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Southern California Fishing: What Size of Boat?

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Southern California Fishing: What Size of Boat?

Old 09-20-2016, 02:21 PM
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Default Southern California Fishing: What Size of Boat?

I live on the west coast, specifically sunny and dry southern California, and have a hard time using a lot of the experiences of east coast folks with respect to what size of boat can get me where. So I'm just going to put this out to see whether there's anyone with similar experience who can help.

In southern California, the main fishing grounds are along the coast, and several individual islands, which are about 20-60 miles off shore. We go as far off shore as the Cortes and Tanner Banks, which are about 100 miles off shore, but only rarely. Consequently most fishing in southern California takes place within 60 miles of shore, and beyond 100 miles is rare.

In terms of weather, our weather is usually predictable. It's sunny pretty much all the time, but there will be a marine layer in the morning that'll burn off by noon. Wind is almost always 10-20 knots in the afternoon, less in the morning. Swells are frequently larger than those on the east coast, but these tend to be ground swells in deep water. A typical reading for southern California would be 4-6 feet swells off shore, 2-3 feet swells near shore, wind included. We rarely get <2 feet swell nearshore so the idea of not going out when there's 2-3 feet swell, that I hear a lot from east coast folks, simply cannot be applied to southern California.

From personal experience, I've seen plenty of variety in private boats offshore 40-60 miles, from small, 17 feet 'what is it doing out here' types, to large, 60 feet express giants that the rich Hollywood types cruise around in. The most popular boats are pilot houses, walk arounds, and expresses. I have also seen center consoles, but they're not the majority. Consequently, the 'rule' of when/where you can go with what size boat appears much more loose in southern California, and due to the colder water and less emphasis on flying through the seas, THT favorites like Regulators and Yellowfins aren't nearly as popular.

So let's say what I'm looking for is a boat that will reach and fish any of the off shore grounds, including the Tanner and Cortes Banks, on a typical southern California day, with swells as described above. In terms of having a practical amount of fuel capacity, stability at drift, and ride, what size of boat should I be looking at? And were I to rule out the Tanner and Cortes Banks, and focus only on the off shore islands within 60 miles of shore, what size of boat can I get instead?

Example boats I'm considering.

Closed:

2520/2510 Parker Pilot House/Walk Around
255 Steiger Miami

Open:

245 Edgewater
244 Key West
242 Robalo

As you can see they're all in the same size range. Am I thinking too big? Too small? I know most of these boats are considered offshore capable on the east coast, but whenever I read east coast discussions of range, I always have a hard time putting them in west coast terms.
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Old 09-21-2016, 06:43 AM
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I'm out of Ventura, CA
I've had a 21' Whaler CC, a 28' Whaler Conquest, a 25 Parker 2520, a Steiger 23' Miami and a Nordic Tug.
The Parker and Steiger were perfect SO Cal boats. The Steiger rode better and was an all around better So Cal boat in terms of trailerability, ride, and ease of use
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Old 09-23-2016, 02:54 PM
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I've got a Parker 2120 in Dana Point. The farthest I've gone is San Clemente Island and I only pick good days. I've got a friend with a 31' pilot house and he goes out 60 - 80 miles all the time. If you are careful about your days any quality 24 - 28' boat would suit your needs 90% of the time. Personally I have found west-coast built boats to be better suited to our style of fishing than eastern boats. We tend to rely more on live bait, want large fish holds, and our waves are different. Skipjack, Davis, Radon, Blackman, etc. fit the bill. Close second is Parker. I love my Parker but sometimes miss the fishibility of my old Skipjack.

