The perfect fishing boat?

By: Tom Prince, Photography by: Tom Prince, Matt Cini, Andrew Cove

Presented by
  • Trade-A-Boat

“Make me the perfect fishing boat”. Commercial charter operator Matt Cini from Reel Time Fishing Charters asked exactly that when he needed a new commercial boat for his fishing charters. Who could accept such a challenge?

The perfect fishing boat?
The Reel Time Fishing Charters 8.5m Pelagic Boats aluminium fishing boat. Pic: Matt Cini.

What is the perfect fishing boat? What’s it got? And where can we get one?

Ask your average recreational fishermen and they’ll probably start with their favourite fishing boat make and model. Their perfect fishing boat will have a long wish list of options and fittings, probably their favourite (and biggest) outboard motor, and a killer marine electronics package. Somewhere in that package is a high-end trailer or at least a berth with ready access to the fishing grounds.

Now ask the same question but change one detail. Instead of a recreational angler, you’re asking someone who operates commercial fishing charters. What does this person consider to be the perfect fishing boat?

Unlike you and I, who fundamentally fish for fun — obsessively so for many of us, but nonetheless still for fun — a professional fishing charter operator fishes because their livelihood depends on it. Ask someone who runs commercial fishing boats what makes the perfect fishing boat and you’ll most likely get a very specific list of stringent requirements. In fact, the perfect commercial fishing boat will have exacting details, arcane requirements, mysterious standards, strange tolerances and many more things that the average recreational angler has never heard of.

Now imagine you’re that professional commercial fishing boat charter operator. You’ve just asked a boat manufacturer if they can make you the perfect aluminium fishing boat, built to the highest commercial marine standards.

This vessel has to be the best boat on the water, and must meet every regulation for commercial fishing boats that the Marine Board can throw at you. It’ll have a long list of demanding custom requirements. Also, this boat has never been built before.

Seems far-fetched? We found one charter operator who did just that.


The perfect fishing boat?

Reel Time Fishing Charters boat
12 months in the making and it cost as much as a small residential unit. But we're told it was all worth the wait. "It’s the best charter boat I’ve ever had," says Matt from Reel Time Fishing Charters. Pic: Matt Cini

In the world of commercial fishing boat charters, your livelihood depends on one thing: ensuring the recreational anglers who give you their hard-earned have the most enjoyable time imaginable while catching loads of fish.

It’s a simple formula really. If your customers don’t catch any fish, they won’t come back. If they catch fish but get mercilessly wet and rocked around, they won’t come back. If they catch fish, don’t get mercilessly wet and rocked around, but don’t have a good time, they won’t come back.

They’ll probably tell all their friends and family about the lousy fishing, and everyone on social media too.

In addition, you don’t make any money until you recoup your running costs. There’s fuel, bait, maintenance, numerous fees, and much more.

To be a fishing charter operator is a tough gig. The days start early, the hours are long, and come peak season you could spend 22 hours in one day aboard your boat. Every one of your customers has paid to be here and arrives with high expectations, so you need to keep all of them happy. You’re forever watching fishing reports, the weather, the seasons, your costs, the competition, government authorities…

Yeah, it’s a tough gig. To be a successful commercial fishing charter operator you’ll need all your wits about you. And as with any profession, you need the right tools for the job.


Designing the perfect fishing boat

Hardtop rod holders on Pelagic fishing boat
Pelagic Boats recommends against using stainless steel components when building aluminium fishing boats in order to prevent problems arising from dissimilar metals. 

"I’ve been doing charters 12 years now and I’ve had probably 20 or 30 boats in my lifetime," says Matt Cini from Victoria’s Reel Time Fishing Charters. "With this one boat I really took the time to design it perfectly for what I do," he says.

Matt is talking about the Reel Time fishing Charters 8.5m Pelagic plate aluminium fishing boat, custom-designed by a naval architect and painstakingly assembled over the course of a year by Victoria’s Pelagic Boats.

Think about that for a moment. An "off the plan" production-boat was out of the question for Reel Time Fishing Charters, and this 8.5m Pelagic aluminium fishing boat did not exist until Matt commissioned it.

How many of us have had the chance to dream up a boat and then get it made to our requirements? More to the point, where do you start if you need someone to make a boat that’s never been built before? With the important bit of course — the hull. And get a reputable naval architect on side.

"Naval architect Adam Schwetz from Nomad Marine Kits had a basic design that I liked. He has the hull design and from there you put your cabin or wheelhouse where you want it," says Matt.

The commercial and fishing charters industries are a close-knit bunch and Matt had heard great things about a similar 9.1m Schwetz-designed hull operating at the other end of Melbourne. For most of us recreational anglers, the decision as to whether we like a fishing boat often comes down to a test drive with the dealer.

