To avid freediver and spearfisherman Joe Neber, boatbuilding seemed like a natural career path growing up in Miami. Entering that industry, he soon came to found his own company, Contender Boats, in 1984. Admittedly competitive by nature, he has constantly pushed the envelope in boat performance, quality, fishability and innovation.
Contender, based in Homestead, Florida, is a recognized leader in building semicustom sport-fishing boats, carefully engineered, meticulously handcrafted and unmistakably aimed toward fishing, even when seas get rough.
Today, Contender offers models from 24 to 44 feet, each ready for custom details, from engine power to electronics to upholstery, including teak packages, power-actuated hatches and coolers, livewells and rigging, and several forward and rear seating options.
Neber is also a supporter of the fishing community and a committed conservationist, as evidenced by his company’s 11th-annual donation of a boat (this year, the 2024 Contender 28T center-console) to benefit the Coastal Conservation Association of Florida, which undertakes projects such as habitat restorations, artificial reefs, shoreline stabilizations, and restocking of clams, oysters, redfish and sea trout.
Contender 44 ST
Contender calls its flagship center-console 44 ST tournament fishing’s “most feared and revered,” depending on whether you’re fishing against it or you’re in it.
The boat is engineered to outpace, outmaneuver and out-fish the competition, no matter the conditions. It is built for speed, range and finding big fish in blue water.
Rigged with up to 2,000 hp (most often triple or quad Yamaha XTO 450 engines) and boasting a standard 600-gallon fuel capacity that can be augmented by 100 gallons more—for this boat, as the company says, “just about nothing [is] off-limits.”
Contender has stayed focused on hardcore fishing with the 44 ST, leaving standard family and cruising touches to other boats—or options on this one. Its fleet mates, the 44 FA and 44 CB, offer more standard protective amenities on the same hull. The 44 ST comes to fish. That’s seen in a wide-open 12-foot-beam, a level deck that welcomes doubleheaders, and a low-profile helm that boosts visibility while still accommodating a pair of 24-inch Garmin screens and Yamaha Helm Master EX controls.
Fishing-ready options include a deck-mounted rocket launcher behind the helm seats, and a coffin-box lounge forward of the console. The leaning post, topped with rod holders, features a tackle station and a slide-out cooler.
Forward are massive 340-gallon fish boxes and 315-gallon storage compartments; another is accessed electrically beneath the coffin box—you won’t run out of space on this one. The 44 ST has ample bait capacity, with two 55-gallon transom livewells, plus an optional 110-gallon in-deck well aft of the leaning post.
A second-station tower is among options, as is triple Llebroc sliding seating at the helm. An integral engine bracket provides for a full, fishing-friendly ride.
The standard step-in console interior has a flush toilet, a vanity and a sink, with 6 feet, 4 inches of headroom.
The 28-inch-high gunwales in the stern and bow are the perfect height for reaching the water to release fish. Aside the console, 31-inch-wide walkways make it easy to follow a hooked fish toward the bow. Padded coaming bolsters encircle the interior to cushion legs. -Jim Hendricks, Staff Editor, Boating and Fishing Group
Test Power: Triple Yamaha 425 XTO outboards
Test Load: 5 people, 400 gal. fuel
Test Speed: 66.1 mph at 6,000 rpm
Max Range: 491 mi., 0.91 mpg @ 3,500 rpm
LOA:43’10”Beam:12′Fuel Capacity:600 gal.Dry Weight With Power:22,300 lb.Max HP:2,000Powered By:Yamaha
Contender Boats – Homestead, Florida; contenderboats.com