Keep in mind the kind of range you are talking about means a lot of fuel capacity, which somewhat limits your choices. As for size I was listening to Harold Davis (Davis Boats) on the radio a few years back. Someone asked him about the difference in safety of a 22' boat vs a 28' boat. His answer was, "In reality if you shouldn't be out in a 22' boat, then you probably shouldn't be out in a 28' boat either."
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Old 09-23-2016, 11:50 PM
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I have a 27' Contender and usually roll out to Cortes a couple times at the end of summer for the YT and any tuna running at the time. This year I have been fishing out by SCI for the Bluefin. Last couple of years fished a lot down off Baja. Multiday trips for 2 pretty common, come home when we fill the fish hold. Every other boat I see is a Parker 23' or the 25' pretty comfortable but they will loosen your fillings in a head sea, Deep V is better than the Mod V. Just because a boat can go fast doesn't mean you can. Usually cruise between 25-35mph most of the time. Could come in when it's smooth in the 40's or so but I'm too cheap and usually do 30 mph getting 1.7 mpg. Had to go to FL to pick mine up. Love it. Good luck.
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Old 09-29-2016, 12:13 PM
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I have a 26 Century that I have run for 10 years from mission bay, no problems and I have been caught is some our worse conditions. there is a Edgewater 265EX for sale in shelter island I took a look at. that would be a nice ride for socal waters.
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Old 09-29-2016, 12:26 PM
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I've grown up fishing out of San Diego and have ran boats from 16'-31'. I currently own a 24' Skipjack. A big component is how much do you want to fish and what season. I'd never own another boat where I could not get out of the weather. A lot of seasons in the past we would have to run south to load up the fish holds and then the ride north is always fun. Nice head sea with plenty of wind chop. My next boat will have more creature comforts (bigger cabin) where more people can sleep and relax. Really helps on those long runs to the tuna grounds. I'm thinking something in the 30-35' range.
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Old 09-30-2016, 02:31 PM
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Whats your price range?? I think people have given good suggestions of what to look for. Radon would be my choice if one could be had for decent money and good condition. All the commerical fisherman have radons and andersons in Santa barbara and those guys work in some real shitty conditions crabing and lobstering.

I love pilot houses and my next boat is going to be one for sure. If your going to keep it within 30 miles of the coast i think a CC will do fine, however it gets old getting sprayed when the wind kicks up.

I have a keywest 2300 cc thats been a great boat. If your doing close by fishing its stable at drift yet decent enough v hull to it, could make some longer distance trips if the weather is right. My friends who have whalers love my boat. The big thing when i was looking at smaller boats like my 23 was the fact its self bailing, that was a must.

Really comes down to type of the fishing when considering open vs closed, IMO closed pilot house is where its at, never heard anyone of complaining about being dry and warm.
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Old 10-05-2016, 01:16 PM
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I live in So Cal as well and split my time between inshore and offshore fishing. The problem with doing both is that the boats best suited to fishing offshore are usually the worst suited for fishing inshore. If I spent most of my time fishing offshore I'd go with a 25 Parker Pilot House or similar boat. Since I spend most of my time fishing inshore I own a Robalo Cayman 226. While this boat is technically a bay boat it has served me well fishing offshore and has made plenty of runs to San Clemente Island. Given the right weather window I'd have no qualms about making the run to Cortez but I'd probably have to bring some extra fuel to be safe.
I guess the question you need to ask yourself is which type of boat is best suited to your fishing style rather than how far offshore you're going to fish.
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Old 10-05-2016, 04:29 PM
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Thanks for all the answers.

Price range is probably around $100,000. I know a lot of boats are open to me both new and used in that range, so the price isn't as much of a limitation except in the sense that I won't be able to buy a new express type boat. I want to be able to trailer the boat. I think most people who live in southern California understand why - ie best fishing isn't where most people live and wet dock slips are hard to find.

I have been trying to decide for a long time between center consoles & pilot houses. Express/pilot house style boats are more popular in California, and in northern California they are a down right requirement due to the cold weather. But I also see many center consoles, more now than before, and the selection there is much better, because of more manufacturers and it's just an easier boat to get right from what I understand.

With pilot houses, Parker vs. Steiger is basically what I'd be looking at, since there are virtually no used Radon boats for sale and a new custom Radon boat is still prohibitively expensive. Same with Skipjack, except replace 'no used' with 'no recently used.' Had there been more of these boats in the 'recently used' range, I'd consider them, but the selection is very limited here. I do, however, see the benefits of all closed cabin boats for rough weather.

