Our US correspondent Elliott Maurice picks out five of the best center consoles under 30 feet, from the likes of Bayliner, Chris-Craft, Boston Whaler and more…
The largest market sector in boating for the US is now overwhelmingly center consoles. Simply defined, this type of open sportsboat has its helm and controls mounted amidships leaving space either side of it for guests to walk from the aft cockpit to the bow area.
Center consoles typically have a helm position that is comfortable to stand or sit at with an upright windshield and sturdy frame to hang on to, while shade and weather protection is often provided by a hard or soft top.
This domination of the boating market is due to the practical and user-friendly nature of this configuration combined with easy handling, accessible performance (usually from outboard engines), SUV-like seakeeping and a wide range of price points.
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Center console craft often make fantastic sea boats too as they boast higher bulwarks than equivalent sized deck or speedboats making them drier and safer to move around.
Center consoles also make excellent fishing platforms (see our separate article on the best center consoles for fishing) as well as a more practical alternative to high-performance powerboats.
The huge technological leaps in outboard engine design has also made the centre console the boat of choice for many new and seasoned boaters.
How much do center consoles cost?
Let’s start with the basics. Not all boats are created equal and not all are designed for the same purpose.
The under 30 foot segment is the largest and most competitive, so there is something for everyone at a wide range of prices from affordable entry-level trail boats to luxurious premium brands offering lots of features and a wide range of options.
For example, a sensibly specced Bayliner T22CC with a 200hp Mercury outboard looks great value at around $70,000 (inc. trailer), whereas a highly optioned Scout 215 XSF with a similar 200hp Yamaha outboard will cost over $145,000 without a trailer.
If you plan to cruise offshore regularly and take on waves of more than 3ft, you should be looking at something over 25 feet for a smoother ride and preferably with twin engines for greater reliability.
However, for calm days out in 1-3 foot chop any 22-25 foot centre console will be a comfortable and safe proposition. So here are my choices in the center console segment under 30 feet.
5 of the best center consoles under 30ft
Best value center console
Starting at $47,450 with a 150hp Mercury complete with trailer, the Bayliner T22CC is a masterclass in value.
For $22,600 more, the 300hp Mercury version gives this boat a 50mph top speed and power steering to boot. Fully optioned at just over $85,000, there is no package on the center console market that comes close in terms of value for money.
Features such as live wells, rod storage and multiple rod holders make this an excellent option for fishing, while the enclosed head, seating for eight and excellent Simrad flat screen navigation (either single 12” or twin 9”) will be appreciated by cruising boaters too.
The T22CC is easily trailable on its included trailer and, with a self-bailing cockpit, it is easy to keep clean. If this is your starting point I cannot recommend better value in the center console segment.
Axopar 22 T-Top
Best small center console for leisure
Finnish brand Axopar has created a fantastic starter boat, which doubles as an easy-to-drive performance day boat. Built in Poland, the Axopar 22 is the winner of more awards than almost any other boat at this level.
The secret lies in its high-tech build and hull design. Its variable deadrise hull and twin steps have given the Axopar extraordinary cruising efficiency as well as exceptional ride and handling in a wide variety of sea states.
For example the single 200hp Mercury V6 version offers a top speed of 52mph and consumes just 4 gallons per mile at a 32mph cruising speed.
I’d recommend the new T-Top variant with its raked back aluminium framed superstructure featuring a removable canvas roof for weather protection and shade. The frame also acts as a secure handhold when moving around the boat.
Immediately distinguishable by its slender vertical bow, the Axopar 22 is offered with several seating options, an electric flush freshwater toilet with the option of a black water holding tank.
What’s more, this boat offers a level of fit, finish and specification that belies its $90,000 starting price.
Although not suited for fishing, this is a fun, easy-to-drive sportster, with plenty of seating for day tripping. It’s nigh-on unbeatable in this size bracket.
Chris-Craft Catalina 30
Best luxury centre console under 30 feet
There are several boats that fill the luxury center console segment extremely well, but in my mind the Chris-Craft Catalina 30 is the most desirable.
