The Key West 263 FS is just small enough for light tackle, just big enough for offshore, and just affordable enough for a dedicated American angler.
Two or three casts is all we get before the frenzy ends and the uninhibited carnage momentarily ceases, but running and gunning each time the surface erupts is one heck of a fun way to go plugging for stripers and on at least half of those casts a fish explodes on someone’s lure. We spend three hours chasing the bite in Eastern Bay during our sea trial on the new Key West 263 FS and by the time we force ourselves to hang up the rods, the decks are bloody and our employer-branded polos are ruined. Sweet. As far as boat tests go, there’s no better way to get a real-world feel for the fishability of a center console than to actually go fishing. But all good things must come to an end, so even though the birds are re-grouping on the horizon we go back to work, running fuel efficiency and speed trials for this 263 FS rigged with twin Yamaha F175 outboards.
What we discover while running the numbers is not a shock: this boat’s fast. We had already experienced throttle-mashing accelerations while chasing the birds, so we knew the boat had plenty of get-up-and-go. Top-end hit 49.1 mph, and that was with three anglers and a half tank of fuel. Run it light or opt for larger powerplants – the boat’s max rating is for up to 600 horses – and you’ll easily break that magic 50 mph mark. At a 4500 rpm cruise, we ran at 31 mph while burning 13.1 gph, netting 2.4 mpg.
Key West 263 FS
- LOA – 26’3”
- Beam – 9’3”
- Draft – 1’4”
- Displacement – 4,600
- Transom deadrise – 21/24 degrees
- Fuel capacity – 175 gal.
Before getting into the nuts and bolts of the boat, we need to talk about one other thing we learned while zinging around Eastern Bay in search of stripers: this boat can handle a serious chop. It was blowing a stiff 15 knots the morning of the test, and the water was thoroughly riled up with tight two-footers stacked up on each other. But we stayed mostly dry and completely comfortable while running.
The biggest surprise on this boat, however, presented itself when we were back at the boat ramp getting ready to unload. The rep grabbed the port side guwale, lifted, and exposed what’s best described as a half-tall dive-door. It opens a portion of the gunwale about halfway down to deck level, and the lower section of inwale that remains houses a pull-out telescopic ladder. It’s a unique solution to make loading and reboarding the boat easy, which can be used at sea without flooding the decks.
Another feature that stands out is the forward bow seating arrangement. Die-hard anglers will likely have a love-hate relationship with it, not only because there are seats in the first place (which eats into fishable deck space) but also because the seat backs are molded in and protrude inwards from the gunwales (eating up even more fishing room). On the other hand, the seats are thoroughly comfy and I have to admit to enjoying the rest I got, kicking back between bites.
Aside from that bow, the boat’s designed to go on the hunt to the exclusion of all else. The transom bench seat is flanked by a pair of oval livewells which are baby-blue inside, have clear lids so you can keep an eye on your livies, and drain via overflows. The leaning post houses built-in tackle stowage, gunwale bolsters ring the entire boat, and there are rod racks under the gunwales. Flush gunwale-mount rod holders are all over the place, including in the bow, cockpit, and transom, and the hard-top pipework supports nine rocket launchers including two up high on the sides that are angled out.
The boat’s construction is more or less modern standard-issue. The molded fiberglass stringer grid is foam-filled, the deck and hullsides are cored with Coremat, and biaxial glass reinforces critical areas in the hull. The pipe work is a stand-out. Grab the back of the hard top and yank, swing, or do some chin-ups. Nothing sways or moves one iota, which can’t be said for many other boats of this size and price.
Speaking of price: the Key West 263 FS goes for about $120,000 as tested. While we wouldn’t exactly call that inexpensive, we would note that comparatively speaking for a new 26-footer with twins it’s average at worst and maybe a bit on the low side at best. And when the birds start dipping and diving on the horizon, how much you spent on your boat will be the last thing on your mind, anyway.
Check out Key West Boats, to get the company line.