There is no denying that the sports fisher centre console market is on the rise. Over the last few years, this segment of the market has doubled, especially in America, with most American manufacturers offering a centre console, utility-style craft in their line-up. This has seen a big rise in larger outboard sales and development, moving away from inboard cruiser craft to larger deck space and a versatile layout.
I travelled to Miami to drive two of the market leader’s latest offerings, the new R302 and R272 from Robalo, designed for the offshore sports fisher market but for family leisure use too. As a brand building several thousand units a year, this is definitely a builder in demand with a loyal customer base.
To understand Robalo’s approach, first you need to study their parent company, Chaparral. Chaparral Boats, originally called Fiberglass Fabricators, were founded in 1965 by William Pegg in Ft Lauderdale, Florida – one of the largest boating hubs in America. Two years later in the business’s infancy they suffered a factory fire that could have wiped them out. However, after rebuilding their facility and maintaining their good reputation for building high-quality craft, by 1976 they had outgrown their premises and had to relocate, buying the Larsen factory in Nashville, Georgia. Fast-forward many years and Chaparral had grown into one of America’s leading brands, purchasing Robalo in 2001 from the Brunswick Group, known mostly for being the parent company of Mercury Marine.
Robalo market themselves as the world’s leading manufacturer of premium-quality sport fishing boats, based in the state-of-the-art manufacturing facility of Chaparral. The fact that Robalo are a debt-free company publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange is testament to the fact that buyers keep coming back time and time again. Robalo’s fleet now extends to 13 models spread among walk-arounds, centre consoles and dual consoles.
I am told that the company owners are such passionate boatbuilders that even though the company may turn over millions, they can still be found rolling up their sleeves, in dirty jeans, checking boats and fitting craft out side by side with their marine engineers. It is evident that the Robalo management are truly passionate boaters who really understand their customers’ requirements, and this can be seen in the design features of the R302 and R272.
R302 ‒ first impressions
The new R302 model takes the place of the older R300, thereby becoming the largest offering in the Robalo centre console line-up. With a substantial list of standard fishing features, she’s well rigged for coastal or further-afield excursions. In fact, a quick look at the options list shows choices pertaining mostly to interior colours and electronics brands – everything else you need is already present as standard.
Robalo had a very successful centre console boat in their R300; however, when it comes to the pursuit of excellence, design development is an ongoing love affair. The new R302, therefore, with its refinements, upgrades and new cockpit, represents the new ‘flagship’. Some of the other new features include a wider and better-proportioned T-top with tempered glass wrapping around the helm station, plus a completely new bow design and upgraded heads compartment.
The R302 features the company’s HydroLift hull design ‒ not to be confused with Hydrolift boats from Norway. On test, the pronounced hull strakes and wide reversed chines provided a dry, confidence-giving and comfortable ride while driving through 2m swells. The hull had great recovery in the nose, especially when coming out of the inlets against confused wind and tidal flows. This hull design, combined with the heavy-duty hull construction, including Kevlar laminate and a variable-degree deadrise, gives the R302 quick acceleration and solid stability.
Layout and cockpit design
The helm station is designed for serious offshore use, tailored to fit two 16in displays, with the factory fitting either Garmin or Simrad multifunction displays. Ergonomics have been carefully thought out, as two switch panels, within easy reach of the skipper, flank both port and starboard sides of the helm area. The beam of the boat offers enough room for both forward crew at the helm to be operating navigation and helming without being on top of each other and feeling cramped. Small details such as the trim tab controls being at your fingertips, forward of the throttle when going ahead, show further evidence of care in the design.
The hardtop is standard on the R302 and features bonded glass to the console, with an upper opening window to let air flow through in sunny weather. This construction and design are also replicated on the 272, and with both boats this is a great confidence giver. You feel as if you are in the front section of a sturdy wheelhouse or Shockwave ICE console rather than a sports fisher, both design sizes giving great protection from the elements and good visibility.
The helm seats on both boats are set in a lean-to bolster arrangement. A wet bar and live bait well are also included in the seat moulding aft of the helm position. The R302 also features a really neat pull-out cool box for keeping your food/drinks cool through the day. It slides out when needed but clips back in under the seat unit when underway.
The R302 follows the traditional sports fisher format of a drop-down rear bench seat; this is useful for clearing deck space for fishing activities, however I would like to see additional grab rails. On the boat I tested for family use, you would want additional handrails, helping to keep you secure on a flat bench-style seat. I do believe, though, that this is a builder who would accommodate the requirements of its buyers and small additions like this could be added even by the local dealer at the final rigging stage.
The R302 was powered by twin 300hp Yamaha V6 outboards; this gave a top speed of 53.5mph in my test. This was with two 100kg adults on board and around 600 litres of fuel. Considering the size of the boat, with the added windage of the T-top and flat windscreen, these numbers are impressive. At this speed the boat burnt 2010 litres [SB1] combined per hour, and the engines were propped beautifully ‒ revs topping at 5950rpm with no slip through hole shot or throughout the torque curve. For her size, the R302 felt confident and purposeful in its performance. The craft, along with her fixtures and fittings, didn’t suffer from any vibration, which is sometimes known on craft like this with a lot of rigged items and kit on board.
