Powered Cats Boat Test

Powered Cats Boat Test

Few craft can carve their way through sloppy conditions as well as powered catamarans. After years of experience aboard a wide range of different brands, seasoned boat-tester Jeff Webster feels these ultra-safe, normally twin-engined craft are the best sea-going boats available, particularly in the trailerable sizes. But do powered cats make good gamefishing boats? Jeff evaluates the pros and cons to arrive at his definitive conclusion.

Powered Cats Leisurecat 8000 Sportfisher Boat Test

Boat Test Powered Cats: POWERED CATS – THE ULTIMATE GAMEFISHING TRAILERBOATS?
Author and photography: Jeff Webster

This boat test ran in ISSUE 115 of BlueWater magazine – FEB-MARCH 2016

For the complete feature, including all photos and information captions, you can purchase back-issues here

In Australia, powered catamarans have been popular since the 1970s. Originally designed for commercial fishing applications, powered cats soon became popular with recreational sportfishermen as these initially odd-looking craft offered the ability to fish further afield and stay out longer in deteriorating weather conditions.

Outboard engines were not particularly reliable in those early days, so having two of them hanging off the transom was a significant benefit. Dual engines, combined with separate fuel tanks and battery systems, gave anglers the peace of mind to fish wide offshore with a high degree of safety and reliability. It was little wonder that trailerboat gamefishermen gravitated to powered cats, sending their sales soaring during the late 1970s and early ’80s.

With much more reliable 4-stroke outboards now available today, the desire for two outboard engines is not as strong as it once was, however, while you can buy single-engine models in the smaller powered-cat sizes, twin hulls of more than 6m all require twin engines.

While a big, twin-engine powered cat is obviously overkill for bay and harbour fishing, for wide offshore work, when you can expect to encounter some rough weather, a powered cat is a very good option.

The Pioneers

It was around 1979 when Paul D’Auria, the owner of SharkCat at that time, fronted the famed Narooma Sportfishing Convention in southern NSW with a pair of bright red (with yellow stripes) 560 series centre-console SharkCats. Adorned with every possible fishing feature, including a tuna tower, these craft drew admiration from anglers far and wide. The two SharkCats were the centre of attention in the caravan park-based tournament, and I can still remember gazing in awe at these magnificent craft. Although I was all of 14 years old at the time, I can still recall the event clear as day such was the impact of these craft on impressionable young anglers.

The SharkCat legend was born in the late 1960s. Founder Bruce Harris is generally accepted as the pioneer of powered cats in Australia and the manufacturer of the original SharkCat. A commercial fisherman working out of the Southport bar on Queensland’s Gold Coast, Bruce developed a very plain-looking catamaran after being awarded a government shark-meshing contract covering the region’s beaches.

The very first SharkCat was a low-sided 4.8m (16ft) plywood cat that Bruce built for his father. This unusual-looking craft proved so capable in rough water that he subsequently built another slightly larger model to help him cross the notoriously rough Southport bar to service the shark nets fronting the beaches of Surfers Paradise.

Word of the SharkCat’s capabilities quickly spread and soon Bruce was building SharkCats for other commercial fishermen and government authorities. The original 4.8m model led to the release of the larger 5.4m (18ft) version, subsequently called the 560 series. A 6m model (20ft) was also developed and later stretched to 7m (23ft). It morphed into the 700 series of later years – the origins of which can still be seen in some of the NoosaCat models today.

Sharkcat Spawns Others

When Bruce Harris sold his company in 1978, SharkCat was a household name among commercial fishermen and recreational sport anglers. SharkCat’s success led to other brands becoming established, including the Markham Whaler series from Mark Hookham.

The Markham Whalers, as well as the later Hook’em and Dominator models, differed from the SharkCats in that they were designed with asymmetrical sponsons. This made the Markhams much easier to turn at speed, with less of the outward lean characteristic of other cat designs. The Whalers were also better finished and equipped, as well as boasting more fishing features.