But I figure since I still have many years of career ahead of me, I won't be taking long trips that often. Creature comforts are therefore not as important. Sure, like most people who fish in California, I dream of long range trips down the coasts of Baja and all the way to Panama, where the fishing approaches that of Florida. But practically speaking it's easier and cheaper to just get on a long range sport/charter boat than to bring your own boat for that purpose. So a center console does make sense in many ways. I figure I can just bring a rain coat & warmer clothes to compensate for the lack of a cabin. Not sure whether that's feasible but don't center consoles also offer protection from the wind through their wind screen? I also figure that if it's too cold to drive the boat, then it's also too cold to fish, so a pilot house won't help me there since I have to be out to fish regardless. During winter time I'd either head south to Mexico where it's 80 degrees, or just do in shore fishing/crabbing/lobstering. No much value to go off shore in the winter in California as there's barely anything there.

All in all, I'm actually still not decided on whether to go for a pilot house or a center console. The ability to over night on a pilot house sounds fun, and I could imagine it being useful for 2 day trips to the islands - ie leave Friday night and come back Sunday. But both Parker and Steigers are a lot more heavy than similar sized center consoles which limit ease of trailer, lead to worse fuel economy, and ultimately more expenses. So it does come at a cost. Still, the reason I haven't decided has to do with opportunity, as well. If a nicely priced near new pilot house comes along, I might just jump on it, and vice versa for a nicely priced near new center console, though I can afford new there and might do so if, by the start of the next season, I still can't find a decent deal.

In any case, I appreciate all the responses. It seems that there are just as many different opinions down here, as well, as to which boat is suitable for our waters. I imagine that's a positive, since it indicates we aren't limited to the express boats I used to see all the time two decades ago. Not saying I'm against express type boats. I might even purchase one when I retire for those long, vacation trips down south. But for now, I'm more of a weekend warrior.

Last edited by EtadanikM; 10-05-2016 at 04:48 PM.
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Old 10-06-2016, 03:29 AM
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I've seen a decent amount of boats down in san diego on craigslist that are cc and pilot houses. If looking for center consoles, robalos are sweet boats and i also like the look of the grady whites center consoles because of their substantially higher bows. Seems like they would hold that spray over the sides down better. obv theres a lot of other great boats too. Just get something thats self bailing.

As far as the wind and spray getting wet when running . Center consoles do block a lot of that especially if your the captain since your in the middle of it. The people who get a little wet are the buddies who usually right and left side half exposed of the center console. When running at good speed and the wind is blowing perpendicular to your boat you can always expect for that wind to blow some water from your boat spray over the sides. Now when running directly against the wind or with it, not nearly an issue. Just keep a couple of snowboard jackets or outer shells onboard and everyone will be a happy camper.

Center consoles get the most floor space and fishability. IMO camping on boats is over rated unless you have a luxury yaht, rather get home late and take a hot shower and sleep in my own bed... I would keep patient and buy the largest boat that your vehicle can tow with the newest engine(s).

few other things...Double engines is twice the cost for maintenance. IMO people who keep there boats on trailers are usually in way better condition mechanically and structurally. Always nice not have to pay $$$ for a wet slip but have the option too if you want to slip it. Certified surveyors are priceless once you find something worth buying as insurance companies can use there write up to insure you along with your piece of mind everything is good condition like the gas tanks..

Good luck!
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Old 10-06-2016, 03:33 AM
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Size is a matter of preference but something with protection from the wind isn't.

It's cold running an open boat like a center console there, even though it may be 100 inland, it will be cold running on the water.

Slip vs trailer - When I had my boat there, slips were real tough to get. Maybe that's changed (though I doubt it in Newport) but be sure to secure a slip before you get your ride.

Good luck.
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Old 10-11-2016, 05:34 AM
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I think the minimum sized boat for the typical 2-3 ft chop we get in so- cal is 21'.

