Choosing A Fishing BoatFinding Your Happy Place!
Here are some sage words of advice based on a lifetime of boat fishing experience that may well help when it comes to choosing and putting together your next trailer boat fishing rig.
SIX VITAL SPECS
When shopping for a new rig, it pays to spend plenty of time doing your homework. In particular, look very closely at the mix and balance of these six critical hull specifications (click on each heading below to open):
Quoted boat lengths can be surprisingly “elastic”. Methods for measuring them vary from one maker to another, and even between models from the same company. In nautical terms, hull length should refer to a vessel’s waterline length, but trailer boats are often measured from the tip of the bowsprit or anchor roller to the very rear of the transom or pod. Try to find out what’s actually being referred to in any brochure or advertisement. That way you can compare apples with apples.
This is the widest point of the vessel. Technically, like length, it should also be measured at the waterline, but many modern trailer boat, kayak and canoe manufacturers refer to the widest part of the hull overall. Beam is critical to a boat’s handling and performance. As a rough rule, beamier craft are more stable at rest, as well as offering greater interior space and increased storage or load carrying capacity. They also tend to be a tad slower and less responsive. Narrower hulls are faster, easier to push with less power, and may cut through waves and chop more readily.
This is the distance from the waterline to the lowest point on the hull where water could potentially enter the vessel. That point is often found at the transom, especially on outboard-powered trailer boats, and obviously varies depending on how much weight the vessel is carrying. Freeboard height along the sides of a hull is also an important consideration. Higher freeboard here provides an increased level of security against both waves and other potential hazards, such as saltwater crocodiles in tropical waters. On the downside, greater freeboard also makes a hull more prone to the effects of wind, meaning that it may drift faster when not under power.
This is the distance or depth between the lowest or deepest point on the hull and the waterline. Another way of describing it is to refer to how much water the hull draws, or to the depth required to float the boat. Again, this obviously varies depending on the load being carried. There’s also a slight difference between fresh and saltwater, because of their varying densities. Draft is an important consideration, especially when looking at vessels such as flats’ skiffs or kayaks that are often called upon to operate in extremely shallow water. Excessive draft may mean that you’ll constantly run aground in such skinny water scenarios. On the other hand, hulls with greater drafts may prove to be better sea boats, and often drift slower and more predictably when not under power. Hulls with deeper vees and narrower beams also tend to draw more water than wider, flatter-bottomed vessels.
As with length, there’s a degree of elasticity in the weights quoted by various manufacturers. Obviously, there’s a big difference between so-called “dry hull” weight and a fully fitted-out rig with a motor, full fuel tanks and live well, lots of gear and several people on board. Beyond this, it’s also not unknown for some makers to fudge the figures, especially those relating to car-toppers and other lightweight boats, where weight becomes a significant selling point. It can be illuminating to test the true mass of these vessels on accurate scales. Broadly speaking, comparatively heavier craft tend do tend to ride smoother, sit flatter, drift slower and cope with varying sea conditions better than lightweight hulls. The downsides come in terms of heavy rigs being harder to tow, requiring more power (and fuel) to push, and being more difficult to man-handle.
This is probably the most confusing and least understood aspect of boat design, but that doesn’t stop customers and salesmen bandying it about at the drop of a hat. A boat’s deadrise is quite simply the amount of angle that forms between the underside of the hull at any given point and a horizontal plane underneath it. Imagine a boat balancing on its keel on a flat floor. Climb under with your protractor and measure the angle between the floor and the hull. That’s deadrise, also known as ‘V’ or vee. The tricky bit is that on most hulls, deadrise or vee varies considerably between the pointy end and the blunt end, yet many manufacturers only talk about the maximum vee, up near the bow. This might be anything from 20 to 30 degrees or even more. However, most hulls flatten out considerably by mid-ships, and even more at the transom. Very few hulls have more than 10 or 15 degrees of deadrise at the transom. Deeper vees are great for cutting through chop and swell, especially when they have a bit of weight above them. By contrast, flatter hulls tend to smack and bang in a sea. The downside of a deep vee is loss of stability at rest and greater draft. As always, the trick lies in achieving the optimum balance for your specific needs.
