Center Console Boats: A Comprehensive Guide

A quick glance at the listings for center console boats on BoatTrader will make it crystal clear just how popular center consoles are. At any given time center consoles will likely be the number-one or the second most-listed boat type, and they’ll be found in every corner of the nation. To anyone who’s ever owned a center console this won’t come as a surprise. The design is ideal for many types of fishing boats, works well for family time spent on the water, and is flexible enough that a center console can also be used for activities like day-cruising, watersports, and other waterborne adventures.

center console boats
Center console boats are awesome for any number of boating activities. Photos via Nor-Tech Boats, Grady-White Boats, Nauset Marine, Inc, Jeanneau America.

Thanks to this tremendous popularity, however, there are virtually countless shapes, sizes, and types of center consoles out there. So, how will you know which one it’s the best pick for you and your family? This comprehensive guide to center console boats will help, as you consider these critical factors:

What are Center Console Boats?

At their core, center console boats are exactly what the name implies: they’re boats with the steering station located at a console centered or approximately centered amidships. This gives the crew the ability to move 360-degrees around the console, from the bow to the stern. Most center consoles, though not all, are designed with some level of fishing functionality, and the majority of the center consoles out there are powered with outboard engines. They come with all sorts of different hull designs ranging from deep-Vs to flat-bottom boats. And while size dictates just how much can be incorporated into the console itself, almost all models large enough will house a head compartment inside the console and sometimes even a full cabin.

drawing of center console
A key character trait of center console boats is being able to move, and thus fight fish, 360-degrees around the boat. Illustration via Quality Boats.

Unlike some fishing boats which are dedicated to a particular type or style of fishing, center consoles are generally quite adaptable and the same boat could be used to go fishing for bass and crappie on a lake one day, and fluke fishing on the bay or ocean the next. To that end most are built to be suitable for use in brackish or salt waters, and as a general rule of thumb they’re built to be a bit more rugged than some other types of pleasure boats. You’ll see both fiberglass and aluminum center consoles in small models, though most over the 22’ mark are constructed of fiberglass.

Different Types of Center Console Boats

While most center consoles are versatile in nature, many are certainly more inclined to one type of use or another and some are indeed quite dedicated. There are models designed specifically for fishing offshore, others designed for flats fishing, and yet others set up ideally for targeting specific species of fish. Then, there’s a completely different category of center console which eschews fishing rod holders and livewells in favor of features like outdoor grills and huge sunpads. The different types are virtually countless, but the bulk of the center console boats out there can be broken down into five main subcategories:

  • Inshore Saltwater Fishing Boats – These boats may range from 15 to 35 or so feet and are used for fishing in bays, tidal rivers, and when the weather is appropriate, areas relatively close to shore in the ocean. Some popular subcategories would include bay boats and flats boats.
  • Offshore Saltwater Fishing Boats – Larger center consoles in the 30- to 50-foot range are often dedicated oceanic fishing machines. They generally have huge fuel tanks and potent powerplants so they can cruise for very long ranges at high speeds.
  • Freshwater Fishing Boats – Although the center console design isn’t quite as universally accepted for fishing in freshwater as it is in salty environments, there are still many center consoles designed for the sport. Many relatively large Jon boats fall into this category, and there are even some center console pontoon boats designed for a mix of fishing, lounging, and watersports.
  • Center Console Yachts – When center consoles exceed 40 feet, they often tread into the territory of true yachts. These boats often have massive consoles with full cabins inside, including multiple berths or staterooms, enclosed heads with showers, and full galleys. See Biggest Center Console Boats in the World for a sampling.
  • Center Console Pleasure Boats – Some builders do create center consoles that have zero fishing accouterments, and are intended for day-cruising, watersports, and/or high performance. While there isn’t a huge number of options in this category, they certainly do stand apart from the average center console.
yacht console cabin
This view of the front half of the cabin inside the console of the Grady-White Canyon 456 shows just how luxurious a center console yacht can be. Photo by Grady-White Boats.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Center Console Boats

The main reason center consoles are considered by many to be the ultimate fishing boats is, as we mentioned earlier, the ability to fish 360-degrees around the boat. And their versatility and adaptability should also be clear by now. However, these are only a couple of the big advantages center consoles deliver. Another is the fact that they generally offer much more outdoor seating than a comparably sized boat with an enclosed bow cabin. And with separate seating areas in the bow and the stern, most center consoles offer at least two distinct social zones. On small models the presence of the console makes incorporating a head compartment into the boat much easier, and some boats as small as 18’ have fully enclosed, private heads inside.

console head compartment in robalo r180
Despite its small size, the Robalo R180 has a head compartment inside the console — an important feature to many angling families which generally isn’t available on other types of boats in this size range. Photo via Seattle Water Sports.

