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Picking a Boat: Walkaround versus Express

Which style of boat is right for your type of fishing?

April 3, 2013
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Walkaround boat
Should you go with an express/cuddy cabin model or a walkaround? File photo

If you eavesdrop on a typical boating conversation, compromise is invariably mentioned. No single boat style is perfect for every fisherman. Some are more utilitarian than others. But there’s always a certain amount of ­compromise in features and performance. And for serious anglers who also require the shelter of a cabin, ­decisions get even more complicated: Should you go with an express/cuddy cabin model or a walkaround? I ­canvassed several builders to get their perspectives.

Express boat
Express styling in boats maximizes space. File photo

Meaning of Compromise

Grady-White offers its customers options in both express and walkaround styles. ­Express models start with the 305 and go up to the 360, while six walkaround ­models range from 20 feet up to 30. Jim Hardin — a dedicated angler and the ­company’s longtime compliance manager — says each has advantages and ­disadvantages, depending on personal preference.

“You can certainly walk around the bow of all of our express models. But the walkaround style affords more ­confidence and safety, since the recessed forward walkaround keeps you down inside the boat. That makes it easier to pull the anchor, follow a fish or dock. You can focus on the task and not worry about your footing.”

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That recessed forward passageway has its drawbacks though. It eats up space. On the 23 Walkaround, ­Hardin says the cutout averages eight inches wide by nine inches deep, with even more leeway at the bow. That ­proportionally reduces the interior cabin space. The squeezing also requires the helm to be located starboard to allow access to the cabin door, and reduces companion helm seating. Conversely, the express models have a ­center helm, which offers better operating visibility and wraparound seating.

“It all comes down to individual choice,” Hardin says. “Both styles are popular. You gain more safety in a walkaround versus more interior cabin space and design flexibility with the express. Both styles will catch fish though,” he added.

Walkaround boat
Walkarounds provide a safe path forward. File photo

Natural Evolution

South Florida custom builder Release Boatworks currently offers three models: a 34, 43 and 46. All can be ­configured as express or walkarounds according to company owner, Jim Turner.

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“I was very apprehensive about building a walkaround because it’s such a niche boat,” he explained. “A lot of ­people fish tournaments down here, with six- or seven-man crews, so you need plenty of seating. It was a real ­design challenge to add comfortable seating, and in the process, I discovered the walkaround is a great family boat too. Once people really look at how they use a boat, they’ll see the walkaround is a great compromise. You give up the floating condo for a better, more-practical style. It’s the evolution of the day boat.”

From a light-tackle-fishing standpoint, Turner appreciates the safety and convenience of the single-level ­forward walkaround deck. Anglers fighting a hot fish can square their hips and run forward without turning. The ­passageway is wide enough that heavy-tackle harnesses don’t bind when moving forward either. The Release center-helm layout also allows the helmsman to keep track of the crew during the fight.

Walkaround boat
Optimal Platform: Larger walkarounds offer unrestricted fishing space in both the bow and the stern. File photo

Turner concedes the space sacrifice with the walkaround style. It was a bigger challenge to incorporate batteries, exhaust and other related ­components in the tighter engine spaces, for example. On the 46 express version, three staterooms are standard versus being able to sleep only four in the comparable walkaround version.

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“I’m 100 percent sold on the walkaround concept though,” he says. “If my wife and I take the family to Bimini for the weekend, we’re going to stay in a hotel anyway, not aboard the boat. So for hard-core fishing, especially light tackle, a walkaround is the way to go.”

Walkaround boat
Wide Alleys: If you’re considering a walkaround design, make sure the ­pathways are adequately large. File photo

Pure Fishing

Mike Matlack, president of Gamefisherman, another custom Florida builder, is also a fan of the walkaround style. “It all depends on what you want,” he explains. “If you need an all-purpose family boat to stay aboard with lots of amenities, then the express is the best choice. If you want a pure fishing boat with a tight bunk, good-size head, shower and microwave, go with a walkaround.”

Besides reduced cabin room and a narrower bridge, Matlack says the biggest difference between the two styles is lining up the drive trains in the tighter engine rooms. Creative placement of compressors, fish boxes and fuel cells is another consideration. With reduced accessibility, engine-room servicing is more difficult on a walkaround than an express model, Matlack adds.

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Walkaround boat
Tight Cabins: If you don’t need a large cabin area, even smaller walkarounds can provide excellent fishability. File photo

Proven Hybrid

Contender Boats offers yet another twist — the 32 Fish Around. In production for more than a decade now, this model is an open center console with the convenience of a small cabin.

“It functions well without ­sacrificing 360-degree fishing capability,” says Contender president Joe Neber. “It’s a fishing boat first with some ­creature comforts for the family. It has a nice head and a big V-berth, but limited ­cabin height.

“By gaining interior space, you lose deck space, yet it’s still very fishable,” Neber adds. “It has big livewells aft, and the walkaround design is a definite advantage when you’re using light tackle to catch multiples like sailfish. You’re down inside, so there’s little chance of falling overboard. That gives you a confident posture to fight the fish when getting from one end to the other.”

So, make up your mind yet? Before you do, carefully consider the boat’s purpose, and be realistic. Will you ­actually stay aboard that often? Or will it be a hard-core weekend-tournament machine? Then, consult with your ­better half. And don’t forget: Every boat is a compromise.

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