Without doubt one of the most over-used clichés in the world of boating is the hoary old chestnut that goes something along the lines of: “all boats are a compromise”. I’m almost embarrassed at how often I’ve written or spoken that glib little phrase over the years. Yet the fact remains that clichés generally gain traction because they reflect an incontrovertible truth. Such platitudes may be trite, banal and not especially useful, but that doesn’t detract from their validity. Sadly, the hackneyed “all boats are a compromise” stereotype falls firmly into this category. Just as surely, it’s something we all need to be reminded of occasionally, especially when we’re shopping for a new or second-hand trailer boat rig.
After a house and a car, a boat is potentially the most expensive item we’ll ever buy (and I know a few fishos who’ll happily spend more on their boats than their cars… or possibly even their homes!). Getting the choice right is critically important. That said, the “right” boat for you at this precise point in time might not be the best choice five years from now. This is a truism that’s reflected by the fact that many of us will own multiple boating rigs throughout the course of our fishing lives.
FACT: All boats are a compromise! There are no exceptions.
The serial nature of boat ownership reflects not only an evolution in our needs and desires, but also the sad fact that many of us don’t get the buying process completely right and, as a result, end up with a rig that doesn’t entirely live up to expectations. The world is full of wistful fishermen (and women) dreaming about their next boat while putting up with the current one, which is the main reason boating magazines and boat test websites not only survive, but thrive.
So, let’s see if we can sort out a few of the basics so that you don’t immediately return to the ranks of the dreamers after taking delivery of your next rig:
Don’t expect one boat to suit you throughout your entire fishing career. Your boating needs and expectations will change over time.
In sitting down to write this piece examining the potential pitfalls involved in the boat selection process, I took some time to reflect on my own boat ownership journey across four decades. It has followed a trajectory that I’m sure roughly mirrors that of many other anglers.
I started out in canoes and kayaks, moved onto a car-topper alloy punt and eventually got myself into an aluminium trailer boat — in my case, a cat. Interestingly, that was the last “tin” boat I ever owned. I fell under the spell of glass and can’t really see myself going back, unless it’s to a beat-up little alloy dinghy one day as a cranky old luderick fisherman who can’t afford anything else! That said, I know plenty of people who adore their “tinnies”, and there are certainly some beauties on the market these days.
After that alloy cat (which I loved, by the way) I operated a couple of Aussie-built and imported glass vessels: sport fishers, bass boats and flats rigs. These were followed by some great foam-core sandwich runabouts, which eventually brings us around to my current rig: a one-off, bespoke fibreglass tiller-steer skiff from south eastern Queensland.
Each progression in that evolutionary process has been driven by subtle, nuanced shifts in my real and perceived fishing needs. Sometimes I’ve nailed it, other times less so. But each step along the way has definitely taught me something, even if only about myself.
Be brutally honest with yourself when deciding what you’re looking for in a fishing boat.
By far the most valuable single tip I can pass on concerning the boat selection process is the over-riding importance of being totally and utterly honest with yourself about your real boating needs. Not your wild dreams, your lofty aspirations or your “maybe one day” fantasies, but rather your genuine, day-to-day boating requirements. Pull out a piece of paper and a pen, sit down in a quiet spot and list them. Work out an approximate breakdown of the styles of fishing you do (or seriously want to do) and the environments where they occur. What percentage of your time is spent on relatively calm, enclosed waters? How much time do you spend in larger estuaries, bays and harbours? What about offshore? And how far offshore? What’s your breakdown in effort between bait, lure and fly fishing, as well as the proportion of trolling versus casting? Will you ever anchor up to fish and, if so, how often and in what depth will you typically find yourself on the pick? Do you regularly fish alone, or have you almost always got family or friends along with you? How many?
