By: Kevin Smith

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We may not have caught any fish but Kevin "Froggy" Smith still had to be forcefully removed from this US-made Contender 21 Open.


There's just something about American boats that makes them stand out, especially among the popular brands. Spot one at the ramp and it'll quickly entice you into taking a closer look - before it promptly causes a riot in your head about whether you can afford one.

One such brand from the now ex-thriving US economy is Contender Boats. Made in Homestead, Florida, the company makes dedicated sportfishing boats from 21ft to 40ft. Everything this company makes is aimed at the serious fisherman, with 16 of its 17 production models being centre-consoles.

Contender is a name that I'd come across time and time again, both locally and abroad. The brand is distributed locally by Sam Wallrock from Wallrock Marine, so when I asked him why these boats were so popular he told me that the Contenders are market leaders in the US and that they are "by far" one of the best centre-consoles worldwide. It's a big call - and one that only a true on-water test could decide. But first, we needed a boat. And not just any boat...



After searching around we were indeed offered the chance to test one and it just so happened to have a mega bling setup to die for. The particular model was a Contender 21 Open belonging to a senior marine industry executive, and it really was blinged to the max. This wasn't a centre-console with bells and whistles; it was a centre-console with the whole damn Christmas tree.

This ocean weapon was kitted up to the max. It packed twin 115hp E-TECs, dual Simrad NSE12s on the console, a Simrad NSS 8 in the bow, radar, high-tech T-top and clears, Fusion stereo and boombox, trim-tabs, dual gauge setup and much, much more. To top it off the mega electronics are all integrated. Amazing! This was a WOW boat, so much so that a "regular" test wouldn't be enough to convey its full capabilities. In fact, we decided to go all out and make a video out of it, something that would involve hiring a helicopter. But why stop there? We had a full day set aside and since we'd be testing in scenic Pittwater, NSW, we figured we might as well fish the area. You know, to "test" this boat and see what it does best. We call it "work".

When the test day arrived our mission was two-fold: firstly, to test this gun setup to the limit; and secondly, to catch a whole load of fish from one of NSW's finest waterways. As it turned out, we would only be successful in one of these endeavours.



The Contender 21 Open is a fibreglass centre-console, specifically designed to suit the hardcore, offshore fisherman who also wants to tackle long distance hauls in rough conditions. Hell, that sounds familiar nowadays.

In the lead-up to the test I was eagerly waiting to set eyes on this apparent beauty, but that was promptly stalled because we didn't have a GPS in the car. My chauffer now understands the benefits of this new technology and I trust he won't be without one in the future (rest assured, he's been spoken to - Ed).

When I eventually did set my eyes on the Contender coming around the corner to collect us it looked every bit as good as it had been made out to be. It's very typical of Yank boats, with a big flared bow, but is somewhat different to recent boats on the market, which have more original lines that are sharp rather than curvy. Regardless, it looked hot on the water. The only way for it to have been hotter would be if it was painted red.

Once onboard my attention was immediately drawn to the console setup which looked like a security guard's monitoring station. Man, what a setup; twin 115 E-TECs, massive Simrads, radar and other gadgets which I'll get to a bit later. With this kind of electronic bling the fish were definitely going to feel our wrath later in the day.

The owner of this boat is a serious fisherman, and a good one at that (allegedly) - although I did match him fish for fish on a recent expedition off Ballina. So either he had a bad day or I'm just as good. His setup is designed to suit the species that he chases most including kings on deepwater jigs, snapper on plastics, yellowfin and marlin offshore, as well estuary species. When fishing for most of these species it's very handy to have 360° of fishability, not to mention the ability and confidence to handle offshore conditions. These were some of the main reasons he opted for the Contender 21.

Being a centre-console there's loads of fishing space, with a wide open bow section that's ideal for casting lures. However, for me it wasn't quite perfect up in the bow as there were no toeholds or bolstered padding on the gunwales.

Toeholds aren't that much of an issue but they would definitely help on this boat as the gunwale panels follow the shape of the bow and run at an angle to the deck instead of sitting at 90°. It means someone without sea-legs might struggle when fishing in rough water.

One quick solution would be to have a few padded bolsters made up for the gunwales. These would clip onto the existing recessed bowrail and could be used when required. Another solution would be to have a stainless or alloy toehold made up for the bottom of the gunwales (a good idea for any boat that doesn't have them). It would still leave plenty of space and would not restrict movement onboard.

But don't get me wrong, this is still a great boat. The bow area has loads of available fishing space as well as a fully recessed bowrail, ultra-high gunwales, windlass anchor system, large, removable seat / Esky-type cooler, bow drop-in bench seat for the cruising days, double-sized, flush-mounted hatch, super wide gunwale coamings with non-slip surfaces, and to top it off, a bow-mounted Simrad NSS 8.

When I'm fishing I find that I'm always looking at my sounder to see what's going down on the bottom. This is fine when fishing from the stern but once you're up in the bow you lose that visual contact. Having a second unit here is an extra expense but it's a great piece of electronic gear to have if you can afford it.

However, the centre-console setup is where most of the bling is attached. The T-top (or targa-top as some call it) is a piece of art on its own. It fits snug on the console without obstructing any part of the deck and has an awesome cover / clears design. The clears are not the standard clear vinyl but more like pliable Perspex. Yes, you can't roll it up, but it still has a vent for airflow and definitely seems to stay cleaner than standard vinyls while protecting you from the elements.