A better sized boat is 24' and up.

I had a 17' whaler (mantauk) and it was definitely too small. The hull shape did not help either. My friend had a 19' parker and it was OK/ maybe a bit too small. We would have some 140 mile days and would just get beat to crap. I had a 24' RIB and that was pretty good/OK. I had a 25' Whaler dauntless and due to the hull she it was not right either. Lately I have had a 36' RIB and it is perfect but it sucks fuel.

I am always trying to optimize fuel costs compared to boat size. Also I can take being cold and wet. But still less than 19' is to small I don't care who you are.

I have fished the nine mile bank out of San Diego in a 10' avon and a 9.9HP outboard. Twice. My back is still killing me 15 years later. But on the other hand I fished all day on 6 gallons of gas!

Most people would describe me a hardy. :-)

DD
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Old 10-12-2016, 10:54 PM
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I've found that our Channel Islands can be a nice place to escape for a few days to get away from civilization as well as fish. So I moved up the the largest express I feel comfortable towing, 26'. Fishes well enough year round and if it's cold or windy the ensinglas goes up. Just enough of the creature comforts. Seems with our typical swell conditions you can't typically run that fast so something that is efficent in the 22knot range seems to be the sweet spot.

I think the larger Skipjack or a Blackman Diesel are a pretty good choice for our waters.
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Old 10-20-2016, 10:35 AM
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You wanna have a 25-27ft boat. Smaller will work, however there are days where you will get your ass kicked when there's a good bite.
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Old 10-23-2016, 07:41 PM
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ETA,

I live near Dana Point and I'm now on my third boat over 20 years. As my income went up, boat size went up.
Boat 1. 20 Shamrock Pilot house, 302 gas with 60 gallons of fuel. The boat was reasonable well built, but range was good for within 30 miles. I put 800 hours and 5 years.

Boat 2. Blackman 26 Express, straight shaft 200 Volvo. I put a tower with controls on it and replaced the Volvo with Yanmar 240. I owned for 12 years and 1800 hours between the 2 engines. Great fuel economy, raised a lot of fish trolling. The Express allowed running at night behind isinglass and driving from the tower during the day-best of both worlds.

Boat 3 and the one I currently own and recommend and is in your price range. Henriques 28 Express with tower and twin diesels. It carries 220 gallons of fuel and gets better than 2 MPG. I fished a Marlin tournament and the fish were at San Clemente Island. I ran 300 miles, in which 1/2 was at 20 knots and 1/2 at 7.4 Knots. I used 123 gallons of diesel. The boat handles our ocean very well, in fact it is the best riding boat I have owned- good down swell, quartering and in a head sea. This summer was windy and rough, I ran at 17 knots into the head sea and the boat did not get air born. Check Yacht World. You would need to buy one in NJ or Florida and ship it here. The tower seat and controls are made to be removed, not cut apart. The Henriques family are the nicest people you would ever meet and will help in every step of the way. The only down side, but one I love is that it is a slip boat only. Harbor life is great BTW.
PM me and I will send you some pics.
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Last edited by sharkwaters; 10-23-2016 at 07:45 PM. Reason: Spelling
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Old 11-19-2018, 03:38 PM
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I realize this is a 2yr old thread, but I have a 37 Bertram and have made the run a couple times over the last two years chasing BF. Both times the weather window was clear and the ride out was like glass, but the following day unexpected swells and wind picked up. 100 miles out is a long run in good condition, but when it turns to shit, it's a miserable and high pucker factor back in and fuel burn is terrible. I have 500 gal capacity and damn near ran out of fuel last time due to washer machine conditions. I've run south of the border, to SCI, Chanel Islands, and all over So. Cal., but the one place I probably won't go back to is Cortes/Tanner.
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Old 11-22-2018, 02:22 PM
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My prokat 2860 is perfect for these waters. With the mouse motor diesels it’s not fast, but I never have to slow down for weather. My buddy’s Parker can do 30,but we rarely do better than 15 coming back uphill to San Diego in that afternoon head sea. Mine is for sale here and on iboats & boattrader.com. I think its just about the perfect so cal boat... hate to sell it.
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Old 11-23-2018, 02:55 PM
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Never turn your back on the ocean. People in so Cal do all kinds of crazy stuff. There is that little problem of rough seas in the Big Blue Ocean. The second issue is really thick fog with lots of boat traffic.
You need a salt water boat with a deep v, preferably 2 engines and good electronics including radar. It takes some discipline to run boats out there safely. Some days you should just stay in the marina.
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Old 01-03-2019, 02:39 PM
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Wow, I completely forgot this thread existed. It's so strange to read what I wrote more than two years ago, at the beginning of the boat search, without any prior experience. The mind set I had, back then, is just amusing, in retrospect. But that's what the learning process is about, right?

