Boat Test: NauticStar 230 Sport Deck

NauticStar has only been around a couple of years, but judging from its 230 Sport Deck, the new kid is OK

If you want to fit in, you have to prove you can run with the crowd. If you’re good, you’ll push even harder so everyone will know you can hold your own. And that very much describes NauticStar, a small but growing boat company based in Amory, Mississippi, near the Alabama border.

Founded in 2002, NauticStar offers bay boats from 18 to 22 feet and deck boats of 20, 21 and 23 feet. Like others in the boating ’hood, we wondered what kind of stuff the new kid had — so we hooked up our test gear to its flagship 230 Sport Deck and let ’er rip. Our evaluations took place in hot, sunny conditions at Nevada’s Lake Mead, where we ran the boat in everything from morning glass to an afternoon chop so jarringly wicked it could shake the salt off your pretzels.

At the end of the session, we were pleasantly surprised. The new kid is OK.

A FEW HOURS’ DIFFERENCE

Mead was dead calm as we ran in from our early photoshoot. With a crew of two, minimal gear and its 63-gallon tank all but topped off, the 230 Sport Deck tracked like a semi rolling down grooved pavement. There was no shaking her.

Rigged with a 350 Mag MPI and MerCruiser’s redesigned Bravo 3 drive (a $6126 upgrade over the base, 220 hp 5.0L MerCruiser/Alpha), the boat responded well to trim. The extra blade area of the twin props helped this 81/2-foot-wide hull develop plenty of bow lift, and we were able to trim aggressively without porpoising.

The Bravo 3 was equally sure-footed in turns. Whether we carved ’em sharp or wide, fast, slow or medium, the counter-rotating wheels kept the NauticStar glued tight. Then again, the water was nearly pure glass, when boats are on their best behavior. What else would you expect?

We were able to answer that during our afternoon session when southeasterly winds of 20 to 25 mph roiled up a cauldron of nasty chop. And even though we stuck close to the south shore (to minimize the fetch in which wind waves could build), Mead was streaked with steep and whitecapped two-footers.

Ahh… finally! Conditions worth testing in.

HOW DID SHE DO?

As any skipper will tell you, you can learn more by running a boat for a few minutes in bad weather than you could by spending an entire day with it in bluebird conditions. And so we logged as much seat time as possible out in the slop.

Topping out at 45.6 mph, our 300 hp rig — which is maxed power for the sterndrive version — was a tad slower than we expected for a mod-V hull with cathedral sponsons and a modest 16 degrees of deadrise. Our 0-to-30 mph sprints were also middle of the pack, as the boat averaged 10.4 seconds during holeshot trials. In fairness, besides having to buck stiff winds and relentless waves, the rig was now carrying a third man and still held three-quarters of a tank of fuel — hardly optimum conditions to put up your best numbers.

The 230 Sport Deck didn’t miss a beat in the efficiency department, however, as we measured 3.4 mpg while traveling 25.1 mph at 3000 rpm. That’s as good as, or better than, comparably powered boats in this class that we’ve tested. The relatively modest deadrise gets the credit, as a flatter bottom is easier to push over the water than one with more V. (Think of it this way: When you want to skip a stone over the water, what kind of rock do you look for?)

NauticStar 230 Sport Deck

TO V, OR NOT TO V

By the same token, a deep-V typically handles waves better than a mod-V design. But deadrise is only part of a complex set of factors that determines how a hull rides. Weight distribution, chine and strake design, pad-style running surfaces and how water releases as it leaves the transom all play contributing roles.

That said, for a 16-degree hull, the NauticStar provided a much smoother ride across a stirred-up lake than we would have imagined. It was pretty darn solid and comfortable, actually. Although some vibration could be felt, pounding was minimal and when the boat shuddered, it was generally mild.

Another pleasant surprise was that we remained remarkably dry. I’m not saying we never took water aboard, but by our estimation, it was considerably drier than most 23-footers we’ve run in that much wind and chop. It simply didn’t generate much spray in the first place, and the boat’s reversed chines and two full-length strakes did a good job of knocking it down. We were impressed.

