We take a deeper look into what’s driving the market for larger center consoles.
It was not so long ago that a 39-foot center console really got you noticed. Take, for example, the Yellowfin 39, a lovely and, some might even say, iconic boat, that one magazine proclaimed its “mammoth size” in a 2011 write-up. But in today’s hypercharged, large center console market, that sportfishing machine could be taken for a guppy. Heck, a 39-foot LOA won’t even get you in the door at that club. These days, it takes at minimum 40 feet to be considered a large center console, and with true monsters like the much ballyhooed HCB Estrella 65 and the even larger, soon-to-come, Scout 670LX in the mix, the ceiling seems nearly limitless.
But what’s driving this push for the seemingly outrageous? It turns out a few factors, from age-old ticks of the human psyche to the most modern outputs of engineering and design. Perhaps Mark Taiclet, Pursuit Boats’ director of brand management, put it most succinctly when he told me, “It sounds almost too simple, but people are building these boats because they can.”
Any discussion of mega center consoles and the factors that are, well, propelling them, needs to begin with the recent onset of massive outboard engines—first from the now-defunct upstart Seven Marine, and then in expectedly more long-lasting form from industry giants Yamaha and Mercury.
“We started coming to the market with outboard boats right around when Mercury released the three hundred-fifty and four hundred, and then a four hundred-fifty-horsepower V8 in 2019, and then the six hundreds came out,” says John Cosker of Mystic Powerboats, which has a 52-foot center console flagship. “That’s the real driver. You can have a fifty-foot center console now because of these outboards; they’re so fast and powerful. And they’re also easy to maintain. The reliability of the outboards has gone up so much that there’s very little problems. I’m in the Bahamas right now with twelve outboard-powered boats and nothing else. If you told me ten years ago I’d just be building outboard boats, I would have said you were crazy, but they are just so easy and reliable. We don’t even make inboard-powered boats anymore.”
Chris Landry, marketing director at Viking Yachts, echoes Cosker’s sentiments about the new generation of massive outboards, particularly in regards to maintenance. “The outboards are easy to get to and easy to maintain,” he says. “What’s great about them is that they’re readily accessible. If one engine needs to be replaced, it’s right there. You don’t need to do major surgery to fix anything.”
Viking’s Valhalla line of center consoles had the unusually fortuitous situation occur where they were invited to Mercury’s headquarters to get a sneak preview of the 600-hp V12s that are currently all the rage with the biggest center consoles. “When it comes to the forty-six and fifty-five, those boats were actually designed specifically for the six-hundred Mercs,” says Landry. “So I think, inarguably, you can say the power is driving it.”
Viking wasn’t the only one who got an early look at the 600s. “We brought down key people from Valhalla, Formula, and Tiara in 2019,” says Jeff Becker, Mercury’s senior category manager for outboards 150-horsepower-plus. “We gave them a sneak peek into what we were doing, and we showed them all the features and benefits, and told them our launch plans, and gave them an opportunity to think about what they wanted to do.” The largest Valhallas, the Tiara 48 LS, and the Formula 500 SSC became some of the first boats to showcase the now nearly ubiquitous engines.
Yamaha has its own relationships, perhaps most notably with Pursuit, who runs the company’s biggest engines, the 425s, on the back of its biggest center console model, the S 428.
So, okay, the potent and capable propulsion units made possible today’s colossal center console models at a macro level, but what is driving this market at a human level? What is it about the boats that make them so popular?
Well, for one, this is the boating industry, so we might as well get this part out of the way first—a lot of it has to do with ego. “Guys want to go bigger and bigger and bigger,” says Taiclet. “You pull into the marina, and you want to have the baddest boat. For years, maybe, people didn’t think a market for these boats over forty feet was sustainable, but now if you’re not over forty feet, you’re not really a player in the game, and a lot of these guys are going a lot bigger than that—they want the biggest boat wherever they go.”
Another factor manufacturers point to for the popularity of these boats is their versatility. “Before the advent of the large center consoles, a lot of owners had multiple boats depending on what they wanted to do,” says Becker. “They had a twenty-five- or thirty-five-foot center console and a large sportyacht, and as the forty-two, forty-five, fifty, and sixty-five center consoles emerged, these owners could consolidate from two boats that do separate things to one boat that can do it all—cruise, entertain, fish—and they feel comfortable captaining it. This is really a do-everything segment of the market.”
Seven Marine and Volvo Penta Partnership
The consolidation makes not only for easier boating, but also for more cost-efficient boating—for one thing, a lot of these owners don’t feel they need a captain to help them run the boat.
Compared to a convertible, the single-level center console is a much simpler boat. The model type is much less cumbersome to clean after a day on the water, easier to maintain, as we’ve already discussed, and they are also easier to drive thanks to joystick controls at slow speeds and two-speed transmissions that help the boats get on plane quickly and safely.
“That was a big thing when we were developing the six hundred,” says Becker. “We talked to owners moving up from smaller center consoles or down from diesel sportfishers, and in both cases, they wanted acceleration and an ease of operation getting the boat on plane. These big heavy boats can lose the horizon when they start to plane, and that can be dangerous.”
Mercury found an answer in a two-speed transmission that works first to get the boat on plane and second to quickly get it up to full speed.
Speaking of speed, it’s an area where center consoles really shine. It’s not just a folly for thrill-seekers; it gives these large center consoles a major leg up on the tournament trail. Think about it. The benchmark for a fast convertible is 40 mph. The Viking 80, for example, is a celebrated platform, known for being able to get to and from the fishing grounds swiftly, with a top speed around 43 mph. Yet some of these center consoles can go 60 mph. “That’s a real advantage to the center console,” says Josh Slayton, product specialist at Scout Boats. “It means you can fish for an extra hour. That’s legitimate; that can help you in a tournament.”
Of course, what you give up in speed aboard a convertible, you gain in comfort. And that’s another driver of the large center console market. Customers want to be able to take their boats across to the Bahamas and elsewhere and spend real time aboard, overnighting on the boat, perhaps even with another couple. Thus, the real driver at the very upper end of the market, say 55 feet-plus, is accommodation space. “We were getting customers looking at our forty-two and even our fifty-three, and they just couldn’t see themselves spending multiple nights aboard,” says Slayton. “So we figured, ‘Shoot, we’ve already got them here, we might as well give them what they want.’ On the sixty-seven, you’ve got a master and a VIP, and you can fit two couples or five or six friends comfortably.”
So where does it all end? Will we one day see a true center console superyacht, 80 feet long and powered by as-yet mythical, quintuple Yamaha 850s? The answer is anyone’s guess, but as long as the propulsion units keep growing, it seems unlikely that owners’ collective thirst for something even bigger and badder will ever actually be slaked. But don’t feel bad for the Yellowfin 39s of the world. Once these monster center consoles reach superyacht size, they’re all going to need tenders.
-by Kevin Koenig