise of 23.3 kts. at 3500 rpm, and a range at that speed of 283 n.m. But we'd run faster, somewhere around 30 knots: The two-stroke E-TECs are born to run, and not much thirstier at 4500 rpm than at 3500, so why not let them? One buys a boat to have fun, not to plotz around like an old fogy.
Options. Engines aside, the Robalo R247 has some interesting options. First, the forward cockpit, set up in typical bowrider fashion, can convert by means of a filler not only to a sprawl-worthy sun lounge, but also to a casting platform, by removing the cushions. Serious fishermen will probably choose a different boat than the R247, but for occasional use this feature is fine. And there are rod racks under the gunwales P&S that can hold four rods each -- or the boathook and deck brush. An under-sole locker, 9'6" long, can hold more rods, or skis or wakeboards.
Options. The main cockpit has seating options; standard are a bucket helm and companion. One variation is a doublewide companion bench that rotates to face inboard or aft as well as forward. It faces the door to the lockable head compartment, which is bare bones as standard, with a portable toilet, but can be upgraded with a teak-and-holly sole, an electric toilet and a sink. A wet bar aft of helm seat is also optional, part of the entertainment center; it also includes an upgraded helm seat.
She has the deepest deadrise in our group at 22-degrees at the transom. At 135 gallons of fuel capacity, she has the greatest in our group, 20 gallons more than the next largest capacity boat.
Her price-point is in the middle range.
Wellcraft's 220 Sportsman is the smallest boat in this comparison, but thanks to minimal seating has a large, workable cockpit, fine for family fishing or day cruising. Rather than an aft bench, there are jump seats on either side of the motor, and an aft-facing single seat behind the helm bucket. The standard companion seat is also a bucket, but can be upgraded with traditional back-to-back seats that open into a sun lounge. The forward cockpit has the usual amenities, scaled-down to fit the boat's 21'0" LOA.
There is room for a head in the port console, necessarily minimal given the boat's length. The boat comes with a portable toilet, but dockside pump-out is an option. The starboard console is for stowage, something boats this size always need more of: PFDs, safety gear, fenders and docklines, spare jackets, etc., take up a lot of room.
The Basics. Wellcraft sells the 220 Sportsman with basic equipment compared to other boats in this quartet, but includes a Bimini top, anchor roller, stainless steel bow rails and hydraulic steering. Trim tabs are optional. A ski pylon is also optional, but there's no integral swim platform -- only a bolt-on step on the port side, with a ladder. (This is the only boat in this group without a platform.)
A nice assortment of fishing gear is standard, though, including a live well, in-sole fishboxes that drain overboard (one with a macerator), a tackle locker and rod racks. Four gunwale-mount rod holders are standard, too.
Cleats are stainless pull-ups that won't snag lines. Cockpit bolsters can be added, a plus even for non-anglers: Bouncing off a fiberglass gunwale in choppy water can be a bruising experience.
Power choices are 200- or 250-hp outboards from Evinrude, Mercury or Yamaha. We haven't tested the 220 Sportsman, but we did test Wellcraft's very similar 210 Sportsman a couple of years ago. The design and specs of the two boats are almost identical, so the performance should be, too. The 210 Sportsman, with a 200-hp Mercury Optimax XL, managed 39.4 kts. wide open, cruised efficiently at around 30 kts., a good speed for a boat this size, and probably a little too fast for choppy water. Based on these numbers, we think the boat will be fine with a 200-hp outboard; only true speed demons need more -- the extra 50 horses won't add many knots.
Seats. She is the only boat of the four that has traditional jump seats, port and starboard of the outboard well. These can be more comfortable because bench seats are shared. On the other hand, bench seats have higher back rests, and the ones on the Wellcraft are minimal.
Three of the four boats are very similar in size; the fourth, the Wellcraft 220 Sportsman, is smallest, most Spartan, but also most affordable, and is a good all-round boat for day cruising and fishing. We also like the Boston Whaler's large swim platform, the Grady-White's uncluttered cockpit (with standard seating), and the Robalo's 3” (7.6 cm) of extra beam.
As always, don’t hesitate to drop BoatTEST.com a note if you have a question about any of these boats.