Contender 24 Sport Review

The Contender 24 Sport delivers versatility in spades

A vision overcame me as Capt. Jon Cooper loaded the 26-gallon transom livewell aboard the new Contender 24 Sport with pilchards from a holding pen. It was one of those rare moments of supreme confidence.

Part of it was based on the prep work put in by Cooper. A couple of days earlier, he had placed the pilchards near our launching point in Florida’s Homestead Bayfront Park Marina, an hour’s drive south of Miami. His planning saved us several hours of searching and cast-netting for bait, giving us that much more fishing time. Yet, the 24 Sport’s streamlined gunwales, recessed bow rails and elevated foredeck would have been well suited to the bait-gathering task.

BLENDING ACTIVITIES

Once we had baited up, the game plan consisted of targeting the patch reefs outside John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Cooper's stomping ground since his preteen years. Though he has moved on to bigger boats (his current ride is a Contender 32ST) and bigger game, he still loves to return to the patch reefs to fish for grouper, snapper and hogfish, as well as dive for lobsters. The 24 Sport proves perfect for this.

“This boat is great for families who like to fish, dive or just enjoy a day on the water,” says Cooper. “It’s ideal for fishing areas close to shore like bays or patch reefs, but it’s also big enough to take you offshore when the weather permits.”

The new 24½-foot center-console blends top-quality angling features with integral seating in the bow and stern areas. The cool thing is that the seating actually enhances the boat’s fishing ability.

For example, with twin, above-deck, 59-gallon storage lockers and a removable insert that bridges them in the foredeck, you get an elevated U-shaped platform to use as a casting deck. Snap some cushions on top, and it all converts to a wraparound lounge area.

In the transom area, a pair of -comfortable seats flanks the central bait tank — great for taking a load off while running or relaxing in the sun. When you’re ready to fish, the forward portion of the padded seat bottoms serve to cushion your legs, as would coaming bolsters. The rear seats also lift up for access to the batteries and other rigging.

A pair of swim platforms — one on each side of the outboard — enhances the family-fun aspect of this boat. You’ll also find a pullout boarding ladder just below the starboard platform for easily climbing back aboard after a swim, a dive or, heaven forbid, you take a tumble overboard.

For evening cruising or fishing, the optional fiberglass hardtop (a canvas T-top is standard) features a pair of molded-in, aft-facing LED floodlights, as well as a forward-facing LED -floodlight. There are also three LED dome lights. In a very cool touch, tiny yet superbright LED nav lights are recessed into the forward corners of the hardtop.

REEF RUNNER

Powered by a single Yamaha F300 V-6 outboard on an integral 15-inch-long bracket, this center-console lives up to its "Sport" designation. We streaked comfortably across the 2-foot chop of Biscayne Bay and Card Sound toward Angelfish Creek north of Key Largo at 37 mph (4,500 rpm) with plenty of throttle to spare, instilling me with even greater confidence.

As we exited the cut, a 15-knot east wind pushed up 2- to 3-footers. Pulling back to 4,200 rpm allowed us to meet the head sea with comfort. With 22½ degrees of deadrise at the transom, the 24 Sport ran smoothly over the wave tops, occasionally launching off the crest of a big one, and each time landing ever so smoothly.

Not once did we thump down hard; neither did I note any rattles or creaks while underway, a reflection of the 24 Sport’s solid hand-laid fiberglass construction and foam-core, molded structural grid.

We eventually turned south, putting the wind on our port beam. For a moment I worried if we’d get wet but found no need to fret: We experienced a dry ride — a remarkable observation given the stiff breeze and whitecapping waves. I credit the 24 Sport’s healthy reverse chines for knocking down the spray.

Piloting the 24 Sport was a pleasure thanks to the optional, three-sided clear-polycarbonate enclosure (custom fabricated at Contender’s Homestead factory) that reaches from the hardtop down to the front of the custom sport console to shield the captain and crew from windblast. U-Flex power-assisted hydraulic steering and Yamaha’s digital throttle and shift made maneuvering a piece of cake. A Yamaha Command Link Plus display kept us apprised of the outboard’s vital signs. A control for the optional Fusion four-speaker stereo also resides at the helm.

The 24 Sport comes equipped with recessed Lenco trim tabs, and you’d expect to need them with the torque of a single, powerful outboard. Yet I used the tabs very little while running the boat, a tribute to the sound design of this hull.

ANCHORING UP

Cooper used the flush-mounted Garmin GPSMAP 1040xs multifunction display on our test boat to find and anchor up on one of his favorite patch reefs. The 24 Sport features a “nest” in the anchor locker to secure the crossbar of a fluke-style anchor, with the shank, chain and line in the compartment below.

The captain motored well upwind before dropping the anchor and scoping back in the breeze to position the boat just ahead of a reef in 20 feet of water. A pullup cleat under the hatch for the anchor locker provides a convenient place to tie off the anchor line.

The 24 Sport serves as a stable -platform from which to fish on anchor. The bow refused to dip below the waves, even as the seas built to 4 feet and the anchor line stretched tight as bowstring.

With the current streaming astern, we put out the chum bag and baited up with the live pilchards that seemed to thrive in the pressurized transom livewell. The well features a latching clear-acrylic hatch that seals against a gasket around the lip of the tank.