Something that was quite different on this T-top was the way built-in flaps on the cover section allowed rod tips to go through. The console has rodholders on either side that sit beneath the cover section. Normally you could only use these rodholders if you had rods short enough to go under the cover, but in this case all you do is open the Velcro flaps and slide the tips through the cover. It's an awesome idea that I'd never seen before. Rocket launchers, lighting and quality outriggers complete the setup.



Below the console is some storage space, but it's limited. This brings me to a point common to most centre-consoles, which is lack of storage space. Unfortunately you'll find this pretty much across the board and it's just one of those compromises. You can generally opt for more storage space, but this will inevitably reduce your deck space as you'll need to fit more above-deck hatches.

This situation is helped here by a deluxe leaning post / seat behind the console. This offers some additional storage space under the seat as well as designated tackle storage space that opens towards the stern.

The stern then consists of a large flush-mounted livewell in the deck, mini port and starboard seats that can be taken out, small rear hatches with access to pumps and oil tanks, and several flush-mounted rodholders. There's also an interesting, heavy-duty, tinted Perspex hinged flap in front of the splash-well, which opens inward towards the deck. It's presumably there to suit larger horsepower motors when trimmed fully up, up to a big 200hp-plus motor without smashing the cowl.

Another nitpick I had on this particular rig was its low transom. When the boat was stationary it sat quite heavy in the stern, so I asked the owner about this. He replied that it needed a higher transom to suit twin ultra-long motors, something that would have eliminated the problem. With two people onboard it wasn't an issue, but with four people cramming up the stern the livewell tended to flood a bit onto the deck area.

But these are just nitpicks. Overall the Contender is spacious and set up right for fishing. Like any boat, you set it up to suit your fishing style, which might not suit everybody. On this one you can throw lures, baitfish and even troll for marlin. It's got a lot going on and that suits me (and the owner) just fine.



The powers that be were made up of two previously mentioned twin-115hp Evinrude E-TECs. I was curious as to why the owner had gone for a twin-setup and his opinion was that twin installations are a requirement in many countries, especially when you have to travel five miles or more offshore. His fishing trips include long-distance runs to the shelf so for safety and peace of mind he prefers twin motors. Such a setup - fitted with separate filters and batteries - can get you home on at least one motor.

Like most modern motors the E-TECs can be fully integrated into most recent-model chartplotters / sounders. This gives you an incredibly accurate idea of what's going on inside your motors, from temperature to fuel management to speed.

Naturally, twin 115s means plenty of high-speed grunt - and definitely more than enough on a 21ft boat. I don't really have to say much more except this boat moved on the water, and we had no trouble getting airborne. Very airborne... It had violent holeshot and a top end to satisfy any speed freak, and for a centre-console of 21ft I was really impressed - from low speeds through to high speeds. The fact that much of this performance was measured with six people onboard made it even more remarkable.

The hull remained stable when stationary and at speed, and it rode pretty softly while remaining dry in the chop. Its big, flared bow prevented spray from coming back into the boat, something we put to the test in about 20kts of side-on wind. I did tweak the tabs to raise the windward side of the hull, which helped.

It was definitely a good combination between ride, stability and dryness, and this again is one of the many reasons why the owner purchased this model. Indeed, as we headed back he mentioned that he'd always wanted a centre-console but never managed to find one to suit the rough and cold conditions off Sydney. The Contender, he said, was the only one that met his needs.



Centre-console are excellent all-rounder fishing boats and this one in particular ticks a lot of boxes. Not only does it fish well but it can handle offshore without fuss and it's definitely up for rough days.

At 21ft long and weighing about 2000kg it's still very towable. If it were mine I'd happily take it anywhere where the fishing was hot. If it were up to me to change anything, I'd do the same things that the owner had in mind - adding some toeholds and fitting some sort of bolster padding on the gunwales.

Otherwise, the owner is so pleased with his boat that he's already looking at upgrading it to include a toilet along with a range of other small changes.

The boat as tested might slay the bank account at 128 grand all-in, but the reason for that is of course the cost of all the extra bling. The base price on one of these is $65,000 and that includes a V6 Yamaha 225hp four-stroke plus a few other goodies. Not bad at all. Now if only we'd caught a few fish. Or any fish for that matter. But it wasn't to be. Ah well, there's always next time.


On the plane...

Superb roughwater ride for a centre-console
Stable in the rough and at rest
Good finish throughout
Amazing electronics setup
Loads of grunt from twin 115s
Pure WOW factor


Dragging the chain...

No bolstered padding on gunwales
Angled gunwales in bow
Needs higher transom
No toeholds



Specifications: CONTENDER 21 OPEN




Price as tested: $128,000
Options fitted: Deluxe T-top, twin Evinrude E-TEC 115 outboards, Simrad chartplotter and sounders, Fusion stereo, radar, tackle stowage beneath seat, trim tabs, upgraded trailer and much more
Priced from: $65,000




Type: Deep-vee centre-console
Material: GRP
Length: 6.35m
Beam: 2.5m
Weight (hull): 900kg
BMT weight: 1800kg (without fuel)
Deadrise: 24.5°




People: 6
Rec. HP: 225
Max. HP: 300
Fuel: 360lt
Water: 90lt




Make/model: 2x Evinrude E-TEC E115DSL
Type: DFI V4 two-stroke
Weight (ea): 170kg
Displacement: 1727cc
Gear ratio: 2.0:1
Propeller: 19in stainless steel Viper




Contender Boats USA
Homestead, Florida, United States


Originally published in TrailerBoat 276

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