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What is luxury on a sport fishing or family boat? Ask any 10 owners and you are likely to get an equal number of answers, with a laundry list of "functional luxury" must have additions for your boat, from bow thrusters to thru-stern windlass.
By Capt. John N. Raguso
Boat steering systems are all the rage these days for the big sportfishing machines; the good news is that joy stick controls are starting to filter down to twin outboard powered boats in the 23- to 30-range too.

What is luxury on a sport fishing or family fishing boat? Ask any 10 owners and you are likely to get an equal number of answers.

Spending money on marginally useful accessories and creature comforts just to show off to the guys at the dock is a foreign subject to me and probably to a lot of The Fisherman's readers who have to work hard to save extra cash to equip their ride. If I am going to put something on an existing boat, or order an optional feature on a new one, it needs to have real value and either help me catch more fish, make my vessel run more safely or efficiently, or add some additional ergonomics or crew comfort in the process. I guess you can term this concept “functional luxury”—spending money for an item on your vessel that will really make a difference.

With that thought as our singular focus for this month’s Boat Sense column, here are a dozen “functional luxury” items that were once the exclusive to larger and more expensive craft and are now being included as either standard or optional features on many outboard powered center consoles, dual consoles and cabin boats in the 21- to 30-foot range.

This is my “go-to” add-on accessory that I will soon install on my MarCeeJay. This feature enabled me to avoid some potentially devastating thunderstorms and rough seas on a recent away charter. I experienced firsthand the trip safety that real time SiriusXM weather capability can accomplish. Many current chartplotters feature a plug-in weather module that is compatible with the SiriusXM suite of services, which include music, storm radar, sea temps, wind reports and weather forecasting, available as a monthly service ranging from $15 to $55 per month, depending on the features you select. You can sign up for six months and take six months off when your boat is high and dry for the winter. This one is a keeper and most Fisherman readers can add this to their boats with a minimum of difficulty.

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are becoming more imbedded in our everyday lives and have made their way into the boating world as well. In the majority of situations, the heart of the onboard wireless system is your multifunction display chartplotter. All of the data collected by the chartplotter and its various sensors (position, vessel speed, course, time to destination, etc.) and the echo sounder if it’s a combo unit (depth, sea temp, etc.) can be transmitted to various devices onboard via a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi antenna that is either built-in or added to your MFD unit. Just download an app from the manufacturer of your marine electronics and you can get it started and be totally amazed as to what you can see and control on these portable ancillary devices (phone, tablet, laptop, etc.). You can also play your tunes stored in your phone via Bluetooth connectivity to your next-gen onboard stereo system to entertain your crew dockside, at the beach and when trolling the 100-fathom line. This is definitely the wave of the future and the sooner you get onboard, the more user functionality you will enjoy.

I knew that the paradigm for big-screen MFDs had shifted in favor of small boaters when I attended last year’s Ft. Lauderdale Boat Show and observed how many 21- to 25-foot boats were being equipped with a minimum 12-inch multi-function display at the helm, with others offering twin 10-inch or 12-inch screens! As my eyes age, the 6- and 7-inch displays just don’t cut it anymore and I am considering upgrading my 228 EdgeWater with twin 9-inch displays as a winter project for next season. With the wealth of data that most onboard GPS navigators, echo sounders, radars and ancillary instruments provide, there is no substitute for having the largest display possible to be able to use this data to your advantage, either for navigation, fuel efficiency, weather safety or fish finding.

Once limited to custom sport fishing vessels, more manufacturers are offering user-selectable hull colors that allow owners to personalize their ride. One of my two boats has the traditional off-white gelcoat hull and deck colors, whereas my larger EdgeWater center console sports a “fighting lady yellow” hull. Sure, custom colors are a pain to color-match when doing minor scratch and gelcoat repairs, but it’s not an impossible experience. My topsides color is white, and that’s a cinch to fix when required. If you want to strut your stuff when underway, going with a different hull color is one way to do it.

Radar was once the exclusive domain of boats 30 feet and up, equipped with large hardtops and 4- to 6-foot wide open array antennas. That has all changed over the past decade, first with the introduction of enclosed radomes in the 18- to 24-inch diameter range. But the real paradigm-shift came with the introduction of completely sealed and independent plug-and-play radar modules, where if the user wants to add a radar capability to a big-screen display, all that’s required is to mount the dome up top, plug the wire into the back of the MFD and hook it up to an onboard power supply. High-definition radar is a recent phenomenon, making it even more effective and user-friendly. Most basic plug-and-play radar modules are priced from $1,300 to $1,700, and all of the major electronics manufacturers offer this capability in their MFD package deals.

This is another of the must-have upgrades that I will add to my boat during the coming winter layover. If your vessel is equipped with Lenco electric trim tabs, which is one of the most popular OEM brands these days among major manufacturers, upgrading to the LED tactile trim tab panel offers two distinct operation benefits. First, there is no guesswork when working the tab positions, since the LED indicators positioned on either side of the trim tab switch panel let you know the precise angle of attack of each trim plane. Secondly, at the end of each trip, an auto-retract feature brings each tab up into the neutral position when you turn off your ignition, so that you can start off fresh for the next trip. Frequently, with no indicators to let you know the current trim tab position and with the tab piston rods exposed to the underwater elements, two potential negatives occur. One, you can take off on your next trip with the boat in a less than optimum trim angle; and second, barnacles can attach themselves to the metal actuating rods on each tab and compromise their operation. Both of these problems are solved nicely with the LED tactile switch with auto retract feature.

Decades ago, Wiley Corbett, Grady-White’s former General Manger, shared some intimate boating knowledge with me at their booth at the NY Boat Show and it was simply, “John, seats sell boats!” Indeed they do, especially when your wife, significant other, family or crew has anything to say about it. The problem with stationery seats located in the cockpit is that they get in the way when it’s time to bend the rods. Fast-forward to the recently introduced lineup of 2018 family sport boats and fishing machines where a lot has changed. It’s a case of now you see it, now you don’t when it comes to the concept of crew seating. Layout engineers have become very creative when designing modern sportfishers, dual consoles and center consoles, employing drop-down bench seats, dual purpose back rests that double as coaming bolsters, sliding lounge seats and up/down back and lumbar bolsters on helm chairs and leaning posts. Having a plush ergonomic doublewide aft bench seat that drops down out of the way when it’s time to fish is a major plus for any fishing boat. If I were buying a new rig, I would certainly budget some extra dead presidents to focus on upgraded flexible operator and crew seating, since most of your trips are a long day out on the water, you might as well be comfortable.

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