I wrote a first impressions article of the new Howard 288 the first issue of our new online magazine a little over a month ago. I am going to recap some of what we covered in that article just in case you missed it, as well to make it easier to reference a single article in the future. The Howard 288 is a prime example of modern day evolution from a boat company that is never satisfied with the "Status Quo." Many already consider the Howard Sport Deck and the Howard SDS to be two of the finest examples of West Coast Performance Deck Boats on the market. At first it is a little confusing why they would even consider creating a new model this early, but as mentioned earlier if they think they can do it better then that's exactly what they are going to do.


- The Guts


Aside from the impeccable rigging that Howard is known for, the new 288 Share's the same bottom as the Sport Deck, and as far as what is touching the water it shares the same bottom as the SDS as well minus the 4 inch raised area in the bow. Where they added the depth, width, and height is all top side on the gunnels. Now this might sound like an automotive manufacturer that is running the same frame under several different bodied cars, but it isn't. In the case of boats the Hull is the hull, but how it's constructed ultimately is more equated to what the frame would be in a car. Howard's are notorious for being rigid, and light which is exactly what you want in a boat for performance. In the SDS they run 17 miniature bulkheads across the tunnels before fusing the deck to the Hull, and it as rigid as you can build a boat that is tooled like that. With the new 288 they took an entirely different approach to the construction of their latest "Deck." The entire top of the boat from the floor, to the side panels, even the integrated seat basis come out of one mold! Instead of several pieces being put together, the entire boat consists of two giant fiberglass pieces, the Hull and the Deck. Picture of the solid one piece Deck ready to be bonded to the Hull on 288 number 3!


There are some incredible opportunities and advantages of building it this way and Howard is taking full advantage of all of them. First and foremost this allowed Howard to reduce the number of tunnel bulkheads to seven and incorporate in three traditional style bulk heads that you would find in a Vee Bottom offshore boat. The large horse shoe bulkheads that start on one side and traverse all the way to the other with no interruptions. This greatly increases lateral strength, and by deleting several molds in the manufacturing process and making it one piece it also decreases weight, and increases strength progressively from stern to bow. In talking with Mike Willen his exact words are "I know we keep hitting on this theme, but it is really lighter, faster, stronger!"

- Top Side


If you were sitting around with a boat tooler and had to address the short comings of most West Coast Performance Deckboats, three issues would come up consistently. The first would be the wind tunnel affect that you get on any Deck at any kind of speed. The second would be the fact that they are supposed to be family boats, but inevitably the outdrive and the prop end up sticking out just slightly past the swimsteps on most of them. The third would be the never ending inconvenience of the bimini top when it is in a stored position. On every single Deck boat out there you either have to step over them, or duck underneath them when entering or exiting the back of the boat. The problems are minor, and just something we as performance boaters learned to deal with. The manufacturers are more then capable of fixing them, or modifying them, but aesthetics plays a large role in boat sales, and if the boat doesn't look good then nobody will buy it, so we have more or less been stuck in this catch 22, until the new 288. Mike Willen (Howard's Master tooler), sat down and decided he was going to address these three issues, and put it in a package that is nothing short of stunning. To describe the boat in text is difficult other then to say it has the chiseled look of the other two Howards, but integrates smooth defining lines of an East Coast offshore race boat. I could go on about this for paragraphs, but a wise man once said a picture is worth a thousand words.



To get into the specifics of the boat, and address the first solution to the wind tunnel problem we will start with the open bow and work our way back. The new 288 is considerably deeper then the Sport Deck (4 inches), and deeper then the SDS as well (approximately 3 inches depending on where you measure). The open bow area is a little more streamlined and has considerably more room then it's predecessor the SDS being eight inches longer, and six full inches wider! Mike has already addressed some of the wind issue by putting the passengers down and tighter to the gunnels so the front wind deflectors are more apt to do their job more effectively.



This still doesn't address the "wind tunnel" down the center of the isle. For this an automated wind deflector was put in place. It sits flat, and out of the way, when you enter through the deck, but at the touch of a button a portion of the floor raises up and fills the gap between the two gunnels. This little deflector isn't just another gimmick, or piece of bling on this boat. I was thoroughly impressed with how much it decreased the wind not only for the front passengers, but also the passengers that were sitting in the center of the rear bench.



As we approach the cockpit of the boat, Gene was quick to point out that you can build this boat with or without the 1/2 inch thick Acrylic windshields on either side. What is nice about this, is the boat was designed so that it would look good either way which opens up the market considerably. For Parker type guys that are doing short high speed blasts, windshields typically aren't wanted, but for Lake Havasu & Mead type guys that are used to doing long range cruising, the windshields are almost invaluable. (You can see in this pic the windshield recess.)