All boat designs incorporate trade-offs, and this is true of center consoles as well. So, what downsides should you be aware of? The number-one strike against this type of boat is that the captain and crew are generally exposed to the elements. While very large models certainly offer better weather protection, on the majority of the center consoles out there the crew will need to bundle up on chilly days, expect to catch some spray now and then, and will enjoy minimal protection from the rain. In the case of all types excepting center console yachts, the absence of a substantial cabin will also be considered a downside by many boaters. And in the case of dedicated fishing models, some people may miss the lack of luxury amenities like icemakers, wet bars, and sun loungers.

Center Console Accessories and Add-ons

The list of goodies and gadgets people add to their center consoles is limited only by the imagination. Most center console builders strive to include as many accessories as possible on the original boat, but as a boat owner uses his or her center console they’re likely to find certain things lacking. They may decide they want more onboard tackle stowage, a better stereo system, radar or other marine electronics, and on and on. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of such gear on the marketplace. Ranging from bow-mounted electric trolling motors to retracting cockpit sun shades, if you can dream of putting it on a center console, for the most part, you can purchase and install it.

trolling motor on a center console boat
Accessories like bow-mounted electric trolling motors are commonly added to many center consoles. Photo by Lenny Rudow.

Key Center Console Features

While adding accessories is always an option, having integrated or factory-installed features is generally considered best. And when it comes to center consoles the manufacturer has an excellent platform to work with. Their open nature provides plenty of options for incorporating accessories, and features like casting decks are easy to combine with perks like fold-away or convertible seating, stowage compartments, and livewells. While center console pleasure boats generally incorporate more of the amenities seen in cruising boats, the vast majority of all other center consoles will include:

  • Drink coolers and/or refrigerated boxes
  • Drink holders
  • Fishboxes
  • Fishing rod holders (lots and lots of rod holders)
  • Integrated seating
  • Leaning posts with cooler stowage, tackle stowage, and/or rocket launcher rod holders
  • LED courtesy lighting and navigational lights
  • Livewells
  • Raw water washdowns (and often freshwater systems as well)
  • Reboarding ladders
  • Under-gunwale racks for fishing rods, scrub brushes, gaffs, and boathooks
  • USB ports and 12-V outlets
livewell in a nautic star boat
Most center consoles have one or more integrated livewells for live bait fishing. Photo via Port Annapolis Marina.

In addition to these must-haves, some popular accessories that are commonly designed in-house and factory installed by the builder include T-tops, marine electronics systems, ski-tow bars or arches, and additional cushion packages to turn seating areas into sunpads. When ordering a new boat, remember that it’s advantageous to buy it equipped with as many accessories already installed as possible. Generally speaking, adding major items like these is best done by the builder since they’re so familiar with the boat, its dimensions, and how it’s been built.

Center Console Weight and Specifications

Since center consoles come in so many different shapes and sizes, naturally, they can have radically different weights and specifications. A little 15-footer may barely break 1,000 pounds, while a 45-foot center console yacht might weigh literally 25 times as much. The most important thing for any boat buyer to remember is that the boat’s weight and specifications may create limiting factors as for how it can be used. Most boaters who plan to trailer their center console, for example, will need to make sure the boat, motor, and trailer package falls within their tow vehicle’s capacity ratings. Specifications like beam and length can dictate whether or not a boat will fit in a particular slip, and how much you may have to pay for it. And draft is another critical specification that can limit the places you can visit, or the fishing spots you can access.

fishing in the shallows
Specifications like a boat’s draft can determine where you can and can’t fish, which is why center consoles like bay boats and flats boats are designed to get into shallow waters. Photo by Lenny Rudow.

