“Modern aluminum boats are a far cry from Grandpa’s tin boat, and offer some advantages over fiberglass hulls.”
While Safari Club members are primarily hunters, many of them enjoy time on the water, hunting for fresh or saltwater prey to keep in tune with the rhythms of the seasons. Now that Spring has sprung and Summer is on the way, we took a look at some of the more innovative options to get out to where the big ones are.
There was a time when there was a mild social stigma attached to owning an aluminum boat. The perception was that the owner couldn’t afford a “real boat.” In some cases, there may have been a nugget of truth in that. In other cases, however, it was just a smart buying decision, because aluminum hulls do have some advantages over fiberglass.
One is lighter weight compared to an equivalent-sized fiberglass
hull. Not only is the hull itself lighter, but aluminum boats perform well with noticeably less horsepower, which results in a lighter engine, and a lighter total rig. That’s an asset when towing the boat. That lighter weight has another plus.
During the 15-years I spent as a fishing guide on Florida’s St. Johns River I operated from an 18-foot Ranger fiberglass hull when running the big waters. But, I also had a 16-foot aluminum skiff on a tilt trailer. There are a number of smaller lakes and ponds within my area that get little angling pressure, but at certain times of the year were almost guaranteed to produce a ten-pound bass.
The reason they got little angling pressure was simple–their ramps (if one could call them that!) were primitive at best. In some cases they were nothing more than a dirt road that ended at the water’s edge. Launching a full-sized fiberglass boat from a drive-on trailer was out of the question, even with a four-wheel drive vehicle. However, with the tilt trailer and lightweight hull, all I had to do was get the rear trailer wheels wet and I could launch and recover the boat.
Sometimes that took a little pushing and muscling and wet feet. But, it was easy with the lighter hull, and more than a few of my
customers caught their first ten-pound largemouth simply because I could get a boat to where those fish lived while other anglers couldn’t.
That’s a rough way to handle a hull, but tin boats take that kind of abuse. In fact, they routinely take abuse that would send a fiberglass hull to the repair shop. If you bang a fiberglass hull into rocks, or scrape it across gravel banks, shell, or other hard objects, you risk breaking through the external gel coat and allowing water to seep into the layered fiberglass and causing it to delaminate. Hard knocks on a fiberglass hull can create expensive repairs. The same “smack” on a tin boat seldom results in more than a dent.
This durability factor is not lost on savvy anglers in the northern part of the continent. Whether one is running a rocky river, pushing through flow ice, or just beaching the boat on a gravel shoreline for the traditional “Canadian guide shore lunch,” an aluminum hull takes abuse that would damage a fiberglass hull; and the reason experienced anglers prefer aluminum hulls in this environment.
That lighter weight also results in a shallower draft and allows a tin boat to get into skinnier water than the deeper draft fiberglass hulls–and without worrying about banging up the hull. That can come in handy if you have to scrape over shallow obstructions to reach a deeper pool, or oxbow lake. You can go places in a tin boat that could be problematical for a heavier fiberglass craft.
While aluminum hulls have some distinct advantages, there are also drawbacks. Many older designs used rivets to connect aluminum sections to create the hull, with decking and transom made of wood. Foam floatation was inserted between hull and deck. Those rivets tended to stretch and leak under hard use, which allowed water to saturate the floatation and decrease its effectiveness. Wood decking and transoms also rotted over time. The result was a leaking boat, wet feet, wet storage compartments and creaking decking.
Noise was another issue. Empty voids in the aluminum hull, much like a drum, amplified noise. The result was that tin boats sounded like a “tin boat.”
Amenities were also lacking. Dry storage, secure rod storage, comfortable seating, and a comprehensive control console were not readily available on many models.
When Ranger Boats decided to enter the aluminum boat market, those drawbacks were noted, and not ignored. During a seminar at Florida’s famed Bienville Plantation, I got to look at three of Ranger’s new offerings, and after several days of chasing bass in their fertile phosphate pits I was impressed.
The three boats consisted of the Ranger Tournament Series RT188, the Ranger Tournament Series RT178C crappie, and the Ranger MPV 1862CC. All feature fully welded construction, including longitudinal and cross beams. There are no rivets in these boats. Nor, is there any wood. Decking is aluminum, and the transom is aluminum with pultruded fiberglass reinforcement. Closed cell foam is injected into all voids inside the hull, which not only provides significant upright floatation and a smooth ride, but also deadens the “tin boat” sound.
The RT188 is a full-fledged tournament bass boat with all the features one would expect from an upper line fiberglass hull. The hull length is 18’8” with a 92-inch beam and a 64-inch bottom width. Rated for a maximum of 115 horsepower, it performs well with a 90-horse outboard. A divided rear livewell, lockable storage consisting of two storage compartments under the rear deck, two storage compartments under the three-across seating, two massive storage compartments on the front deck, a front deck rod box that holds rods up to 8.5-feet in length, recessed trolling motor pedal, Minn Kota 45 trolling motor, marine grade carpeting, on-board dual battery charger, front and rear pedestal seat mounts, and a fully-instrumented fiberglass console are just some of the features. If you didn’t know it was a tin boat when you stepped into it, you wouldn’t know it was a tin boat.
The RT178C crappie has an overall hull length of 17′ 8” feet with a 92-inch beam and a 64-inch bottom width. Rated for a maximum of 75 horsepower, it runs well with engines in the 50-60-horse range. In terms of amenities and electronics, it offers virtually everything that the RT188 does, with a few twists. The bow deck features three pedestal seat mounts allowing friends/families to sit together; hence the crappie moniker. Directly behind the seats is a front livewell for the catch, and a rear livewell can hold the bait. The lockable rod storage is on the left gunwale, and holds rods up to 8.5-feet in length. If smaller lakes and family trips are on your list, this is an intriguing option.
The MPV1862CC dispenses with the bass boat look and gets utilitarian, while keeping the electronic refinements of the other two. Hull length is 18′ 4” with a 90-inch beam and a 62-inch bottom width. Rated for a maximum of 90 horsepower, it runs well with a 75-horse engine.
A fully instrumented center console allows the operator to sit comfortably in open water, or run the boat standing in cluttered waters in order to get a better view of the things you don’t want to hit. Finished in a Rawhide Coating in Mossy Oak Bottmland camo, it’s intended to be as much at home in a waterfowl marsh as it is on a freshwater lake, or an inshore saltwater flat. Six rod holders mount on the console, with rod racks on the sides. Two lockable storage compartments and a large livewell are under the spacious front deck, and front and rear pedestal seat mounts are included.
I fell in love with the spacious layout. Should I decide to return to the fishing guide profession I could cheerfully live in this boat. It’ll do everything I need done. So what if it’s aluminum! These new Ranger models aren’t your Grandpa’s tin boat.– Chris Christian