Ensign 600 Sports & 420CC Review

Flying the Ensign

Bash ’em, crash ’em, blowtorch ’em… we discover Australia’s latest indestructable boats.

If ever there was an on-water answer to Australia’s ubiquitous ‘ute’ it’s the Ensign 600 Runabout Sports from the Haines Group. There’s nothing flash about this boat, it’s tough, needs next to no maintenance and is virtually indestructible “it’s literally bullet proof” and that’s the way we like it.

Ensign boats have been built in New Zealand for 20 years and the company produces a range from dinghies, centre consoles, fishermen, sport and runabout models. It’s only this year, however, that the Haines Group, famous for the Haines Signature range, started to import them to Australia. 

Ensign vessels are quite unique. The pontoon-style hulls with running strakes are rotationally molded using polyethylene thermoplastic, then, foam filled with UV stabilisers added to prevent ageing. The polyethylene thermoplastic is the same material used in the manufacturer of bulletproof vests. 

Tough as…
The construction makes for one tough boat that can be belted with a sledge hammer, rammed into jetties and hauled across concrete or a bitumen car park without any visible damage, and the manufacturers have done just that to show just how tough the boats are.

Greg Haines was only too eager to demonstrate the toughness of the 8mm thick hull. He had brought along a baseball bat and gave the hull a few hard whacks ? I was convinced.

Barnacles won’t stick to the smooth hull, so there’s no need for anti-fouling if the boat is left in the water for any length of time and if a few dings or scratches appear they can be taken out with an oxy torch or something similar.

The construction gives the boats level floatation and makes them ideal for use in areas where a boat is going to get a hard time, like crabbing, fishing, as a workboat, or a boat that can be left at a holiday house without having to worry about it being in a seaworthy condition when you return next time. 

Greg Haines has a 420 Centre Console runabout he regularly goes crabbing in and it doesn’t show any signs of the damage you would expect when pulling pots over the side. And another plus, the boats are built to Queensland marine survey, US Coast Guard and CE certification standards.

Ensign 600
I must admit that I was a little ambivalent about testing the 600 Runabout. I thought it might have been a bit Mickey Mouse, but I was pleasantly surprised at the way it rode and it’s performance with a 115hp Suzuki on the back. 

The 600 Sports was out of the hole in 6.1 seconds and at 3000 revs was doing 14.5 knots. It cruised at 24.6 knots and 4000rpm and at 5600rpm (WOT) the GPS showed 35.3 knots.  At this speed it felt solid and the ride was stable and soft thanks to the pontoon-style design of the hull and the foam filling.

Rather than being a gimmick, this is a serious boat that’s well priced and has a lot of potential. It has storage under the lift-up seats that face fore and aft. These were pretty basic, as was the cuddy cabin, which most people would throw a couple of gear bags in so they are out of the way, as well as the other gear a family would take with them during a day out. 

There’s also storage under the floor and a 90lt under-floor fuel tank. The fender strip around the side sets it off, the bimini is extra and you can have the boat in any colour, as long as it’s white. 

Ensign 420
Greg had also brought along the 420 Centre Console, this is the boat he uses for crabbing. This is a workhorse and with a 50hp Suzuki on the back it was good for 28.9 knots at 6500rpm. Best operating speed was around 18 knots (4500rpm). At this speed, though, it was like most centre consoles (wet) until the outboard was trimmed out to bring the nose down. 

This also brought the bow wave back along the hull where it was dispersed away from the boat and was a lot dryer. The boat can be driven standing up beside the console or with two up sitting one behind the other on the centre jockey seat. 

The 420 Centre Console performs like a rigid inflatable and is an alternative for someone looking for a boat that can take a lot of hard work and last a very long time. 

The 600 Sports starts at $41,750, while the 420 Centre Console is available from $24,800.

Ensign boats are ideal for both recreational and commuter use. These boats were designed with watersport and hire applications in mind. They are built to marine survey standards and are now available at marine dealerships across the country.