There’s no such thing as a perfect boat—every design has compromises, and whether you’re looking at a center console, a dual console, or an express cruiser, there will be upsides and downsides. However, if you can find a boat that reliably helps you do the most important things you care about on the water, it’ll be pretty close to perfect.
Center consoles occupy a huge segment of the small-boat market because they bring a lot of utility to a lot of people. They also deliver generally good performance and handling, and rough-water abilities. They can range from fuel-efficient to ocean-aggressive, and some with double or triple outboards even qualify as performance boats. You can load them with coolers and fishing gear, skis or tow-tubes, or just a picnic basket and sunscreen.
But let’s get back to the utility issue, because center-consoles are like hunting dogs: They’re optimized to do a job, and that’s where they shine. Sure you can buy a center-console boat so big and beefy that it has a cabin with berths, a galley, and air-conditioning. But a “standard” center console from, say, 20 to 30 feet long, is a relatively simple and straightforward open boat with some weather protection for people behind the console and under the Bimini top. Most center consoles over 21′ will have a small head compartment inside the console itself, and plenty of seating. The rest of the boat is wide-open and unencumbered for doing stuff – usually fishing or pulling someone on skis or on a tube or wakeboard. But in some cases, the boat’s layout or hull is designed for more specialized purposes.
As a fishing platform the center-console is just about ideal. It offers plenty of standing room and open decks for following a fish, open sky for casting, few things to snag lines on, good security in the cockpit, and capability in rough water. Many of the same qualities make it good as a general-purpose tow-boat — but if you and your family are serious about tow-toys, you should look into water ski and wakeboarding boats built for the purpose – they’ll have hull forms, engine and drive configurations, wake-making abilities, and on-deck gear built to maximize your enjoyment of those sports. The same is true for scuba diving. A center-console can get the job done, but dedicated divers will want to look at other options, too.
If you have a variety of interests on the water – not just fishing or tow-sports, but cruising, picnicking, and gathering with friends, then you’re going to need more protection, comfortable seating, and maybe a cabin. This is where smaller center consoles begin to lose their edge. Once you start loading folding chairs and tables into one of these boats, you undercut its strong points. And there’s no room to stow loose furniture anyway.
As they get bigger, of course, center consoles do begin to offer more amenities. Additional seating, reversible helm seats, U-shaped settees and sunpads, and cabins all become common. And again, the really jumbo models can set you up for a weekend out of your house. But now we’re talking very serious bucks. With those same bucks you might be better off with an express cruiser, a small sport-fisherman — or maybe even a vacation home equipped with a small center-console?