Mission Of The Sea Hunt
The Sea Hunt Ultra 234 is designed to be a coastal center console that can be used for fishing, towing sports or day cruising with the family or entertaining a few close friends. By keeping the boat light she will go faster and be more economical to operate. By keeping the boat basic the company is able to sell the Ultra 234 for a very competitive price.
Description of the Ultra 234 CC
The 234 is a well-designed -- but not flashy -- center console with proper proportions and good ergonomics. Her topside lines are what we have come to expect in class, she has some Carolina bow flair to keep the boat drier but nothing is exaggerated or over the top about her. Her bottom shape is probably her strongest attribute, other than price.
Bottom Shape Is Key
The Ultra 234 has a deadrise at the transom of 18-degrees which is a bit less than most of her peers. She is not designed to be jumping out of the water like a high-performance boat so she does not need a deep-V bottom at the transom. However, forward, where it counts in choppy conditions, she does have a deep deadrise -- 55-degrees at the bow and 22-degrees amidships. This means that the forward two-thirds of the boat, which will likely come out of the water in choppy conditions at speed, has a cushioned reentry.
The builder calls the 234 hull a "Vortec Hull." In addition to the dimensions mentioned above she has a pad on her keel. The pad starts well forward and is narrow but as it extends to the transom it widens to 11" (27.7 cm). The pad will make her quicker to get on plane (skiers will like that), faster at WOT, and be able to stay on plane at a lower rpm than she would otherwise. That makes her easier to push and more economical to run.
She has two horizontal running strakes, one to port, one to starboard. They are about 2" (5 cm) wide at the bow, then grow to 4" (10 cm) wide aft. These strakes knock down the spray forward and provide a planing surface aft. They are relatively wide for this size boat.
The Ultra 234 has a hard chine which is typical in class and like all of the other underwater structures the chine flat becomes wider at the stern of the boat. Forward it has an oblique angle into the bottom which will knock down spray. Aft it blends into a soft curve which joins the bottom.
Because her deadrise at the transom is 18-degrees she is more stable at trolling speeds and when at rest than she would be with a deep-V. Further, her relatively wide running strakes and chine design also contribute to her stability both at rest and underway. Stability is an important consideration when at anchor or when two or three people are on one side of the boat wrestling a trophy fish aboard.
Because Sea Hunt boats are so much less expensive than many other center consoles on the market it is natural to wonder what has been left out of the boat. The first thing that consumers should know is that hull strength is not a major concern with virtually any boat that we report upon. Generally-accepted industry scantlings have been forged over the years since fiberglass boats were first built in the late 1950s and today all recognized builders follow these guidelines.
Like any boat, the most important thing about a small open boat is keeping water out and once it is in, getting it out. Through-hull fittings, hoses and hose clamps are a much bigger concern because it is here that problems occasionally occur -- particularly with older boats. On the Sea Hunt we inspected, we found all of the hoses to thru-hull connections double clamped as they should be. Further, the cockpit is self-bailing as it should be.
Basically, the boat is built in three parts -- the hull, fiberglass stringers and fiberglass deck. All three parts are foamed before the deck is fastened every 6" and then chemically bonded to the hull.
Foam to insulate the fish boxes and integral coolers is sprayed on the bottom of the deck before it is mated with the hull. Likewise, foam is sprayed into the hull at strategic locations for insulation and flotation purposes. More foam is blown in once the two parts have been joined, enough to give the boat "basic" flotation. This means that while the boat will not float level if swamped, some part of the boat will stay above the water even with the outboard engine attached.
The Ultra 234 hull is from 150 lbs. to 450 lbs. (68.18 kgs. to 204.54 kgs.) lighter than other boats her size that we studied. According to a spokesman for Sea Hunt there are several reasons for that, such as the fact that Sea Hunt uses a plastic honeycomb core material in its decks which gives superior strength with a lot less weight than conventional decking. Essentially this is how commercial aircraft passenger decks are constructed which typically use aluminum honeycomb structures.
Hardware and structures on deck are also light-weight, but adequate. We did not find cleats or seats under-sized. And the cleats are pop-ups, the kind used on most fishing boats these days. In a word, the Ultra 234 is lighter than other boats because she is "No Frills." There is very little standard equipment on the boat beyond what is necessary.
●10-year hull warranty
●15-gal. (57 L) aerated livewell
●48-quart built-in console cooler
●Cushions for all seats
●Waterproof stereo with 4 speakers
●Stainless steel thru hull fittings
The boat has many more features than the ones above, but those are the items that stood out to us from the normal offerings.
