Ensign 600CC, 600RS, 420CC, 370 Dinghy Review

WARREN STEPTOE samples a taste of things to come from boat manufacturers.

While the perennial debate rages ‘whether aluminium or fibreglass boats are better for fishing’ it’s easy to forget there’s a third option: plastic. Or, more correctly, polyethylene.

Polyethylene boats are not new, having been built locally and overseas for more than 20 years. Polyethylene is a unique material, as different in its own way as fibreglass and aluminium are, and looks different enough that plastic hulls are readily recognisable’even if they sometimes resemble inflatables.

Polyethylene has some significant advantages as a boat building material. For starters, it floats. It suffers neither corrosion nor osmosis; the nemeses of aluminium and GRP (glass reinforced polyester that is, fibreglass) respectively. If stabilisers are added, it doesn’t suffer from exposure to UV. The hulls are relatively quiet on the water, especially compared to aluminium, and because the hulls are fairly flexible, they tend to ride softly. And last but not least, polyethylene boats don’t need to be anti-fouled.

It’s an impressive asset list. So what are the downsides ? There aren’t too many, actually.
A polyethylene hull is certainly no lighter than an equivalent tin or fibreglass one. Hulls are usually rotomoulded in ‘double skin’ construction, which imposes restrictions on their shape which means some models do look a little… aah… ‘different’. Quaint even. This ‘double skin’ construction sometimes presents difficulties while fitting out. 
But that’s about all that’s on the downside, and for certain applications particularly, none of the negatives amount to much compared to the virtual indestructibility of polyethylene boats. 

The material is softer than fibreglass or aluminium and so can be scratched although surface scratches are demonstrably pretty harmless to an 8-10mm thick hull. If cosmetics are a downside, they’re rarely noticed in the kind of hard useage polyethylene boats are suited to. You see a lot of them serving in commercial use, as work and hire craft.

Many recreational users have similar requirements in situations where a rough life is unavoidable. For example, polyethylene boats are ideal as tender dinghies, and in any situation where they need be left in the water for extended periods. Rough launching ramps and rough roads hold no fears, and I suppose neither do rough people. There are plenty of them among us.

The boats you see here are all polyethylene (no prizes for guessing!) from a New Zealand-based manufacturer and are being distributed in Australia under the Ensign brand by the Haines Group, who also bring us Suzuki outboards, Haines Traveler, Haines Signature, and now Seafarer boats.

Ensign boats are world leaders in rotomoulding technology. The hulls are ‘pontoon’ style, which explains why they’re reminiscent of inflatables at a glance. They are also foam filled to meet Marine Survey requirements’this makes them unsinkable’and built to European ‘CE’ and US Coastguard standards. They are about as close to indestructible as is possible. But, should you succeed, the material is actually recyclable.

Sure, you can break anything if you try hard enough, but Ensign testing includes being dropped from helicopters, driven over by heavy vehicles, crashed into jetties, run over jagged rocks, and towed along bitumen and concrete roads without a trailer.

The 16 model range is quite extensive, from a 2.1m dinghy to 6m runabouts, with 2.7, 3.6. 3.7, 4.2 and 5.7m craft in between. Interiors available include thwart seat dinghies, sailing dinghies, centre consoles and runabouts. 
Modern Fishing will be bringing you full tests on individual models over the next little while, but I’ve already been for a run in several different Ensign boats and have to say that my initial impressions were more than favourable.

Most of my time in Ensigns has so far involved Greg Haines and I crabbing near his canalside home on the Gold Coast in a 4.2m centre console, which won my heart with impressive at-rest stability and a surprisingly soft ride on open parts of southern Moreton Bay. No mud crab bribery occurred either’unfortunately! 

The other Ensigns I’ve had a brief look at were a 360 Dinghy and a 600 Fisherman and they too impressed, albeit for different reasons. The Dinghy, when Greg parked it on the pontoon at the back of his house at speed. And the Fisherman, as a roomy, stable and knockabout fishing boat.

A few sample prices from the range might be of interest. A 360 dinghy with a 15hp Suzuki outboard motor on a Dunbier trailer retails for around $8,700. A 420 centre console with a 30hp Suzuki outboard motor on a Dunbier is around $16,700. And a 570 centre console with a 90hp Suzuki motor and Dunbier trailer retails for $38,600.
I chose the 570 centre console for a full test which will appear in an up-coming issue of Modern Fishing.