Miami has a reputation for being bold and brash, so perhaps it was fitting that the hullsides of the brand-new Key West Billistic 351 center console I ran during the Miami International Boat Show this year were wrapped in splashy tournament graphics, including a 10-foot long marlin that curved aggressively along the bow. It seemed out of character for a boatbuilder with a reputation for building affordable, capable, and family-friendly fishing boats, but the Billistic 351 is definitely a departure from the company’s norm. (Don’t worry; that’s a good thing.)

The Key West Billistic 351 is the builders biggest and boldest boat to date. Photo courtesy of Key West

The Key West Billistic 351 is the builder's biggest and boldest boat to date.

Officially launched at this year’s Miami International Boat Show, the Key West Billistic 351 is the first of three new center-console models that will roll out of the South Carolina builder’s Ridgeville factory over the next year. The Billistic 281 and Billistic 261 will follow it. As the name suggests, these boats are aimed at a robust segment of the current American boating market: offshore center-console fishing boats that go after big billfish and other denizens of the deep. As the cost of maintaining and fueling larger sportfishing yachts continues to climb, these full-bodied center-console boats are enjoying a renaissance. While certainly not as large as some of the “Super Consoles,” such as the Everglades 435cc, Boston Whaler 420 Outrage, and the Hydrasports 53 Suenos, the Billistic 351 should compete quite nicely with the Regulator 34 CC, Cobia 344 CC, and Yellowfin Yachts 36, along with many others in this size range.

The Key West Billistic 351 is built with contemporary boatbuilding techniques using modern materials that include multi-directional cloths, poly and vinylester resins, and high-density foam Coosa board. This is a “wood-free” hull. The hull and topsides are solid glass, while strategic points are carefully reinforced using foam coring. The cockpit floor is cored with 3/4-inch foam, while various deck areas get 1/2- and 3/8-inch coring treatments. High-stress areas, such as where cleats are installed, are backed with1/4-inch aluminum plating or Sparlo board. Like all Key West boats I have run, this boat feels solid and substantial at every turn, from the center console down to the fish lockers. The fit and finish and attention to details are evident everywhere.

At first glance you might think that the Billistic 351 simply mimics many of Key West’s normal styling cues. And it does to an extent, especially when you look at its elongated, spear-shaped bow, curvy and elegant entry, and forward-biased reverse sheer line. But take a closer look and you’ll notice a touch of Carolina bow flare, beefy doses of freeboard, and, below the waterline, a 24-degree transom deadrise. These are all hints that this particular Key West is more about working the offshore canyons than coastal waters, hints that it has the beans to deliver a crew and gear out to where the big ones are biting, even in a bit of nasty weather.

You might think that three 300-horsepower outboards would mean the Key West Ballistic 351 is a gas guzzler, but it's not. How does just under 20 gph at around 28 mph sound? Photo courtesy of Key West Boats

You might think that three Yamaha F300 outboards would mean the Key West Billistic 351 is a gas guzzler, but it's not. How does just under 20 gph at around 28 mph sound?

To deliver that crew quickly—and with some built-in redundancy—the Billistic 351 has 900 horsepower racked to its stern. The performance they deliver is impressive. Once I had the Billistic 351 clear of the no-wake zone outside of Sea Isle Marina, I laid down the throttles in a heavy-handed manner, hurtling us into Biscayne Bay and past the Venetian Causeway to 30 MPH in a mere 4.55 seconds, then passing 40 MPH and 50 MPH up to a top speed of 61.2 MPH at 6,050 rpm, where the three outboards were chugging 79 gallons per hour. To give you an idea of why I describe the performance as impressive, the Cobia 344 CC takes 8.45 seconds to get to 30 mph and the Regulator 34 needs 6.64—with the same power plant setup. It goes to show that “Billistic” is more than just a play on billfish wording, because this boat is fast. Ballistically fast.
Performance Data
Test conditions: calm seas, winds 5 knots, 2 POB. Performance data courtesy of Yamaha.
PowerTriple Yamaha F300 four-stroke outboards, swinging two 15" x 20" (R & L) and one 15" X 20" (C) three-bladed stainless-steel props.

That said, an offshore fishing boat isn’t about drag racing—slow and steady often win the race in this arena, and the Billistic 351 is an efficient performer at lower speeds, as well. The Billistic 351’s happy place, in terms of fuel efficiency, is at 27.5 mph and 3,000 rpm. Here we enjoyed a very nice 19.8 GPH cruise, which nets a theoretical range of 452 miles with the 326-gallon fuel tank. At trolling speeds—from seven to around 11 mph—fuel consumption ranges between four and 10.5 GPH. So load up the rods, ice, and tackle; you’ll have plenty of range to get out to the canyons, troll a spread for the day, land some fish, and then get back home with fuel to spare.

The ride and handling the Billistic 351 provides is on par with some of the best offshore hulls out there, thanks in part to that aggressive 24-degree transom deadrise. While I didn’t have an opportunity to do any rough-water inlet shooting with the Billistic 351like I have with the Cobia 344 CC and Regulator 34 CC, I found it quite capable of splitting the set of steep, three-foot wakes thrown from a large sportfish yacht that passed us while we were trotting along at about 20 MPH. Smaller wakes were barely felt underfoot, even at speeds over 50 MPH. Handling also is impressive. I was able to spin the Billistic 351 in an incredibly tight circle with virtually no slippage and very little loss of speed. So while this boat will spend much of its life traveling in a straight line heading to the fishing grounds, it’s nice to know that it’s fun-capable, too.

