Sea Fox 288 Commander Boat Test

The Sea Fox 288 Commander is a striking new bluewater centre-console with blistering 50-knot performance from a pair of Evinrude E-TEC G2 300hp outboards. The Commander offers wide, open decks at both bow and stern, generous storage space and family-friendly seating, as well as a multi-function hardtop and helm station to cater for the latest in high-tech electronics. With a sea-taming hull and a broad 2.9m beam, the Commander is an excellent mobile gamefishing craft.

Sea Fox 288 Commander Boat Test

Boat Test Sea Fox 288 Commander: SEA COMMANDER
Author and photography: Jeff Webster

This boat test ran in ISSUE 122 of BlueWater magazine – FEB-MARCH 2017

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

Open gamefishing centre-consoles are enormously popular in the United States, providing plenty of brands and models to choose from. While legendary brands like Mako, Grady-White, Boston Whaler, Wellcraft and Robalo will be familiar to many anglers in Australia, there are many other great US manufacturers now challenging the established marques. Among them is Sea Fox, a centre-console specialist established in South Carolina in 1996.

Compared with some of the abovementioned brands, which have been producing fine sportfishing craft for over half a century, Sea Fox is a relative newcomer. However, over the past 20 years, Sea Fox has established a reputation for building good quality, excellent value centre-console fishing craft, with more standard inclusions than most rival brands. There are 14 models in the current Sea Fox range, and all but two have a centre-console configuration.

The entry Sea Fox model is the 180 Viper, a trailerable bay and flats fisher. The flagship model is the imposing 328 wide-beam Commander offshore canyon runner. The subject of this review is the slightly smaller, but no less impressive 288 Commander. Our test rig was powered with a pair of 300hp Evinrude E-TEC G2 DFI 2-stroke outboards and supplied by Australian distributor JSW Powersports on the Gold Coast.

Impressive Design

The 288 Commander is a new model to the Sea Fox range, replacing the outgoing 286 series craft. It uses the same wide beam, 20-degree deep-vee hull of its predecessor, but has a new interior design, upgraded console and additional seating and storage space.

With an overall length of 8.75m, the Sea Fox hull has a sleek appearance, with a raised sheer-line to the coamings and pronounced flare in the topsides for spray deflection. Our test boat looked particularly striking with its custom JSW Powersports vinyl hull wrap, but would no doubt look very smart with any of the seven different hull colours available.

The 288 Commander has a dry hull weight of just over 2700kg, rising to approximately 3800kg with the dual 300hp Evinrude E-TEC outboards and a tandem-axle Magic brand aluminium trailer. Add 745 litres of fuel and you will easily top 4000kg – so you will need a substantial towing vehicle to haul the Sea Fox about.

Pricing And Features

The Sea Fox 288 Commander comes with a huge array of standard features – too numerous to itemise here. The full inventory of features and equipment can be viewed on the Sea Fox website, but some of the key items include the fibreglass hardtop with aluminium frame and rocket-launcher rod rack, a 228-litre pressurised transom livebait well with perforated perspex divider and 1100g/ph pump, self-draining cockpit, recessed trim tabs, electric anchor winch, dual underfloor fishboxes, and fresh and raw water deckwash. It also features an in-console head compartment with electric toilet and cockpit side-door, as well as a high-tech composite fibreglass hull and deck construction with foam-filled stringers and built-in foam flotation to Australia’s Level Flotation standard.

Packaged with a pair of 250hp Evinrude E-TEC G2 outboards and the Magic tandem-axle aluminium trailer, the base rig is priced from $245,900 – or $233,600 sans trailer.

In addition to the upgrade to higher power 300hp G2 Evinrude, our test boat was equipped with several key options such as Taco outriggers, vinyl hull wrap and LED lighting, while a high-end electronics package raised the package price to just under $300,000 without the trailer.