Center Console Costs

While it’s true there’s a center console for every budget, it’s just as true that budgetary constraints will dictate what sort of center console you can get. Just how wide is this range? As we prepared this post the lowest price used center consoles listed on BoatTrader were mostly around the $5,000 mark, for models over 20 years old in the 15’ to 20’ size range. The lowest price new center consoles were at or just above $20,000 ranging from 15’ to 17’. At the other end of the spectrum, a new HCB 65 with six 600-hp Mercury Verado V-12 outboards, billed as the largest, fastest center console in the world, boasted a price tag of $5.49 million.

most expensive center console and least expensive center console
There’s quite a difference between the most expensive and least expensive new center console boats listed on BoatTrader. Photos via SLT Collection and Mako Marine.

Which center console boats enjoy a popularity that stands out even in this uber-popular crowd? The answer to this question is actually a moving target, as different makes and models become more or less popular over time. That said, 10 center console builders who enjoy top-tier popularity include:

Boston Whaler Boats

boston whaler 370 outrage
This Boston Whaler 370 is just one of this company’s many center console offerings. Photo via Taylor Marine Center.

Boston Whaler has enjoyed a rather legendary status since founder Dick Fisher sat calmly in a boat as it was sawed in half, then remained afloat. After proving the boat’s “unsinkable” claim, the company’s fiberglass-foam-fiberglass sandwich construction has given boaters a safety margin and peace of mind that simply can’t be beat. Today, Boston Whaler builds over a dozen center console models ranging from 13 to 42 feet. Their larger Outrage models in particular are well known for strong performance, luxury touches, and innovative designs.

See Boston Whaler center console boats for sale on BoatTrader.

Carolina Skiff

carolina skiff 26
Easy to run and easy to maintain, Carolina Skiffs enjoy tremendous popularity. Photo via Boaters World.

Those in search of a cost effective, simple, straightforward center console that provides maximum utility and minimal maintenance requirements will undoubtedly come across Carolina Skiffs. Offered in 16’ to 26’ models, Carolina Skiffs are known for being no-nonsense boats that provide excellent stability and maximum deck space for the LOA. They’re an ideal pick for people who want a no-frills boat that can be used for just about any activity on the water.

See Carolina Skiff center console boats for sale on BoatTrader.

Cobia

cobia 301 cc
This 301 CC sits in the middle of Cobia’s lineup. Photo by Cobia Boats.

With a history stretching back to 1959, Cobia Boats has been through several incarnations and at one point was owned by Yamaha Marine. After being purchased by the Maverick Boat Group (which also builds Maverick, Hewes, and Pathfinder boats) in 2005 it went through a rebirth of sorts, with a completely refreshed model line including new hulls and decks. All have been updated or replaced with even newer models since, and Cobias have earned a reputation for being well thought-out fishing boats with an added dash of creature comfort. Today center consoles comprise the bulk of their line-up, accounting for eight out of 12 models ranging from 20 to 35 feet in length.

See Cobia center console boats for sale on BoatTrader.

Grady-White

grady-white canyon 456
The Canyon 456 puts Grady-White into the class of center console yacht builders. Photo by Grady-White Boats.

Grady-White has been building boats in eastern North Carolina for well over 80 years, and today is considered by many to be at the pinnacle of modern boat manufacturers. Their center consoles are known for being luxurious and family-oriented as well as being ideal for fishing, with exceptionally comfortable seating, an unusually smooth ride, and exceedingly stout construction. The company is also known for its customer service, and has won a NMMA Customer Satisfaction Index Award (requiring 90-percent-plus customer satisfaction) for 20 consecutive years. Currently, Grady-White builds 11 center console models from 18 feet up to their center console yacht, the 45-foot Canyon 456.

See Grady-White center console boats for sale on BoatTrader.

Key West

key west 263 fs
The Key West 263 FS has proved to be popular with anglers and family boaters alike. Photo via Emerald Coast Marine.

Key West began building boats in the late 80s and in the early 90s hit a home run with their 1720 center console, a model that (in an updated form) is still offered today. Their 219FS and 239FS have proved amazingly popular in the past decade, offering a combination of surprisingly good fit and finish, a smoother ride than most boats in the same class, and a competition-beating price-point. The 13 center console models currently in Key West’s lineup span from 17’ to 26’.