Thanks for everyone who responded. I really appreciate the help. And, in honor of that and towards the hope that it'll help other people down the line, I'd like to relate what I actually ended up doing, now that I have two seasons under my belt:

First off, caution got the better of me at purchase time. I went for a much smaller boat than I initially thought I would: a Robalo 200, which I reviewed in another thread in 2017. I bought it new, for approximately $60,000 in total after custom electronics, taxes, etc. The boats I mentioned at the top would've all gone for $110,000 or more, and that gave me cold feet as a first time buyer, because I ultimately didn't know whether I'd actually enjoy owning my own boat. Here in California, head boats are plentiful, and you don't need your own boat to go saltwater fishing, so I went the conservative route.

Had I known all that I know today, I think I would've gotten a larger boat. Not because my boat has been inadequate, but because that inevitable feeling you get that you should've purchased the boat you're going to sit on for 20 years, the first time. With a smaller boat, you get that feeling, because you know that you wouldn't want to end up with a 21 feet boat when you retire. But in retrospect, I don't think I made a mistake, because I needed this experiment to know that I actually enjoyed boating and that I could handle it. So my advice to new buyers would still be to start small, because there are so many aspects of boating, so much extra work and details and physical experiences involved, that you just don't know until you actually get into it.

Probably the MOST important advice I'd give is to understand whether you get sea sick on smaller boats. This is important because the kind of physical conditions you experience on a smaller boat is VASTLY different than what you experience on a cruise ship or yacht > 50 feet. For those who have access to friends boats, etc., that would be the best opportunity to learn. For those who don't, I'd recommend taking out a charter or two. In my case, I was fortunate enough to be one of those people who don't easily get sea sick, and who can stand fishing for 5 to 6 hours on a 21 feet boat with a 3 feet 10 second swell. But 50% of the friends and family I have taken on my boat DO get sea sick, and this effect happens very fast on a small boat, and makes for a horrible experience, so in case you think you might be one of those people, you must 100% make sure before purchasing a boat.

Second, I learned that conditions in the ocean determine what you want to do, not the other way around. Reading my post from two years ago, I noticed that I foolish believed that there is such an idea as a "typical" day in Southern California. This is not the case. There are windows, two or three days at a time in fact, when the ocean is so calm I could make it 70 miles off shore on my 21 feet boat, and never feel close to being too small. But then there are days when getting out of the harbor would be a death sentence, where you'd need a 80 feet yacht to go 1 mile out. People talk about boat design, size, gas capacity, etc., but ultimately the weather makes the biggest difference to your experience. Thus, the most important aspect of boating is to get the weather right, not to rely on just one or two sources, but to ensure that all sources agree, to have constant updates, to have back up plans, emergency equipment like EPIRB and Boat US, and to have spent enough time on the water to know what the difference is between a comfortable 3 feet 12 second quartering swell, and an extremely dangerous 3 feet 6 seconds mixed swell.

