Best Center Console Boats – Unbiased Review

Best Inshore Boats

Saltwater Center Console boats have become extremely popular in recent years. Part of the reason is that manufacturers have started offering more family friendly features such as bow cushions and sunpads, additional bench or fold down “jump seats” in the stern, and an enclosed head and cabin/berth on larger models. Plus, outboard motors have gotten better and easier to operate with the advent of joystick piloting. They are not just hard core fishing machines any more.

With so many brands to choose from, finding the best center console boat for your needs can be quite a challenge. To help you with your search, boaterinput.com surveyed 126 current boat owners to find out which brands they would most likely purchase if shopping for a new boat.

But, before we get into the results, let’s first distinguish two major classes of saltwater center console boats. Inshore boats include flats boats and bay boats – for use in shallower and calmer waters such as around the Florida keys, coastal bays, intercostal areas or the entire Gulf Coast region. Offshore boats, on the other hand, tend to be larger and have a deeper hull and more freeboard to provide a safer and more comfortable ride in an ocean setting. We will examine the favored boats in each of these two classes.

BEST INSHORE BOATS

Boaters were asked to select the 3 brands they would most likely consider and their overall favorite if shopping for a new boat.

INSHORE BOATSTOP 3 CHOICE#1 FAVORITE
PATHFINDER18%13%
BOSTON WHALER16%10%
SEA HUNT15%5%
ACTION CRAFT8%5%
HEWES8%5%
SKEETER9%5%
SHEARWATER10%4%
GRADY WHITE9%3%
EDGEWATER9%2%
YELLOWFIN17%2%
CAROLINA SKIFF13%2%
RANGER9%1%
KEY WEST11%0%

PATHFINDER

One of the more popular brands is Pathfinder – an early pioneer of Bay Boats. Designed specifically for hard-core inshore anglers, Pathfinder was often selected in our study because of its reputation for quality, performance and excellent layouts for fishing.

Has more of the features I want in a Bay boat.

Ken L., Brunswick, GA
  • “Fit and finish. Sportsman makes a good boat for a person with a budget, but the finish product is no where’s near the Pathfinder.” (Troy O., Naples, FL)
  • “Quality and ride.” (Steve, Cape Coral, FL)
  • “The look of the boat and good quality.” (Tony G., Cape coral, FL)
  • “Have friends that have all of the above brands and I just like the layout storage and handling of the Pathfinder. Price is what kept me from buying one of the above boats.” (Thomas B., Blackshear, GA)
  • “Has more of the features I want in a Bay boat.” (Ken L., Brunswick, GA)
  • “Premium features, reputation.” (anonymous)

BOSTON WHALER

The brand known as “The unsinkable legend” is one of the few that ranked highly on both the Inshore and Offshore boat lists.   A key reason is its high quality reputation.

Boston Whaler Inshore

Boston Whaler

  • “Attention to details and level of finish.” (Gary S., South Padre Island, TX)
  • “Resale value and quality. Local support.” (Rob R., Bass River, MA)
  • “Reputation, resale, reliability.” (Amy G., Harrison Township, MI)
  • “Customer support.” (James G., Brevard, NC)
  • “Quality & features of current and previous boat.” (Bruce N., West Des Moines, IA)
  • “Quality, price.” (Scott B., Fort Myers, FL)

SEA HUNT

Unlike brands like Grady White and Boston Whaler, Sea Hunts does not strive to be the highest quality boat that money can buy but rather best in its price range. It is about affordability and practicality which is why Sea Hunt is a very popular choice among saltwater boaters today.

