Bow Riders or Center Consoles?

I generally enjoy going to boat shows. Well, other than the high entry fees, the overpriced parking, the unbelievably overpriced food, taking my shoes off to walk on the deck of a center console, needing an appointment to see a boat (I did pay to get in!) . . . actually, why do I go to boat shows? With all of that to look forward to, my wife and I went to a couple shows this year to wander around and look at boats we can't afford. I actually did have a reason for going. I had been working on a couple of designs for new center consoles, one for a production builder and another as a stock plan. So I paid particular attention to the smaller center consoles on display. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement!

The center console design came about in the 1960's as a way to maximize fishing space and allow fishing all the way around the boat. Over the last 10-15 years the center console has been transformed into a bow rider that you can fish from once in a while. First we put heads under the consoles. Now don't get me wrong, I actually like this idea. I just wish the companies building these boats had a designer who actually knew how to design a console someone over 7 years old could get into! Usually a concept takes time to develop. Over the years, different people making similar products will refine the ideas until they really do start to work well. At that point, development tends to slow down as there is no longer any reason to put much effort into it. That hasn't happened with heads in consoles. The vast majority of them are completely useless and the sales people are either too clueless to realize it or are hoping you will buy the boat before trying to actually get in the head compartment.

Years ago I was on a boat from a major manufacturer who had come up with the brilliant idea of having the whole front of the console open up to make it easier to get in to the head. When the door was open, it looked huge and it was really easy to step down into. Then you tried to close the door . . . and realized you had to be sitting on the toilet as your knees would be up under the seat on the forward face of the console when the door was closed. So you sit down and then realize you had to pull your pants down before you closed the door. That should be interesting for the people on boats nearby! I always had that one in the back of my mind as the worse design ever and thought no one would be stupid enough to do that again. I was wrong! At the one show there was another major manufacturer who has done the same thing, well over a decade later! Same problems! The salesman didn't get it until I made him actually get into the console and try to close the door. How long will it take for the industry to stop foisting this useless stuff on their customers? Surely someone has tested it at the factory.

Then there are the molded in bracket/swim platforms with transom doors and live wells and bait wells and sinks. Don't forget the fold down bench seat back there as well. Nothing a 10' surf casting rod can't get around! All of these things conspire to actually make the boat worse to fish from, not better. Why on earth would someone want to devote three feet of space on a 21 foot sport fishing boat to all of this garbage? You're paying for a 21' boat with the deck space of an 18.

Casting platforms have given way to bow seating. Gotta have some place for the wife and kids to lounge out at the sandbar. In an effort to stimulate sales, my Kitty Hawk 23 design has bow seating, as does the stock plan for a new 21' center console I am trying to finish. I personally still prefer the old casting platform or even a flush deck up in the bow, like on the Finesse 27. But I know my tastes are not the same as everyone else. I think it would be much easier if you'd all see the light and start agreeing with me, but until that glorious day I guess I'll just have to try to find a good compromise. I can tolerate the bow seating, especially if it's easy for a builder to turn into a casting platform if he/she wants.

A friend who owns a boat company told me this is a response to boats costing so much and how it's a whole family decision when a guy wants a fishing boat. I fear for the masculinity of the male of our species. He now has to get permission from his wife to fish. I know that sounds awfully sexist and makes me out to be some kind of neanderthal. Believe me, I'm not ( . . . he writes without consulting his wife). It is just a lot simpler to design a sport fishing boat if its purpose is to actually be a sport fishing boat. A few cup holders are really nice, but 10 or 15? Will I get in trouble if I get fish guts on the fancy vinyl that matches the top? If I dare to put a fish in that fish box and it smells a little, will I ever hear the end of it?

So where does all this leave us? We now have center consoles where you can only effectively and easily fish off the two sides in the mid section of the boat. Is that any better than a bow rider or dual console? I think the growth of the bay boat is in large part a reaction to the feminization of our center consoles. These are more geared to the fisherman, although some of them are starting to sprout useless heads under the consoles and pop up seats. I don't know where the next stop on this merry-go-round is, but I'll try to keep designing boats for fishing so you can build your own when there are no more real fishing boats left to buy. You may end up divorced after you build it, but at least no one will confuse it with a bow rider!

Timm Smith
February 27, 2016