The electronics gear included dual Simrad NSS16 EVO2 multi-function displays, OP50 wired remote controller, 4G Broadband radar kit, AC12 Autopilot with WR10 wireless autopilot remote and base-station, as well as Fusion stereo and a Simrad RS35 VHF marine radio with HS35 wireless handset with DSC.

Family Day Cruising

Sea Fox has designed the 288 Commander to be equally as comfortable for day cruising the bay or harbour, as well as fishing wide offshore. To that end, the bow area is fitted with a moulded u-shaped seating area with clip-on padded cushions and comfortable cushioned back rests. Two of the back rests can be folded out from the cockpit sides to form forward-facing, chaise-style lounges.

Remove the clip-on cushions altogether and you are left with a u-shaped casting platform. In glassy, calm seas I would also be tempted to stand and cast lures from the wide foredeck area up alongside the spacious anchor well.

An optional pedestal-mounted table slots into a floor socket in the bow to create a dinette seating area. Alternatively, you can buy an infill board with cushion to transform the two separate forward lounge areas into one massive sun lounge measuring more than 2.5m.

There are two large dry-storage lockers beneath the bow seating area, as well as further storage in what Sea Fox calls a ‘coffin box’ locker ahead of the helm console. This large, roughly metre-square storage area has provision for stowing three scuba tanks or a few docking fenders, as well as dry storage.

Additional family friendly features include a smattering of drink holders around the bow area, recessed grab rails for the forward passengers and an underfloor storage box with included bucket.

In the stern of the boat you will also find additional seating in the form of two flip-up transom corner jump seats, along with a two-person-width padded bench seat which folds out from the transom wall. This is ideally positioned behind the bait table and rigging station attached to the helm seat box.

Importantly for family comfort, there is also an excellent in-console head compartment which has full standing headroom, an electric flush toilet and a wash basin with a freshwater faucet. From the head compartment you can also access the electrical wiring for servicing, maintenance and new installs.

At The Helm

The 288 Commander is rigged with a large, two-person-width centre-console helm station, with plenty of dash and fascia space for engine instruments and electronics, such as the two huge Simrad NSS16 EVO2 multi-function displays included on our test boat. There was also space for the switch panel, Fusion stereo head-unit and Evinrude Icon Touch 17cm CTS digital engine display. The latter was situated just above the port-side offset steering wheel (with tilt-adjustment) and was close to the switching for the included electric anchor winch.

Overhead, the alloy-framed fibreglass hardtop not only provides welcome shelter for the skipper and crew, it is also the base for the optional Taco outriggers and centre shotgun outrigger, as well as radio antennas, radar domes and lighting. On the trailing-edge of the hardtop is a rocket-launcher rod rack capable of stowing seven outfits.

Other notable features include the curved, toughened-glass windscreen, a small glovebox, skipper and crew foot rests, a pair of dash drink holders and a compass. The Simrad VHF radio is mounted in a bulkhead box under the fibreglass hardtop, along with switching for the deck lighting.

For the skipper and crew there are two man-sized helm chairs with arm-rests mounted above a large multi-function storage box. The chairs have a front bolster which can be flipped backwards, providing ample space to stand at the helm. The Sea Fox was also comfortable to drive while seated, although the chairs were mounted a little too high for my liking. The port-side steering position works well as the binnacle throttles can be situated close by the steering wheel, leaving space over on the starboard side for a standing passenger.

From the helm you have clear 360-degree visibility around the boat, and due to the open console configuration, there are no blind spots in the aft corners, making it easier for the skipper during the tricky end-game with a big fish.

Excellent Rigging Station

The helm seat storage box incorporates a number of excellent features. It has general storage cupboards, an aft-facing stainless-steel rod rack (with four rodholders), deckwash, two drink holders, 12-volt power socket, knife rack, tackle storage drawers and a handy full-width stainless grab rail, as well as a bait/tackle rigging table which folds out to face aft.

