A look at the range of boats in the Signature stable
Issue: January 2003
AT 5.95M, or 6.25m if you count the bowsprit, Haines Signature's 600RF runabout fits into that category of boats that are still relatively comfortable to tow, yet big enough to be able to apply some serious muscle to the business of working on bluewater. The basic hull weight of 850kg, plus an engine, fuel and all the options, give it the authority to keep the cutting sections down on the water where they should be, rather than bouncing along in fresh air where they make no contribution to the ride.
It seems to me a little incongruous to call a boat this size a runabout, especially since it offers under foredeck bunks with space for a portable toilet. But it has been designated a runabout by the Signature people, so perhaps it's time we all upgraded our expectations for this style of boat.
This Signature had pretty much the full options list fitted, which made it a rather glorious package to play with. It presented as a particularly sleek and stylish craft without becoming a floating gadget palace. It must also have a great deal of sex appeal, for we had a young model on board that morning for a calendar shoot and she maked the observation that posing on a boat like this could not possibly be seen as work.
But having said all of those nice things about the boat's cosmetics, during the test I became aware that this boat was the beneficiary of being the latest in a long list of boats from the same designer/builder.
Nothing was being tried for the first time and not quite working. Everything seemed to be in exactly the right place, none of the fundamentals were missing and every part of the interior was as body friendly as possible. That's a good start, so let's take a closer look at this stylish little lady. Many boats come unstuck right at the bow with bad foredeck access and layout. This one has it right.
Forward access is through an opening screen, then a large foredeck hatch, which puts you right on top of a huge, deepwater capacity anchor locker. The layout keeps the operator well supported, yet sufficiently upright to avoid any strain on the lower back when working ground tackle.
Another nice touch is the inset polyethylene pad in the bowsprit to protect against chain damage to the fibreglass. Under the foredeck you have a low profile mini-cabin space, with comfortable upholstered bunks, storage under and further copious storage in the form of wide side shelves. Without the portable toilet fitted you would have a very large foot well space in this area, useful for casual storage of large tackle boxes and similar gear.
There is also a decent sized wet locker under the floor. When you step back into the cockpit and look forward at the helm and passenger areas, you quickly come to appreciate what was said earlier about the way this boat has benefited from long term development.
For once a helm position is 100 per cent right, with a moulding that puts the engine gauges right under your eye line. The combination sonar and GPS is immediately under those gauges and placed so you can operate it without having to stretch and a switch panel also close at hand utilising smart graphics to identify each switch. With just the three gauges to cope with a total engine and fuel management system, Yamaha makes life a lot easier for those trying to work out where the gauges go. Wheel and throttle controls are a personal thing according to the individual's build, but I found I could get comfortable either standing or seated, with the adjustable helm seat.
The bucket seats themselves were excellent, with good body support and no ridges to dig into the back of the knees when driving in a standing position. Both seats have a storage pocket set in the back to take personal gear, charts and so on. On the passenger side you get the Signature trademark ice box set in the dash along with a Clarion stereo CD system. A recess to the side accommodates a fire extinguisher and EPIRB and there's a drink holder in the dash top, grab handle on the bulkhead and side pocket storage. There's a large underfloor kill tank with a two part lid hinged in the centre so you can lift either end, or take the whole thing out to put a long fish in. Double-decker side pockets run the length of the cockpit, with rod or gaff storage racking in the lower pocket.
I was also pleased to see a substantial step set into the lower pocket making it easy for the short or cumbersome to climb up onto the side deck. Two drawer terminal tackle boxes inset on each side are also very handy items. At the stern I particularly liked the idea of having the battery box set high off the floor and accessed through a hatch in the starboard side aft deck. This hatch also contains the plumbing for the the deck wash. The port side of the deck features a reasonable sized well for a live bait system or general wet storage. To deliver the safety of a full height aft deck across the cockpit, a hinged section in the centre can be dropped to accommodate tall engine cowls when fully tilted.
The test boat had the optional three piece lounge fitted in the form of a base/storage unit, the seat itself and the backrest fixed to the aft coaming. The padded backrest is standard even when the lounge is not fitted. Boarding steps either side of the engine with transom mounted handrails, inset cockpit handrails, rod holders and good hardware throughout round things out.
A complete rundown of every feature in this boat would take more space than is available here. I did note that the list of standard inclusions is much longer than the list of options, making the basic boat a very complete package. The use of a complete inner liner fixed to the hull, with moulded fuel tank and foam filled under deck spaces gives the boat a feeling of substance while absorbing a great deal of noise.
It is a civilized boat in every way. In keeping with the advanced styling of the 600RF, the test boat was fitted with a Yamaha 150hp High Pressure Direct Injection (HPDI) two-stroke. As is expected of these new generation two-strokes, this one fired up first turn of the key without smoke or spluttering, then ran smoothly all morning long with low noise levels. Partly due to the time that had been put into engine set-up and the correct propeller selection, the boat and motor package was an ideal combination.
The engine lifted the hull onto the plane without any fuss at all and at the optimum cruise of 3800rpm, the rig was extremely smooth and quiet. It coped easily with those uncomfortably low rev settings we sometimes have to live with when dealing with pressure waves or seriously rough water, with the hull capable of maintaining respectable trim at any speed.
The new EFI two and four-strokes we are offered these days are a far cry from the highpitched racket of the basic carburettored two-strokes we were stuck with a few years ago. This one could be backed off then fired straight out of the hole without any sort of hesitation at all. Another plus when dealing with rough conditions. From a boating point of view the superb, still morning and a big run in tide combined to produce dream conditions offshore, but from the boat testing point of view it was pretty ordinary. A few leftover lumps and bumps weren't enough to fuss the hull at all and we were running in any direction with the pedal at full noise.
With her combination of waterline length, overall weight and fine variable deadrise hull it would surprise me greatly if this boat were not an excellent offshore performer in more testing conditions. Stability at rest is excellent and in the pretest photo shoot we had three men and our model moving about the boat without regard for trim, yet the hull remained steady and took on no serious degree of attitude. Two men way back in a stern quarter still left enough freeboard to work a fish in a following sea without concern. So what were my overall conclusions ? Removable rear lounges have allowed the boat designer to create models that are a workable blend of social boat and serious fishing machinery. However, for my money, this particular offering is probably the best attempt at the blend I've seen in a long time.
In terms of fishability I put it in the hardcore class without excuses or trade-offs and when decked out in her best social finery, this is such a comfortable, workable and downright pretty boat the owner could always expect to be a complete social success. There's plenty of freeboard to keep the kids safe, moulded non-skid surfaces under the feet and grab rails where they are needed it's all there in what I see as an outstanding and versatile package. To park on of these top boats on your front lawn ready to go with all the safety gear, rego and a trailer will set you back around $60,000. Of course the addition of a GPS chartplotter and a good sounder is going to add to that price.
Words by Ron Calcutt