Paul Mann 56 – Boat Review

Retro meets high art

January 26, 2010


Although Paul Mann started his business 22 years ago, he began with a boat very similar to his latest creation – a hard-core charter boat built to fish every day in the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center fleet. You’d never guess that from looking at the advanced masterpieces his shop produced over recent years. But the owner of the new Mann 56, Qualifier, wanted a retro look – much to Mann’s delight – and the result is an incredibly clean-looking fishing machine with yacht-quality finishes. A master of understatement, Mann says about his latest offering, “I feel pretty good about what we got.”

Mann’s newest launch houses a pair of Caterpillar C15 diesels rated at 850 hp each – not a whole lot of power for a 56-footer by today’s standards. Mann’s reasoning? He wanted “marginal” power that would move the boat efficiently yet provide better-than-average fuel economy. In fact, he was trying to come up with fuel economy somewhere on the order of the IPS and Zeus drives, which have proven fuel efficiencies over standard propulsion. Qualifier comes very close. But despite this “marginal” horsepower, when you put the throttles forward while cruising at 30 knots, the acceleration still walks you backward.

Idling at 635 rpm on one engine produces 5.5 knots, burning 3.6 gallons per hour and producing a completely clean wake. It jumps up on plane at about 13 knots – pretty extraordinary – and Caterpillar recommends an optimum cruising speed of 29 knots. At this cruise, around 1,820 rpm, it only burns 26 gallons per hour, right on target for Mann’s goal of fast cruising at 50 gph. But Qualifier still tops out at a speedy 37 knots while turning 2,300 rpm and drinking a relatively modest 86 gph.


In a four-foot beam sea, Qualifier exhibited a moderate roll moment with incredibly gentle transitions. It turns like a 26-foot center-console, responding so quickly and assuredly that I was almost afraid to turn the wheel hard over at cruising speed. I’m convinced that it could perform a bat turn!

Suffice it to say that Qualifier performs every fish-fighting maneuver admirably, spinning and idling in reverse at almost 4 knots.

So Paul Mann is right again: Minimal power can be pretty efficient. But the bottom has a lot to do with that. Drifting with the bow facing into the 3- to 4-knot current, I noticed that as the water rushed past us, we hardly moved – an admirable comment on the minimal drag created by this boat’s running surface.


Perhaps one of the most impressive performance aspects of this 56 is Paul Mann’s new spray-rail design. Such appendages generally have the lower surface parallel to the water. Mann redesigned his with an extra 2-degree down angle and carved the outboard edge to razor sharpness. The result: a boat so dry you need to experience it to believe it.

Engine Room
As a lifelong mate and captain, Mann always strives to make maintenance easier and uses little tricks to increase the boat’s longevity. He built in features like access ports by the fuel fills so you can replace the fill and vent without cutting away a bulkhead as well as accessible valves at the bottoms of the baffled fuel tanks from which you can draw fuel for priming or eliminating contamination issues. The owner wisely requested an extra two inches above each engine to allow for the removal of the air coolers without having to pull up the salon floor.

Mann built a secondary structural bulkhead just aft of the forward compartment wall, creating a virtual pump room. And to make sure the equipment stays mounted on those fiberglass bulkheads, he laminates backing plates into the bulkheads where needed.


Qualifier’s interior couldn’t be simpler or cleaner, and yet it contains elements that add a touch of elegance without unnecessary flash.

Belowdecks, a single berth open to the companionway hides tons of storage, and as tradition dictates, heavy tackle hangs from the overhead. The forward cabin houses a V-berth.

Notched locking drawers are another throwback that’s long overdue. No fancy push-button latches, hidden switches, magnets or electro-servo actuators – the door slides in and then drops slightly, locking in place. When you want to open it, you lift up on the handle and slide it out.


And everywhere you look, you’ll find all surfaces coated with Awlgrip, inside and out.


Eschewing current trends, Qualifier forgoes a mezzanine and sports the old-style modules forward, which house insulated ice chests that you can hop onto. On this boat both modules contain insulated fiberglass boxes – with laminates as thick as the hull itself – instead of Mann’s usual custom stainless-steel inserts.

The starkly clean cockpit finds the stern cleats mounted on top of the covering boards: There’s not a hawsehole to be found! Yet hidden around the cockpit you’ll still find all the modern amenities you’d want, such as hot and cold freshwater washdowns, removable tuna tubes and plenty of rod holders.

An interesting historic aside: This boat will sport three fighting chairs. That regulation is part of the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center charter-association bylaws. If you want to charter out of the fishing center, you must have at least three cockpit fighting chairs.

Design and Construction
Mann counts many other retro accoutrements aboard. For example, virtually all of his boats today feature pocket doors with pneumatic, hydraulic or electric activators. He said he honestly hasn’t made an old-fashioned outer overlay door in many years, yet this boat has one. No matter which side you open, both sides of the split door open from the middle.

As Paul Mann says about the boats coming out of most shops today, “We’ve gotten away from the things that we knew always worked in an attempt to find something fancier or flashier. Bottom line – all that stuff adds cost, weight, maintenance and headaches.”

The fact that all these retro features work so well and make such sense is heartening to someone old enough to remember when it was all advanced technology.


DEADRISE……9 degrees
WEIGHT……40,000 pounds (dry)
FUEL……1,000 gallons
MAX POWER……T 850 hp Cat C15 diesels
Price……$1,300,000 (Base boat w/ twin 850 hp Cat diesels)**

Paul Mann Custom Boats / Mann’s Harbor, North Carolina / 252-473-1716 /


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