A large livewell and spacious fish box are stealthily hidden in the transom by a set of clever lids. Photo by Gary Reich

A large livewell and spacious fish box are stealthily hidden in the transom by a set of clever lids. Photo by Gary Reich

Speaking of fishing, you’d expect the Billistic 351 to be loaded with angling-oriented features—and it is. Starting back at the stern, I found a livewell and a large fish locker that are both cleverly concealed under a sturdy set of fiberglass lids that make it appear as if there’s nothing there when closed. A huge rigging station with a sink, cutting area, three pullout drawers, and space for four tackle organizers sits behind the helm seating, and there’s room for fishing rods everywhere, from the scattered rocket launchers to the under-gunwale rod racks and flush-mounted rod holders. Outriggers sprouting from the hardtop mean you can pull a mean spread, and an additional forward fish locker has plenty of room for most anything you reel in.

All that fishing tackle won’t do you much good if you can’t focus in on the fish, and there’s plenty of room for fish-finding gear in the Billistic 351’s helm and dash unit. Twin Simrad multi-function displays that are set behind a beautifully crafted piece of Plexiglas give the illusion of a glass cockpit you might find in a modern jetliner. The Plexiglas does produce a bit of glare, but it doesn’t affect viewability to an annoying extent. The rest of the electronic toys and gizmos are generally laid out in a very ergonomic fashion, but you may not find the placement of the joystick controller directly in front of the engine controls very sensible. I found it sort of awkward reaching up and around the throttle levers to use it. One thing I did like was how the entire dash is hinged and lifts to expose the backs of all the gear for maintenance or troubleshooting. It’s also well gasketed to keep salt spray and water out.

There's plenty of room for fish-finding and other electronic gizmos on the Key West Billistic 351, but the positioning of the joystick controller is a bit awkward. Photo by Gary Reich

There's plenty of room for fish-finding and other electronic gizmos on the Key West Billistic 351, but the positioning of the joystick controller is a bit awkward. Photo by Gary Reich

On deck, you’ll find a layout that is spacious and accommodating, with plenty of room for both fishing and entertaining family and friends. You can open a fold-down seat at the stern to create a three-person bench in the aft cockpit, and there's additional two-person seating forward of the center-console unit. The bow has a U-shaped seating area, but a fish locker prohibits a pop-in table here, which is kind of a letdown if you plan on doing any entertaining. The cup holders and cubbies under the forward gunwale are a great use of otherwise wasted space, and there’s copious stowage under the cushioned seats.
Draft (hull)20"
Deadrise24 degrees
Displacement8,500 lbs
Fuel capacity326 gal.
Water capacity18 gal.

As is the norm with boats like this one, the under-console space is fitted out as a sleeping area with a berth, electric head, and washbasin. Though I know many fish-heads will stuff rods and tackle down here—and there are stand-up rod racks installed for just that purpose—there’s plenty of room and comfort for getting a good night's rest.

The Key West representative aboard also showed me something different down here that I really liked. On the starboard side of this under-console mini cabin is a removable panel that provides single-point access to four centrally located pumps (freshwater, raw water washdown, and macerators). Not a big deal? Well, it kind of is. Those pumps would normally be scattered about various places in the boat and often difficult to reach. It’s a nice touch, especially when winterizing season rolls around or troubleshooting is in order. Yes, I know you don’t want to think about winterizing right now, but still, kudos to Key West for this cool feature.

While this boat hit me in most all the right places, I did find a couple of things I’d change. The pop-up cleats Key West uses on the 351 are a great way to keep fishing lines from getting tangled up in them, but the ones on my test boat didn’t stay “popped up,” which meant it took two hands for tying up—one on the cleat to keep it from falling flush, and one for the line. It was a real pain in the backside, to be honest, and if I were buying the boat I'd request a different kind. Another thing I wish this boat had was easier access to the water for boating larger fish. While there is a transom door, the stern is almost completely engulfed in outboards, and there’s no opening “tuna” door in either the port or starboard gunwales. Add in the fairly high freeboard and getting a bigger fish aboard could be a challenge.

Aside from these relatively minor faults, Key West’s shot at the offshore center-console market feels like a direct hit. And, based on the 351, I can’t wait to see what Key West does with the Billistic 261 and Billistic 281.

Other Choices: The Cobia 344 CC, Regulator 34 CC, and Yellowfin Yachts 36 we mentioned earlier are some particularly good choices in this size bracket of offshore center-console market.

View all Key West Boats listings.

For more information, visit Key West Billistic models.

Written by: Gary Reich
Gary Reich is a Chesapeake Bay-based freelance writer and photojournalist with over 25 years of experience in the marine industry. He is the former editor of PropTalk Magazine and was the managing editor of the Waterway Guide. His writing and photography have been published in PassageMaker Magazine, Soundings, Fly Fishing in Salt Waters, Yachting Magazine, and Lakeland Boating, among others.