The answers to these questions will quickly begin to flesh out a much clearer picture of the best vessel for your needs: its size, design, layout and ideal power plant. Even aspects like the optimum size of the fuel tanks and anchor well, placement of mooring cleats, and need for built-in storage will begin to emerge.
Next you’ll need to overlay all sorts of indirect but still vitally important factors like the size and power of your tow vehicle, any parking and storage constraints on the home front (including mundane matters like the length, width and height of the garage or car port) and of course, that big one: your finances. How much can you really afford to pay?
Consider secondary uses for the boat, too. Will you ever be called upon, or find the opportunity, to pull the kids on a tow toy or water skis? What about family picnics on the water and the like? But don’t create fantasies. Answer honestly. If the kids would rather poke sticks in their eyes than be seen skidding along behind your fishing boat clinging to a truck tyre, don’t create a mythical picture of family boating bliss in your head. Keep it honest. Keep it real.
Be brutally honest with yourself when deciding what you’re looking for in a fishing boat.
Once you’ve fleshed out and refined your detailed list of requirements, the selection process moves to its next stage: shopping around. This will likely involve visiting boat yards, reading magazines, checking out on-line sites, talking to mates and visiting boat shows. But be prepared to spend some serious time in this phase of the process, and don’t be too surprised if it’s disappointingly difficult to track down exactly what you’re looking for.
One August at the Sydney International Boat Show, I scoured every corner of every hall, from one end of that vast annual expo’ to the other, and found just a single Aussie-built boat that I would’ve been completely happy to own at that point in my fishing career. There were some lovely imported bay and flats boats, but these were ultra expensive, and I also really wanted to support our struggling local boat industry, if at all possible. But it’s hard work when so many of them seem to be fixated with building bow riders and wake boarding boats.
Other times, you’ll think you’ve found exactly what you need, only to be let down by the devil in the detail. Let me give you a classic example:
For the past couple of years I’ve been lucky enough to score a gig on the judging panel of a “trailer boat of the year” awards process run by one of the major boating magazines. Finalists are drawn from the many vessels tested by that publication across the previous year, and those selected are brought together at a designated location for several days of intensive on-water judging. It’s a real hot house of boating knowledge, and I’ve learnt a hell of a lot from being involved.
With rigs ranging from trailer-able gin palaces and blue water battle wagons to budget tinnies, there’s something to suit almost every taste, and I invariably end up falling in love with at least one or two of the finalists. Last year was no different. One particular entry really impressed me in terms of its soft, dry ride, stability at rest and overall handling. I was even starting to think that I might have found my next boat, despite the fact that it was built from aluminium! However, with boats at least, love at first sight has its pitfalls.
Between test runs, the smaller boats were anchored bow-out into the slop with their sterns close enough to the beach for the judges to wade out and climb aboard. However, the tide was falling fast and on a few occasions, boats would become stuck on the sand, requiring a push-off from those of us waiting on the sand bar. When this happened to the finalist vessel that I’d taken such a fancy to, I was immediately struck by just how much harder it was to re-float this rig than any of the others. Not only was it much heavier than I’d guessed, but it also carried its relatively deep vee or deadrise well back into the stern, meaning that it drew a lot more water than I’d anticipated. As I huffed and puffed alongside several other judges to re-float the stubborn craft, the penny dropped. Those very characteristics that gave this entrant such a great ride and superb handling also had their serious downsides, and meant that the rig would be totally unsuited to a lot of the skinny water work I regularly do on shallow estuary flats back home. I immediately fell out of love and crossed the hull off my wish list.
What was that line about all boats being a compromise? However, just because the boats themselves are, by definition, a compromise — between ride and weight, stability and draft, comfort and function — that doesn’t mean you should compromise your own requirements and settle for second or third best. Keep looking. Your “dream boat” is likely out there somewhere, on either the new or second-hand markets. You just need to find it. However, even then the challenges don’t end…
Keep looking. Your “dream boat” is likely out there somewhere, on either the new or second-hand markets.