During this late 1970s period, Mark Hookham concentrated on tapping the smaller boat market, building a very successful range of 4, 4.3, 4.5 and 4.9m boats. These craft remain very popular with coastal anglers today as they have the safety features and scaled-down performance of the bigger SharkCats, but in a smaller package, making them a more affordable option.

Other manufacturers soon followed, including the first alloy powered cats from Sydney gamefisherman Ross Hunter. Known as the Marlin Broadbill, these boats became very popular with offshore anglers in the 1980s. A die-hard sport and gamefisherman, Ross’s boats were superbly set up for fishing as they came from the factory, at a time when you would be lucky to find boats from other manufacturers with even a wide enough gunnel to fit a rodholder!

The Marlin Broadbills bristled with fishing hardware – from overhead rod racks to tuna towers, berley buckets, live wells and terminal tackle cupboards. The Broadbills were not necessarily good-looking craft, but they were way ahead of their time and performed well on the water.

Powered Cats Today

In the decades since the launch of the original SharkCat, powered-catamaran manufacturers have come and gone. Brands now absent that made an impact on the Australian scene include the mid-1980s Cougarcats, as well as the more recent Dominator/Markham models, which were descendants from the original Hookham Whalers.

Today you can choose from a wide range of powered-cat manufacturers. Australian brands include NoosaCat (which evolved from the original SharkCats), Sailfish, Voyager, Makocraft, Kevlacat, Powercat, LeisureCat, Streamline, Anglercat and WestCat. Imported brands include Glacier Bay, Worldcat, Carolina Cat and Livingston Cat.

In addition, many of Australia’s leading plate-alloy boat manufacturers have a powered cat or two within their boat ranges. Examples include the Jaycats from Offshore Marine Master and the big Thundercats from Prestoncraft in Western Australia.

The Powered-Cat Advantage

Powered-cat designs are many and varied, with both good and bad examples to be found. Some have a high tunnel and others a low tunnel. Some feature a planing hull design, while others come with a semi-displacement shape whereby the hull slices through the water rather than over the top of it.

Generally, only the good-quality powered cats survive on the market, with the poorer-designed craft unable to compete with proven designs from longstanding manufacturers.

So why buy a cat instead of a monohull? The advantages of powered catamarans are well documented, but let’s look at some of the main points.

First, but not least, powered cats are generally the safest boats in the trailerable sizes. Many modern monohulls are now equipped with foam buoyancy to satisfy the Level Flotation standard, but they still have only a single hull. A powered cat has two separate, sealed hulls filled with flotation foam. Should you puncture one hull, the natural buoyancy in the remaining hull would keep it afloat even without its own foam flotation.

Most powered cats also have a proper self-draining cockpit, whereby the rear cockpit floor is well above the outside sea level, so that any water that comes aboard will drain straight back overboard. In the few monohulls that do have a self-draining system, the floor is still relatively low – to the extent that sometimes opening the scuppers when the boat is at rest will let water in not out. This kind of self-draining system is not as effective as it only works when the vessel is underway.

With two opposing hulls separated by a large deck, the at-rest stability of a powered cat simply cannot be matched by a similar-sized monohull. While some finer-sponsoned cats can feel tender underway, they are rock solid at rest and when the hull drops to a displacement speed and the hulls settle in the water.

Ride comfort is another big advantage of a good powered cat. On a size-for-size basis a powered cat is incomparable. They handle sloppy or rough waters with ease, with the two slim hulls able to slice through chop like nothing else.

While they do tend to pitch more in a sideways sea, they will not list over like a monohull when the team is all over one side of the boat, such as during the endgame with a big fish. A good skipper can work around the outboard on each corner by positioning the boat to keep the hooked-up angler fighting over one side of the boat, rather than over the stern.