For those in California - in two seasons, I have about 15 long distance trips under my belt. 10 of them to an island about 60 miles off shore; and five of them to an island about 50 miles off shore. I have also made the 25 miles Catalina crossing at least 20 times. So, off shore can definitely be done in a small boat. But you have to be very careful about the weather window. I always make sure to schedule my trips in the middle of a calm window, such that the ocean has had a chance to lay down, and I'm not stressed to make it home before a blow, in case I get stuck out there. I have been told that Boat US will not come get you on a rough day.

But on the positive side, I've also found that weather forecast in Southern California is remarkably accurate within 1 or 2 days, and that our islands provide cover, so that you aren't stuck with the same bad options as a canyons run in the Northeast, where you're 80 miles away from any kind of cover, land, and help. In Southern California, you are within 15 miles from an island at all times, and the experience of off shore boating is more like island hopping than going into the unknown. It's not as terrifying as what people in the Northeast describe as a canyons run, but at the same time, you still need to respect the ocean as the swells past Catalina can get quite large even on a nice day.

Speaking of swells, I've learned that the direction of swells makes a huge difference and that, indeed, you don't appreciate this enough before you actually get into running a smaller boat. Head seas are rough, even with a longer period, but aren't dangerous as long as you follow the swell height to period rule. Following seas I can usually run 30 miles per hour as long as the period is above 10 seconds, even when the swell is 3 to 4 feet, I've never come close to stuff the bow. Quartering following seas are similarly nice, while a quartering head sea is slightly less rough than a head sea. Beam seas can be scary when the swell is large, but we almost never get those because of the direction of wind in Southern California. By far the worst, however, is a mixed sea in which the wind is against the swell. These seas will make you feel like you are in danger, and unfortunately they often occur right outside the Long Beach harbor in the afternoon, so slow down and plan accordingly.

As far as fuel capacity goes, this ended up being less of a problem than I initially assumed. Indeed, I was turned off of the Robalo 200's 70 gallons fuel capacity because I thought it was not going to be safe to go any where past Catalina. But the boat actually gets close to 3.9 miles per gallon on a nice day with two people and a full gas tank, and 3.0 cutting the waves against a head sea, and since swells in California tend to always go in one direction, whatever extra gas you spend going into a head sea will be compensated on the way back through a following sea, especially as the boat loses weight from using up gas. My longest trips, which are about 150 miles round trips, thus use only a little over 40 gallons of gas, which leaves more than one third left under the one third rule.

Finally, in regards to electronics, I am glad that I spent the money on a nice radar. In about 30% of my trips, I had to leave harbor either before sun rise, or in the fog, and I simply cannot imagine serious boating in Southern California without a radar on hand. You'd be down right paralyzed with the early morning fog that is a common feature in Spring, Fall, and Winter, and should your trips ever run early or late, you'd wish that you had a radar. I often see small boats in Southern California without a radar, and I simply cannot imagine what went through these people's minds. You spent tens of thousands of dollars on a boat, yet you can't drop the $2000 for a standard radar? That's just insane.

Over all, I am relatively happy with my boat and what I've been able to do with it so far. Of course, there are a few issues and problems, but those you can read in my reviews thread, and none of them have turned me off of boating. With two years of boat ownership and many trips both near and off shore, I am finally at a stage where I am confident enough to offer advice about how to get started. Yet, there is still so much more to learn, and to be honest, since I have yet to be caught in any sort of weather that I did not expect, it's still too early to be confident. Perhaps that is a testament to the accuracy of weather forecasts these days, but it's also possible that I'm just fortunate. Going forward, I expect that sooner or later I'll experience a break down in the middle of a trip and that dealing with that will open a new chapter in my boating experience. But I'll cross that line when it comes to it, and until then, make sure I've got all my safety equipment ready and checked before the trip.

In case you've come this far, thanks for reading and I hope this has been helpful to other people looking to boat in my area. See you out there!

Last edited by EtadanikM; 01-03-2019 at 02:48 PM.
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Old 02-09-2019, 01:52 PM
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Thanks for getting back to the thread and posting! Good read. I'm buying my first socal boat soon, so thank you...
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