Tested by Capt. Bob Smith
After encountering a two-hour delay due to fog, Scott Harris, VP Sales and Engineering for McKee Craft, and I were finally able to shove off to run the new Marathon 196. The 196 handled smoothly in the marina with typical backing response of a single screw outboard, but when we ran out beyond the no-wake zone, the new Honda 150 E-Spec Four Stroke and deep V-hulled 196 really delivered a thrill ride.
We easily charged through large and small wakes from passing boats. Her high freeboard and 18 degrees of deadrise and sharp bow entry kept us dry, even when jumping the wakes of some large trawlers making their way south down the Carolina Beach Intracoastal Waterway for the winter.
The 196 handled nearly effortlessly, holding a steady course like her new big sister, the Freedom 24. When I challenged her in high speed fast turns, she responded with a good bite and little loss of power. She only cavitated when I tightened the turn to a ridiculous rate a good captain wouldn’t normally consider using.
The only real issue I had was when I flexed my knees for the landing from a large wake; I jammed my knees into the console. I guess if I didn’t insist on standing so darn close to the console, I could prevent that.
This craft measures in at 19’6” overall and has a beam width of 8’0”. Fully loaded, she only requires 17” to get through the shallow water, making her a good choice for fishing in the flats. She weighs in at about 1950 pounds dry and can carry up to 1850 pounds of people and gear for a full day of fun on the water. She is rated to hold up to a 200 horsepower outboard on the transom and requires at least a 150 horsepower outboard. The 196’s high freeboard will also give you a comfortable safe feeling when you have children aboard, and provides a good place for leaning around from front to back when fighting the fish.
McKee Craft uses aluminum backing plates for through bolts and has the backing plates already installed for the T-top, even if it is not ordered before the boat is built for you. The boat is built using all composites, so you don’t have to worry about stringers rotting away and the completely foam filled body softens the ride and reduces flexing significantly.
The 196 has two gunwale locking rod lockers and the deck forward design gives lots of room up front for fighting a fish without having to mount the small raised deck at the peak. There are four rod holders are in the gunwales and six more can be stored horizontally along the sides. A handy four-drawer tackle center keeps the frequently used tackle close at hand and neatly organized. Up front you have a connection available to add a trolling motor to your fishing rig.
The console has a large door for access to dry storage and a lockable glove box will keep your wallet dry while you fish or dodge the rain. In front of the console is a 72-quart igloo cooler with cushion that adds more seating to the craft.
The Marathon 196 can carry 80 gallons of fuel and all the storage boxes are fully insulated due to the construction methods of the boat. This is really nice so that you can use them as fish boxes or as coolers for those days when fishing is not part of the planned activities. Although two captain’s chairs on sliders are standard, my test boat had a leaning post seat that worked out nicely. My test ride also was equipped with optional hydraulic steering, which I am more and more inclined to think should be standard on all boats! She doesn’t have a long options list, but you can add a bimini or T-top, compass, various cushions and a few others.
The Marathon 196 was a pleasure to test. She has plenty of spunk with the single 150-hp Honda Four Stroke outboard. We had her up on plane in just under 3.2 seconds and had her clipping along at 30 mph in about 7.5 seconds. At 3000 rpms, she was cruising along at around 17mph and burning about 3 gph. We found her top speed at 6200 rpms running around 45 mph and burning 15.2 gph. Noise levels were amazing. We started out at 64 dB-A and only made it up to 73 dB-A tops.
At the end of the day, the Marathon 196 proved itself as a capable near-shore fishing platform that could easily be used for other water-based fun with the security of a boat that is unsinkable (according to the manufacturer), even when it is in pieces. If you are looking for a boat that is ready for fishing and fun, packed with features like a fully insulated hull, and safety that most other builders cannot compare with, the Marathon 196 should be on your short list.