"Mid Size Power Boats" - Buyers' Guide by David Pascoe

Tiara 3100 Open

A Multipurpose Boat With Flair

Tiara 3100 Open
LOA 31-6 Fuel 246 gallons
Beam 12-0 Engines 220 hp Volvo
Draft 2-2 Options Crusader, Cummins, Cat
Weight 11,500 WOT 24.8 knots
Deadrise 20 deg Cruise 21 knots

Tiara has produced a line of open boats that has been enormously successful over the years. Starting out it was a high end boat, and over the years has only gotten more so. The initiation fee to this level of quality for a new boat is stiff, to say the least. But the good news for used boat buyers is that one can easily gain entry for half-price or better, depending on how old you care to go.

Notice that they call this boat an "open," not "express". While we have no official explanation, we'd guess that the reason is that this is intended as a multipurpose boat. It is definitely that.

The 3100 has long been one of my favorites in terms of both good styling, layout, quality and reasonable seaworthiness. It's particularly popular in the southeast, Gulf coast or anywhere the summers are more than three or four months long.  In part this is due to a large cockpit design that is ideal for soft enclosures that can be put up or taken down. Just about everyone hates the hassle and expense of zippered enclosures, but on the other hand, we can't live without them.  In the warmer climates, one has to be able to open up to get some breeze. 

In addition, the 3100  has an electrically opened center section. This  may not seem very important, but believe me opening this little window section brings in a huge amount of air while underway. This is a feature all boats should have. Damn the leaks, good ventilation is more important.

The combination of radar arch and windshield height give plenty of head room under the Bimini. And when you close her up, there is little sense of being seriously closed in because of exceptionally good visibility and spaciousness.

Tiara 3100 - Cockpit

Can't complain about enough cockpit space here. Great for all water sports. Even two folding chairs hardly get in the way. Notice the foot cove under the gunwale. Leaning over the side is no problem, and the height is right, too.

Tiara 3100 - Helm

You won't find many helm designs better than this one. Notice the removable clear plastic covering to keep salt spray off and everything free of corrosion and looking nice. A great idea!

You don't have to bend down to see through the windshield as you do on so many boats this size. That's the result of a very high profile windshield. You can stand or sit normally at the helm with no restrictions at all. This is one of the little "big" details that more experienced boaters understand and know to look out for when buying that second or third boat. 

This is also a wonderful boat if you're the sort that hates lots of ups and downs or being cramped. Except for that bottleneck between the seat modules, it permits a great deal of freedom of movement. There is no built-in seating in the aft cockpit.  I don't like seats against the transom because they are too inhibiting to other activities. Personally, I prefer the option of adding folding chairs, as you see above, rather than having space filled with something I can't move. You'll find that some of the later models do have the fixed seating, in which case you really loose the freedom of movement.

The cockpits of earlier models are even more open than our 1996 model, which has the full size seating modules that give it more of a look of a cocktail cruiser than a multipurpose boat. With a large L-shaped settee to port, no one is going to mistake this one for a sport fish, though you'll find many of them decked out with outriggers, bait wells and such. Personally, I could do without the large L-lounge because it takes up too much space. I'd cut the base of the L off and leave it at that.

Our test boat had a pair of TAMD40, 220 hp diesels. The first word to come to my mind when hearing about these engines was "slow." Happily, I was wrong, For while she's no speed demon with these engines, she topped out at 24.8 upwind into a 2 ft head sea but gave the impression of going quite a bit faster. Actually, 24.8 knots is slow for a boat this size, but when you choose diesels like this, it's fuel range a buyer is thinking of, not speed. 

For diesel engine options you'll find them available with the 3126 Caterpillars or Cummins 6BTA at 335 hp. We'd recommend Cummins as the better engine.

If you're wondering how she does with a pair of Crusader 454's, rest assured that she's plenty fast. While we haven't tested one lately, figure at least 32 knots. She's light enough that she won't be hard on gas engines. If you are not going to be putting a lot of hours on your boat, we'd definitely recommend gas power. Diesels are a waste of money on boats that spend most of their time just sitting and you'll gain no benefit from the extra cost.

In a fairly steep chop, she did not pound. Actually, I was surprised at how comfortable the ride was since Tiara does not compete with Bertram, Blackfin or some other specialty boats for rough water performance. Deadrise aft is 20 degrees and forward around 32 degrees about 5 feet aft of forward waterline. This looked to be a bit steeper than earlier models, so perhaps the better ride shouldn't have been a surprise. Propeller pockets didn't help her speed much but then she draws only 2'2" of water. Or so Tiara says. I didn't measure it. Looking at the stern view photo below, that number seems to strain credibility.