For anglers, this fold-out tackle rigging station is one of the best features of the boat. The table gives you a flat rigging surface, with a series of plastic tackle trays and built-in tackle storage compartments. You can rig from this table while standing facing forward, or simply pull a two-person-width padded bench seat out from the transom wall to rig comfortably while sitting down.

I can see this rigging station being used regularly during those long trips out the fishing grounds. It is well designed and ideally positioned in the stern where the ride underway will be most comfortable.

Beneath the rigging station is a 60-litre Yeti brand icebox/cooler for stowing drinks or baits. The cooler sits on an electrically operated slide-out platform, which can also be pulled out manually.

Cockpit And Transom

Sea Fox has succeeded in designing a cockpit layout that works for both family boating and seriousfishing. However, the moulded steps leading out to the transom on each side do restrict access to the transom corners, which could prove annoying when following a fish on the rod or leader. While it’s possible to step up onto these steps and even stand on the corner jump seats to fish over the transom, this is only going to work in calm conditions. Aside from that, the cockpit is spot on and the padded bench seat in the centre of the transom folds down flat, so you can stand and fish up against itcomfortably. There is also ample freeboard here, so you feel quite secure even in sloppy seas.

There is plenty of freeboard along the cockpit sides too (730mm) and the coamings have padded bolsters for comfort and security. On the port side, the bolster padding stops around midships, just before a lift-out side door that will make the task of hauling a big fish aboard much easier.

There are horizontal racks beneath the coamings for storing gaffs and tag poles. These mouldings are recessed, so there is space below for your feet when leaning and fishing from the cockpit sides.

Beneath the floor on each side are two very long fishboxes, each of which should be large enough to accommodate a 30 to 40kg tuna, or a large feed of reef fish.

Six stainless-steel in-deck rodholders come standard with the Sea Fox, four of them mounted in the stern and two forward. All face directly aft, so you will want to fit several more rodholders at a 90-degree angle. At around 270mm, the coamings are more than wide enough for the extra rodholders, as well as for deck-mounted outriggers or downriggers.

The Sea Fox comes standard with dual batteries and these are housed in a locker beneath the starboard-side corner flip-up seat. There is general storage space in the opposite locker to port and you can access the bilge and plumbing via a hatch in the rear cockpit floor.

Pressurised Livebait Tank

The stand-out cockpit feature is the superb oval-shaped livebait tank. It has a capacity of 228 litres and is pressurised so that, with the sealing lid closed, it can be filled to the brim without leaking or water slopping about within the tank. There is also a perforated clear Perspex divider down the centre of the tank, which further reduces water movement, helping to keep your baits in top condition.

The livebait tank is fed by an 1100g/ph pump, so there is ample water flow to keep at least two dozen yellowtail-sized baits lively. There may even be enough for a few much larger livebaits, although live tuna would be best kept by fitting after-market tuna tubes on the transom.

Offshore Performance

If you’re looking for a speedy offshore fishing boat, the 288 Commander could be just the vehicle you need. With the two Evinrude E-TEC G2 300hp outboards providing a combined 600hp on the transom, the Commander is extremely fast, achieving a top speed of 51 knots. While it is unlikely you will be able to use all of this pace when offshore, in calm conditions the hull is more than capable of cruising at speeds in the high 30-knot range. This means you can run across the bay and out to the wide fishing grounds to arrive well before the crowds.

Of course, speed comes at the expense of fuel economy, so you might be better served by dropping the pace a bit and running at the boat’s most economical speed of 26.8 knots at 3000rpm. At this leisurely speed the ultra-longshaft (76cm / 30-inch) G2 Evinrude E-TECs burn a combined 53L/h for a maximum range (on 95% of the standard 745-litre fuel tank) of 357.88 nautical miles. This also equates to 0.506 nautical miles travelled for each litre of fuel consumed.

The 288 Commander is only available with twin outboard engines, but you don’t have to fit the maximum 600hp. JSW Powersports has boat packages starting from $234,000 when fitted with dual 250hp Evinrude E-TEC outboards. While you might not have the brutal acceleration with these engines, you can still expect a top speed in the mid-40-knot range.