See Key West center console boats for sale on BoatTrader.

Mako

mako pro skiff boats
The Pro Skiff line from Mako features a one-of-a-kind hull design. Photo via Gables Motorsports of Wesley Chapel.

Few boatbuilders can claim true “legendary” status, but no doubt Mako Boats is one of them. With a history stretching back over 50 years Mako has been through a number of changes and today is part of the White River Marine Group, which claims to be, by volume, the largest builder of fishing and recreational boats in the world. In recent years Mako has wowed the center console world by introducing some extremely innovative, unique boats, like their Pro Skiff series boats which ride on a one-of-a-kind “advanced inverted-V” hullform. Their larger center consoles are also favored by die-hard anglers as they don’t sacrifice fishability in favor of leisure activity equipping or design. Mako currently builds two Pro Skiff (15’ and 17’) models, four V-hull center console boats from 18’ to 41’.

See Mako center console boats for sale on BoatTrader.

Robalo Boats

robalo r360 center console boat
The R360 is queen of Robalo’s fleet. Photo via Bob Hewes Boats.

Robalo center consoles have a well-earned reputation for delivering lots of bang for your buck, with pricing in the midrange but fit and finish and accessory outfitting that’s a notch above. Robalo also builds an extensive lineup, with 16 center consoles from 18’ to 36’. Based on a Statistical Surveys Inc 2018 market share report, Robalo ranked first for popularity among outboard powered fishing boats between 16’ and 31’.

See Robalo center console boats for sale on BoatTrader.

Scout Boats

scout 425 lxf
Though Scout got its start building small skiffs, today the company builds luxury fishing machines like this 425 LXF. Photo by Scout Boats.

A South Carolina company that began with humble roots, Scout Boats got its start building small open skiffs that were quite utilitarian. They still build small boats but from that beginning they’ve evolved into a top tier builder of large, dazzling, high-end center console yachts. Their 530 LXF, one of the largest center consoles on the market today, is powered by quintuplet outboards and boasts the latest construction technology including carbon epoxy infusion paired with a twin-stepped hull. The Scout center console line-up ranges from the 530 LXF down to 17-footers, and includes 17 different models.

See Scout center console boats for sale on BoatTrader.

Sportsman Boats

sportsman 247 oe bay boat
The 247OE is among Sportsman’s newest offerings. Photo via Gulf Coast Boating Center.

A relative newcomer, the Sportsman name has only been around since 2011. The principals who started it, however, are anything but boatbuilding neophytes. Tommy Handcock was one of the original founders of Sea Pro Boats and Dale Martin was an original at Key West. They combined forces to start Sportsman, which has enjoyed stellar popularity since its initial lineup of six fishing boats was introduced by the fall of 2012. Their models are particularly well known for delivering excellent value for the price-point, as well as a great ride in rough waters. Today Sportsman delivers a wide-ranging lineup of 23 models from 20’ to 35’.

See Sportsman center console boats for sale on BoatTrader.

Yellowfin Yachts

yellowfin 42 center console
With models like this 42, Yellowfin Yachts is known for building high-performance center console fishing machines. Photo via Off the Hook Yacht Sales.

Yellowfin Yachts offers a wide range of 14 different center console boats starting at a mere 17’ and going all the way up to a 54’ center console yacht that can carry up to 2,400 horsepower. They build with modern resin infusion and top-shelf parts, and are known for offering extreme performance and class-leading top-end speeds. Yellowfins are also known as serious fishing vessels and have been chosen by a long list of guides and competitive anglers.

See Yellowfin Yachts center console boats for sale on BoatTrader.

Will a center console be the top choice for you and your family? That’s your call. But no matter what sort of boater you may be, judging by the popularity center consoles enjoy there’s a good chance one will prove ideal for your needs.

To investigate some similar boat types, also see:

Written by: Lenny Rudow

With over two decades of experience in marine journalism, Lenny Rudow has contributed to publications including YachtWorld, boats.com, Boating Magazine, Marlin Magazine, Boating World, Saltwater Sportsman, Texas Fish & Game, and many others. Lenny is a graduate of the Westlawn School of Yacht Design, and he has won numerous BWI and OWAA writing awards.

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