Tiara 3100 - Hull shape

We're not used to seeing Tiaras with this much dead rise. It definitely shows up in the ride.

The rudders are decidedly small, and with the props set somewhat close together, a bit of slow speed handling is lost. This is done so the deck level isn't too high and keeps the boat profile from being out of proportion.

The engines are quite close together, the rudders are smallish, so that slow speed steering and maneuvering into dock comes nowhere near to what you'd get with a Blackfin or Bertram. 

The helm layout is one of the best I've seen. That is so obvious from the above photo I won't bother to describe it. The large, 20" destroyer wheel -- well, I can't understand how anyone could tolerate those puny little 12" wheels they're putting on boats these days. Placed vertically, manning the helm was a real pleasure for me, standing up or sitting down. Sitting back I like to drive with my feet, and that's nearly effortless here.

I loved most everything about this boat but one really bad thing: the engine compartment. I'll engage in some low class language here and just say that it positively sucks. I mean, they couldn't have done it any worse. Not even Sea Ray has managed to create an accessibility nightmare like this one.

It has a single large hatch, on which the heavy seating modules are permanently mounted. It is then opened by an electric-mechanical opener that dims the lights when you operate it, lifting up the aft end. It then opens about two feet. Uh huh, two feet. There is barely enough room for my two legs to fit between the engines. I had to stand slightly sideways. That, from the little hatch that accesses within the larger hatch. A hatch that is all but useless because the space is so small that all you can do is just stand there. Try bending over and something unpleasant tickles your backside, especially if the engines are hot.

But just try crawling through that two foot hatch opening. Have you ever tried to crawl across the top of a diesel engine on your hands and knees? When it's hot? Well, that's what you have to do. Folks, if you are any kind of do it yourselfer, I'd counsel you to consider this aspect carefully.   Working on anything in that engine compartment is very difficult. If you're going to pay someone else to kill themselves fixing things, then no problem. Even something so simple as an oil change is not easy. The Westerbeke 4Kw generator is easy enough to service because it is at the aft end of the space. You only have to lay on your stomach to do so.

Myself, there's no way I could live with this. Okay, that unpleasantness aside, let's move on, assuming I haven't already turned you off. The rest of the boat is a pure delight.

Back to the helm, it's probably one of the best designs I've ever seen, and it looks great too without looking like something out of Buck Rogers. If you like Buck Rogers, then I've just insulted your taste. Sorry 'bout that. Modernism is fine, but boats that look like fantasy space ships are not my cup of tea. Plus, they're usually impractical as hell. But this one's got a touch of heaven.

There's a large center-line sliding door into cabin. Again, one of the nicest. You can rush down into the cabin without getting bruised every time you enter. Not at all like the contortionist arrangements Sea Ray and others love to create for us. Cabin layout has offset double berth forward that's sort of L-shaped. Not pretty, but very large. Fairly good vertical depth (headroom) here does not give the sense that you are sandwiched in between the deck and berth like a sardine. You won't bash your head when you suddenly sit up from a reclining position.

Here's a settee layout that really works!  And notice the huge electric panel set at eye level. This is one of the things that distinguishes Tiara from the lesser breeds. TV is also viewable from forward berth.

The galley. Yawn. It does have a nice hatch over the stove though. Sink is hopelessly small. You can almost see it. A lot of area is lost for the 3/4 size frig.

Nice size convertible lounge to starboard, of the sort that you can get some use out of. One strange thing here is that this one was not designed to convert to a berth. The table is fixed and does not move without unbolting it. Odd.

The galley won't measure up even to a 30 Bertram. It's almost completely devoid of useable counter space as they've opted for a half-height reefer. For any kind of food prep, you have to use the table.

Plushy without going overboard, the interior scheme is heavy on contrast between a lot of white and the few pieces of teak like partial bulkhead and standing locker. The available stowage space is substantial. There's much more than average deck space and ease of movement is nice.

Another nice feature is that there are three deck hatches. Now a days builders are big on making boats with no ventilation. You're supposed to rely on air conditioning all the time. That is a decidedly dumb thing to do when you consider that around half the boats we survey the A/C does not work. And guess what? Nope, it didn't work on this one either. Opening three hatches solved that problem.

The head has no stall shower. Would I give up a shower stall for all this extra interior room? Yes, I think it's worth it. Wouldn't be the first time I've showered on deck, nor the last. Standard is the loud but very effective PAR electric head. Interior space here is adequate.

Detailing is above average but certainly not superb. For the money (new) I think it should be better. The teak didn't have much finish on it and detracted. You'll see a world of difference between this and a 1999 model where the finish is superior. If you want to see what a really nice interior looks like, take a look at the new Tiaras.