With nearly 150 years of boat building history, Chris-Craft has attracted many illustrious owners, such as Henry Ford, Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra to name but a few.
The swooping side profile and heavily flared bow of the Catalina is instantly recognisable as a Chris-Craft but with prices starting at $383,000, this kind of quality and seakeeping doesn’t come cheap.
With room for 12 guests and up to 800hp in the form of 2 x 400hp Mercury Verados on the transom, the Chris-Craft Catalina 30 is a highly capable sea boat.
Attention to detail is evident everywhere from the classically-styled navigation lights with high visibility LEDs to the bow ensign staff and flared bow.
A top-spec Catalina 30 will cost around £500,000, and at this price you get a top speed of 50mph, open array radar with twin 16” Garmin displays, full teak aft cockpit and fore peak, and an air-conditioned overnight cabin – not to mention one of the best-looking boats in its class.
Boston Whaler 280 Outrage
Best all-round centre console under 30 feet
Boston Whaler has an almost legendary reputation for building ultra-strong, dependable, high quality boats. The 280 Outrage is a sweet spot and core boat in its range. More focused boats are available, but the 280 does it all.
With up to 800hp available taking her to just under 65mph flat out, this is a highly capable sea boat and epitomises the SUV philosophy of the centre console segment.
Capable of nearly 55mph with just twin 250hp engines, the 280 Outrage is extremely efficient for such a heavily built boat, thanks to an excellent hull design over vented steps.
Starting at just over $280,000 this is not a cheap boat, but considering the level of quality it can still be considered great value for money. The options list is extensive and does add up, so expect to spend near $400,000 on a fully-specced 280 Outrage with all the bells and whistles.
Even at the base package, every aspect of this boat is of an extremely high standard, such as the 316-L stainless steel grab rails, ultra-leather upholstery and oversized hard top superstructure.
The hull is made of two moulded hull pieces, which are pressure filled with high density foam, making the 280 Outrage super stiff and able to float even if holed or swamped.
Boston Whaler tortures each new design with hundreds of hours of heavy sea use, finding and re-engineering every flaw until there are none.
This evolutionary process, refined over more than 60 years of boatbuilding, is evident everywhere onboard the 280 Outrage.
For 2023 Boston Whaler is moving to the latest Simrad electronics, offering up to dual 16” glass bridge units at the helm, open array radar and the latest Fusion audio equipment.
Sport fishermen can specify outriggers and 3D sonar, along with live bait wells, extra rod storage and fish boxes.
And even if you’re not interested in fishing, the Boston Whaler 280 Outrage also excels as a performance day boat, making this a brilliant all-round package.
Twin Vee 280 GFX
Best powercat centre console under 30 feet
In terms of length, 28 feet is the sweet spot in the centre console segment, but what about beam? It would be remiss of me not to consider the sheer space available from a powercat.
Starting from just under $155,000 powered by twin 200hp Suzuki APX outboards, the Twin Vee 280 GFX offers nearly 50% more deck space than an equivalent monohull thanks to its 9ft 6in beam.
The base package will deliver an impressive 50mph top speed but upgrade to twin 300hp Suzuki outboards and 60mph is achievable.
The Twin Vee hull provides a more fuel-efficient platform than a conventional monohull, however this kind of boat will feel more lethargic at the helm in a beam sea, and its lack of lean into a turn may feel odd at first compared to a monohull.
Nonetheless, the ride quality is phenomenal for a boat of this length. Close quarters manoeuvring is also much better than an equivalent monohull thanks to the wide spacing of the engines. Powercats also boast superior stability at anchor.
This boat can be heavily optioned for fishing, with a large tackle box, bait/prep area behind the helm, live wells, 16 rod holders and even outriggers.
As a day cruiser the Twin Vee excels, with an enclosed head, high-end sound system and a boarding ladder that is centrally mounted on that extra wide bathing platform. And with a draft of only 1ft 8in with the drives up, it is ideal for a day at the sandbar.
With pop-up cleats, 316 grade stainless steel fittings and friction hinges on all the hatches, there is top-notch quality from stem to stern on this model.
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