This brings us to the rear and the Bimini Top solution. Mike redesigned the entire engine hatch and entry of the boat to life up as one solid piece.


The Bimini Top lays flat on the floor on the outside edges of the boat, and then loops around underneath the hatch so it is completely out of the way if you aren't using it.


In this position it is a little bit of work to put it in the up position as you have to lock in each side of the bimini first and then start to unfold it. The way that Mike designed it though was pretty trick, so that you can actually leave the side mounts connected and still fold it down under the hatch. From this position it takes less then a minute to put the Bimini from stowed to completely upright, and it can be done by a single person. The side bonus of this new hatch design is you can access the engine bay from both sides easily, making maintenance and services a breeze.


The third solution was the swim step, and completely covering the drive without sacrificing aesthetics. Again Pictures are worth a thousand words.


Mark's son demonstrating the swim step.


Side View


My only complaint about the whole boat, is I wish they would've used a slightly more aggressive non skid on the boat, because it was a little slippery with a fresh coat of wax on it. I really liked the designs they integrated into the swim step adding to the aesthetics. I can't vouch for it, but the owner of the boat (Mark Penso) claimed that the larger swim step took on less water then his previous Sport Deck. As waves would approach the back of the boat, the larger swim step would prevent the back of the boat from auguring into the water in between swells.


Aside from the three major problems that were solved with this new model, there are some very cool features integrated into the new innerliner (which I suppose would technically be called the deck as they are all one piece now). Mike designed the innerliner with a stereo in mind and put angled pods to put speakers at what look to be optimum places that are still out of the way. Even the front seat bases double as speaker boxes for a pair of smaller subwoofers!




- Performance


The performance Data of the new 288, is going to be so close to the Sport Deck and the SDS I would the differences negligible. What is important to note though is the new 288 is a larger boat, so the weight savings they picked up with the new one piece deck allows it to run with (if not slightly faster) it's two smaller brothers. With the supercharged Merc 600 the new 288, even propped for top end, hops on plane with ease. In these videos Mark Penso was driving, and he just rolls into the throttle (for obvious reasons he's not interested in abusing his brand new boat) to about 1/2 throttle and lets it roll on to plane. As you can see the plane times are plenty quick and pulling a skier with this setup wouldn't be an issue.

The 288 while larger then and taller then the SDS and Sport Deck still maintains the nimbleness and cornering ability of the other two. Because you sit a little deeper in the boat, it actually feels like you can push it harder, but that has more to do with sitting deeper down in the boat, then actual performance differences. The boat takes a nice solid set when running and doesn't have a tendency to want to hop, or have any bad manners that we could find when running it. With a lot of Cats you have to be a little careful with cornering, and there is driving techniques that can be used to get just about any of them to lean to the inside if you know what you are doing. With that usually comes with an increased turning radius, and a lot of work for the driver. With the 288 so long as the boat is somewhat in the correct trim range, the boat takes a slight inside lean and will snap turns off with the best of them. We even ran the boat through a series of aggressive switch back turns to try to "trip it up" to no avail. The boat took an inside lean when we went left, and when we snapped it right and vice versa the boat transferred to each side with ease. If it could talk it would've been mocking our attempts by saying "What's next?" The 288 like it's siblings is a perfect example of a boat that you don't need a million hours of seat time to drive. Anybody with minimal instruction could go out and drive this boat with confidence.

With the Merc 600 and a 5 blade Maximus, the new 288 will run right at 90 mph with a light load and a 1/2 tank of fuel according to Howard Boats. We tested the boat on Parker Strip with three good sized adults, (Myself, Mark Penso & Tom Leigh) Mark's 12 year old son, and a 1/2 tank of fuel. The boat was fully loaded with two coolers and Tom's 50+ lb Camera Bag, in 102 degree weather that was extremely humid and it ran 85 mph when we touched the rev limiter. If the water had a little more chop to it, I would expect the slip numbers to decrease slightly and I would say it's a legit 88-89 mph boat with the load that we had, so 90 mph under perfect conditions seems like a conservative claim.

Overall -

There was not one rattle in the whole boat that I heard when we were in it. The performance is on par with just about anything on the market in it's size range (Deck Boat or not), and the build quality of the boat is on par with the absolute best in the Industry. As with anything though Mercedes aren't cheap, and neither are Howard's, but they are worth every penny. Thank you to Mark Penso for taking us out in your new ride! You should be proud of it, it's arguably one of the nicest (If not the nicest) single engine Deck Boats on the water right now.

Price as tested - $175,000 Engine - Merc 600 Drive - Bravo XR Length - 28' 11" Beam - 102" Weight - 4500 lbs Price Starting - $135,00 with a Merc 502 Magnum HO / 430HP Images by TommyGun