Wellcraft 221 Fisherman
Robalo 206 Cayman
Mako 21 LTS
Grady-White 191 Coastal Explorer
This spring, BoatTEST captains scrubbed two tests because they felt the boats were too dangerous to operate at high speed -- they were both bay/flats boats. We don’t publish reviews of boats we think are unsafe. Because these boats are relatively simple and easy to build, there are many garage builders pumping them out at low prices. Trouble is, these small-time builders largely are not building to ABYC standards, and in some cases, basic common-sense safety aspects are omitted.
We are comparing four bay boats that do pass our test. And all of them are built by companies that have the infrastructure to design, engineer, and build safe boats. For this comparison, we're looking at bay boats from 19' to 22' (5.79 m to 6.71 m) -- four easy-to-trailer, fish-oriented models designed for relatively sheltered coastal waters.
All of these bay boats are targeted toward fishermen. Each can pull double-duty as a family boat when it's time to take the kids for a boat ride, and their shallow draft makes them ideal for beaching, but for full-time day cruising there are more appropriate boats -- similar-sized bowriders, for example, which have more secure seating and added creature comforts. But bowriders aren't so good for serious fishing.
Measuring between 19'4" and 22'4" LOA, beams from 8'0" to 8'6", these boats are large enough for a crew of four adults, but small and light enough to be towed by a midsized SUV or pickup. They don't require massive engines, so aren't killers when it comes to fuel bills. All have between 14 and 16 degrees of deadrise, enough to be comfortable racing home in a light bay chop, but less than is optimal for high-speed open-water operation.
We'd be happy with any one of these four bay boats. Read the intros and specs for each one, then jump to our Captains Reports for complete information.
Don't hesitate to contact us at BoatTEST.com if you have questions…
The Wellcraft 221 Fisherman is, as her name suggests, targeted squarely at anglers. Casting platforms fore and aft occupy about half of her cockpit area -- fine for fishermen, but not so good for families unless the optional Family optional package is added. But that's why Wellcraft calls her a Fisherman: The intended use is clear, and for anglers, especially flats fishermen, the layout is fine.
The standard helm layout has a leaning post (sport seats are optional), and there's a fold-down bench at the transom. There's the expected assortment of fishboxes, livewells and under-seat stowage, and plenty of rod holders in the gunwales and around the console.
At 8'6" beam, the 221 Fisherman is the widest boat in this foursome, which allows a console with room for an optional Porta-Potti. Fisherman embarking on a day-long angling adventure will find this convenient, as will families heading off for an afternoon at the beach.
Wellcraft offers two option packages: The Family package adds the portable head in the console and backrests for more comfortable seating in the bow; the Tournament package has an upgraded leaning post, with a backrest, and fancy graphics. There's a complete selection of individual options, too. Power is from a single outboard up to 250-hp.
The Robalo 206 Cayman has an "extended V-plane" hull that carries the running bottom aft of the structural transom. This adds stability and makes for quicker planing. Robalo reinforces the keel with Kevlar, a construction detail more often found on larger, more expensive boats.
This is also a fishing boat. She has two insulated livewell/fishboxes aft, and a third livewell forward. There are casting decks fore and aft, but they don't take up as much of the cockpit as the decks on the Wellcraft. The aft deck hides two fold-open jumpseats, more secure than a bench seat.
During our sea trial, the 206 Cayman performed well with a 150-hp Yamaha outboard, an engine that's in the middle of the power range for the boat. (Max is 200 hp.) Top speed was 39.4 kts on a hot, humid day; we'd expect 40+ in cooler weather. Cruise was 21.4 kts. Our captain called the 206 Cayman's performance "exhilarating" in the choppy conditions on test day, a dry ride with no pounding running into the waves, straight tracking without stuffing the bow when running down-sea.
Mako's 21 LTS rides on her builder's Rapid Planing System hull, designed for fast hole shots and agile handling. It's similar to the bottom used by Mako's sister company, Nitro, for their bass boats. Our test captain reported that the boat performed well, making hard turns at speed without sideslipping, and handling wakes and chop without pounding. Test power was a 200-hp Mercury OptiMax OB, which turned in a top speed of 44.1 kts., best cruise of 27.1. Max power is a 225 OptiMax or Mercury Verado, but we think 200 horses are plenty.
The 21 LTS has a large forward casting platform; our captain measured it to be one of the largest in this boat's class. There's a full-beam platform aft, too. Both platforms have stowage underneath; a starboard locker forward can be fitted with horizontal rod racks. The 21 LTS comes standard with the expected array of fishing gear, but serious anglers will want to add some options, and Mako includes enough to satisfy almost any fisherman, including Power Pole anchors and a selection of trolling motors.
Missing from the options list is a Bimini top -- instead, there's a canvas T-top, a $3,995 option.
We'd like something a bit less pricey that we could set up for family outings, and fold up for towing.
The Grady-White 191 CE is one of two boats in that company's Coastal Explorer line; she's also the most family-friendly boat in this comparison -- or at least she can be, with the addition of some options. The full-beam casting platform aft becomes port and starboard jump seats by snapping-on the cushions (standard), and will be even more comfortable with the optional backrests. Shift the backrests forward, and the bow platform becomes port and starboard forward-facing lounges. Molded steps P&S make it easy to access the platform, and low-profile bow rails provide sturdy handholds once there.
Buy two sets of backrests and the 191 CE becomes a bona fide family day cruiser, with seats fore and aft. (For fishing expeditions, leave the backrests and the cushions in the truck.) An optional high/low table forward of the console doubles as a filler, turning the casting platform into a sun lounge. (The filler is available without the table option; both come with cushions.)
Also optional are livewells, something Grady watchers will find curious: The company has made its bones selling fully-equipped fishboats, yet here's a Grady-White without any as standard equipment. They are available, forward or aft or both, as options. Both a Bimini top and a soft T-top are options, the T-top fitted with spreader lights, rod holders and flats for antennas. Unlike the other boats in this comparison, the 191 CE does not come with a trailer, and Grady-White doesn't offer one as an option. Power options are 150- or 200-hp Yamaha four-stroke outboards; we haven't tested the 191 CE, but based on experience with similar boats, we think the 150 OB would be sufficient.
Don't hesitate to drop BoatTEST.com a note if you have a comment or a question about any of these boats.
So, which of these four boats do we recommend? All of them are good examples of their class. For flats fishing, we like the Wellcraft's spacious casting platforms and optional Porta-Potti, making day-long expeditions more comfortable. If we lived in the Keys or fished Bahamian shallows, we'd buy the Mako, fit her with Power Pole anchors and cast for bonefish -- but there's no place for a head.
The Robalo has a bit more cockpit room, and her choppy-water handling was impressive; she's more of a family boat -- but Gradys are near the top of the price range, and Robalos are in the middle.
Your mileage could vary with any of these boats. Don't hesitate to drop BoatTEST.com a note if you have a comment or a question about any of these boats.