Watch our video of the Key West 239FS or read our review of the Key West Billistic 351, or for that matter read almost any boat review in any publication, and it won’t take long to figure out that most of the time marine journalists test a boat we’re limited to a day or so on the water. Sure, we’d love to run a boat a dozen-odd times before bringing you the scoop. We wish we could spend a month or two really getting to know the boats on an intimate basis. That would enable us to learn more and thus educate readers better, especially when it comes to the little details. Of course, it’s also completely unrealistic—unless one of our neighbors buys a boat that we’re about to review, and takes us out fishing on it over and over again.

We got lucky with the Key West 219, and managed to spend many hours on numerous fishing trips aboard one before bringing you this review.

We got lucky with the Key West 219, and managed to spend many hours on numerous fishing trips aboard one before bringing you this review.

Run for the Honey

The first big impression the Key West 219FS made on us was in the performance department. On an average evening jaunt to cast for striped bass with two or three hours to fish, we’d commonly be limited to hitting one or two hotspots. But we’ve regularly hit three or even four, zipping from one to the next with little fishing time lost to cruising. The 219FS we’ve been running is rigged with a Yamaha F175, which is 75 horses short of the maximum this boat can take (but helps to keep the boat’s price reasonable; even well-equipped, you can get it in the low to mid $40,000 range). It also has a hard top adding weight and wind resistance, thus shaving a couple MPH off top-end. And most of the times we’ve taken it off the dock it’s had a full load of fuel and several people onboard, which lops off a few more MPH. Yet top-end still reaches the mid 40’s and cruising speed is in the upper-mid 30’s. According to Key West, under ideal conditions with a Yamaha F150 on the transom, top-end peaks at 46.3 MPH and cruising speed at 4500 RPM is 34.3 MPH.

That’s an awful lot of pep, and normally we might caution that on a boat this size, when the seas get stirred up you’ll want to pull back on the throttles a bit. Normally. But the 219FS isn’t normal. In this case the hull has an extremely aggressive entry and a javelin-like raked bow, which reduces waterline length but also helps cleave open a tightly-stacked chop. Deadrise is variable and transitions significantly at what Key West terms a hull step. But it’s not the same design feature we traditionally think of when we talk about stepped hulls. Instead of changing height at the step to introduce air under the hull, Key West’s step is more of a transition in bottom deadrise, from 24 to 19 degrees. The chine is notched at the transition so it does also help break adhesion a bit, and all of this takes place well aft of the helm, so unless you’re catching air off of a big wave, the steepest portions of the V always takes the impacts.

Wait a sec—if 24 degrees splits open the waves that much better than 19 degrees, why add the flatter section in the first place? Stability. A 21’ boat with 24 degrees of deadrise is going to rock and roll quite a bit. But adding the flatter section aft means that you won’t be wind-milling for handholds every time a wave strikes on the beam. And proof of the hull design’s success lies in our on-the-water experience. Time and again we’ve been surprised at how fast we’ve been able to zip here and there across the Chesapeake, making 35 MPH in a one-foot chop and still making 30 MPH in larger seas. Until the waves become big enough that you’re launching the boat, you’ll be setting the throttle wherever the heck you want it.

Scales of Justice

Okay, are you ready to teach those predatorial fish a lesson? The 219FS comes out of the box with four gunwale-mounted rodholders and four more in the leaning post, a 20 gallon livewell with LED lighting, coaming bolsters all around, and four under-gunwale rodracks. Get the T-top and you’ll also get four rocket launchers plus spreader lights. The deck is sealed so there aren’t any integrated fishboxes underfoot but there are two compartments under the forward seating in the bow, plus one under the forward console seat. Our experience has shown, however, that these compartments will be in demand for dry stowage. Other than inside the console head compartment—which you’ll need to keep uncluttered if you want to be able to answer the call of nature—the under-seat compartments are the only bulk stowage areas large enough for things like tackle boxes and gear bags.

This identifies the biggest problem we’ve encountered on the 219FS so far: a lack of stowage. True, this is a problem on virtually every boat of this size, so take the criticism with a grain of salt. That said, the compartments under the aft jump seats and the console footrest are too tight to be of much use, and unless you don’t mind mixing fish slim with your munchies and drinks in the cooler, you’ll have to dedicate one of your only three bulk stowage compartments to chilling down the catch.

Fortunately, if you’re a half-competent angler there should be a catch to chill down in the first place. Most of the fishing we’ve done from the Key West has been light tackle casting, which this boat is quite well suited for. With the cushions removed the forward seating becomes an elevated bow casting deck, and the aft bench seat becomes an elevated aft casting deck. We’ve had four anglers tossing their jigs at the same time, one up front, one in the back, and two in the cockpit amidships, without crossing lines. Added bonus: with a draft of 1’2”, this boat can sneak into the shallows without any problem.

One of the first fish caught from the new Key West 219FS.

One of the first fish caught from the neighbor's new Key West 219FS.

Kiddie Cruise

As is usually the case with an FS (forward seating) center console, Key West put some effort into making this model comfortable for the entire family. The neighbor who bought the 219FS we’ve been running around on loves to fish, for sure, but if there’s anything he loves more it’s his wife and two young daughters—so he wanted to get a boat that they’d enjoy spending time on.

Changing from fish-mode to family-mode is essentially as easy as snapping on the forward and aft seating cushions, and sliding in the removable forward seating backrests. Some options moms and dads may want to consider include a removable ski pylon for towing water-toys, and a freshwater transom shower. A three-step boarding ladder and small swim platform sections to either side of the outboard are standards.

Pile the kids into the bow—there are plenty of comfy spots to relax on the Key West 219FS.

Pile the kids into the bow—there are plenty of comfy spots to relax on the Key West 219FS.

Naturally, an even bigger concern for we parental units is how stout the boat is—you need to have a huge amount of trust in that hull before bringing the tykes aboard. The Key West 219FS is built with foam-injected fiberglass stringers, and belowdecks voids are also foamed. Give a yank on the low-profile bow grabrail or T-top pipework, and you’ll find it feels solid as a rock. Backing up the construction is a 10 year transferrable hull warranty.

It’s exciting for us to get in this much time on a new boat, and to be able to bring you a review this comprehensive. In fact, only one thing would be even more exciting: if our neighbor decided to upgrade.

Other Choices: The Sea Chaser 21 LX is a similar option, and though it’s built a bit lighter it also costs a bit less. The Pioneer 2200 tilts more towards fishing and less towards family, but does have the basics (like a head in the console) and might be another to consider.

For more information, visit Key West.

See Key West 219FS listings.

Deadrise19 degrees
Displacement2,250 lbs
Fuel capacity80 gal.

Performance Data
Test conditions: Ten to 15 mph winds, calm seas, three POB. Performance data courtesy of Yamaha.
PowerSingle Yamaha F150 outboard, swinging a 14.25” x 18” three-bladed stainless-steel prop.