  • “For the price, boat is well made, has plenty of fishing options- i.e. bait wells, storage, room to fish. Quality construction.” (Harold M., Cape Coral, FL)
  • “Finish.” (James S., Ochlocknee, GA)

OTHER INSHORE BRANDS TO CONSIDER

  • Skeeter and Ranger – traditional bass boat companies that have entered the bay boat arena. Known for quality (Ranger) and performance (Skeeter).
  • Hewes and Action Craft – both companies specialize in boats for flats fishing. So, if you like to fish “skinny” waters, then you might want to take a look at these.
  • Shearwater – part of American Marine Sports. Beautiful looking bay boats with a quality reputation.
  • Grady White – better known for their offshore fishing boats but they do offer some bay models. Probably the highest quality saltwater boats available (with a price to match).
  • Edgewater – builders of quality offshore fishing boats and bay boats. Was part of a mini political discussion when Marco Rubio purchased one in advance of his 2016 Presidential campaign.
  • Yellowfin – though few had this as their #1 choice in our survey, many had it as one of their top 3 favorites. Known for its quality and appearance.
  • Carolina Skiff – a budget-friendly in-shore fishing boat that is a popular seller.
  • Key West – a value-oriented boat that is a popular seller. Several boat owners in our survey had this as one of their top 3 choices.

BEST OFFSHORE BOATSOffshore Boats

Below are the brands that Saltwater Offshore owners selected as the best if shopping for a new boat.

 

OFFSHORE BOATSTOP 3 CHOICE#1 FAVORITE
GRADY WHITE34%14%
BOSTON WHALER24%11%
SEA HUNT14%10%
SEA FOX8%6%
EVERGLADES11%4%
CONTENDER13%3%
YELLOWFIN8%2%
SAILFISH7%2%
PURSUIT10%2%
SCOUT10%1%
MAKO10%1%
KEY WEST9%0%

GRADY WHITE

Grady White is an aspirational boat with a reputation for quality and customer service that is legendary.

Highest quality boat. Provides the most stable ride in rough water. Like the imagery of the brand.

Larry W., Woodstock, GA
  • “Long lasting reputation. The top dog boat of the industry.” (Greg H., Boynton Beach, FL)
  • “So many reasons and so much quality.” (Ronald M., Spring Hill, FL)
  • “Highest quality boat. Provides the most stable ride in rough water. Like the imagery of the brand.” (Larry W., Woodstock, GA)
  • “Experience with Grady white and their customer service.” (anonymous)
  • “Has the largest beam, and will take the punishment for offshore fishing” (Keith M., Lehigh Acres, FL)

BOSTON WHALER

Perhaps the closest Offshore brand to Grady White in terms of Quality is Boston Whaler.  It’s long-held reputation as being “unsinkable” is especially relevant to those who boat far from shore.

  • “Best boat on the water by far.” (Mark M., Naples, FL)
  • “Unsinkable.” (Jerry D., Hot Springs Village, AR)
  • Reputation, quality and appearance of boat.” (Gerard P., Naples, FL)
  • “Options, looks, and reputation.” (W J M., Wells,ME)
  • “I own their product and would buy again based on quality and features.” (Jack M., Frisco, TX)

SEA HUNT

As noted above with Inshore boats, Sea Hunt strives to provide the best overall quality and value in its mid-tier price range.

  • “Great quality and priced right. No wood in the entire boat.” (Matt D., Marco Island, FL)
  • “Price.” (Chris C., Nacogdoches, TX)
  • “Good for the water where we live.” (Lynn K., Shalimar, FL)

SEA FOX

Price is a key reason why some choose Sea Fox.  You get a lot of boat for your money with this brand.

  • “Quality of workmanship, value for the money and functionality.” (Douglas B., Glenn Heights, TX)
  • “My budget.” (Michael D., Cape Coral, FL)

OTHER OFFSHORE BRANDS TO CONSIDER

  • Everglades – makers of bay and offshore boats from 23 to 43′.  Founded by an ex-Boston Whaler executive in 2001, Everglade boats are similarly known for their excellent fit and finish.  The 253 CC was a top ten finalist in the 2017 Boating Magazine Boat of the Year award.
  • Contender – specializes in high-end fishing boats for serious anglers.

While there are dozens of saltwater boats available, the brands above are some that you should include on list if shopping for a new boat. The one that is right for you will depend on where you fish (flats or bay), how you fish and, of course, your budget. Another important consideration is having a local dealer since many brands are “regional” and therefore you might not have a dealer in your area.

To see a comprehensive list of saltwater boats (inshore and offshore), check out our manufacturer directory. Also, be sure to let us know which brand(s) are your favorite and why in the comments section below.

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