A few months back, we bemoaned the fact that so many of todays "fishboats" have become what amounts to a bunch of neutered sissy boats. Theyre designed to please cruisers as much as chummers. Theyre better for sunbathing than spear fishing. Theyll please wimps over warriors.
Now, lets look at the opposite end of the equation. Many of us who have die-hard fishboats also have wives and kids who we want to take fishing, but we may lack the creature comforts needed to entice them onto the boat. And the truth of the matter is, many of us got into fishing and boating as a family activity in the first place. So if you chose a fishaholics dream-machine when you purchased your boat, the only way to get the rest of the family aboard may be to intentionally de-hardcore it.
Most serious fishboats are center consoles, and the number-one item youll usually need to add to a boat to make it family-friendly is a head. Luckily, most center consoles 20 and up have head compartments inside the console. All youll have to do is shuffle the tackleboxes around a bit to make some room, then buy and mount a portable MSD inside of it. But some family members will still feel a center console is unacceptable because of the lack of a cabin. Though this may seem like an insurmountable problem, it isnt---you can have a "bow dodger" custom-made for your boat. These canvass tents fold up and down like Bimini tops, and snap down or slide into tracks along the bow and sides, to form a mini-cabin. They offer protection from the sun and rain, although in a drenching downpour or rough seas, cheap versions may do poor job of keeping out the moisture. Bow dodgers can be also be a bit expensive, since they need to be custom-made for individual boats. Expect to spend between $1,500 and $2,500 to have a bow dodger made for a 20 to 24 fishing boat. (Note: the ones with tracks are usually more expensive, but are drier inside). If that expenditure gets your family out with you, however, its obviously well worth the price. And when its time to fish seriously, all you have to do it fold it up and its out of the way.
Another big complaint thats often registered about fishboats is a lack of comfortable seating. Many hard-core fishboats have a leaning post at the helm and thats it. Luckily, adding seats isnt as tough as it sounds. Jump seats that slide into mounts---so they can be removed when you go fishing with the guys---will fit against the transom of virtually any boat. A Garelick Gunwale/Utility seat, for example, goes for a few hundred bucks and mounts to virtually any flush surface, allowing you to add as many jump seats as youd like to both the transom and sides of the cockpit. You want a quicker, cheaper alternative? No problem, simply toss a beanbag chair into the cockpit. These are amazingly comfortable on boats, though you should get beanies made from marine vinyl, which are saltwater resistant. Some brands (check out E-Sea Riders) are even shaped to fit different deck and gunwale styles. If your boat has a T-top, carry a few extra bungee cords on the boat, and when its time to fish, strap those bean bags out of the way, on top of the top. Another simple seating option is adding cooler seats. Added bonus, you get another cooler out of the deal. But beware, the mass-produced variety fares poorly over time and you can only expect to get a season or two out of the ones marketed by those big-name cooler companies, because the straps and snaps are weak and they regularly break or rip off.
Your wife or daughter wishes the boat had one of those nice big tanning beds? You may not be able to add one to your fishboat, but an inflatable raft or air mattress laid across the casting deck is a pretty good substitute. When play time is over, you can simply deflate it and cram it into a stowage compartment.
If you have a babe in arms or very young toddlers, also consider bringing a car seat aboard. One down-side to hard, uncarpeted non-skid fiberglass decks is that it hurts to fall on them, and car seats give your child a safe spot to ride in. Those same ratcheting transom tie-downs you use to secure your boat to the trailer are perfect for securing the kiddie seats to a pedestal seat or to a leaning post with a backrest.
Now lets say youve family-friendlied your boat, and the fish arent biting fast enough or the weather outside the inlet is too rough for everyone. There is still a ton of slightly untraditional ways to enjoy time spent on the water with the family. Youre not sure what youll do? Here are a few ideas:
1. Go Geocaching. People set up "caches," which are watertight boxes or bags with a log book and a trinket or two inside, all over the place. The idea is to find the cashe, sign the log, and take one trinket while leaving another. GPS coordinates for cashes are published on the internet, at www.geocashing.com. Most geocashing takes place on land, but there are lots of cashes accessible by boat and in some cases, by boat only. Find coordinates for those near you or set up your own cashe and register it at the web site; kids love the "adventure."
2. Set up a hands-on aquarium in your livewell. Drop the kids on a beach with a dip net and a bucket let them collect critters for the "aquarium," then fill it up with their catch. With younger children, you can simply purchase a dozen minnow at the tackle shop or marina and drop them in. The kids will spend hours watching the minnow swim, trying to grab them with their bare hands, and playing in the water.
3. Have a water war. Your fishboat is already fully armed---simply think of your raw water washdown as the onboard water cannon. Hand the kids a couple of Super Soakers, drop them off on the beach, and stage an amphibious assault.
4. Enjoy some watersports. Wakeboarding, water skiing, and swimming are all things that get kids excited, even those hard-to-please teenagers. Even though your boat was designed for fishing it surely has a pair of tow-eyes on the transom (just about every boat does) so all you need now is a tow rope, a tow toy, and some gas in the tank.
5. Find a local boat parade and join in. Whats better than watching a fleet of decorated boats go by? Being in one of them---and plenty of towns, marinas, and clubs have annual boat parades. (Just Google "boat parades," and youll be shocked at how many pop up.) The artsy members of the family will enjoy designing your boats light display and decorations, while those who are more mechanically-inclined can help build them.