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Buying a Flats Boat?
Here are a few tips to consider.

by Forest Canion


lunar phases


The single most important question to ask yourself when buying a fishing boat is "Where do I plan to do most of my fishing?" If your answer is the flats, the next most important question is, "How much 'ride and dry' am I willing to sacrifice to gain more shallow water capabilities."
Running the Skinny Water
A flat bottom hull runs and floats the shallowest of any hull type. It may have a rougher ride and be wetter than a hull with a V, but you will be able to float and jump up shallower and have more deck space. Being able to run shallow water has its advantages over the obvious. On several fishing trips we have ran the shoreline and lakes to avoid rough water and found fish schooled in the calm, shallow water. If we would've cut across the open bays we wouldn't have seen a thing.
The Ride
Pointed bow boats with flat bottoms seem to ride better than the square bow hulls because of less entry area into the water. Length also plays a large part of the ride; spanning more waves at a given time. A semi-V hull, in general, will have a better ride and be dryer but you will lose on floating, jumping up, and deck space.
Hulls that taper from a 'V' to flat in a short run, (two to three feet), are not much more than flat bottoms. Hulls that are built on the deep-V design may ride great and are dry but are not going to perform as well as the semi-Vs or flat bottoms. This is because the deep-V is designed to throw water out from under the hull to improve the ride. The water that was needed to fill and keep the tunnel full is gone. A deep-V hull is also a deep draft hull and when a tunnel is cut into the hull displacement is lost.
Being able to run shallow is only part of the equation of fishing the flats. You must be able to float and jump up shallow. One can still fish the Gulf beach and get in closer on good days in a flat bottom hull. Who wants to be there when it is a test just to stand up in the boat?
Tunnels come in all sizes and shapes from short pockets to full hull lengths, short to tall, and round to square. What works the best is a tunnel that has a ratio of twelve inches in length to one inch in height; five sided or round; not more that one third the total hull length. This is not a hard and fast rule. A full hull length tunnel seems to trap more air causing cavitation. A short tall tunnel is hard to prime and keep primed when running at lower speeds. Square tunnels cause turbulence and drag.
Hull Helpers
Key slots or boxes help in two ways. First, they help when jumping up as they keep the propeller closer to the hull causing less bow rise. Second, when the engine is put on a jack plate the balance point moves aft on the hull. The key slot helps to offset this by adding displacement beyond the engine. Also a key slot that is designed properly will help keep the water trapped around the propeller. One may think that longer the better this is not so because once the key slot becomes too deep it will hinder turning the boat.
Propping it Out
There is a very large number of propeller styles manufactured for tunnel hulls. I believe a heavy four blade with lots of cup works the best. I will try to fit a propeller so when the motor is trimmed right and the jack is up the engine is running at the manufacturers recommended RPMs. Ask you dealer, boat builder, or propeller manufacturer which prop works the best with your set up. Most of the time this is going to be a personal choice between speed or jumping up.
Jack Plates
Jack Plates are not a necessity to properly utilize a tunnel hull. It has its advantages in being able to move the motor up and down in different situations. When maneuvering around the dock being able to lower the engine helps to control the boat. When running across the open bay, the engine can be raised or lowered to help control cavitation and trim. Once headed for shallow water, raising the engine increases the shallow water capabilities. On hulls that have tall tunnels I would strongly recommend a jack plate. If not, you will only utilize half the maneuverablity and half the shallow water capability.
Low Water Pickups
Low water pickups change the water intake from the side of the lower unit to the leading lower edge of the gear case ( the bullet shaped area ). This enables the engine to be raised higher than normal. On some tunnels this helps to get the engine higher and run shallower. The part I like about a low water pick up is being able to idle around in shallow water. A boater may idle into deeper water so jumping up causes less bottom damage.
Hull Makeup
Construction of a FRP hull may be a combination of glass and wood components to a complete composite hull using high tech methods. High tech hulls are great if you are willing to pay a premium for your hull. But, for the everyday boater, a fiberglass hull built with fiberglass stringers and wooden components are the most reasonable.
There are several treated wood products that are made for the FRP industry that have a ten year warranty. Don't think that the treated wood at your lumber yard will work. The reasons are it is made from pine and the moisture content is high. None of these are FRP friendly. A well crafted hull using this combination should last the average boat owner until the "I wants" set in.
Whistles and bells are neat and fun except when they do not work. This causes repair problems; time and money spent that could be spent on fishing. I try to use the "KISS" method when rigging my own boat. Keep It Simple Stupid. I have lost a lot of time working on whistles and bells in the past and not fishing.
When buying electronics do not buy an all-in-one device. Buy devices that do a single chore. If one goes out you still have the others to navigate or see how deep it is.
- Forest Canion is owner of Marine Service in Port Lavaca, Texas and is designer and manufacturer of the Flatlander line of flats boats. 361-552-4975.

You'll also want to look into trailer hitches to transport your new boat.

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