Skicraft Senator SSO Ski Boat Review

Issue: July 1997

Ron Craddock has been designing and building inboard ski boats for more than 35 years. So it goes without saying that there isn’t much he doesn’t know or hasn’t tried when it comes to ski boats. For a few years Skicraft dabbled in circuit and ski racing, which gave the company knowledge about the high performance side of the game. It taught the company ways to make boat/engine combinations more efficient.

Today, Skicraft boats are built by Ron Craddock then fitted out and sold by Performance Marine. Each boat reflect more than three decades of boat building experience by Craddock and more than 20 years of inboard ski boat fitout by Performance Marine.

The Skicraft Senator is without question one of the handful of exceptionally well designed, superbly built, and extremely functional performance specialist ski boats built in Australia. The boat shows that Craddock has listened to his customer advice and produced a boat that completely fulfils the role it was intended for.

Testimony to the quality of the Skicraft Senator is that it won the Ski Boat of the Year award in 2000. It also received Australian Water Ski Association World accreditation for tournament events and was selected as the official tow boat for the 1999-2001 Moomba Masters in Melbourne.

The new outboard version – the subject of this test – has also received world accreditation for barefoot tournaments. Official accreditations from the various water ski controlling bodies are not easily obtained. Boats are put through an exhaustive testing procedure. The boat’s ability to pull skiers, track straight, plus maintain a constant speed under the extremes of skiing are all measured. The quality of the wash, the turbulence down the centre, the edges and actual wash pattern is also assessed. These various accreditations, particularly for the Senator outboard, put the Skicraft on a mantle that only a few other local and overseas manufacturers have attained.

In the past many builders of good centre-mount or stern-driven inboard ski boats have tried to release an outboard version of their boat, but often with disastrous results. An inboard hull cannot simply be modified for outboard installations merely by adding an engine well, some extra decking and modifying the transom. But Skicraft haven’t fallen for that trick. Craddock realised that different propulsion systems require different hull running surface treatment.

These changes may not appear significant when you compare both the inboard and outboard versions of the Senator. But the differences are there for a purpose. They ensure a clean break of water, little or no turbulence when that water does break and a hull that trims level. With an outboard configuration there’s a different centre of gravity and the weight distribution needs to be taken into consideration. The Skicraft Senator SSO excels in every aspect.

With a 200hp V6 Mercury Optimax outboard on the transom, this boat is definitely a high performance ski machine in every sense of the word. The SSO has a precise wash, which is ideal for all forms of skiing, particularly barefoot, tournament and wake boarding. But the boat is also gentle enough, with adequate power to get even novice skiers or weekend hackers quickly out of the hole. It then easily holds a steady, straight line at a constant speed no matter how hard that skier wants to work off the end of the rope.

Performance Marine offer complete boat/motor packages – all with Mercury outboards – from the 150hp EFI through to the 225hp Optimax. All of these engines fall into the recommended power range for the Senator SSO.

Fitted with a 21″ Laser II prop, the Senator gets out of the hole quickly. With the engine trimmed in and the power eased open, there is also no bow lift. The hull just powers along effortlessly and smoothly onto the plane without any fuss or hassle. Without a skier behind, the boat cruises easily at 30mph at 3000rpm, nudges 44mph at a shade over 4000rpm, then hit 50mph plus at a tad over 4500rpm.

The hull is extremely efficient and runs lightly across the water. Power isn’t wasted pushing water. It generates its own lift, which results in top speed of just over 70mph at 6000rpm with heaps of acceleration and superb throttle response anywhere in between. The speed and acceleration belies the fact that this boat is around 6.5m long.

Sea Star hydraulic steering is an option that should be taken. This steering is positive with no play and enough firmness to give the driver confident control at high speed. But at the same time it’s not heavy at lower skiing speeds either. The steering system handles the extreme range of torque loads, that high powered outboard engines produce with effortless ease.

In turns the Senator is without fault. It is extremely responsive to the wheel – sometimes a little too responsive – extremely predictable and surefooted no matter how it is thrown about. It doesn’t twitch, jump, slide or do the unexpected. It is simply a great handling and fabulous turning boat that’s a delight to drive.

While this boat may be called a bowrider, it is not a conventional walk-through style of bowrider. The bow cockpit does provide seating – in a bench arrangement rather than the usual vee formation – but this cockpit is completely separate from the rest of the boat. This cockpit is still accessible from inside the boat, but you have to climb over the dash and scramble through the hinged centre section of the windscreen.

But it’s all been done for a purpose. While the bow cockpit may not be as easily and readily accessible as the conventional walk-through configuration. The reason behind this design is to allow a bow storage locker to be retained and accessed through the back of the forward lounge.

This storage locker is perfect for everything from, jackets, vests, ropes, boards and all of those other day-to-day essentials. It is an asset that’s better retained, even if it makes the bow cockpit a little more difficult to get into. Many ski boat manufacturers who build boats with fully-enclosed bow try and use this entire area for more storage. But in reality a lot of this space is so hard to get things out of they often get left there and sometimes forgotten.

The main cockpit fitout is very much in keeping with the inboard model without the engine box cluttering up the centre of the cockpit. The design and finish of the fully carpeted and upholstery-lined interior is world class. The seats are soft, comfortable and secure, while the large padded lined boarding platforms – each side of the outboard engine – make getting in and out of the boat safe and easy. The transom is fitted with sturdy stainless steel handles to help pull yourself out of the water, while the soft-pad finish provides a soft, non-slip finish under foot.

Although the Senator is a complete ski boat in its standard package, Performance Marine will build and fitout a boat to whatever the customer requires. Given how well this boat is already equipped and the range of options that are available, there isn’t too much more a buyer could want – maybe another custom colour scheme on the gelcoat and interior.

The base price Senator SSO powered by a 150hp EFI Mercury will set you back in the vicinity of $37,000.00. But add the options of a 200hp Optimax with Laser II prop, keyless ignition, bowrider layout, CD player, Sea Star hydraulic steering and you’re looking at around $47,500.00 for the boat as tested. And while it is classified as a ski boat, the Senator SSO is just as roomy, comfortable and practical as most of the specialized bowrider family runabouts.

Engine Room
While the Modern Boating team has only tested the boat with the 200hp V6 Optimax, we have no doubt that given the research and development that’s gone into the hull, any of the recommended power packages would live up to expectations of the buyer.

On the basis of this test, the 200hp Optimax is superbly matched to the hull. This engine is fast, smooth and extremely quiet in operation. There is no smoke residue from engine startup or after long periods of idle. Also with no engine howling its head off on the transom, it’s easy to carry out a conversation while underway without shouting.

Speed to rpm readings were: 30mph @ 3000rpm; 36mph @ 3500rpm; 44mph @ 4000rpm; 56mph @ 5000rpm; 65mph @ 5500rpm; and 70mph @ 6000rpm.

Story & Photos by David Toyer