R272 ‒ design and fitout
My view is that of the two craft, the R272 is the boat most suited to the UK market in terms of both price and towability. It is an ideal craft in many respects to seriously take on the leisure RIB market and multi-purpose dayboat sector.
The R272 has ‘big boy’ features and its design is akin to a much larger craft, but it shares much of the same technology as this bigger mode too. On test, like its big brother, the R272 offered a dry and predictable ride ‒ an absolute must in my book for any leisure-orientated craft. Should you take any spray, you are protected by the bonded glass within the T-top uprights. Like the R302, this design gives you real confidence to take the boat offshore in safety, paired to a very capable hull for its relatively short waterline length.
Initially, I was worried that with such a superstructure in the T-top, aluminium powder-coated uprights and bonded glass, for a hull of this length, the centre of gravity may have been affected, suffering possibly from being too top-heavy. However, I was happily proved wrong, and after throwing the boat around hard to see her limits, she remained true and predictable ‒ once again, evidence that the builder has taken real care in the design and rigging of the boat.
Ergonomically, the boat follows the same format, albeit smaller, as that of the R302. A glass black dash is in front of you, with a Simrad NSS evo3 multifunction display to your left, and Yamaha’s own electronic gauge screen immediately ahead of you. Throttles are mounted to the right, with the steering also on the starboard side. Like the R302, switch panels flank both port and starboard, with plenty of storage not only in the console helm areas but above in the T-top mouldings.
The R272 is certainly not just a sports fisher in her design. The craft’s ergonomic layout and seating configuration mean the boat is truly versatile. Pairing this deck design and specification list to the Robalo HydroLift hull design means that she is ideally suited to UK waters and exploring further afield with your family in safety.
As in the case of the R302, this model features a Kevlar-reinforced hull with a chine design that gives a very sporty feel. Only powered by twin Yamaha 200hp outboards, the boat was capable of just under 50mph, while only burning 147l [SB2] per hour, combined between the two motors. Considering the superstructure of the helm station and T-top, the boat was agile and again was propped really well, with grip through all rev ranges and great acceleration.
The console’s ergonomics were good, and the lean-to bolster unit hugged one snuggly while wave jumping through the tidal swells. The hull landed softly and handled the conditions on the day with ease. She remained dry and had great recovery in the nose when purposefully trimmed wrongly in a following sea – the hull was very forgiving and would make a great entry into this sector of craft for the new boater.
Verdict on both craft
Looking at both these craft and reflecting on their individual handling characteristics, build quality and the brand strength of Robalo, it’s perhaps no surprise to learn that for 11 years in a row this company has also won awards for customer service. When a builder faces the demand of several thousand units a year, one may be forgiven for thinking that there may be areas where corners are cut, or where signs of speed/mass production become evident. Not so here. Each boat looks well made, strong and expertly executed with a high quality of rigging.
I have to say, both boats were a pleasure to drive. In terms of price, they represent sensible value for money in their given price category. During my time with the Robalo team, those representing the company showed themselves to be passionate about their boatbuilding ‒ people who take pride in their product and its reputation. There is no better place to find hard evidence of this than in the attention to detail these craft display. Without question, both the R302 and the R272 look good afloat alongside the pontoon but step on board and they deliver the goods where it really matters as well.
Weight: 4082kg (with twin 300hp engines)
Fuel capacity: 1136L
Water capacity: 114L
Max. HP: 700
Test engines: 2 x Yamaha 300hp
- LOA: 8.33m
- Beam: 2.90m
- Weight: 3175kg[SB3] (with twin 300hp engines)
- Fuel capacity: 681L
- Water capacity: 57L
- Max. HP: 500
- Test engines: 2 x Yamaha 200hp
R272: £150,226 (inc. VAT)
R302: £205,460 (inc. VAT)
R272 performance figures
RPM Speed (MPH) LPH
600 3 3.78
1000 5 5.6
1500 8 10.22
2000 10 16.6
2500 11 24
3000 15 32 (planing speed)
3500 25 40
4000 29 56.4
4500 34 74.9
5000 38 112
5500 42 137
5900 49 148
RPM Speed (KPH) LPH
600 4 4.7
1000 8.6 9.5
1500 12.9 15.4
2000 16 26
2500 22 39 (planing speed)
3000 30.7 52
3500 45 69
4000 55.6 91
4500 64 120
5000 73.5 165
5500 81.4 199
5950 86 210
What we thought
- Large wrap-around windscreens
- Good social space
- Soft-riding, predictable hull
- Well-thought-out ergonomics
- Lack of handrails on rear bench seats
UK dealer: idealboat.com