The 18-foot powerboat market has always been very hotly contested. It’s that vital point where the hoards of ten-a-penny runabouts give way to the extra space, facilities and performance of proper, grown-up family craft. And because these are often the smallest boats from the major manufacturers, the 18-foot segment often represents the opening gambit of a brand looking to win (and keep) the loyalty of a new customer. So not only does an effective 18-footer have a lot of jobs to do on a relatively compact platform, but it also has to peg back prices to a level that looks competitive among the great many affordable options available.
The vital signs
Like its larger siblings, a small fisher needs to tick a lot of boxes. Not only does it have to maximise internal space for easy inboard movement, but it also has to be easy to trailer, secure for its occupants and confidence-inspiring at sea, so it’s a happy start to discover that the Sea Champion 18 has been built upon the bedrock of a long-respected leisure hull.
With its relatively fine entry, angled transom and integrated keel, the Sea Champion carries all the key traits of the original 1970s John Bennett hull upon which it is based. It employs a beamy hull shape with a degree of efficiency in the absence of spray rails that enables it to claim (with some justification) to be a genuine fast fisher - and underway that is very much borne out.
The encased foam stringer construction benefits from the addition of sealed, foam-filled sections, making this boat very tough, very buoyant and resolutely rattle-free when you put the throttle down. The ride is fairly firm, but she is nowhere near as flighty as you might expect a craft of this diminutive scale and modest type to be. Rather than taking to the air over a chop, she tends instead to run directly through the swells, engendering a very welcome feeling of security among those on board. And she’s efficient too, the broad planing surface getting big results from even modest power - in this case, around 32 knots from the extraordinarily compact Suzuki DF90 four-stroke outboard. Planing speeds are achievable from a standstill in less than four seconds and progress to the optimum cruising speed of around 26 knots takes just another six seconds or so.
In short, there are no nasty surprises here at all. You could easily get away with a more affordable 40 or 60hp engine for general-purpose, low-octane family recreation, but whichever route you choose, you can rest assured that this is a stable family platform, which fully justifies the builder’s decision to adopt such well-established (and well-proven) underpinnings.
All change up top
It is plain that (while the hull is nothing new) plenty of effort has been expended elsewhere in eliminating the most common shortcomings of this boat type. Designed and built in the UK with families and fishermen in mind, it offers a full height cuddy cabin with seating for four and lots of storage. It also boasts very lofty cockpit sides, a usefully unobstructed deck and hydraulic steering as standard. The standard package also includes a pair of pillar-mounted helm seats and a hinged window in the centre of the screen to enable you to reach and use the foredeck without taking the more hazardous external route. And in another nod toward everyday practicality, the stainless radar-arch is placed up on top of the cuddy roof, well out of the way and in the perfect position for the navigation lights to be viewed by other vessels without obstruction.
Things are equally user-friendly elsewhere. The entire self-draining deck is moulded with a grey non-slip surface and is easily washed down after a day out. The cockpit also boasts a large central locker in the deck, a bait well in the port side of the transom, and an excellent location for a bait table to starboard. On the test boat, fuel was carried in a pair of portable 25-litre tanks (enabling you to buy more affordable fuel from the nearest petrol station) but if it suits your needs better, it is perfectly possible to specify the optional integrated under-deck tank.
Not so standard…
The standard Champion 18 Fisher package is notably more generous than you would expect of a boat at this price point. In addition to the dark blue hull panels, you get the helm and co pilot seats with a choice of either pedestals or a cushioned box seat at no extra cost. You also get high-grade toughened glass windows with anodised frames, a stern boarding ladder, three storage lockers in the cuddy, an anchor locker, a bow roller and a few other well chosen bits and bobs. In fact, MRL claims this standard generosity equates to around £1,500 worth of additional gear that you might well have to specify from the options lists on comparable fishers from other builders.
Here in the UK, we are by no means starved of choice in the 18-foot fisher market - and that makes it virtually impossible for any new boat to elevate itself head and shoulders above the ocean of resolutely competent craft available. But there is no doubt that the Sea Champion does a very well judged job. The hull is ideal for the job to which it is put and, with a very useful combination of running efficiency, inboard security and generosity of features, this sturdy little fisher deserves to make its mark with just as much vigour as the more glamorous craft in the MRL fleet. Boat only prces start at £10,950, for more details, contact MRL.
For more advice on choosing a fishing boat, read Dave Barham's guide to fishing boats.