Testing a 1997 Checkmate Pulsare 2100: An Oldie, But a Goodie
Checkmate boats has been a staple in the family performance boat game since 1963. Originally started by boat racer Bill Combs in Bucyrus Ohio, the company has laid its foundation in great design, value, and a variety of models. In the early years, Checkmate was known for smaller outboards like the MX, and grew to offer boats up to 30’ feet. Some of their best sellers and most well regarded hulls have been the 21 Starflite, and the Pulsare 2100 which came after the former. Now owned by the parent company of Hustler Powerboats, the company continues the tradition of high quality family performance boats.
My family has owned a 1997 Pulsare 2100 closed deck since new. My Dad got a great deal on it in the spring of 1997, and we’ve put over 20 seasons into the boat, and it still shows incredibly well. Let’s do a test and overview of this older Checkmate Pulare.
The fact that a boat can still perform so well over the years speaks to its design. At around 1300 lbs, the sleek 21 has a 19 degree deadrise hull and sharp full length strakes, allowing the boat to track extremely well. Even the though the Pulsare isn’t the fastest 21 out there, it more than makes up for it in drive-ability, and practicality. With a modest 200 EFI Mercury, you can touch 70 MPH. This one has a 23” Laser 2 prop, which matches well with the 200, setup with a 5.5” CMC jack plate. The propshaft is well below the pad, because the engine does not have low water pickups, so the advantage of a small 3 blade prop on this setup is that it generally reduces drag, improving overall performance, and performs well all around.
With all prop vent holes open, the Checkmate gets on plane quickly. Mercury’s venerable little 2.5 liter two stroke is one of the most reliable outboard engines ever produced. I know OMC and Yamaha guys are cringing at that statement, but it’s true. The wide 95’ beam makes the boat not only really stable at speed, but with the hull design, can really feel confident in higher speed turning. Not deep enough to be a wave crusher, but for most lakes, it does well, and is actually pretty fun in some light chop. This engine is stock, except for having Bob’s Machine solid upper and lower motor mounts.
Being an older engine, with probably around 800 Hours, the trusty Mercury is a bit of a guzzler at higher RPM, but not terrible cruising. 3800 RPM, and 4200 RPM seem to be sweet spots.
Our particular boat had the transom redone about 5 years ago, with the wood being replaced, knees and the new glass was painted fresh white. A metal plate was added to beef it up further, and overall it is stronger than new. Many boats have wood transoms, getting 20 years out of it is about right. Checkmate uses full balsa core construction, which is great. Balsa is still a very light and strong material for core in boats. The gelcoat work is where Checkmate really shines. Our 97 Pulsare is in excellent condition, and mostly garage kept. Not only does it shine and hold its bold red color, the stripes are all gelcoat, with a flawless finish. Overall fit and finish is good, not high end custom boat level, but better than most family boats.
The interior is a great 2 plus 3 layout, well situated, and features a adjustable buckets up front. Additionally, there is a well positioned foot stop to bolster yourself, and a padded armrests perfectly placed. The only criticism here is the seats are quite high, they are on posts, and you could probably cut them down a few inches. Instead, we custom made some wind visors with a simple bracket, but I think I’d like siting lower better.
Achieving 69 MPH with the 23” Laser 2 is respectable, reading about 6,200 RPM on the analog tachometer. With some adjustments, that number could surely be improved. But, the way the boat is setup, it drives well in any situation. I’d probably set the engine back a bit more, raise it slightly and try a few different props, but this was just an overview of how it is setup now. And it works really well.
If your’e looking for a 21’ family boat, that is great value, this is one of the better boats you can get today. An open bow is available, but the closed bow is the way to go. For powering a new one, I’d look at the new Mercury 3.4L 225 four stroke as the best option, and if you wanted to save a few bucks, the new 175 ProXS would probably outperform this older 200 two stroke. The 225 should get you to mid to high 70s. The new Mercury Racing 250R would be an absolute beast on here.