Not so with Matt. The operator, crayfisher Mick Spiteri, was happy for Matt to spend time aboard his commercial boat, just so he could get a feel for its handling and ride. After several days, Matt was finally satisfied that Nomad Marine Kits could provide the right kind of hull, and he approached Adam Schwetz with an impressive list of design requirements.

Top of the list was its need to not only legally carry a dozen people; everyone had to have loads of room to comfortably fish and move around. So this meant a walkaround design, but the cabin had to accommodate numerous state-of-the-art marine electronics, while leaving room for both a stand-up toilet and a single berth for a proper lie-down.

It goes without saying that the fishing boat also had to be efficient, stable, bristling with rod holders, and needed to be at home in any sea conditions, be it tuna fishing off Portland or chasing whiting in Port Phillip Bay.

The end result according to Matt desired plans was an 8.5m walkaround with a 3.2m beam, all based around an exceptionally strong, safe and well-riding hull.


Building the perfect fishing boat

Cockpit being built on Pelagic boat
Pelagic Boats putting the finishing touches on the cockpit during the build.  

Dreaming up the perfect fishing boat is one thing. Getting someone who not only has the skill but also the insight and patience to custom-build the thing is quite another — particularly when it involves mind-bogglingly complex and stringent commercial boating standards.

"My choices were limited," says Matt. "There were maybe 10 guys in this area who could build a boat to my specifications," he says. For the job he opted for Pelagic Boats, based in South Gippsland, an hour or so out of Melbourne.

Even for a commercial boat builder, the manufacture of the next Reel Time fishing charter boat would be no small challenge. It did help though that Pelagic and Nomad Boat Kits had worked together previously. 


How do you build a commercial fishing boat?

Want to know how they build custom commercial aluminium fishing boats? We asked Pelagic Boats to tell us how they built the Reel Time Fishing Charters 8.5m Pelagic aluminium fishing boat. You won’t believe just how much time and effort goes into the internal structure, and the level of precision in such a build.

See the story: 8.5m Pelagic boat build


Building the Reel Time Fishing Charters 8.5m Pelagic commercial boat would take up hundreds upon hundreds of hours in welding and assembly alone. Several kilometres of rod would be consumed during the build.

"You look at the completed boat and it doesn’t do it justice," says Matt. "When you actually see it being built, you realise just how much time and how much welding went into it."

To illustrate just how much further the construction goes for a commercial boat build compared to a recreational vessel, Matt cites the way the hull was built with frames.

"Similar boats may have 6mm sheets running under the hull, but on my 8.5m Pelagic they go right around the whole boat. They’ve actually got something like an i-beam that has a flat on them as well," he says. It could be one of hundreds of examples to show the full strength of the commercial build. "The whole boat is so rigid. It’s built to last. So that’s why it took so long to build," he says.

As with any "first" of this kind, the unique nature of this 8.5m Pelagic boat build necessitated regular — and occasionally radical — changes.

"Pelagic probably hadn’t built a boat this big before but I liked their attitude," says Matt. "I’d say, "can I change this?" or "can I change that?" whereas most people would say "no you can’t change that". So that was one of the good things about Pelagic Boats," he says. "They were willing to make sure that I got the boat that I wanted. Their pricing was also very fair," he adds.



Pelagic fishing boat bow
The walkaround and bow design make a huge difference. No longer do anglers crowd around one end of the boat. Just sit back and relax, why don't you.

The final design for Matt Cini’s 8.5m Pelagic commercial charter boat is, as mentioned, a walkaround design. A vast working area (often populated with inexperienced anglers) is situated at both ends, with the structure situated on that fantastically stable hull. Trade-a-Boat verified this fact when we headed out with Reel Time Fishing Charters on an early-morning whiting fishing mission. We had 10 anglers plus skipper Matt and deckhand Matt (the "other" Matt).

A dozen people is quite a few hands for what is "only" an 8.5m boat, but on the Pelagic fishing boat it never felt crowded. When stationary, the boat never felt crowded, with all hands fishing simultaneously in true 360° fashion around that walkaround.



Pelagic fishing boat cabin
A shock-absorbing chair (somewhat well-loved now but undeniably effective), a stand-up toilet, sleeping quarters big enough for a proper lie-down in peak season, $35,000 worth of marine electronics... there's a helluva lot on what is "only" an 8.5m fishing boat.

Central to Matt’s design requirements (get it? central?) was a relatively narrow cabin. This had to fulfil several functions: it had to leave plenty of fishing room on the sides; it also to leave more room for a plumbed toilet (tall enough to stand in); but it had to remain narrow enough overall for the skipper to focus on the job of driving the boat, without 10 overly curious anglers squeezing into the cabin. The cabin also has sleeping quarters, big enough just for Matt, and a generous amount of storage for all the safety gear and other equipment.

