John martino, annapolis school of seamanship and annapolis yacht         management
The following review was written by John Martino and prepared by the marketing department of Chesapeake Bay Magazine. Mr. Martino is the founder and president of Annapolis Yacht Management and Annapolis School of Seamanship. He develops and teaches hands-on training courses for recreational boaters and professional mariners, and offers yacht delivery and onboard training services for powerboaters as well as sailors.
Hinckley Picnic Boat EP
Length overall  36'5"
Beam  10'1"
Draft  1'9"
Displacement  11,850 lb
Fuel Capacity  160 gals
Water  35 gals
Base Price  $610,500

As we enter the 21st century, cutting edge technologies are making the traditional inboard shaft-and-prop arrangement as obsolete as the paddle wheel. The first and the most established of these technologies is the jet drive, which made a big splash in 1994 when Hinckley, one of the most well regarded American yacht builders, introduced the 36-foot Picnic Boat, equipped with a Hamilton water jet. Not surprisingly, the adoption of the jet drive over shafts, props and rudders created a buzz within the industry that reverberates today. Hugely successful, the Picnic Boat is now in its thirteenth year of production with over 360 boats delivered. The current model is called the Picnic Boat EP (Extended Pilothouse).    

The launch of the Picnic Boat also marked a major turning point for the Hinckley Company. They were known for building fine sailing yachts. Today the company builds mostly powerboats and only a few sailboats per year. But regardless of the types of boat, Hinckley has been on the forefront of many new technologies throughout their 79-year history. In the mid-1950s they were one of the first yards to build fiberglass production boats. In 1973 they adopted roller furling sails, and in 1990 they were the first American builder to switch entirely to Kevlar construction, which significantly reduces hull weight while creating a stiffer, stronger boat.

The Picnic Boat EP offers overnight accommodations, including a double V-berth, a head and a galley. In the pilothouse, there are two forward-facing captain's chairs and an L-shaped settee with a varnished table. Four overhead hatches and two opening side windows provide ventilation. Just aft of the settee is a drink cooler and sink. Aft of this, is the cockpit area with a full-beam forward-facing transom seat and a two-seat bench facing aft.

I met with Peter Howard, sales director for Hinckley's Annapolis, Md. office, on a picture-perfect spring day to put hull No. 361 through its paces. As we prepared to leave the dock, Peter demonstrated how the jet drive system works. A joystick, in addition to the traditional steering wheel, makes docking and maneuverability a breeze. As we side-slipped away from the dock and spun around to head out of the creek, Peter said, "I have clients who have come aboard with no prior boating experience to speak of, and they could back this boat into a slip after half an hour of practice." When it was my turn at the controls, I had fun whipping the boat around with a flick of my wrist. A twist of the stick rotates the boat. Push it forward and the boat goes forward. Move the stick left and she walks to port. But it gets even better: The combination of the jet drive system and the double-gasket insulated engine box dramatically reduces engine noise at speed and at idle. Moreover, with no shafts, struts, props or rudders protruding below the boat, the Picnic Boat can run up on a beach or a mud flat with impunity. (You still need to watch out for rocks!)

One of the unique advantages of jet drives is the ability to spin the boat around or stop on a dime even while traveling at planing speeds. While executing these types of maneuvers can be fun, they are quite abrupt and usually result in a fair amount of water boarding the boat. Our test boat was equipped with a single 435-hp Volvo diesel. We cruised at 3100 rpm making 20 knots and were able to reach 28.3 knots wide open. For those seeking a little more power, Hinckley offers a 480-hp Yanmar as an optional upgrade.