By: David Lockwood

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In America, hybrid boats for watersports and fishing have been popular for quite some time, but it’s taken till now for one of them to reach our shores. David Lockwood enjoys a day in Larson's Ski & Fish 180 on Tuggerah Lake.

Larson SEi 180 Ski & Fish

Our ever-attentive editor made a fine observation the other day. He noted that the buzz in trailerboats is with so-called bass and barra boats and wakeboarding and watersports craft. Why not combine the two and have a bass-and-watersports boat that keeps everyone happy, he proffered. Why not indeed.

The Larson 180 Ski & Fish is nothing if not overdue. But it's more than that. Conceptually, it's very clever. I set out with my fishing gear, partner, and the Larson dealer's excited grandson to see how well the boat works in practice.

But first a word on the dealer. Coastlife Marine at Wyong North is one of the most impressive regional boat dealerships I've seen. The business includes an outdoor yard, indoor showroom, chandlery, boat-service centre and used-boat display.

One of a number of new trailerboat megamarts cropping up around the country, it contrasts with the ramshackle regional boat yards of yesteryear. Such dealerships highlight a coming of age for the marine industry.




Unless I'm mistaken, this is the first boat test of a Larson in Australia. Best we preface the new launching with some background on the badge.

The marine boatbuilding giant Genmar, which introduced a closed-mould computer-monitored boatbuilding process a season or two ago known as Virtual Engineered Composites or VEC technology for short, owns Larson.

The VEC manufacturing method produces boats faster and, it is said, with more precision than traditional hand-made hulls. As if to prove as much, VEC hulls are backed by a lifetime limited warranty. All the internal liners and mouldings also appear nice and true.

Robotic routers are used to cut openings in the hulls for things like deck gear and sterndrives. But other components like inboard motors are aligned by hand. Next, handcrafted upholstery is added. The boats then move to a paint shop for detailing before being shipped to hot new markets for US boats - like Down Under.

Larson's 180 Ski & Fish presented itself with what I would term a good production-boat finish. The test boat had tan (optional black) accent panel painted on the hull sides and a neutral interior vinyl palette. My partner would have preferred some brighter colour options, but I doubt the fish would.

What I really liked were the motifs of American bass attached to the graphics on the hull sides. The boat could just as fittingly have had a water-skier or wakeboarder on its flanks. Pity they can't make it a barra.

But factory-rolled, the boat had a good spread of standard inclusions. The transom had moulded steps and a swim ladder, while the bow contained a trolling motor and dedicated mount. In between were fishing features like a built-in aerated livewell, lockable rod-storage units and tackle trays. Add the option of a ski-tow pylon and the 180 Ski & Fish is true to name thus far.



Clearly, the idea with the Larson 180 Ski & Fish is that you can have your fishing boat and your family rig on the same day. And while the twain shall meet on this boat, the tools used for either recreation can be stowed out of the way.

This is important so that, for example, the ski observer isn't staring through a thatch of fishing rods, and the anglers aren't casting over a biscuit or tube.

Rods can be stowed out of the way in sidepocket rod lockers that jointly hold at least half a dozen rods in padded racks. The lockers have bi-folding covers so you can access their contents despite the closeness of the nearby seat bases.

When you retrieve the rods, you have somewhere to put them - there are three vertical rodholders against the inside of the transom. This way, you can run from spot to spot with your sticks rigged at the ready. Gunwale-mounted rodholders or, worse, the floor are not the place for precious carbon-fibre flick sticks, that's for sure.

In the bow, there are two tackle lockers, each with pull-out plastic boxes for your soft-plastic lures or hard-bodied plugs. To these things you can add an underfloor livewell in the bow for keeping nippers, prawns or herring kicking. Look out flathead. Or barra.

Unlike a bowrider, the entire bow is a permanent raised casting platform fashioned from non-skid starboard, which is a new-age plastic material.

Now the really interesting bit: the seating arrangement. This outboard-powered 180 Ski & Fish hasn't a full-width rear lounge, but rather three seats as standard, with an optional fishing seat on the demo boat seen here. Two of the three standard seats have slides.

The fishing seat has a telescopic Air-Ride high adjustor. The seat simply lifts out of the cockpit and can be relocated on the casting platform. From this seated position on the casting platform you can throw lures all day in wonderful comfort.
The throttle for the electric motor - a 24V Minn Kota RipTide 65lb thrust with 54in shaft - can then be positioned so that it falls to foot. A bow instrument panel includes aerator switch, voltmeter, tilt switch, battery charger switch and battery-selector switch.

It's best to have three batteries on this boat so you don't inadvertently run the engine-starter battery flat. Electric motor and batteries add $2000 to the package price, but I reckon you need them to make this hybrid boat really work.




With the (optional but sensible) canopy folded out of the way and stowed in its sock, and that fourth seat located in the bow, the cockpit offers sufficient casting room for a second angler.

If you were into vertical jigging for, say, redfin in inland dams, then four anglers could sit and fish.

Importantly, there is a big underfloor lined locker to keep the skis, tubes and/or wakeboard out of the way. Safety gear can be stowed in the two deep storage lockers in the bow.

