Testing the features of the new boat

What a thrill it was to launch the new boat and test the new features. There was a lot to check out.

We had to verify that our displacement calculations were correct, so that the thrusters would get enough water. You see, with a trolling motor, you can adjust the shaft up and down to get the prop at the right depth. With built-in thrusters, the hull itself needs to be at the right depth. Success! The props get enough depth and provide thrust in about 4" of water!

Also, the pontoons mounted on the outriggers, start out up off the ground. This makes launching easier - no extra drag. But in the water, as people start climbing aboard, they start touching the water and adding flotation lift. This extra flotation kicks in AFTER the thrusters have enough depth. Success! Our calculations turned out to be right on.

Power? The thrusters produced more power than expected. The ducted-fan housing around the props produces more thrust than an open prop. We were impressed. We loaded the boat with 4 men, weighing over 800 lbs total (exceeding the Coast Guard rating), and the thrusters still pushed us along as well as our trolling motor could. The thrusters are amazing.

Steering? With a trolling motor, you turn the prop in the direction you want to go. Our thrusters are fixed in place, one on each side. Operating one thruster on a side was designed to turn the boat. But if that didn't produce enough turn, we thought that we could put the opposite side thruster into reverse to enhance the turn. Results were better than expected! Giving one thruster more power gives good turning; one thruster alone gives crisp turns. And if we use opposing directions with the two thrusters, the boat almost rotates in place. This is even better than we hoped for!

A second nice benefit of the steering was the finger-tip control. With the trolling motor, you have a handle/throttle reaching inside the boat, that you rotate for speed and push back and forth for direction. With a full boat, it is sometimes in the way. The small dual throttles at the back of the boat were much easier to use. I could rest my hand on the throttle housing and just use my fingers to control speed and direction. And I had a nephew sitting across from me, who would have been completely in the way of the trolling motor handle. No problem with the small throttle.

Stability. We could stand up, lean over the sides, cast fishing poles, net fish, and overload one side, without ever worrying about rocking the boat too much. We could get more stability if we lengthened the outriggers and pushed the pontoons out further. But we found that we have all the stability we need, without making the boat footprint wider. Success!

Anchor. There is an anchor compartment in the bow. And we put a flip-up ring on the nose of the bow, to tie the anchor rope to. This worked, but it required threading the rope through the loop and tying a knot. All my grandkids aren't knot experts yet. We decided this loop, although it lays down flat for putting the bow away, wasn't the best design. We are going to replace it with a cleat. It will stick up a little more, but it will be so much easier to wrap the anchor rope in a figure eight and tie it off. No threading of a long rope. Fail. We will make this better on future builds.

Speed of getting the boat assembled and on the water. Even for the first time, this boat is so much faster to assemble than it was to inflate our old rubber boat, and put in the floorboards. But we did learn a few tricks. Using a small power screwdriver on one side was a lot faster than a ratchet on the other side, to attach the outriggers. Didn't think it would have made that much difference. At $9, I think we will have two power screwdrivers. Also, we learned that by leaving the outriggers a bit loose on the pontoons, they would slide into and out of the mounts on the main boat much easier. Then they could be tightened fully after snapping them in place.

Loading the boat into the back of the 4 wheel drive pickup. The boat with all components inside weighs 147 pounds. We targeted 140. Too much glue inside maybe? Hull thickness just a bit more than expected? Anyway, two people could lift the boat in and out of the tall truck bed without straining, using our fingers under the lip on each side. I thought the lip was fine for lifting. But one of my sons thinks we should make something better to grab hold of. We will work on that. Also, when hauling the boat over a very bumpy road, we noticed that the top compartment was slipping off its hinges. (The hinges are lift-off removable on purpose. By allowing the hulls to be separated, a single person could handle this boat, by loading and uploading one piece of the boat at a time.) But we are adding a small clip to hold the compartment hinges together when doing rough transport. Testing does expose some things that need to be improved.

Testing also gave us another new idea. We were catching a lot of fish out in the middle of this high-mounting lake. Those on shore were catching very few; because the lake edge is so shallow I think. But the kids kept wanting to keep all the fish they caught, probably not to eat - all claims to the contrary notwithstanding - but to show them off. So, a son on board suggested that we could create a great live well, just by putting fish netting into the water in the gap between the pontoons and the boat hull. The lake itself would become the live well - no aireation necessary. We wouldn't take up any room in the boat, and we wouldn't kill the fish on a stringer. We think we can come up with a nice "live well" accessory for the boat using netting and some clamps.

All in all, the boat exceeded our expectations.