The first thing that pops up if you Google “What’s the best boat size for offshore fishing?” is a definitive answer: “Between 30 and 40 feet long.” Well, that was easy. Sadly, there is no magic-size boat that’s ideal for heading offshore. The best boat length for you depends on many factors: budget, type of boat, how far offshore you plan to run, where you live and the conditions you’ll face, how experienced you are and your tolerance for risk.
What is Offshore Anyway?
If you live in the Northeast and want to go canyon fishing on the continental shelf, you might have to run more than 100 miles one way and will need a boat with the range capable of handling rough water. The Atlantic will start rocking at some point.
Grady-White’s Canyon series starts at around 27 feet LOA, which is probably the minimum length for a well-designed boat fishing the closer canyons. A boat like the Canyon 271 does well offshore thanks to its capable SeaV2 hull, which features a sharp 55 degrees of deadrise at the entry, 30 degrees amidships, and 20 degrees at the stern. But for most canyon runs, a larger model like the Canyon 326 would probably be more appropriate. Its larger size and 327-gallon fuel tank give you a lot more range.
Offshore Fuel Management
When calculating range for an offshore trip, a 10 percent reserve won’t cut it. Use the more conservative rule of thirds instead. First, make sure the tank is full. Use only a third of your fuel for heading out and fishing. Reserve the second third of your fuel capacity for heading back. That leaves the last third as a reserve in case conditions worsen.
The Near-Offshore Boat
If you are fishing off Miami Beach, the edge of the Gulf Stream might be only a mile offshore. At 4 miles out, you can be in 1,000 feet of water. In good weather, you’ll even see flats boats trolling weed lines for dolphin. In this scenario, a capable compact center-console like the Scout 215 XSF or Robalo’s R222—which both have a lot of freeboard in the front—will likely be sufficient for close-in offshore work. But here’s the catch: In summer, violent thunderstorms tend to form over land and head toward the ocean. These can cut off small boats from heading back in if a skipper isn’t paying attention.
A good weather app to have on your phone in the above scenario is WeatherBug, which is free ($3.99 without ads). It automatically homes in on your location, and the home page immediately shows the distance and location of the nearest lightning strike during the last half-hour, a great indicator of severe weather.
Bigger Means Safer
In general, bigger boats are safer, according to the 2021 US Coast Guard Recreational Boating Statistics report. It said 273 deaths occurred on boats from 16 feet long to less than 26 feet long. For boats 26 feet long and greater, the total number of fatalities drops to 59, with only one of those occurring on boats greater than 65 feet long. Most of those fatalities, by the way, were due to drowning by those not wearing life jackets.
A well-designed catamaran with an experienced captain will punch above its weight when it comes to handling rough water. I remember fishing in the 1998 Tred Barta Blue Marlin Classic held at Walker’s Cay aboard a Glacier Bay 260 Canyon Runner (there’s that C word again). Conditions were rough, but it handled the 6-foot seas far better than most of the larger boats in the fleet as we passed them heading back to the docks.
The trick with this particular cat was to go about 25 to 30 mph to keep air moving between the hulls, and to not let off the throttle, even when we saw a larger wave coming.
A great equalizer for handling offshore conditions in smaller boats is a gyrostabilizer such as the Seakeeper 1, which is designed for boats as small as 23 feet.
This marvel of modern engineering weighs 365 pounds and costs $15,900, not including installation. But it makes a tremendous difference in the way your boat handles rough water by nearly eliminating side-to-side roll. That makes it much easier to fish and run in comfort aboard smaller boats.
No matter what size boat you head offshore in, you should do what’s necessary to make it safer by owning and maintaining all your required safety equipment, including a VHF radio, an EPIRB or a personal locator beacon, and a ditch bag for worst-case scenarios. And don’t forget to always use good judgment. Some days, it’s just better to stay inside.