In my initial review of the Howard 28 Sport Deck & "SDS" I accidentally misnamed it "Sport Deck Series" when it originally stood for "Sport Deck Single." A little while after that article came out Gene called me and said he liked "series" better because technically you could put twins in it if a customer wanted. As mentioned in the first article, Howard Started with the "Sport Deck" which then evolved into their "SCS" Cat with a wrap around windshield, which then again evolved into the "SDS."
The "SDS" is pretty widely regarded as the "sexiest" of deck boats out there. It has bold chiseled lines all the way around that blend perfectly into a smooth optically clear windshield. No matter what angle you see it at it just looks sinister. From boat to boat you can't hardly even tell it's a deck boat until you get up above it to see the interior.
Which brings me to the interior, it's second to none. . Howard took their large front seats and looked at them as a blank canvas, or rather an opportunity to continue with the styling of the boat, but make the seats three dimensional! Where the stitching pulls the vinyl down from each panel to the next it creates small contours that are exceptionally comfortable, and functional to keep you in the seat at speed! If there is one thing that I could list as my favorite thing about it, it's that, because it's nothing short of innovative, functional, and all style.
- The Shared beginnings and Balance -
I read an article once that said "Not all Decks are created equal." I remember thinking that there is a lot of irony in that statement because most of the cats, and almost all of the performance decks on the west coast are some derivative of a 25 Talon bottom. Wouldn't it be more fair to say that they did all start life kind of equal? Some of the manufacturers left the bottoms alone entirely, some of them tweaked them here and there by adding a notched transom, or a second step or moved the original step etc.. I will say this, while they all might have started their heritage equally, not all boat manufacturers are equal, especially when it comes to tuning, balancing, blueprinting the bottom of a boat.
Howard has a secret weapon in their tooling department, for the sake of keeping it a secret we will just call the weapon "Mike Willen." Mike is a master tooler whom has received many accolades from all the magazines over the years for absolutely flawless tooling. You can look down the deck of any closed bow bullet, and it's as smooth as a mirror from any angle. When Mike started with the Sport Deck (Not the SDS), he had his pattern just like everyone else (Talon Bottom), and then he moved the step, changed the notched transom, blue printed the bottom, and ultimately "Balanced" the boat.
When they started tooling the SDS, Mike created an insert in the mold that raises the front of the boat four inches across the first five feet. This gives it a much larger entry into the tunnel to add tunnel compression, and make the boat work better in rougher water, as well keep passengers completely dry (most decks will shoot mist out of the tunnel in rough water) while underway . Without getting into a whole discussion about boat bottoms, and trying to get it back to the 28 SDS, the reason the boat works so incredibly well is it is balanced, it is light, and it is strong.
The "Light and Strong" is the last part of the boat before we get into the fun part of performance. I know I have drabbed on and on, but to understand the performance, you have to understand the quality of the build, and what makes a Howard... Well quite frankly A HOWARD! We all know (or at least we all know now) that most of the decks, and hell even most of the Cats have some similarities in their bottoms (At the same time noting that small changes make big differences).
- What Makes a Howard a HOWARD? -
You can put a blind fold on and go for a ride in a Howard and you will know instantly that you are in a Howard. They have a very distinct feel to them when you are in them that isn't shared with most of the manufacturers out there. There is zero helm movement (which almost all decks flex and move a bit in the chop), there are zero rattles of the compartments, latches etc. When the boat crosses wakes and waves even at odd angles there's no crash, bang, clang like a lot of boats, just a soft sounding "thump" for lack of a better description. Most mistakenly believe that it's because "Howards are Heavy." That's incorrect.
The reason why their decks are absolutely Rock Solid comes from the construction. They run no less then 17 Bulkheads across the tunnels from stern to bow. Most tunnel manufacturers (including high end manufacturers) balsa core just the tops of the tunnels. Howard's are Balsa cored (1/2 inch thick) on the entire bottom of the boat until 6 inches up the sides of the boat itself! That means the sides and tops of the tunnels, and the bottoms of the running surfaces itself to six inches up on the sides of the hull are balsa cored. At six inches up it switches to a Epoxy 1/4 inch Diab closed cell foam core (Balsa is more impact resistant then foam, but foam core is considerably lighter as resin can't impregnate it) for the entire top of the boat.
This brings us to the construction of the hull and how they join the inner liner, to the hull itself. They will set the inner liner (bottom of innerliner is also Balsa Cored) in the boat and determine if there's any voids. Once both surfaces are perfectly flat, they will epoxy them together to make the boat, more or less, one piece. It's incredibly strong, and with the foam core and other materials they shave about 1000lbs of weight over most traditional layup schedules. So to sum it up, Blueprinted, Balanced, Light, and strong = better performance and longevity.
