An unsinkable do-it-all.
Whether built of plywood or fiberglass, big family boats of my past ran on a shallow-deadrise V-bottom, which pounded hard in choppy seas, and featured a small-block inboard for power. Though its family would have referred to it as a cabin cruiser, they probably used it only for day cruises.
Today, a boating family’s basic requirements for a big dayboat remain mostly unchanged. But new dual-console dayboats, such as Boston Whaler’s 280 Vantage, offer huge differences in power, speed, seaworthiness, safety and efficiency, and with the added benefit of open cockpits fore and aft. So, though the requirements may be the same, boats like the 280 Vantage raise boaters' expectations.
Our test boat was sold. The owners' first boat, the couple had thought through what they wanted in a family rig for raising two young sons. The husband took an online boating-safety course for a state operator’s permit (his wife already had hers) and studied all the specs, focusing especially on Mercury’s Verado V-8 outboards, joystick controls, twin 12-inch Raymarine displays, VHF, AIS and radar, all integrated. Family features included a summer galley, a full electric head with holding tank, a bunk for naps in the starboard console, and tow points for various water toys. The integrated hardtop works well for shade and protection from rain. A full set of weather curtains allows three long seasons of boating on the Chesapeake.
By the time we sea-trialed this 280 Vantage, the family had kept it busy for a month. They love the forward cockpit not only for kid boat rides and lounging, but also for ease of anchoring and using the new bow ladder for beaching. As to the head in the port console, “I didn’t think people would want to use it, but they actually love it,” the owner told us. “Even one linebacker-size friend has gotten used to it, once he figured he had to do business sitting down.” The space is 60 inches wide, with 54 inches of headroom. “We also love the three-way portside lounge and use it a lot. Ditto for the fold-down stern seat, and we’ve found we can stash a pair of Yeti soft-side coolers under it.” The summer galley just aft of the helm chair offers a grill, sink and work surface, with a fridge beneath, perfect for parties or refueling your crew.
“The cockpit swim door is also a big success,” he continued. “It is perfect for tubing and swimming.” As a platform at rest, the hull is steady as a rock.
We discovered plenty of power for towing and cruising, even with a couple of families, coolers, food and ice aboard. Merc’s new 300s are torque monsters clothed in the company’s innovative Verado midsections, which damp out noise, vibration and harshness. They are silky-smooth. Combined with the 22-degree transom deadrise and sharp bow forefoot, our tester loped through a 2- to 3-foot chop at 30 to 37 mph (3,700 to 4,000 rpm), with a top speed of 55.6 mph. According to Mercury’s own data, the 280 Vantage runs nearly as well with 250s (which are based on the same powerhead), with a slightly quicker hole shot due to rigging those engines with an inch less propeller pitch. (That power option also saves $5,294 to apply toward the $30,894 joystick option.)
Speed isn’t everything. “We came back into our river at sunset last weekend,” the owner remarked. “I throttled back to 6 to 7 mph, and we just slipped along quietly. It was so peaceful and comfortable all the way home. We’ll be doing that again.”
What about fishing? “We’re going to learn,” the owner promised. The hardtop offers a lot of storage and rigging options for rod holders and setting trolling lines. With the transom seat folded down and the bow cockpit cleared, there’s plenty of space for multiple anglers to bottomfish, jig, and cast lures to breaking fish while the skipper keeps an eye on the Raymarine sonar and chart details.
Whaler’s new 280 Vantage is a thoroughly 21st-century vessel, built of heirloom quality to serve two or even three families on an active day cruise. Another refined vessel is Grady-White’s Freedom 285 ($275,880 with twin 300 hp Yamaha and Helm Master EX), which performs similarly with twin 300 hp engines. It does not offer a side dive door, bow ladder or full summer kitchen, but offers more tackle stowage.
The Vantage is unsinkable and full of safety features, from the electronics to the configuration of the cockpits. Access to fuel, wiring and plumbing systems for maintenance exhibits the Whaler design team’s attention to details.
By the way, the 280′s overall cruising fuel efficiency with the twin Verados is comparable to a much smaller 23-foot bowrider that I tested for Boating in 1998, with a single 225 hp old-style two-stroke outboard that topped out 15 mph lower and cruised 8 mph slower. Think about that. It’s a good index of how far the marine industry has come in the past 22 years, much less since 1960, two years after Boston Whaler was founded.
Mercury Marine’s Verado V-8 outboards deliver great power, speed, smoothness and fuel efficiency.
Integrated hardtop serves multiple functions, from shade and rain protection to fishing.
Portside dive door with stowable ladder serves both convenience and safety.
Bow compartment offers both an anchor with windlass and a telescoping ladder for beaching.
Comparable boats offer more standard stowage for fishing rods and tackle.
Price: $278,289 (with test power and joystick docking)
Available Power: Outboard
How We Tested
Engines: Twin 300 hp Mercury Verado V-8 outboards
Props: Twin Mercury Eco Enertia 16″ x 20″ 3-blade stainless steel
Gear Ratios: 1.85:1
Fuel Load: 116 gal.
Water Load: 20 gal.
Waste Load: 0 gal.
Crew Weight: 540 lb.
Boston Whaler - Edgewater, Florida; 877-294-5645; bostonwhaler.com