One interesting feature is the use of a hydraulic Kab chair for the helm. "I wanted to make sure that I built a boat that was built around me, rather than everything else," says Matt. "After 10 years of being in smaller boats that didn’t ride as well as this boat, my back got a bit sore. Being a centre cab, I’m almost in the centre of the boat so I get less shock, whereas with my old boats I used to be up the front, and you cop everything up there," he says. "So the middle has less shock, and the chair takes a lot of that off me as well now. That way I won’t be in a wheelchair when I’m 50," he muses.


Marine electronics

Furuno marine electronics
You know you want one just like this! Matt estimates the marine electronics price amounted to around $35,000.

A one-of-a-kind, high-end commercial fishing boat wouldn’t be right without equally high-end marine electronics. It’s no surprise then that Reel Time Fishing Charters invested very heavily in state-of-the-art marine electronics.

Centre stage on the dash is a Furuno 587 marine electronics unit with a 1kw SS264 wide beam transducer. "It gives me a really good range for sounding for snapper in Port Philip bay. We’ve also got the autopilot, and the Nav pilot that connects up our Furuno TZ touch, which is an absolute gem of a unit," says Matt. Installed by marine electronics experts Nautek Marine, the unit includes SST charts, radar, mapping, and even a Google Maps overlay.

"TZ Touch basically does everything. It’s our GPS and mapping system, it’s the radar, and it does all those other safety things," says Matt, adding that it performs a significant number of other functions. As for the price of all those marine electronics? "Probably about $35,000," Matt estimates.


Outboard motors

Twin 200 hp Mercury Verado outboards
The twin 200 hp Mercury Verado outboard motors did no less than 2000 hours over 18 months — and Matt says they haven't missed a beat.

A sure way to be a successful fishing charter operator is to reduce all unnecessary costs. Fuel economy is one area where it’s possible to make a substantial difference. Surprisingly though, Matt opted for petrol outboard motors.

"If I’d bought diesels, my fuel bill would be a lot cheaper," says Matt. However, he says twin 150 to 200 hp marine diesel engines would have raised the floor and gotten in the way of fishing room. Plus, outboard motors can be fixed and maintained relatively easily (even, God forbid, if something were to be wrong while out on the water), whereas diesel units mean downtime.

With a 600lt fuel tank, Matt opted for twin 200 hp Mercury Verado outboard motors from Wes Frost Marine. "Young Wes fitted them up for me. It’s a lovely package with fly-by-wire controls. They’re beautiful and just effortless to use," says Matt.

In 18 months of operation the two 200 hp Mercury Verado outboard engines racked up an impressive 2000 hours of operations. "And touch wood, they haven’t missed a beat," says Matt.


Pelagic Boats price

Layout of Reel Time Charters boat
This view (from a different day) clearly shows just how much room anglers have on the Pelagic 8.5m fishing boat. Pic: Matt Cini

So how much does a brand new, fully kitted, 8.5m Pelagic aluminium commercial fishing boat in Survey cost when it’s designed from the keel up by a professional naval architect?

"You wouldn’t get any change out of $280,000," says Matt. "You have to design the boat so you have to pay for the naval architect’s time. The builder will get a pack that will be all cut out; then he has to go build and assemble it. You might pay $60,000 or $70,000 just for the pack and the design. Then you’ve got to pay $70,000 or $80,000 or $90,000 for the welding time," he says.

And that’s just the assembly aspect. As mentioned, many hundreds of hours of welding went into this fishing boat, consuming kilometres of welding rod. Every facet of the construction has to adhere to stringent commercial standards, not to mention go through a painstaking — and at times, agonizingly slow — quality control process that ensures the boat qualifies as a genuine commercial vessel.

Outwardly, a recreational plate aluminium fishing boat of similar dimensions probably appears much the same. However, the devil’s in the detail, so to speak, and once you get down to the nitty gritty, there just is no comparison.

"I’ve got solar panels, I’ve got the top of the range Furuno marine electronics, I’ve got four of the best batteries you can get, I’ve got five pumps, I’ve got ballast tanks… I don’t just have plastic bilge pumps, I’ve got proper $2000 pumps for all my tanks and livebait tanks. There’s a lot of things you could do cheaper — but not on a commercial boat like this," says Matt.


Was it worth it?

Reel Time Charters Whiting charter
Part of our haul after a day aboard the Reel Time whiting charter.

The Reel Time Fishing Charters 8.5m Pelagic boat took 12 months to build from planning to launch. It had the same price tag as a small residential unit. It runs on petrol instead of diesel. It lives in a berth rather than a trailer and needs maintenance and anti-fouling.

"It pretty much killed me," laughs Matt. "But seriously, the design is just phenomenal," he says.

"It’s so incredibly strong, it won’t deteriorate, and it will be around for many, many years. It’s done two seasons at Portland. It’s the best charter boat I’ve ever had – definitely."


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