------ The Performance of the 28 SDS ------------
(Note because of the same bottom, you can also use this data for the SCS. The Speed of the closed bow SCS will be slightly faster then the open bow SCS or SDS due to aerodynamics and weight in the bow)
Are you tired of reading performance Evaluations, where a manufacturer brings a "specific" boat to the test, that may or may not have had a little "work" done to it, was most definitely built on Wednesday, and is most likely not representative of what you would receive if you bought one today? A "supposed" real world test that involves a boat that is as empty as a bachelors cabinets, running on fumes, and a prop that has had more face lifts then Mickey Rourke? So am I! So we made it simple.. We had Gene call a couple of customers that had boats in Lake Havasu, that are propped for daily usage, that are carrying a full load (coolers, anchors, ropes, fuel) and we put four people in it as a real world test.
Bill and Kelly Fullmer are local boaters that are out on the lake on any given weekend. We took their 28 SDS out with a 525 / XR package with IMCO hydraulic steering to the helm. No professional test drivers squeezing every last mph, no "perfect" test conditions.. Just a nice couple, with a nice deck, and another day on the lake. (Whatever it may offer us)
The boat came on plane effortlessly at less then half throttle (remember that 1000lbs of weight saved?), which is nice that you don't have to bury the throttle to get it to roll over. Plane time was quick, and while I have never considered "bowrise" anything actually worth talking about, the bowrise was minimal, as we never lost sight of the Horizon. The prop didn't blow out while it was rolling over on plane, so the boat could easily be used for family watersports, like water skiing, wake boarding, or even pulling tubers.
The boat, as expected, takes a perfect set as you guided it into a 60'ish mph sweeping turn. Even die hard Vee guys that get a little "nervy" when they are in a cat turning at speed will respect the docile handling manners of the SDS. The boat feels very predictable, and even crossing outside wakes in the middle of a turn won't upset the balance or "trip it up." Mike has the bottom so dialed in that you don't need a PhD in cat driving to get it to turn with ease. It's about as docile as they come and anybody can get in this boat and drive it competently without getting into trouble.
Here is a video of the Howard SDS making some 50 mph S Turns transferring from left to right.
In the marine world there's always compromises, and usually you will have to give up some speed to get good driving manners, and vice versa. While I have never understood it in all the old performance evaluations and at the boat shows, the "Holy Grail" was always the top speed number. Companies would tout well into the 70+mph range with 454 Mag's and then the later 496HO's. The magazines would never make mention that the boat was a white knucle ride doing it, or had so much rocker that at anything but top speed it would porpoise down the lake like flipper.
I'm happy to report that along with docile handling, and predictable turning you can add "Hauls Ass" to the list of qualities that I like about the SDS. With a Merc 525, and a stock 28 pitch Bravo 4 blade the boat tops out at 80 mph! Think about the capabilities of this boat for a minute and come back to the very respectable 80 mph number after the fact. You can haul an entire crew of people, it has built in coolers, looks sexy as hell, great for water sports, handles as good as any boat I've ever ridden in, and it will still wax 90% of the boats on the lake with a stock 525! Impressive is an understatement.
Here's a quick Video of overall performance and showing how the hull rides over chop while in the open bow.
I will wrap this article up with this. If you are looking at a new Deck Boat, you owe it to yourself to check out the SDS. The windshields set it apart from the rest of the class in the 28' range. The build quality is among the best that the West Coast has to offer, and the overall performance is as good as it gets while still putting up big #'s in the top speed department.
Thanks again to Bill and Kelly Fullmer for not only allowing us to use your boat for the test, but some good water time with good people!
Max Beam 102"
Approximate Weight 4800 lbs
Standard Fuel Capacity 80 gal
Bottom Configuration Modified Tunnel
100% Hand laminated fiberglass construction w/Baltek end grain balsa and Diab divincyll foam reinforcement
Bi and Tri-Directional Knytex knitted glass fabric
Pure vinyl-ester resin
Full one piece (cockpit, floor and side panels) molded-in inner liner
Custom Acrylic wrap around wind screen
7 color custom gel coat
All stainless steel hardware and fasteners
Heavy duty marine battery w/battery box
Electric fuel switch over valve
Illuminated rocker switches
Powder coated fuel fills, ski tow, gauge bezels, garb-handles w/vents
Automatic Bilge pumps (3)
International navigation lights (LED)
Interior lights (LED)
12 volt receptacle
Dino steering wheel
Full Livorsi instrumentation (tachometer w/Vantage View, GPS speedometer, volt meter, fuel gauge, water temperature, oil pressure, trim gauge)
Livorsi dual lever (offshore style) hand controls w/built in trim switch
Bravo I stainless steel propeller
6 stainless steel pull-up deck cleats
Dual electric engine hatch lift rams
Built-in storage compartments
Color coordinated marine grade vinyl interiors w/40 oz. marine grade snap-in carpet
Brushed aluminum or stainless steel rub rail
8.2 liter MPI Mercruiser Magnum HO motor w/Bravo One Drive
written by RiverDave
Pictures by Naples Image
Post processing by Tommy Gun Photographix