Should you prefer 4-stroke outboard power, the 288 Commander is also available with dual Yamaha 4-stroke outboards.

Handling And Ride

I expected great offshore performance from the 288 Commander, and it did not disappoint. The hull is nicely balanced, stable, comfortable and easy to drive. The built-in Evinrude power-steering and digital throttles were wonderfully light and responsive, enabling finger-tip steering and smooth, incremental adjustments to engine rpm and boat speed.

While at speed, the Commander’s 20-degree deep-vee hull is soft-riding and dry. We tried to find the boat’s weaknesses in handling and ride by running at different angles to the sea and through a range of slalom manoeuvres, but it performed admirably throughout. The hull’s high topsides and distinctive Carolina flare suppressed spray so that we never looked like getting wet. Our test sea conditions were admittedly calm, but the boat was impressively dry nevertheless.

The Commander hull was equally adept in a following sea. The bow entry shape is quite sharp, but the stem-line is finely drawn so the bow does not dig into wave troughs like some rival deep-vee hulls. As a result, the Commander rides cleanly and safely out of large wave troughs.

A Winning Combination

Centre-console fishing boats between 7 and 9m are a dime a dozen in the US, and while the market is not as competitive in Australia there are still several brands and models to choose from. Among them, I rate the Sea Fox highly. The 288 Commander combines a competitive price with excellent performance, solid build quality and a practical fishing layout. For a crew of three or four anglers, the 288 Commander is an excellent platform for offshore gamefishing, yet still versatile enough in design, performance and included features to double as a family sports boat.

Highlights

  • Sports-boat performance
  • Thrilling acceleration
  • Versatile layout for both fishing and family
  • Space on helm dash for high-end electronics
  • Large, well-designed livebait tank
  • Aft rigging station with storage and seating
  • Large console head compartment

Capacities

  • Maximum power: 600hp
  • Fuel capacity: 784 litres
  • Freshwater: 98 litres
  • Livebait tank: 228 litres
  • People: 12

General

  • Type: Monohull centre-console
  • Material: Fibreglass and fibreglass/composite
  • Length overall: 8.75m
  • Beam: 2.9m
  • Draft: 450mm
  • Deadrise: 20 degrees
  • Hull weight: 2721kg (dry)
  • Weight on trailer: 3835kg (approx)

Engines

  • Make/model: 2 x Evinrude E-TEC G2 300hp
  • Type: 74-degree V6, direct fuel-injected 2-stroke
  • Rated hp: 300
  • Displacement: 3.4 litres
  • No. cylinders: 6
  • Weight: 258kg
  • Shaft length: 30-inch ultra-longshaft
  • Gearbox ratio: 1.85:1

SPECIFICATIONS: Sea Fox 288 Commander
Options fitted: Twin Evinrude E-TEC G2 300hp ultra-longshaft (30-inch) DFI 2-stroke outboards with tilt power steering, coloured hull sides, paint to undersides of hardtop, bow table, bow infill board with cushion, LED lighting package, overboard waste discharge, white powder coating on Ultima hardtop and leaning-post pod, Fusion stereo and speakers, Taco GS-380 outriggers, Simrad electronics including dual NSS16 EVO2 multi-function displays, OP50 wired remote controller, 4G Broadband radar kit, AC12 Autopilot, WR10 wireless autopilot remote and base station, RS35 VHF marine radio, HS35 VHF wireless handset with DSC, GPS Antenna GS-25 and Airmar TM275LH-W transom mount transducer.  

Sea Fox 288 Commander Boat Test

Boat Test Sea Fox 288 CommanderSEA COMMANDER
Author and photography: Jeff Webster
Supplied by: JSW Powersports

This boat test ran in ISSUE 122 of BlueWater magazine – FEB-MARCH 2017

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