Haines Signature 543F
Reviewed: August 2009
Author: Warren Steptoe
Even the fussiest cuddy cab connoisseur will run out of questions for this boat.
The deck is non-slip and great for when the rods come out. Another icebox may be needed if you plan to take some catches home with you. The screen stretches high enough to keep you dry on those wet rough rides. Helm ergonomics are great with good vision and you can sit or stand without a problem. Everything’s at your fingertips.
Boats that fulfil the entirely compatible roles of social vehicle and serious family fishing machine have—through competition between marques looking for a piece of this most popular genre—been developed in this country to a high degree. It’s difficult to buy a bad one. Our boat builders are so good at this type of boat that anything new that doesn’t reach the heights of established standards disappears quickly.
However, what is unusual is to find a boat that stands out from what is an elite crowd like Haines Signature’s new 543F does. Sure, you may be looking at just another cuddy cab family/fishing boat. But it’s when you become picky, fussy, pedantic and completely hard to please that this boat makes you take notice.
There’s a checklist of things I can rely on to whinge about in boat tests, but the Haines Signature answers all those questions I already have formed for a negative scorecard.
Question. Is there a low minimum planing speed so the hull stays up and running clean without constant attention to the throttle during the inevitable rough wet trip home; helped along by a soft dry-riding hull?
Answer. Our test boat had a minimum planing speed of 5.9 knots with the 115hp Suzuki ticking over at 2800rpm; and a sophisticated industry-leading variable deadrise hull. In small boats like this it doesn’t get any better than the Haines Group’s ‘SVDH’ (Signature Variable Deadrise Hull.)
Q. Does it have effective shelter so the inevitable rough wet trip home isn’t a case of being battered by cold, wet, flying spray?
A. When you’re seated in the helm and passenger seats you’re well behind a screen that’s tall enough to offer a high degree of protection (especially with the bimini top and clears optioned onto the test boat) and yet when you stand up you can see over it really well.
Q. What about comfortable helm ergonomics, so the rough trip home isn’t a physical pain, regardless of whether you stay seated in the comfy bucket seat or need to stand at the wheel?
A. That’s covered. And, as mentioned in the last point, vision over the screen when required is critical to safety often enough.
And what about the fishing stuff?
Q. Are you able to brace yourself around the cockpit periphery without your leg going over centre past your toes?
A. A non-slip deck, regardless of how wet, is taken care of by marine carpet.
Q. Is there somewhere to thaw and prepare bait without turning life into a smelly mess?
A. You can’t miss the workstation above the engine well.
Q. Somewhere to keep the drinks cold and keep the catch fresh on the way home?
A. That’s pretty much looked after—although the ‘somewhere to put a fish’ you want to take home without covering everything in slime and blood is restricted to ‘pan size’ fish. It’s called a live-bait tank, which also serves as the icebox, so you’re probably going to have another icebox on the deck behind one of the bucket seats, but there’s room for that. Plus, there’s a tackle box behind the other seat. And I haven’t yet mentioned a tackle locker each side of the aft end of the cockpit.
And then old reliable:
Q. Is there somewhere to stow rigged rods securely, hopefully with room enough to include a decent landing net?
A. There are racks along the side pockets, plus a rocket launcher across the (optional) bimini arrangement. You could stow 10 rods in this boat and still have space for a landing net.
As for family stuff, it covers all that, too.
Q. A transom door and boarding ladder?
A. It has both.
Q. What about an aft lounge that comfortably seats two adults or sundry little people?
A. Yep, and it folds out of the way when not needed. And there’s the requisite loo, too, inside a cabin spacious enough to it in comfort. (Although for privacy you’ll need to arrange a curtain on the cabin bulkhead—which isn’t too difficult.)
There is one question that can’t be answered in the affirmative, though, and that’s no, you couldn’t sleep an adult on the bunks. However, the kids will be more than happy. In a sub-6m boat, the only way sleeping-size bunks can be made to fit is to sacrifice cockpit space and that won’t make a fishing boat tester too happy.
The hull’s handling characteristics are great for family boating, too. On the day we tested this boat we had to hide up in the mangroves to find some place to pose some fishing shots and none of the travelling around to get there was any kind of hassle.
The Haines Group hulls are invariably fine performers on a rough day and if the mood suggests tearing around towing things with screaming, laughing friends or kids aboard, even a Haines Group boat like this (that the ‘zooming-about-in-low-slung-things-with-a-massive-powerplant-on-the-back’ crowd would perceive as a ‘family’ boat) can be relied upon to perform predictably and safely somewhere past sensible limits.
That’s the clincher in a family fishing boat. John Haines Snr knows how to design hulls that are class leaders, and he also knows how to do pretty. Maybe you can’t make a family cabin boat drop-dead-gorgeous, but this is definitely a nice looking boat.
And after a bad-day boat test, it’s nice to have nothing to report on the negative side.
Haines Signature 543F/Suzuki DF115
Propeller : 19in Suzuki aluminium
Location : Gold Coast Seaway
Conditions : Blustery side winds, choppy
Load : Two adults
500 : 2.8 (slowest trolling speed)
2800 : 5.9 (minimum planing speed)
3500 : 16.3
4000 : 19.7
4250 : 22.0
4500 : 25.1
5000 : 27.2
5500 : 32.2
5900 : 35.1 (downwind WOT)
5900 : 32.7 (upwind WOT)
Hull length : 5.33m
Length overall : 5.53m
Beam : 2.13m
Hull weight : approx 600kg
Hull deadrise : variable 21-33°
BMT towing weight : approx 1690kg
BMT total length : approx 7.1m
BMT total height : approx 2.3m
Power during test : 115hp
Min power : 100hp
Max power : 140hp
Recommended power : 115-130hp
Max motor weight : 240kg
Fuel : 130L
Max persons : Seven
Material : GRP laminates
Boat type : Cuddy cabin, family fishing boat
Price : Basic packages from $43,300
As tested : $50,700 incl. options