What to Look for in a Center Console

Whether you’re searching for the biggest and best center-console boat on the face of the planet, or you just want a small boat of the center-console design, we’ll help you make the perfect pick.
Scout 357 LXF running near shore
Center-console boats pack a lot of versatility. Courtesy Scout Boats

Anglers love center-console boats for their 360-degree fishing abilities, family boaters love their open space and plentiful seating, and just about everyone loves the best center-console boats for traits like speedy performance and a smooth ride in rough seas. But with countless choices on the market, from inexpensive small-boat center-console models to uber-expensive center-console yachts, how will you know which to pick? Rest easy—we’re here to help.

Things to Look for in a Center-Console

It’s important to remember that different things about a boat are more or less critical depending on your needs and priorities. As you check out different boats, be sure to take these factors into consideration.

How You’re Going to Use It

Any center-console can be used for any activity, but you’ll find that different models focus more or less on one activity. The best center-console for fishing will have multiple livewells, for example, while the best family center-console needs a lot of seating. Consider how you’ll use the boat as you explore the options.

What you want: Match the personal preferences of you and your family with your budget, size requirements, and the complexity level of each boat you consider.

Power Options

Most center-consoles have outboard engines these days, and generally, your main consideration will be how fast you can cruise. On larger boats, another consideration may be whether to get a single engine or twins. Singles cost less to buy and operate, but you know you can always get home when you have two or more engines.

What you want: Remember that boats aren’t cars, and 40 mph can feel very, very fast on the water. For most people, having enough power to cruise at 30 mph is plenty.


Most anglers consider livewells a critical component, and the best center-consoles for fishing usually have several. Look for wells with strong water flow, multilevel inlets, and baby-blue interiors that help keep baits calm.

What you want: Look for insulated livewells. These not only help keep baits alive longer, but they can also double as a cooler or fish box.

Follow these guidelines to make sure your life jacket looks good, stays comfortable and works when you need it.

Safety Tip Provided by the U.S. Coast Guard

Rod Storage

Generally speaking, it’s good to have storage for at least two rods per angler. So if you hope to fish with four buddies, eight holders would be the minimum.

What you want: Regular rod holders are fine for inshore or freshwater fishing, but if you plan on targeting big game, make sure the rod holders have gimbal pins so the rods lock in place.

Latest Technology

Tech can go a long way in boosting your catch and your comfort. High-end fish finders can see for hundreds of feet down and off to each side, and radar can help you find birds diving in a feeding frenzy. Tech can make things aboard far more comfortable too, thanks to systems like touchscreen digital switching, gyroscopic stabilization, and lithium-ion battery-powered air conditioning.

What you want: Electronics systems can be mixed and matched, but it will be much easier to integrate the different units if you stick with a single manufacturer.

Satellite beacons such as EPIRBs or PLBs allow boaters to transmit distress signals and their exact coordinates from anywhere on the planet, no cell service required. It may be the best $400 you ever spend.

Safety Tip Provided by the U.S. Coast Guard

Cabin Options

Cabins in a center-console? You bet. Smaller models usually have a head compartment in the console, and you’ll start seeing bona fide cabins with berths and even galleys once you get into the 30-plus-foot range.

What you want: If you hope to overnight aboard, remember that the best center-consoles for sleeping will have an enclosed head compartment separate from the main cabin.

Specific Considerations for Used Center-Consoles

When you’re looking at used center-consoles and used boats in general, there are two critical components to consider carefully: the boat’s structural integrity and the condition of the engines. If you’re not intimately familiar with boats, it’s best to have an accredited surveyor look for structural issues. Having an engine tech check out the powerplants is smart too. The best used center-consoles to buy will be well-maintained.

A VHF marine band radio is your first line of communication on the water, allowing you to talk to the Coast Guard and other boat traffic. Use Channel 16 only for hailing and emergencies.

Safety Tip Provided by the U.S. Coast Guard

Closing Remarks & FAQ

There’s a lot to consider when choosing the best center-console boats for you and your family. But don’t let that deter you. When you finally hit the water, you and everyone in your family will be grinning from ear to ear for years to come.

1. What are some examples of different center-consoles?

The major types include freshwater fishing boats, inshore saltwater fishing boats (including bay and flats boats), offshore saltwater fishing boats (larger boats, often with multiple engines), and center-console pleasure boats (with a few fishing features but many amenities).

2. Are multiple engines better for center-consoles?

It depends on your needs and ambitions, but larger, heavier models might require the extra horsepower to perform up to expectations.

3. What are some different center-console hull types?

Most modern center-consoles are deep-V (20 to 24 degrees of transom deadrise) or semi-V (12 to 19 degrees of transom deadrise) hull forms. That said, you’ll also see some power cats, flat-bottom boats, tunnel hulls and unique designs. For more information, see the Boat Types and Hulls Guide.

4. What are some options buyers should consider?

There are many, but some form of sun protection, like a T-top or Bimini top, and a raw-water washdown to sluice away the slime and scales are often considered critical.

5. What are some considerations when buying a larger center-console?

For most people, budget is the No. 1 issue, but remember that buying the boat is only one part of the equation. Maintaining it, feeding it fuel, and storing it will all take time and money. Trailer-boaters will also need to consider if their tow vehicle is up to the task.

6. What are some quality used center-consoles that buyers should consider?

There are many good brands out there. Grady-White, Boston Whaler, Regulator, Contender, SeaVee and Scout are a few with excellent reputations.

More Buying Tips

  • Never buy a boat without taking it for a sea trial first. There’s no other way to ensure you’ll be satisfied with the ride and performance.
  • When buying used, fish with as many friends as possible on their boats. See who’s boat you like best and ask yourself why.
  • If buying a family boat, take the entire family when you go shopping to get everyone’s input.