SUPPORTING ROLE

In addition, the wraparound windshield and bifold wind door provided good protection from the blustery conditions. The adjustable, swiveling seats for the helmsman and first mate are well cushioned but firmly supportive. We also liked the flip-up bolsters that allowed us to comfortably see over the top of the windshield. Visibility was fine while seated — although both the view and the 230’s appearance would benefit if NauticStar were to use the seamless but more expensive “postless” windshields that are increasingly common.

Our boat’s helm was fitted with optional Mercury SmartCraft digital instruments set into a wood-grain panel above a stylish Dino tilt steering wheel. Just to starboard, a JBL CD stereo pumps tunes through four speakers: two forward and two aft. Also standard is a digital-display Lowrance sounder that’s helpful when coming into shore or anchoring.

A sizable head compartment is hidden inside the port console, while the helm console offers stowage for beach bags and such. Situated behind the helm seat, the entertainment center features a sink, trash can and dry storage. What it lacks is a grabrail to help steady the crew. Directly opposite is an L-shaped cockpit seat. Like the bow seating, lockers are situated under each lift-out cushion, and there’s a deck plate for a removable snack table. Here, it’s situated in the apex of the L so it’s also convenient when the first mate’s seat is swiveled aft for socializing.

BACKROOM DEAL

The sterndrive engine bay (an outboard version is also available) is served by a gullwing hatch that lifts on two gas shocks. The main service points near the front and top of the engine are easy to access, but not so the rest of the block — that is, unless you unscrew the port storage-compartment partition and go in from the locker.

In an interesting arrangement we first saw on Wellcrafts some years ago, NauticStar has maximized cockpit room by “pushing” most of the engine bay onto the swim step. This setup gives the boat’s back end it is signature sculpted look — and is the feature that most distinguishes the 230 Sport Deck I/O from other deck boats.

Covered in nonskid fiberglass, a starboard transom walkthrough allows easy passage between the cockpit and swim step. This area also houses a battery locker with room for three Group 27 batteries. We would like to see NauticStar add a filler cushion or transom gate, however, as we’d feel safer with some means of closing off the walkway — especially if we had young kids aboard.

Thumbs up, on the other hand, for the self-bailing deck. Scuppers in each aft corner will jettison spray, rain and wash water over the side instead of into the bilge. And the 230 Sport Deck features stainless through-hull fittings — kudos for that, too.

Our test unit was also equipped with the optional bolt-on extended swim step ($778). Because it is situated much closer to the water than the integrated platform, we feel it’s a worthwhile addition.

TO BE PERFECTLY BLUNT

Contrary to the trend of making deck boats pointier in the front so they look more like bowriders, NauticStar follows a more traditional styling cue. Its “squared-off” bow design allows the use of a full-width swim steps forward. Covered in nonskid, this area also contains an anchor locker and bow swimbladder. The hatch lifts on two stainless hinges — a setup that’s also used on the lids serving the flush-deck ski locker, battery compartment and engine bay. Given our druthers, we’d prefer to see full-length piano hinges for the heavier ski locker and engine hatches.

We like the grabrail surrounding the bow playpen, however, as well as the integrated docking lights. And the 230’s stainless rub rail adds a nice touch, too. Although we could probably live without the bow filler cushions that convert this area into a sun pad, we definitely would order the optional, snap-in Berber carpeting ($440). Along with the rest of the boat’s fit and finish, it shows good workmanship and adds value.

UNEXPECTED TOUCH

Like the bilge pump’s automatic float switch or NauticStar’s all-composite stringer grid and transom, the boat’s standard Bimini shows unexpected touches. It features Sunbrella canvas across a quality stainless frame, but what’s really trick are the quick-connect, stainless ball-and-socket fittings that make removing or installing the top a snap.

The 230 Sport Deck also comes with four pull-up cleats — although we feel a boat this size would greatly benefit from the addition of springing cleats. These could be added by an owner or dealer, but why not straight from the factory?

All told, while we have a short “punch list” of items we’d like to see added or modified, we saw many more things we really liked about the NauticStar. The 230 Sport Deck handles and rides well in less-than-perfect conditions, provides comfortable amenities and shows better-than-average build quality. When you throw in a 10-year, transferable hull warranty, it’s easy to see why we think this new kid is destined to become a rising star.

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