For nearly a decade in the early years of the Robalo brand, its most prominent spokesman was Mark Sosin, IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame inductee and producer and host of Saltwater Journal. If you ever watched fishing TV in the ’80s and ’90s, you remember this: Robalo, the overbuilt boat.
And overbuilt it is still, in our estimation, but while the early idea of overbuilt meant a thick, heavy fiberglass-laminate hull that could pierce steel, today’s definition uses newer, lighter materials; finer, more polished hardware; and modern CAD design techniques that maximize space and fishability in ways the boats featured in Sosin’s old show cannot compete with.
Glass helms are increasingly common, simplifying engine rigging and improving data reliability, but not every boat builder—or boat buyer—is a fan of them.
During performance testing, the Robalo 317 DC proved solid and smooth-riding. Its dual Yamaha 300s delivered excellent midrange torque — so necessary in navigating heavy seas. For those moments of exuberance, the 317’s Yamahas produced sporty acceleration and a rewarding top speed. This is the response you expect from reliable power and a properly designed hull. With the combined deep freeboard, solid hull, and wave-cleaving stem and deadrise, the 317 could be an island cruiser, easily making Gulf Stream crossings in prudent conditions but capable of handling the unexpected slop that’s always likely to crop up when traversing ocean waters anywhere.
The 317 DC is even more impressive on comfort.
It begins with the ergonomic helm station. An extra-wide seat offers companion space, and it’s easily adjustable to attain the ideal reach to the wheel and flush-mounted switches on the dash. The throttles come to hand naturally, and it’s a short, convenient reach to the SeaStar Solutions joystick (optional at $15,790), giving - optimum control in tight quarters. The helm itself tilts, and a steering knob also assists with quick maneuvers. The dash is further enhanced with glass-helm instrumentation that blends engine data with navigation, sonar and radar displays in a convenient, easy-to-read format. In fact, screens on the Garmin or Simrad displays are easy to customize with multiple windows and data bars. Conserve fuel by monitoring miles per gallon as you cruise — when you’re aware of the burn, skippers can save enough in one trip to lengthen it or take an extra cruise a few trips down the road.
But this glass cockpit, or glass helm style isn’t universally applauded by all boat builders — or owners.
Grady-White typically rigs exclusively with Yamaha Command Link instruments. Robalo factory rigs with Simard or Garmin displays linked to the motors. There is, of course, room to upgrade to a Garmin display as large as 22 inches at the Grady-White dealer and that can be made to report engine data. Either approach is strong, and Grady has consistently won awards for reliability taking their consistent approach.
You have to note that comparisons are hard with the Robalo 317 because at 31 feet LOA, the 317 DC falls between Grady-White’s 30-foot 307 and their brand new 32-foot 325. Note too, most other builders don’t offer dual consoles that large or as fully featured. And, while Robalo’s brand reputation and construction is laudable, only Grady-White boasts 50 consecutive years of constant ownership and operation.
And, comparing the two brands requires additional choices.
First, we were impressed with Robalo’s electric adjustable transom seating module. It can stretch out flat for a comfortable sun pad for two. You can lean the aft bolster upward to give a forward-facing recliner or lean the cockpit side bolster up to recline facing over the transom, but its more focused on recreation and comfort.
Grady, instead, opts for a fixed transom with L-shaped seating with side couch that extends electronically to complete the seating group. But fold it all away, something you can’t do on the Robalo, and you have a much cleaner fishing deck. Finally, to get the standard side dive door the Robalo offers, you’ll have to step up to Grady’s 325 because the 307, and most boats in its size, can’t offer it.
Forward seating on the Robalo boasts a full lounge to port stretching to the anchor locker. You can remove the cushions to preserve them from the hazards of fishing and use the bulkheads for casting platforms or access to the windlass in the anchor locker. The starboard-side console in the bow opens to reveal the head compartment. It took us a while to find that feature, with so many other boat models tucking the head behind the companion console opposite the helm. But there, we found access to a berth with storage, LED lighting, and a couple of rod hangers for stowing heavy tackle. The combination of berth compartment and head compartment was preferable to models that combine them into one area, in our book.
It’s hard not to focus on creature comforts in 317 DC complete with a full cockpit hardtop and electric sunshade, but the design of fishing amenities was just as impressive.
Rod holders in the gunwales are ready to troll, and rod stowage under the starboard gunwale plus six rocket launchers in the hardtop offered plenty of places to put the sticks. Access to the oval livewell was conveniently at hand in the transom to port. A tuna door offered another boarding option to starboard, but with the fish locker under the aft seat, accessible on the transom platform, we doubt fishers will use it to drag their catch on board.
* Back-to-back transom seat converts to a sun pad with an electric switch.
* Glass-helm design is simple, reliable and easy to operate.
* Upgraded stereo system has a full array of speakers plus a sound bar for added depth of sound.
* In our prototype, the sun pad’s electric adjustable switch was inconvenient to access. Robalo stated that it will be relocated by this reading.
* Fishermen may find the fish box under the transom seat, accessed from the swim platform, a little awkward and small, but it does serve to keep scales and blood out of the crew area.
Price: $226,203 (with test power)
Available Power: Outboard
How We Tested
Engines: Twin 300 hp Yamaha outboards
Drive/Prop: Yamaha 15.25" x 19" 3-blade stainless steel
Gear Ratio: 1.73:1
Fuel Load: 125 gal.
Water on Board: 0 gal.
Crew Weight: 400 lb.
Robalo Boats - Nashville, Georgia; 229-686-7481; robalo.com