The majority of Fisherman readers cherish family time, which is one of the core building blocks of our societal structure. Quality family time is special; and I can tell you from firsthand experience with children and grandchildren, family time out on the water is “extra special” and can build a lifetime of lasting memories. For this month’s Boat Sense column, we’re taking a closer look at family-oriented fishing and fun boat layouts that help build those positive lasting memories.
Ultimate Family Boat Layout
The dual console layout has come a loooooong way from its bowrider roots of the ‘60s and ‘70s. One of the first fishing boat companies to recognize the trend and attraction of the upgraded dual console layout for family fishing and other fun activities was the good folks from Grady-White. In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s they offered dual consoles that were slightly ahead of their time. When models featuring a built-in private head and freshwater sink in the portside console emerged, that’s when the game changed for everyone. The wives and girlfriends of all the hardcore fishermen took immediate notice, and the ultimate family fishing boat layout was born. Since then, most fishing boat manufacturers offer at least one version of a do-it-all, dual console family “sport utility vessel,” some offer up to enormous 37-foot models. You can take a small village to the beach and back in a chariot like that powered by triple F350s, in addition to dragging your high school water ski team behind the boat in the process!
If you don’t think that the dual console layout is dominating the new boat market, the next time you go to a boat show, take a closer look. I did a tour of the Ft Lauderdale International Boat Show last November and the New York Boat Show in January, and dual consoles were out in force and seemed to have the most traffic at the various booths. From the local dealers I talked with after the NY show, they were definitely getting a lot of interest from family groups in their dual console models and writing orders. With good reason, dual consoles are perhaps the most diverse boat type, offering the options to fish or simply chill out with family and friends with the comforts and amenities that are unique to the dual console category.
Quality Dual Console Anatomy
So what makes a dual console so special? I believe that it’s the ability to do anything at any time on a whim and keep all of your family members engaged in the shipboard activities. Anyone who has ever taken their wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, kids, grandkids or friends out on the water knows that there are myriad ways to spend your time. Entertaining waterborne activities include fishing, skiing, wake boarding, cruising, exploring, clamming, going to the beach, watching the sunset, heading to a waterside bar and grill, or whatever turns you on. Sometimes I like to anchor-up in a quiet cove, turn the cell phone off and just listen to the therapeutic sound of the water lapping against the side of the hull as I watch the world passing by. You get the picture, being out on the water in your own boat is way-cool providing an adventure with every trip, or the option of slowing down and taking in the beauty of the wide open spaces of our spectacular Northeastern coast.
Quality dual consoles are designed from the get-go with these activities in mind, and the best ones offer a variety of standard features that allow you to switch gears seamlessly from one focus to another. If you are an angler at heart and want to teach your spouse, kids or family friends about the joys of fishing, your ultimate dual console ride should be equipped with at minimum a quartet of gunwale mounted rodholders, a pair of horizontal racks under each covering board, a recirculating livewell, insulated 120-quart+ fishbox, some basic tackle storage and a spot at the dash where you can flush mount a 9- or 10-inch multi-function display for your preferred marine electronics package. When you are pursuing other activities, those flush gunwale rodholders double as a spot to insert a tray or portable polymer “bait board” to serve food or drinks; the horizontal rod racks stow boat hooks and clam rakes; the insulated livewell and fishbox chill your food and drinks for the day; and the storage drawers keep sunglasses, sunscreen lotion, T-shirts, hoodies and towels out of the sun and spray.
Modern, next-gen dual console designs have evolved to put every square inch of space onboard to good use. Some DCs include private head and a freshwater sink in the companion console. There’s plenty of deep dry stowage for your safety gear, towels, fun stuff and tackle under the captain’s console. The walk-through area between the consoles typically has a runway that allows unimpeded passage fore-n-aft, a critically important feature if you have small children or grandkids onboard!
A swing-out window and locking companionway lets you button things up tight in rough weather for added protection. Overhead, a Bimini top, radar arch with cover or hardtop adds to the overall crew comfort and weather protection. A gaggle of kids who get too much sun or are getting soaked by a passing shower can totally ruin your family’s good time. The radar arch or hardtop are also great spots to add a few rodholders to get them out of the way, a radio box for additional electronics or dry storage for sundry items, plus a welcome and efficient spot to increase the effective range of your VHF and AM/FM antennas.
Looking at the cockpit and the seating arrangements, ergonomically designed dual console craft give you plenty of open cockpit space and thigh-high support for a variety of missions, but feature adaptable seating arrangements to entertain a crowd when the moment calls for it. The helm should offer the captain a comfy cushioned swivel chair, with standard or optional swing-up armrests and a back bolster, to allow for driving while standing. Aft of this position is the perfect spot to mount a combo sink/refrigerator or grill. The portside companion seat should be a classic dual back-to-back cushioned bench with a fold-down arrangement to turn it into a 6-foot sun lounge, with added dry stowage down under. Some top builders offer electric seats that can be fine-tuned to adjust and extend the length of this sun lounge at the flick of the switch. A fold-away double-wide aft bench seat is a must to complete any entertainment cockpit and once again the best ones are available at a touch when you need them and flip neatly out of the way back into the transom bulkhead when you don’t. A transom gate is a nice touch on the well-appointed dual console of any size, as is a foldup boarding ladder that tucks into the integrated swim platform. These features allow for easy egress and return to the boat when swimming or coming back onboard from the beach.
Moving forward to the bow, some dual consoles feature twin raised bench lounge seats port and starboard, with a table insert in the center for entertaining and casual dining. Some of the more advanced designs feature swing-out armrests or backrests for these twin benches that are a welcome feature when needed, but tuck away or can be removed when it’s time to pursue other activities. Dry storage and/or insulated fishboxes that drain directly overboard (whether underway or at rest) should be located under each bench seat. The forepeak should have a flush anchor locker with hatch. The addition of an electric windlass will make anchoring or retrieving the hook a fingertip operation for anyone onboard. An additional feature to consider is a dedicated spot to hide a pair of water skis or a wakeboard and their requisite accessories, like life vests, gloves and tow ropes. Some builders will install a flush hatch in the cockpit sole to stow this gear, while others will allow you to keep it under the starboard console.
Alternate Family Boat Layouts
Although the dual console model maybe the king of the family boat layout, two others have historically been at the core of family fun on the water. Walkaround cabin and flush deck cabin or “cuddies” have allowed many families to enjoy their activities out on the water and each offers certain advantages over the dual console layout. The most obvious of these in the 20- to 24-foot craft is the addition of a quiet and secure spot down below to totally escape from the wind, weather, sun and other hostile elements (like a mosquito swarm). Need a place to change out of wet clothes, jump into a bathing suit or take a catnap? The cuddy and walkaround cabins each offer you this feature. When you start getting into boats 30 feet and up, that’s when the dual console layout plays catchup with its cuddy cabin competitors, since there’s enough room to install both a private head AND a berth under the twin console areas for taking a nap or overnighting it at your favorite beachside hideaway. I’ve had enough successful family fun trips to the beach on my older 23-, 24- and 26-foot walkarounds to know that these layouts also contribute to quality family time out on the water.
No matter which layout you prefer, the bottom line is the same, go out there with your spouse, kids and grandkids this coming summer and have a great time! If you have any questions about dual consoles, reach out to me at