The Cats: New Outboard Tunnels Taking Over
If you’ve spent any time looking at the new boat market in the last 5 years, you would realize the outboard market has exploded in popularity. For performance boats the big eye opener is the proliferation of outboard tunnels of all sizes, with the 28’ to 36 size being extremely popular. Why is that? Well, for one, new outboards are more efficient, extremely reliable, less costly, and now 300 to 400 HP engines with full warranties are normal. Mercury Racing’s 400R was indeed a game changer for this category. Twin 400 HP outboards on a mid size cat will outperform twin big blocks around 500 HP in every way. On top of that, it makes business sense for the manufacturer and the consumer.
Consider the process of making a boat and any builder will tell you, the increase in cost of building a slightly larger boat is trivial. Materials and labor costs going from a 22’ hull to a 25’ is minimal compared to the market price. And there is a sweet spot. Specialty builders like MTI, DCB and Skater recognize that even though many of their boats can cost well into the $600k or $700k plus range, the market gets considerably bigger for boats in the $250k to $400k range. I know, it’s still a considerable amount of money for anyone, but it is probably triple the market size or more, especially considering the low running costs of today’s ultra efficient outboards; which could be a third or less compared to big block sterndrives. Total cost of ownership becomes far more attractive. Both the builder and the consumer win.
But all would be for not if they didn’t perform, and they do. This is the other benefit. All of the hulls in the 28’ to 36 range run in the 110 to 120 MPH range, no problem. That is turnkey, warranty and quiet enough that you and your wife can carry on a normal conversation about your gambling problem at 80 MPH. With a significantly greater beam than a V hull, you can fit 4 adults across the rear bench and everyone is behind a full windscreen. And that is another thing about these cats, they drive easily. Once setup, it doesn’t take a lot of seat time to drive these. That is not to say one should take them lightly, but you don’t need to do too much adjusting once it is set up, they like a specific engine height and run stable, nice and flat. Running V hulls of any size over 100 MPH, takes some experience.
Some builders, like DCB, Eliminator and Skater already had vast experience with this size range and merely had to reconfigure existing hulls to accommodate the big outboards, or already had them. Others, like MTI and Wright Performance went with new designs of their own, while some like Fountain acquired a design to be built and branded by them; the first factory built cat for the reborn Fountain brand.
Although these hulls are still outside the scope of many boaters, the encouraging thing is there are some smaller single engine cats on the market that can run a 300 or 400 and mimic the performance and ease of driving that the bigger twin cats provide. Liberator, Nordic and Eliminator, among others have been in the small cat game for a while. Nordic’s 240 SXOB is probably the most modern example in this range. With some new high performance outboard engines potentially coming to market soon in the 300 HP range, these practical hot rods will only come down in price.
I am a V hull guy, although driving center pod tunnels and cats can change even the most die hard V hull drivers. The stability, speed and ease of use are compelling. Cat guys are usually dedicated to that design, and the future looks like there will be more and more cats.