Our US correspondent Elliott Maurice explains the enduring popularity of sportfish boats and takes a look at some of the newest models on the market...
To understand what makes the best sportfish boats requires an understanding of both the use and reason for such specialised yachts.
Bluewater sportfish boats require a whole extra level of specification compared to a typical luxury yacht, and for good reason. Tournament or Billfish competition is a big-money sport – millions of dollars in prize money can be at stake over the course of a 3-day event.
The best captains and the best sportfish boats compete at the highest level in very challenging conditions. The White Marlin Event, with its first place prize of $1 million dollars, hosts over 400 boats all seeking a slice of the $9 million total purse.
These events also offer the winner massive sponsorship deals along with all the prestige that carries. Top captains are paid huge salaries and bonuses by owners to compete in a circuit of over 30 top events in the US alone.
Tournament level boats typically run at speeds of more than 35 knots, and in some cases well over 50 knots. Competing in 8-foot seas is not uncommon and a range of at least 300 miles at high cruising speeds is necessary just to compete. The latest and best navigation, sonar and ships systems along with massive power is necessary at this level to gain any kind of advantage.
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The largest sportfish yacht in the world is Bad Company, which was built by Trinity Yachts and launched in 1998. At 144 feet LOA, weighing 238 tonnes and still capable of a top speed of 25 knots, this yacht falls very much at the extreme end of the spectrum.
Bad Company will soon be eclipsed by the 171ft Project 406, which is currently under construction at Dutch yard Royal Huisman and is due to be launched next year.
A typical competitive sportfish boat is between 50 and 75ft long, costing from $2.5 million upwards. Sportfish boats generally work on a decades old tried and tested hull and deck style that has remained pretty much unchanged for over 40 years.
That said, some of the best center console boats for fishing are more frequently bringing competitors with a significantly smaller budget into the big purse tournaments.
Technology has leapt forward in the past decade – the recipe for a tournament boat calls for large working spaces, the ability to cover huge distances at high speed in challenging conditions, massive storage, and the ability to put as many lines in the water as possible.
In no particular order, here are some of the best sportfish boats available right now:
5 of the best sportfish boats
Viking 64 Convertible
Best luxury sportfish boat
Launched in 2021, the Viking 64 Convertible saw several technological enhancements to this premier powerhouse. The extensive use of carbon fibre in addition to the traditional resin-infused hull construction sets the standard for the next generation of Viking sportfish boats.
A fresh new horizontal-grained walnut option is available on the interior. What’s more, the Viking 64’s new helm, based around Viking’s Valhalla center console range, is nothing short of a masterpiece.
Up to 4,050hp is available from twin CAT C32Bs, with twin MAN 1550s fitted as standard, and prices start at around $6million. Carrying 2,202 US gal (8,335L) gives the Viking 64 an operational range of over 400 nautical miles at a 36 cruise and a massive top speed of 42 knots.
Packed with equipment including a through-hull omnidirectional sonar array and Seakeeper gyroscopic stabiliser, the Viking 64 is the new gold standard for luxury tournament boats.
Best center console sportfish boat
Its twin-stepped deep V hull with vented channels not only gives exceptional speed but significant efficiency improvements over a standard deep V hull.
At 15ft 6in on the beam, the Valhalla 55 will be the widest center console in the sub-60ft bracket. The ability to carry up to 1,200 US gal (4,542L) of fuel should also give the 55 a significant range advantage over its competition.
Sleeping accommodation is for up to four people in its luxurious cabin. Prices start at $2,945,000 for a quad 600hp boat, but that doesn’t include the optional Seakeeper 9 stabilisers or the massive 27ft carbon fibre outriggers.
The builder will introduce the Valhalla 55 shortly, either at the 2022 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show or the 2023 Miami International Boat Show, depending on when the first boat is fully fettled.
Bertram 61 Convertible
Best comfort-focussed sportfish boat
The Bertram 61 is an evolution of what could be considered the first high performance sportfish boat, the 1980 54ft Bertram. The design follows the classic style with its huge flared bow and long flush foredeck.