The company was founded in 1995 and quickly became successful by building low-priced center consoles that were as functional as boats costing 30% to 50% more. Over the years the company has grown and is today one of the largest builders of center console boats on the market. The company is located in Columbia, S.C.
Major Differentiating Feature
When investigating a company like Sea Hunt we naturally ask what made this company so successful and the answer is obviously its low price point. So, the question begs, how can they build boats for so much less? In talking to Sea Hunt top management and inspecting the company's products, this is our take on how Sea Hunt is able to keep its prices so competitive--
This cost savings is accomplished by eliminating virtually all amenities as standard equipment. That means some hatches don't have gaskets and retaining devices might be light. Some hardware tends to be light. It means things like tilt steering, battery switches, a portable toilet and a freshwater system are all optional. (See our list of "major features.") Most non-essential equipment is optional -- only pay for it if it's really wanted.
We are told that Sea Hunt builds 9 boats a day. For the boat business that is a lot. The company is able to do that by keeping construction simple and engineering the production line so that the boats go together quickly. Quickly does not necessarily mean slap-dash. A Sea Hunt that we inspected being prepped at a dealership had everything properly installed and the only complaint that we had was that there was some fiberglass dust left in the bilge.
The builder's relatively high unit production is one of the major reasons that the retail price can be so competitive.
Some major items that are left out of the 234 are corporate expensive infrastructure, marketing materials and advertising. In the company's 18 years in business it has not built up layers of top management and operates with very few people in the front office. This is typical of many boat builders who market price-point boats, but Sea Hunt takes it all a few steps further than most builders.
Marketing? Not Us.
Sea Hunt prides itself on not advertising its products in national boating magazines which means that it doesn't have an expensive ad agency or PR company to pay. Nor does it spend money on expensive displays at boat shows which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Sea Hunt has never seen the need for fancy sales brochures printed on heavy stock and full of pictures of professional models taken by professional photographers shot from costly rented helicopters. Instead it uses one-sheet flyers to pass out, with specs and prices, usually in black and white. All of these expenditures and more have been eliminated by Sea Hunt and the savings are enormous and have been passed on to the consumer.
Sea Hunt relies on word of mouth to sell its boats.
Dealers Are Important.
A small front office means that a Sea Hunt owner's most important contact point is with the dealer. It is the dealer who will install optional items such as electronics and all other items not on the boat's factory-installed option list.
It also means that an owner's customer service contact is the dealer, not the factory. With Sea Hunt, the factory builds and the dealer services -- this is the old fashioned way of doing business and it worked well for decades.
It is the dealer's responsibility to handle any questions , problems or warranty claims. One dealer we spoke with who handles Sea Hunt as well as two other brands that are at the top of the price scale, said that warranty claims were about the same in number for all three brands.
Sea Hunt is a privately-owned company that owns outright all of its production facilities and we are told has no debt. That alone can be an important factor in pricing. Significantly, Sea Hunt came through the recent recession in fine style.
This builder is a great believer in keeping things simple. That applies not only to the construction of the boats but also to other areas that boat builders typically take on as a normal course of business such as making canvas covers for the boat. Sea Hunt leaves that to the after market, as it does for electronics, and only offers one electronics option on the Ultra 234, the Raymarine E097 package ($5,615). Likewise, Sea Hunt is not in the trailer business and dealers are responsible for sourcing the appropriate trailer for its customers who need one.
With 25 models from 17' to 29' that are essentially in the same recreational space and price point, Sea Hunt can standardize on components. Plastic hatches, helm instrument panels, bilge pumps, fastenings of all sorts, cleats, and the like are all basically the same size in all boats whenever possible. This makes the parts less expensive to buy and inventory.
Yamaha Power and Pricing
Another area where Sea Hunt saves money is on outboard rigging. It only carries rigging material for one brand. It has "partnered" with Yamaha to be its exclusive provider of outboard power. The Ultra 234 can be powered by a Yamaha F200 XA engine and the boat will typically have a retail price just under $56,000. When powered by the F250 Yamaha, the boat normally sells for just under $61,000.
The Ultra 234 is available without an engine and then retails for around $34,000. Sea Hunt will only rig its boats for Yamaha power.
Creating Some Sizzle
The Sea Hunt Ultra 234, like the whole line, is intended to be a "plain Jane" boat by design. But she doesn't have to stay that way. The company offers some attractive customizing options that can make the 234 look like the belle of the ball. Here are some of them--
Regular readers know that we like boats with colored hulls. They do require more maintenance than white gel coat, but on the other hand this is only a 23' boat. A couple hours of work with a power buffer with two people working should be enough to compound and wax the boat a couple times a year -- and what a good-looking boat she will be! (Take a look at the pictures on this page.)
