In the world of boats there used to be a clear separation of power: The family boater picked the bowrider for its open bow, sterndrive power and ability to tow skiers and tubers. The angler opted for the hard-core fishing boat, creature comforts be damned. But something happened along the way: With the rise in crossover cars, boaters began to change their views on boats too. The modern outboard-powered dual console arose, and it presents a serious challenge to bowriders’ family-fun supremacy. Which is best for you? We put the Sea Ray 230 SLX and the Boston Whaler 230 Vantage to the test. Both are owned by Brunswick, obviating favoritism. Here are the facts; it’s up to you to decide.
The Bowrider: Sea Ray 230 SLX
For many, the bowrider is the quintessential day boat. The Sea Ray 230 SLX is no exception, with a typical bowrider floor plan enhanced by intriguing innovations. The obvious place to start in comparing the two models is the power package: The 230 Vantage offers outboard power and the 230 SLX is propelled by a sterndrive. That means the engine is hidden underneath the sun pad.
The sun pad is a key component of the 230 SLX, an amenity that the 230 Vantage lacks. If you’re a fisherman, this is a good thing, because you’ll appreciate the open cockpit space. But if you’re a family boater, your crew will crave a place to kick back and catch rays.
The 230 SLX has a transom deadrise of 21 degrees — giving it a slightly sharper hull than the Vantage by one degree. The Bravo Three drive features dual counter-rotating propellers, which give the 230 SLX excellent bite in turns, allowing for graceful carving maneuvers at speeds in excess of 30 mph. This translates at low speeds as well, as the dual propeller system allows for better handling in close quarters, such as while docking or loading on a trailer.
The 230 SLX holds the advantage in water sports too, thanks in part to its sterndrive power that allows for crisper turns — those dual props again, plus a more advantageous center of gravity — and more smoothly sculpted wakes. But it also has the option to add a wake-enhancing component called Active Trim Control (ATC), a system that uses tabs to sculpt the wake to the rider’s preference. The 230 Vantage has standard trim tabs that let you adjust the boat’s attitude, but they are not sport-specific like the optional ATC tabs.
Another big plus in the 230 SLX’s favor is the extended swim platform, which provides extra real estate beyond the transom and also hides the engine’s drive underneath. That’s a huge advantage when dropping the anchor for a swim or for boarders and tubers gearing up or reboarding after a session.
That said, the Whaler is more expensive. With equal horsepower (a 300 hp MerCruiser 350 Mag to match the Whaler’s 300 hp Verado outboard), the base price of the bowrider runs $30,000 less than the dual console’s, which is also vying for your family boating dollar.
Price: $66,734 (base boat with test power)
The Dual Console: Boston Whaler 230 Vantage
Let’s make one thing clear: Whaler’s heritage is in fishing boats. The 230 Vantage stays true to that mission, with more family-friendly features. The boater who has no interest in fishing, or who sticks to freshwater areas, may gravitate to the runabout.
For coastal areas, the 230 Vantage suddenly becomes eminently viable. For one, it’s an outboard-powered boat, meaning its lower unit can be tilted completely out of the water, giving it a corrosion-fighting edge if you keep a boat in a slip. Also, it has a 111-gallon fuel tank, more than double that of the 230 SLX.
The 230 Vantage comes standard with some — but not all — of the fishy features that anglers crave: four rod holders installed into the wide gunwales, coaming bolsters, and a utility center — featuring a sink, cooler and cutting board — behind the helm. The livewell and raw-water washdown are options.
The dual-console sports a fully lined head with a pump-out port-a-potty, an amenity not available on the Sea Ray 230 SLX. (A head compartment is available on the 250 SLX.)
While the dual console lacks wraparound seating found in the bowrider’s cockpit, it does have a fold-down transom bench. It’s not as plush as the bowrider’s, but it creates a cockpit conversation pit. The port console seating is a double-wide bench with a backrest that can be adjusted to five positions.
The bow seating area rivals the bowrider’s. Filler cushions help create a full sun pad forward. But the dual console has a more rounded bow with a flat nonslip platform for boarding. The optional beach boarding ladder ($537) that mounts in the anchor locker adds to its versatility. Both boats have options to add a water-sports arch — the 230 Vantage’s comes with four rod holders.
Note the different decks: While both have full fiberglass liners, the Sea Ray has the option for snap-in carpet. The Whaler, however, has a fast draining, self-bailing cockpit ready for duty outside the inlet.
Performance? The 230 Vantage is a 50 mph boat when powered with a 300 hp Verado; the Sea Ray 230 SLX nearly matches it with a 260 hp MerCruiser. The bigger fuel tank gives the Vantage better total range, but the SLX offers 30 percent better fuel economy: At 27.5 mph, the Vantage burned 2.7 mpg, while the SLX hit 26.5 mph while consuming 3.7 mpg.
Overall, the 230 Vantage has a ton going for it in terms of amenities, but it still can’t outclass the 230 SLX in overall sportiness.
Price: $99,872 (base boat with test power)