The 180 Ski & Fish also has a small centre locker for holding a length of anchor rope. Most American trailerboats don't have a rope locker of any kind.

Storage space for personals exists in a lockable glovebox and under the transom, where access panels reveal the oil bottle and battery. There are also handy storage nets and drinkholders located about the interior. Storage really is a strength of this hybrid.

The Larson had an automotive-type fuse system, matt-beige low-glare dash with a full spread of Faria gauges, plus courtesy and navigation lights. The built-in 87lt fuel tank might need to be topped up during long, hot summer days of fishing and towing kiddies on skis and tubes.

While it hasn't got side wings, the stubby windscreen wasn't flimsy - for now at least. It was held up with standard alloy struts with nylon fittings at the end. The walkthrough centre section of the windscreen rests on a rubber stopper when it's open. Driving, the windscreen did what it should and provided protection without hindering vision.




While I was throwing lures around from the bow seat, my partner was kicking back in the cockpit painting her nails. Well, not really, but she was whiling away the time rather quietly.

Choose the inboard-powered version of this boat and you get an aft sunlounge for your partner to work on her tan. That would be my pick: a fishing boat with a nice blonde on the transom in a bikini... I'd better stop there.

Seriously, though, the 180 Ski & Fish did seem to keep both parties happy. The boat had a lot of buoyancy, I noted, and it should carry four adults with ease. To all this, the local dealer added an optional CD player, snap-in cockpit carpet and bow-filler cushions.

The optional filler cushions, along with standard stainless-steel grabrails, turned the bow into an area that could safely accommodate a couple of kids when underway. Not long after contemplating that detail I slipped the boat into Wyong River from its American Ezy-Tow trailer.




For some reason, the boat wasn't supplied with much fuel. However, it did have a very obliging direct-injection 135hp Evinrude Bombardier outboard that started as soon as I turned the key.

I noted that the boat had a trim gauge, which isn't a given on many boats; switches for various things like lights and bilge pump; and somewhere for charging a mobile phone or video camera. What's this little red button? Blaaahhh! Oh, it's the horn. There was also a small depthsounder - a Lowrance X71 - factory-fitted to the dash.

The depthsounder was showing fish everywhere. I failed to land a lunker, but I did discover something about this boat and Tuggerah Lake - the two make pretty good partners, as indeed this boat would with a number of other fishy fresh- and saltwater waterways.

Spinning a 17in propeller, the lightly laden boat exhibited excellent holeshot. The powerful Evinrude's only downside was what I considered quite vigorous running noise when you skipped along at high speed.

I recorded a lovely low-speed cruise of about 18-19kt (34-36kmh) at 3000rpm and a comfortable cruise of about 28kt (53kmh) at 4000rpm. Top speed was almost 40kt or 76kmh. All speeds were read off the boat's speedo, which may or may not be 10 per cent out.

More importantly, the boat had a wide trim range from where I ran it very free across the lake to where I buttoned the bow down to the water. The hull felt good, I must say, though the lake was as flat as a millpond. The only disturbances were my wake and that trailing off the tail feathers of a couple of hundred pelicans and as many black swans.

Due to the incredibly benign boating conditions, no rough-water assessment could be made of Larson's 180 Ski & Fish. All I can add on that front is that the VEC-built boats I have driven before have been impressive, and that this hull's 21° of deadrise equates to a deep-vee design.

The boat was, however, a real handful without hydraulic steering - particularly at high speed. Really, hydraulic steering should be standard issue on any boat with an outboard above 90hp.

On the lake, the 180 Ski & Fish was compromising in the nicest possible way.

The clever boat proved that it is possible to keep everyone happy all the time. Something tells me it's the harbinger of a whole new genre of hybrid fish and watersports craft.




Hybrid layout keeps everyone happy
Excellent array of fishing features
Top angling ergonomics
Lots of storage
VEC hull performs well




Lacks sports styling
Small fuel tank
New brand with no established used market
Outboard was a tad noisy at high speeds
No hydraulic steering





Price as tested: $46,990 w/ Evinrude 135hp direct-injected outboard, some options and Ezy-Tow trailer
Options fitted: Bimini top, skipole, CD player, snap-in cockpit carpet, fishing seats, bow-filler cushion, Fish package with depthsounder and trolling motor plus battery
Priced from: $44,990 sans 24V electric motor and two of the three batteries




Material: GRP w/ foam flotation and foam chambers
Length (overall): 5.21m
Beam: 2.36m
Deadrise: Deep-vee 21°
Rec/max hp: 130/150
Weight: 770kg boat only




Fuel: 87lt
Water: n/a
Passengers: 771kg load




Make/model: Bombardier
Evinrude 135hp
Type: Direct-injected V6 two-stroke outboard
Rated hp: 135 @ 5250rpm
Displacement: 1580cc
Weight: About 190kg dry
Drive (make/ratio): Outboard 1.85:1
Prop: 17in alloy




Coastlife Marine, 300 Pacific Hwy, Wyong North, tel (02) 4353 3644


First published in TrailerBoat #184

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