To be honest, buying a boat doesn’t really have a hell of a lot in common with buying a car… except that both processes are potentially stressful and inevitably expensive! When you choose a car, you’re usually purchasing a complete package that’s ready to roll. Some off-road enthusiasts might add a heap of aftermarket goodies to their new 4WD to alter its suspension and handling, but for most car buyers, the “customisation” process consists of hanging a couple of furry dice from the rear view mirror and applying a bumper sticker or two.
When you purchase a new Toyota, Nissan or Mazda, friends don’t normally ask “what motor are you going to put in it?” or “what wheels and tyres are you thinking about fitting?”. Those components tend to come as standard. Not so with most boats. While so-called “turn key” packages are slowly becoming more popular in the boating industry, it’s still far more common for buyers to choose a hull, then shop around for a motor and trailer to match up with it. Even then, it’s not all plain sailing (pardon the pun). What propeller will go best with your rig? How high or low should the motor be set on the transom? Should the trailer have rollers or skids? And so on it goes…
This stuff can be a nightmare, and I’ve seen a few potentially great hulls turned into absolute pigs by poor selection of interior layout, motors, props and even trailers. Get any part of this process wrong and you can create considerable misery for yourself. Here are some tips on avoiding those traps:
As a general rule, opt towards the maker’s upper horsepower limit for the hull you choose.
Firstly, it’s far more common for buyers (and some dealers) to under-power a boat than over-power one. As a result, a lot of disappointed boat owners eventually end up re-powering with a bigger outboard at some later stage. It’s much rarer to hear of someone going the other way and down-sizing. As a rule of thumb, opt towards the maker’s upper horsepower limit, bearing in mind that many manufacturers are stipulating a maximum motor weight these days rather than (or as well as) a maximum power rating. That’s an important consideration, too. Not all 50, 70 or 100 horsepower donks are created equal. Some are significantly heavier than others. Consider this weight aspect when choosing a power plant, but don’t be afraid to go a tad bigger rather than smaller. Remember, a 70 purring along at 4,500 RPM will last longer and probably use less fuel than a 50 constantly revving its guts out.
Secondly, don’t under-rate the importance of motor height settings and prop’ selection. If at all possible, try some variations of these on your rig or an identical boat before locking anything in. You may need to find a particularly friendly and cooperative dealer to make this on-water testing and fine-tuning a reality.
Finally, don’t scrimp on the bloody trailer! Many dealers create seemingly attractive package prices by sticking great hulls and motors on very ordinary trailers. Those cheap and nasty trailers invariably come back to bite their owners on the bum, often damaging the boat in the process. As a very rough rule of thumb, spend at least 10 per cent of the all-up package price on a quality trailer. I went even higher than that figure with my latest rig, and I couldn’t be happier with the result. Look at it this way: your boat spends a lot more time and covers far more kilometres on its trailer than it does on the water. Don’t cut corners.
Don’t scrimp on the trailer… Your boat will do a lot more kilometres on its trailer than on the water!
In the end, you’ll hopefully find a hull that ticks all, or at least most, of your boxes, and be able to match it with a suitable motor, trailer, sounder and all the other “fruit”. It’s an exciting day when you finally take delivery of that new rig. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: no matter how good it is, you’ll most likely be dreaming about your next boat within a few weeks or months! That’s just the way life is… or boating life, anyway.
I probably can’t do anything to curb the perpetual spirit of day dreaming that seems to infect all serial boat owners (myself included), but I will say this: try to savour and enjoy the rung of the evolutionary ladder you’re currently standing on. Don’t lose sight of the here and now in your longing for what your boating future might hold. Owning a boat — even a slightly imperfect rig — is so much better than not owning one at all. Never forget that.