Colors offered are Platinum, Fighting Lady Yellow, Black, Ice Blue, Steel Blue, Bermuda Blue, and Titanium.
Here Comes the Sun.
The first option we would recommend for any boater weather angler, cruiser or wakeboarder, is to get some shade aboard. Sea Hunt offers several options: Bimini, Canvas T-top, fiberglass T-top. The advantage of canvas is that it is lighter, less expensive and allows the boat to have a lower CG than a heavier fiberglass T-top.
Next we would add a Porta-Potti. They are inexpensive and easy to handle. While the console is not large and doesn’t have anything like standing headroom, when it is needed people are very glad it is there. Not all boating areas have pump-out facilities, so a portable toilet is a safe bet.
What sort of watersports will the family want to be involved with? Towing sports are great fun and kids love them. While the Ultra 234 is by no means the best boat for top notch skiing or wakeboarding, it is fine for most families who just want to have some fun on the water. And that is the whole idea of the Ultra Series -- boats that can be used for multiple purposes economically. Sea Hunt makes a towing bar available as an option, and it is well worth the money for a family with kids.
For In-Compleat Anglers
Sea Hunt has other models -- for example its Gamefish, Bay Boats, or Triton series of boats -- that are all directed to the die-hard angler. The Ultra 234 is not for that person. Rather, she is intended for the more casual angler, one who likes to do some fishing now and then or to take the family out for some casual fishing where the object is really to have a good time.
Keen anglers who also want a family boat might opt for the leaning post with a bait tank, recirculating livewell, and hardtop with pads for out riggers. There are numerous options for serious fishing.
Options and Pricing
Sea Hunt offers at least 36 optional items for the Ultra 234. Some that caught our attention, along with prices typically charged by dealers for them are--
●Backrests for bow seating -- $462
●Trim tabs -- $808
●Tilt steering -- $154
●Freshwater system -- $500
●Bimini top -- $669
●Fiberglass bait tank in leaning post -- $1,077
●Dual battery switch -- $169
●Command gauges -- $554
●Deluxe T-top -- $4,154/Fiberglass Hardtop -- $6,308
●Optional hull gel coat color -- $1,077
●Recirculating livewell -- $238
Once again, these are "typical" prices for these options and they will probably be somewhat different dealer to dealer across the country.
We think the most noteworthy feature of the Ultra 234, other than price, is her Vortec hull. We subscribe to the builder's philosophy that boats of this type should not be catching air and run like mad racers. The concept of a pad for fuel efficiency, a deep deadrise forward and a modest one aft, and wide running strakes is in our opinion a very sound one. Evidently a lot of boaters agree because Sea Hunt's production is said to be sold out and most people we talked with about Sea Hunt mentioned liking the boat's ride.
Back to Basics.
While Sea Hunt at 18 years of age is a relatively young boat company, in some respects it is almost a throwback to a bygone era of boat building. We once asked Leon Slikkers -- arguably the oldest successful fiberglass boat builder on the planet (Tiara, Pursuit, etc.) -- why boats were so expensive these days, having gone up much more than inflation over the last few decades. His answer was that most boats today have so many more amenities in them than 30 years ago that it couldn't be otherwise.
It is on that point that Sea Hunt has made its reputation -- building high-value boats at a reasonable price without many amenities or frills, much like boats were built in the 1960s and early '70s. Over the last 30 years or so there has definitely been massive "feature creep" as one builder tried to get ahead of competitors by adding features, then the others felt obligated to catch up and go one better. And so on until boats got very expensive. Exacerbating the problem of "features creep", of course, was the rise in prices for petroleum, basic metals and social services during the last two decades.
Sea Hunt, along with a few other builders, are trying to offer an alternative to the fully-decorated Christmas tree.
Not For Everyone.
The Sea Hunt Ultra 234 is certainly not for everyone. Ardent anglers should probably look at the company's dedicated fishing machines. Families wishing to exclusively partake in watersports or cruising should probably look at the builder's dual console Escape or Edge series models.
Boaters expecting more in terms of fit-and-finish, hardware, water-tight hatches, upholstery, standard equipment and all of the other features and amenities that have pushed up boat prices over the years should look at other brands. Those folks will probably be happier with models that have many more features and which cost much more than the 234.
But no matter what level of boat one wants, we sure are thankful that Sea Hunt has given the market a choice.