Kennedy Panther - At the dockAndy Adams

Easily tamed, has small appetite.

Changes and improvements are the key words at Kennedy Boats since the company was taken over by Glen Bon-ham in 1977. The results are impressive. Kennedy is starting to rack up an enviable racing record both on the local circuits and in river racing in Mexico. I'm glad to see it because on the basis of the boat tested, they weren't going to get much of a boost from me.

Kennedy Boats got started in a backyard on Kennedy road in Toronto. At that time, the easiest way to get into boat building was to take a "flip" - make a mold from someone else's boat. It’s neither honourable nor ethical but at least it keeps most of the really bad designs off the market - it’s no harder to copy a good boat than to copy a bad one.

When Glen Bonham bought the Kennedy Boat company last year, he inherited a legacy of borrowed designs and a bit of a bad name. Nothing changes overnight, but all things considered, Kennedy is making progress fast.

The test boat was a 16-ft Panther model, outboard runabout with a hull shape that made its debut in 1968 as the Searay SRV160. I'm quite sure about that because I own one, and I can tell you I felt a bit uncomfortable when I first realized that the Kennedy was a close copy of my boat. Worse than that, the Searay is a tough act to follow and comparing the two boats is just unavoidable. At least two other well-known builders have copied this hull as well.

Kennedy Panther - gel coat finishThe Kennedy Panther was equipped with a top and a 115hp Evinrude that was somewhat the worse for wear, hav-ing been lifted off another boat for the test. The other boat had gone down in a storm the week before, with the test motor and that might explain some of the starting problems that we encountered.

Comparing the Panther to the Searay is revealing. The fit and finish of the Searay is much better, as were the uphol-stery and hardware, but the Panther did not feel weak or flimsy. You can buy a Panther today for roughly what I paid for the SRV 160, in 1968 but the Searay is still solid.

The ride and handling of the Panther are great. For a boat this size, it ' s smooth, soft riding, and stable. Bending the Panther in to corner at any speed reveals no surprises. It doesn't slide or cavitate and it doesn't heel over - very safe and predictable boat. It has high sides and will seldom take on any water even in large waves.

The mechanical steering was accurate, light and easy. The test boat had no power trim and didn’t need it, it planed off easily even under light throttle. The bow didn't come up much under any circumstances and timing the boat for acceleration gave some excellent figures.

The Panther with the 115 would make a fine family ski rig. The wake is very small at slalom speed although the low speed wake is small for tricking - a few passengers would help that out. In short, this is one of the best 16-ft hulls available for all around use.

Kennedy Panther - HelmThe 115 hp Evinrude was a good engine for the boat, being the right weight and power to give really good perfor-mance. It was underpropped though for high speeds and a steeper pitch would improve the top speed while reducing acceleration only slightly.

The fuel mileage was quite good at 6.9 mpg at 20 mph. A better prop than the 13 1/ 4 x 17 aluminum that comes with the 115 Evinrude could improve that. Those are low figures for a large outboard and you can see that the Pan-ther is an easy hull to push.

The interior does not measure up as well as the performance. The floor level has been raised slightly from the level in the Searay and it has the effect of making the cockpit feel smaller. The actual lengths and widths are similar but the greater depth of the Searay gives more foot room and allows a more upright seating position. The Searay seems like a larger boat for this reason.

The upholstery material used is not of the best quality and the seats themselves are made from untreated plywood. From past experience, I know this will permit deterioration after a time, and the seats will weaken and break down.

Probably the worst thing about the Kennedy Panther was the dull matte finish of the gel coat. It had cracked in a few places and simply didn’t have the look and finish that I expect in a new test boat. There were also deck cleats and fastenings that were not anchored from the inside with reinforcing wood or metal. The pop rivets that were used for deck-to-hull fastenings were not secure and gave the impression that the boat had been slapped together. These are serious criticisms to level at any builder and I took a bit of time to look at some of the other boats in the Kenne-dy line. The other boats that Glen Bonham had built were very different. Some of the performance boats turned out to have as good a finish as any of the best boats I've tested. They seemed more solid than the test boat and honest-ly did impress me as being quite good.

Kennedy Panther - StorageKennedy boats is changing their image and starting to build some really high quality products. Look for a 1978 model and inspect it carefully. Their performance boats seem especially good and I'm glad to see that the huge leap forward in quality since Bonham took over hasn't brought any increase in price.

Originally publishing in Canadian Yachting’s March 1978 issue.

Specifications:
Length: 16’
Weight: approx 900lbs
Engine: 115hp Evinrude

Photo Captions:
Photo 1 - The Kennedy Panther is powered by a 115 Evinrude.
Photo 2 - The test boat had a dull gel coat finish, but the newest models boast a finish compara-ble to most quality runabouts.
Photo 3 - The mechanical steering on the Panther is light and easy to handle, even without power trim.
Photo 4 - The cockpit did not measure up with less leg room than expected, and seats of untreated plywood.

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