Although not quite as state-of-the-art in its hull construction as the Viking 64, the Bertram is still a genuine contender, and with a base price of $3.5 million, it’s a good $2.5 million cheaper.
The Bertram is slightly more comfort-focused than the Viking too, with a full-beam owner’s suite and three-cabin layout. The Bertram can be ordered as a ready to compete boat, running with an impressive fast cruising speed of 37 knots and topping out at 43.3 knots when powered by twin 1,925hp CAT C32As.
With state-of-the-art sonar, a whole host of navigation options, a Seakeeper gyro, and digital anchoring (a $90,000 option that allows the Bertram to hang over a set GPS point), along with a slew of tournament-level extras, the 18ft 3in beam Bertram, with its huge 188sq foot aft cockpit, is a highly competitive sportfish boat by any standards.
SeaHunter CTS 46
Best catamaran sportfish boat
At 46ft LOA and a whopping 12ft 4in on the beam, the SeaHunter CTS 46 catamaran offers huge working deck space for a sportfish boat of this size. It is now available with up to 4 x 600hp Mercury V12s – an unprecedented amount of power in this size bracket.
Its twin hulls allow for an arsenal of fish boxes, bait wells, rod storage and rod holders. With carbon outriggers, this boat is able to go into battle as well-armed as an Abrahams tank.
Incredible seakeeping arguably makes this a whole new breed of sportfish boat. With a fuel capacity of 800 US gal (3,028L), the Sea Hunter has an effective operational range of well in excess of 400 miles at its 39 knot cruising speed, and top speed of over 60 knots with quad 450hp Mercury Racing outboards.
The catamaran deck configuration also allows for a large centre-mounted aft tuna door between the motors, making it significantly easier than rival outboard-powered sportfish boats to back down on huge game fish and shorten the fight.
Although limited in overnight accommodation, with a Seakeeper gyro and a significant performance advantage over classic sportfish boats, the carbon fiber-hulled Seahunter can extend its fishing time beyond that of a typical sportfish boat due to its superior range.
You can expect to pay over $1 million for a tournament spec boat, depending upon engine configuration and options. Make no mistake, the Sea Hunter CTS 46 is a serious competitor.
Best long-range sportfish boat
A veteran of the Billfish tournament scene, Hatteras has been producing tournament sportfish boats for more than four decades. The GT70 follows the classic Hatteras formula with a long, flat foredeck, massive Carolina flared bow and huge amounts of square footage at the business end back aft.
The layout of the GT70 is highly traditional and tried and tested on countless tournament yachts, with dual helms on the flybridge and way up in the tuna tower. Hatteras has adopted a center pod-style helm with seats abreast, allowing a full walkaround flybridge and commanding views over four 19in flat screen displays.
Electric teaser reels are built into the massive hardtop and spacious wraparound seating to port, starboard and forward, complete with built-in refrigeration, finish the commanding bridge. The entire bridge can be enclosed with isinglass panels and heated or air conditioned as needed.
The interior of the yacht is also based on the time-honoured formula of a central companionway at the lower level to allow easy access through the boat in rough water.
The five-stateroom, four-head arrangement can be adapted with two cabins taken away for workshop and rod storage if required. Meanwhile the main staterooms are situated in the half beam midships and in the bow.
Hatteras builds a sumptuous, yet practical interior, with a huge wraparound galley forward on the main deck to the portside and large C-shaped dining area to starboard.
But don’t let all this luxury fool you – the Hatteras GT70 was very much designed to operate in bluewater conditions. With the optional twin 2600hp MTU M96 diesels, this 70ft powerhouse can top 40 knots, burning 160GPH at a fast cruise of 30.5 knots. Given a fuel capacity of 2,140 US gal (8,101L), you’re looking at an effective cruising range of more than 400 miles.
Starting from just under $5 million, the Hatteras GT70 is a compelling tournament sportfish boat with decades of tournament know-how embedded into its DNA.
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