The major part of the quality in this boat is in the fiberglass moldings which are first rate. You won't find gel coat cracks all over this boat. In fact, there weren't any. The hull is screwed to the deck with a wood backing strip on the inside. It has the plastic rub rail with stainless molding inset. No problems here.

Although the side decks aft are a tad narrow, this boat is pretty easy to get around on. You certainly won't slip on that deep diamond non-skid decking. The small molded-in step on the sides of the cockpit is misplaced and hard to locate when boarding, but other than this the ergonomics are pretty darn good. There's a six inch step up to forward end of cockpit, giving a bit better visibility. I'm 6-0 and there was close to a foot over my head under the Bimini. The top of your head doesn't get fried under the Bimini on this one.

The windshield is quite tall without managing to look awkward, which is what affords such good visibility. A very strong design feature here. It's painted aluminum -- not done right, no zinc chromate primer and is starting to corrode, though not real badly. The aluminum radar arch: same story, mostly around stainless snap fasteners. But hey, at least it won't sag and distort like so many 'glass ones do. In another five years, both these items will be real mess.

There's a large removable storage tub athwartships in the aft deck that I managed to remove single handedly; it's light enough to do that without getting a hernia. Below is good access to steering gear, etc. Twin 123 gallon aluminum fuel tanks are properly designed and installed. They'll be no problem with corroded tanks here.

There are a few other carping points I could bellyache about, like all those plastic access ports in deck with handle that break off. And the crappy plastic ports in the sides of the cockpit liner that are actually crumbling under the Florida sun. And the plastic through hulls above the water line. None of these items belong on a boat at this price. Nor do the plastic hinges on seating module storage doors that are now cracking and breaking. Tiara saves two bucks at the risk of their reputation with garbage like this. I can smell the perfumed bean counters from here. They're in need of a good salt water dunking. God, save us from plastic hardware. Surely no one else will.

Overall, this is a big little boat that is very roomy for its size. Ergonomically it's near perfect. It makes a nifty cruiser or fishing boat or both. Overall, the quality level is satisfying and means that these boats are going to be around for a long time to come. We'd give this one 4-1/2 stars but for that engine compartment.

Foot note: A possible solution for the engine access problem might be to attach very large teflon runners to the under side of  the seating modules. Then install some very large thumb screws for hold downs (dinky ones won't work), and add a couple of alignment guides on the deck. In this way, a single person could slide the cockpit modules all the way aft, fully off the hatch, and then lift the hatch more fully open for better access. With a little forethought, this might make an intolerable situation tolerable. The purpose of the teflon runners is so that you can easily slide the modules without lifting or damaging the deck. The alignment guides are needed so you can get the hold down screws lined up right.

Posted April, 4, 2000

David Pascoe Power Boat Books

Buyers' Guide to Outboard Boats Surveying Fiberglass Power Boats (2E)

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David Pascoe - Biography

David Pascoe is a second generation marine surveyor in his family who began his surveying career at age 16 as an apprentice in 1965 as the era of wooden boats was drawing to a close.

Certified by the National Association of Marine Surveyors in 1972, he has conducted over 5,000 pre purchase surveys in addition to having conducted hundreds of boating accident investigations, including fires, sinkings, hull failures and machinery failure analysis.

Over forty years of knowledge and experience are brought to bear in following books. David Pascoe is the author of:

In addition to readers in the United States, boaters and boat industry professionals worldwide from nearly 80 countries have purchased David Pascoe's books, since introduction of his first book in 2001.

In 2012, David Pascoe has retired from marine surveying business at age 65.

On November 23rd, 2018, David Pascoe has passed away at age 71.

Biography - Long version

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Mid Size Power Boats Mid Size Power Boats
A Guide for Discriminating Buyers
Focuses exclusively cruiser class generally 30-55 feet
With discussions on the pros and cons of each type: Expresses, trawlers, motor yachts, multi purpose types, sportfishermen and sedan cruisers.
Buyers' Guide to Outboard Boats
Selecting and Evaluating New and Used Boats
Dedicated for offshore outboard boats
A hard and realistic look at the marine market place and delves into issues of boat quality and durability that most other marine writers are unwilling to touch.
Surveying Fiberglass Powewr Boats
Surveying Fiberglass Power Boats
2nd Edition
The Art of Pre-Purchase Survey The very first of its kind, this book provides the essentials that every novice needs to know, as well as a wealth of esoteric details.
Marine Investigations
Pleasure crafts investigations to court testimony The first and only book of its kind on the subject of investigating pleasure craft casualties and other issues.
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Last reviewed February 27, 2020.