You hear it so often you probably don't even think about it: "That Ronco 290 BelchFire, now there's a good handling boat." You nod your head sagely and then, if you're honest, ask yourself, Just what does good handling mean? You see it all the time in magazines and hear it bantered about as if you should instinctively know what it is. But good handling is any elusive quality that's hard to put your finger on. When pressed for a short answer, we usually say it refers to a boat that's predictable. One that does what you expect it to do. But that's a pretty broad statement. To get more specific, here's a list of some traits we look for before giving a boat our "Good Handling Seal of Approval." Let's see how that new or used boat you're planning to test drive measures up.
HOLDS ITS COURSE AT NO-WAKE SPEEDS. It doesn't wander back and forth, requiring constant steering corrections. Such boats may have too much hull in the water forward, rudders that are too small, or sloppy steering linkages.
GETS ON PLANE QUICKLY. Poor acceleration is an indication of insufficient power or the wrong propeller. Most sportboats will be on plane within 4 seconds; 6 seconds is slow. Cruisers to 32' will take about 8 seconds; if it takes longer than 10 seconds, it's a wuss.
LOW BOWRISE WHILE GETTING ON PLANE. This is critical so you can see what's ahead. It's also indicative of an efficient hull. In general, bowrise over 5 degrees, or losing sight of the horizon while seated, is too high.
STAYS ON PLANE AT LOW SPEEDS. A must so you can slow down for rough water and still maintain control. Speeds of 16 to 18 mph are good, and we've seen boats go as low as 12. The bow should only be slightly higher than when on a full plane, with no problems holding a course.
DOES NOT PORPOISE. When the drives and tabs are trimmed for efficient running at cruising speeds or above, there should be no rhythmic up and down slapping of the bow. If you have to adjust the drives, tabs, or crew placement to stop this, you'll lose speed and increase fuel consumption. Porpoising is often a result of poorly placed, or too much, keel rocker (longitudinal curvature).