We cast our baits to the -crystalline waters above the patch reef. It didn’t take long before a mangrove snapper found one, and then just as quickly found a place to hole up. Rather than break off the fish, Cooper free-spooled line until he felt the snapper swim out of the reef, then rejoined that fight to land the scrappy “mango.”

For cleaning up the nonskid deck after each catch, we used both the freshwater and raw-water washdown hoses aboard the 24 Sport. The boat also has a pullout freshwater shower above the starboard swim platform. To ice your fish, the 24 Sport offers a pair of 30-gallon fish boxes flanking the aft deck, and two more fish boxes forward with capacities of 43 and 94 gallons.

We stowed our lunch and drinks in the 85-quart Frigid-Rigid portable cooler under the anodized-aluminum leaning-post frame. For additional cold storage, there’s a built-in 24-quart cooler under the seat forward of the console.

I discovered 10 drink holders aboard the 24 Sport; there are four abaft the leaning post (set amid four vertical rod holders), two in pods on either side of the console, and a pair of Mate Series combo drink/rod holders along the aft portion of the gunwales.

The step-down interior of the console is accessed by a starboard-side door and offers additional dry storage, as well as access to the battery-selector switches and rigging behind the helm. Cooper and I used the console interior for our backpacks and camera cases. You can order an optional marine toilet that installs in the console interior, a feature that family and friends will greatly appreciate, I’m sure.

DRIFT-FISHING

After catching a few more snapper and grouper (which we released because they were out of season at the time of our test), the current slacked off, so we decided to run inshore to a new spot. This gave me an opportunity see how the 24 Sport handles in a following sea, and I’m happy to report that it powered confidently over the waves with no tendency to wallow on the backsides or submarine as it slid down the faces. The boat also banked comfortably into turns and continued to ride smoothly, even as we came about hard into the seas.

With current now running against the wind, we decided to drift over a small wreck. The boat drifted with its bow pointed down-sea, allowing us to present baits on both sides of the boat. We also used the engine in reverse to help hold us against the wind over the wreck for a bit more time in the strike zone.

The technique paid off, as a powerful gag grouper inhaled one of the pilchards. While the grouper dug hard for the sanctuary of the wreck, I benefited from the ability to fight the fish straight up and down, and -eventually landed the beautiful gag for a few photos before release.

It was then that I came to really appreciate the padded coaming bolsters that encircle the interior. The grouper had me pinned to the rail at one point, and the padding saved me from any bruises or scrapes.

With plenty of action under our belt, we decided to head in to gather performance data in the protected waters of Card Sound. Spinning a Yamaha Reliance 19-inch-pitch, three-blade stainless-steel prop, the Yamaha F300 propelled our heavily loaded 24 Sport to plane in 5 seconds, reaching 30 mph in 9.4 seconds en route to a top speed of 53.3 mph at 5,900 rpm getting 2.02 mpg. In an earlier test by Contender with a lighter load, the 24 Sport achieved a slightly higher top speed of 55.7 mph at 5,900 rpm, getting 2.1 mpg.

Our most economical cruising speed came at 4,000 rpm and 29.5 mph, where we burned 11 gph for an amazing 2.68 mpg. That kind of efficiency equates to a cruising range of 348.4 miles based on the 130-gallon fuel capacity.

Ultimately, my vision of a great trip came true, thanks to a savvy, prepared skipper and boat with a long list of well-designed angling attributes. Yet, its abilities extend beyond fishing to accommodate just about any on-water fun you and your family can -envision. If that sounds like your kind of boat, I’m confident you’ll like the Contender 24 Sport.

PERFORMANCE

POWER: Single Yamaha F300 outboard
LOAD: 82 gallons of fuel, two adults, fishing gear, full livewell, 250 pounds of ice
TOP SPEED: 53.3 mph
TIME TO 30 MPH: 9.4 sec.
BEST MPG: 2.68 @ 29.5 mph (4,000 rpm)

HULL

LOA: 24 ft. 6 in.
BEAM: 8 ft. 6 in.
DEADRISE: 22.5 deg.
WEIGHT: 5,250 lb. (ready to fish)
DRAFT: 18 in.
FUEL: 130 gal.
MAX POWER: 300 hp
MSRP AS TESTED: $110,313 (as tested, with trailer)

Contender Boats
Homestead, Florida
800-645-2906

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Contender's 24 Sport Livewell

Comfortable stern seats offer a place to kick back, while the adjacent 26-gallon livewell holds plenty of bait. Photo by Jim Hendricks.Jim Hendricks
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Inshore Fish-Catching Machine

Contender's 24 Sport proved ideal for fishing Florida's patch reefs for fish such as this red grouper. Photo by Jim Hendricks.Jim Hendricks
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Roomy, easy-to-use anchor locker

The anchor locker in the bow has a "nest" to secure the anchor until you're ready to set up to fish a reef or wreck. Photo by Jim Hendricks.Jim Hendricks
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Smooth, efficient hull

Contender's new 24 Sport combines a smooth-riding, efficient hull with a versatile interior design and top-quality fishing features, resulting in a boat the whole family will love. Photo courtesy Contender Boats.Courtesy Contender Boats
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Insulted Storage

An insulated 94-gallon fish box under the foredeck swallows small coolers. A 43-gallon fish box resides just behind it. Photo by Jim Hendricks.Jim Hendricks
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Superb for inshore snapper fishing

Contender's 24 Sport serves as the perfect platform for targeting species such as mangrove snapper on reefs and wrecks. Photo by Jim Hendricks.Jim Hendricks