Powered cats are also surprisingly manoeuvrable. With an outboard on each corner, they can be turned very quickly (outside engine in forward, inside engine in reverse, helm hard-over). They are also easier to launch and retrieve than a monohull. Forget the complex multi-roller trailer set-ups of a big monohull, with a cat trailer all you need is a set of keel rollers, nylon skids or carpeted flats, along with a couple of guide rails to line you up as you drive the boat up onto the trailer.

The Downside

Of course, trailerable powered cats are not without their disadvantages. As well as being very expensive to buy and set up, cats require a costly custom-built trailer. They also generally need more power to get them up and running on plane.

In most cats the expense is compounded by the need for two engines. Of course, having two engines is recommended for offshore applications, but this doesn’t alter the fact that setting up and then running a cat is costly.

However, the cost of running a cat has eased with the advent of much more economical outboards. While the fuel bill when running a pair of the oily old 2-strokes would have been considerable, fuel consumption has now been halved with the latest technology DFI 2-strokes and 4-stroke outboards. The steep initial outlay is still there, but running them has become a little easier.

On a size-for-size basis, powered cats are heavier than monohulls and the bigger trailerable models will require a hefty 4WD tow vehicle.

One limitation of powered cats is found when running directly head-on, straight into the sea. However, this only applies in heavy chop – and mostly with craft that do not have the modern ‘wave breaker’ fairing between the forward sponsons to stop waves from slapping against the flat section in the tunnel.

While older-style cats do suffer wave slap when running into a headsea, if you alter your course a few degrees this will change the angle of the boat as it is presented to the oncoming waves. By doing so, one hull will break the wave before it can slap into the flat tunnel area. ‘Walking’ a cat from side to side in this manner will also reduce the tunnel slap and improve ride comfort.

While some very good deep-vee monohulls can ride more comfortably directly into a headsea, few can match a good cat in a beam or following sea. Powered cats are not infallible running down-sea, but they can generally sustain a higher across the ground cruising speed.

With few exceptions, powered cats are also wet – at least by comparison with a good monohull –due to wind-blown spray. Some smaller models also lack buoyancy in the bow, resulting in a droopy-nosed running angle at displacements speeds – such as the original 560 series SharkCats. Without the wave-breaker fairing, this lack of buoyancy in the bow can also cause annoying tunnel slap when trolling into a headsea in offshore waters.

Adjusting to the unusual cornering stance of a multi-hull may also prove a problem for some people. Most cats will lean outward through a sharp turn, much like a car. For this reason, turning a multi-hull tightly at speed is often an awkward and uncomfortable affair, even for veterans. As always there are exceptions, and some cats do maintain an even keel on cornering. A select few, like the original Dominator cats, even have an inward lean.

Future In Doubt

With a vast array of super-sophisticated, superbly set-up fishing monohulls now available from local and overseas manufacturers, the number of powered-cat builders is actually on the decline. Perhaps this signals that the heyday for powered cats in Australia has passed. Indeed, given the high purchase cost of modern 4-stroke outboards engines, the gap between the cost of a powered cat vs. a similar-sized monohull has only widened in recent years.

I have been a fan of powered cats for many years and will continue to espouse their virtues. However, before you buy a new or second-hand cat, do your research first and keep in mind that they are not all the same. As with all types of boats, there are good and bad cats, and plenty that are just mediocre.

Having said that, if you want to go offshore gamefishing from a trailerboat and you can afford a powered cat, you should give it serious consideration. Good powered cats are brilliant sea boats, and with their expansive and exceptionally stable cockpits they make very good gamefishing platforms too.

Powered Cats Leisurecat 8000 Sportfisher Boat Test

Boat Test Powered CatsPOWERED CATS – THE ULTIMATE GAMEFISHING TRAILERBOATS?
Author and photography: Jeff Webster
Supplied by: (“Name”)

This boat test ran in ISSUE 115 of BlueWater magazine – FEB-MARCH 2016

For the complete feature, including all photos and information captions, you can purchase back-issues here