Center Console vs. Bay Boat

bay boat vs center console

For a huge number of anglers plying America’s waterways, either a bay boat or a center console will prove to be the ultimate fishing machine. But at first glance, these two genres of boats may appear to be one and the same. While it’s true that the differences between them are subtle, they’re also quite important.

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Virtually all bay boats are center consoles, because virtually all of them have a steering station on a console in the center of the boat—the defining trait of center console boats. But all center consoles are most certainly not bay boats. Bay boats initially became popular because they fulfilled the specific needs of inshore anglers plying southern waters, mostly along the Gulf coast. But as their excellent fishability became apparent they evolved through the years, and have become popular throughout the nation.

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Bay Boat Advantages

Here are the distinctive traits that set a bay boat apart from other fishing machines:

  • They feature a shoal draft and the ability to run through and fish in very shallow waters.
  • Bay boats have low-slung gunwales, so it’s easier to swing fish up over the side of the boat or lean down to take the hook out of fish being released without having to remove them from the water.
  • While there are a few larger models and some smaller ones as well, the vast majority of the bay boats out there fall between 19 and 26 feet of length.
  • They’re almost always trailerable, so anglers can hit many different waterways depending on where the bite is.
  • They tend to have multiple livewells with significant capacity.
  • They have raised casting decks both on the bow and in the stern, so anglers can spot fish and cast to them from an elevated position.
  • Most bay boats feature semi-V hulls.
  • All bay boats offer basic fishing features like rodholders, fishboxes, raw water washdowns, and tackle stowage. Most also offer optional advanced fishing features like high-tech marine electronics, bow-mounted electric trolling motors, and shallow-water pole anchors.
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Looking at these traits, it’s easy for any experienced angler to understand why these boats are so effective for light-tackle shallow-water fishing for species like redfish, speckled trout, and striped bass. However, there are also some down-sides to consider.

  • The biggest is the fact that larger center consoles with deeper V-hulls usually offer a better ride and more range, for running out through the inlet and into the open ocean.
  • They also are far more likely to come equipped with multiple engines, while bay boats generally have just one.

So if you enjoy offshore fishing as much as inshore fishing, which boat is best can become a difficult call. That’s not to say that many people who own bay boats don’t take them into the ocean on a regular basis—they certainly do.

But being a bit choosier about the weather is in order or you risk taking a pounding or getting wet if the seas kick up. And if you’re running a single-engine boat outside of the inlet we certainly hope you have a good tow insurance policy just in case a problem arises.

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Center Console Advantages

On the flip side of the coin, center consoles also have their own key distinctions:

  • Some larger center consoles with deeper V-hulls are bound to have deeper drafts than the average bay boat. That can get frustrating for shallow water anglers, especially when they can see fish tailing in waters too skinny for them to access.
  • It’s also important to note that many center consoles with deep-V hulls aren’t quite as stable as bay boats, with their slightly flatter hulls. This becomes very important when you’re standing on a casting deck since the elevation magnifies the boat’s rocking and rolling.
  • Plus, larger, more ocean-worthy boats are tougher to trailer, and more expensive to purchase and run.

So, Which Boat is Right for You?

As is always the case when you’re choosing a new boat, which design will suit you best is a matter of personal preference. That said, if you intend to spend the bulk of your fishing time in bays, tributary rivers, and backwaters, a bay boat will almost certainly be a wise choice.

If you plan to fish both inside and outside of the inlet, which will serve you best is a toss-up and you’ll have to decide whether to prioritize the inshore action, or the offshore excitement. And if you think you’ll head out into the ocean more often than not, deciding on a center console will likely be the better move.

Read Next: Center Console vs. Walkaround Boats

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