Tale of two boats – Haines Signature 485SF and 543Sf Reviewed (Part 1)

Scott Mitchell has been around and in boats for many decades so you know what he has to say about The Haines boats is going to give you some pretty accurate and detailed information.

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Buying a boat usually involves an element of compromise – unless you are able to own more than one boat. Most of us are not fortunate enough to own different boats for different fishing options like we do with our tackle so we need to select a boat which covers the types of fishing we enjoy doing the majority of the time.

I have owned a number of boats over the last four decades and fished in many more with mates and guides around our great country. This experience lead to the privileged position to work with our countries largest fibreglass trailer boat builders The Haines Group on our current 543Sf & previous 484sf. You will be familiar with many of their brands which include Haines Signature, Traveller, Tournament boats and Seafarer.

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Having an amazingly diverse range of fisheries surrounding us in Queensland’s Hervey Bay meant a challenging search for a boat to cover it all.

I initially wanted a boat which would comply with the engine restrictions on our local water supply “Lake Lenthall”, which only allows for four-stroke and direct injection two-stroke engines up to 60hp. Lake Lenthall has had a few tough years but now looks set to return to its former glory; so if you want to enjoy fishing Lenthalls your boat has to perform with a maximum 60hp four-stroke.

It is also convenient owning a boat small enough to launch single-handed and easy to tow with a standard family car yet large enough to fish the bigger lakes like Monduran and Awoonga. I also wanted to fish our local Mary, Susan and Burrum rivers, and the maze of waters within the Great Sandy Straits. If that wasn’t enough I also wanted a boat that would float in next to no water for flats fishing on the inside of Fraser Island, and finally allow us to run wide to the southern gutters and cross the Wide Bay Bar when weather permitted – a tall ask!

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Back in February 2009 I ran into fishing writer Warren Steptoe at lake Awoonga and first saw his Haines Traveller TD149 and tiller steer Suzuki 50 four-stroke. The boat just had beautiful, classic lines and reminded me of an O’Brien game boat. Warren explained that The Haines Group was working on a slightly longer model and that there was a Suzuki 60hp four-stroke in the pipeline. A few months later I saw the new boat at the Brisbane Tinny & Tackle Show. It didn’t take long to assess the boat as truly something special. I soon made plans for the new Signature 485SF to become our new “project”.

A build to Rivale anything

The Haines Signature 484sf hull has an interesting heritage and was a long time in the making. Originally produced as a Seaquell, it eventually became part of the Traveller range – the popular alternative line-up to the company’s excellent Haines Signature range.

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The Haines Group has led the way when it comes to innovation in Australian boat building. The technology used in the building of many of their boats including the 485SF is another example; Rivale – “Resin Injected Vacuum Assisted Low Emission” – is a form of sophisticated resin injection moulding that produces deck and hull mouldings with smooth finishes on both sides. They are also thinner, lighter and ultimately stronger than a traditional fibreglass hull.

The 485SF’s hull features two Rivale mouldings that form the interior and outer hull, with foam filling between, all bonded into a single unit by another Haines Group developed proprietary process – Nexus.

The unique Rivale build process allows fantastic flexibility when it comes to customising interior designs to suit buyers’ fishing styles and budgets. The hull can be ordered as a plain basic dory and then each modular part can be added as required; this can also continue over time, as owner funds allow.

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Our 485 sf had all the “bells and whistles” with options that included a bow casting deck with a moulded under-floor storage bin; anchor well; fully plumbed live well that, being foam-lined, doubles as an extra ice chest; rear casting deck with tackle storage on either side; ice box/fish bin; portside rod locker extended to accommodate fly rods up to 10ft in length; 120L under-floor fuel tank; sports side console; comfortable Signature seats and non-slip surfaces throughout.

A Teal coloured gelcoat was selected for the hull so as to blend in with the waters around the bay (everyone’s got a white boat …) and a Stone coloured gel coat for the deck colour to reduce glare when sight fishing the flats – we have found white decks act like a big reflector and are a pain to keep clean. The Stone colour stays cool and is fantastic!

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One with the lot !

We fitted a Motorguide wireless 74lb 24v electric motor to the bow of our 485sf , housing the two deep cycle batteries in the front casting deck along with a C-TEK XS1400 on-board charger. A second CTEK XS800 12v charger was mounted to the main cranking battery as well. This is a great system and makes charging your batteries quick and easy. All that’s needed is an extension lead run out to the boat to charge the batteries after each session. The CTEK chargers are smart chargers and can be left on indefinitely without fear of damaging expensive deep cycle batteries.

I have been on the Lowrance Pro-Staff for a long time and always run the latest equipment with our 485sf being fitted at the time with a Lowrance HDS5 sonar unit up front with the Motorguide and a HDS 8 combo sonar/GPS unit fitted on the console with an additional LSS-1 structure scan module. We also fitted a Lowrance LVR-250 VHF radio.

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Running Gen 3 touch units and 3D Structure scan today shows how far our electronics have come in the last 10 years!

The unusual looking poles on the transom of my last 3 boats is a PowerPole or hydraulic anchor. This allows the boat to instantly hold position at the press of a button in water up to 10ft deep. I’d now rate the PowerPole as the next most important item after the electric motor and sounders and couldn’t imagine owning a boat without a 10ft Blade.

For the trailer a custom built EasyTow was the first choice after having one under our last two boats. The team at EasyTow designed the trailer to allow the hull to sit as low as possible for launching in shallow areas and offer streamlined towing while on the highway, all while maintaining reasonable ground clearance. I settled on timber/carpeted skids over rollers to allow the use of Keel Shield to protect the hull and for better support, while eliminating the need for roller maintenance.

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We ran the faultless Suzuki DF60A on our 485sf, although the hull is rated up to 90hp. Weighing in at only 104kg the four-stroke outboard is an impressive 42 per cent lighter than its predecessor and is 2010 state-of-the-art. It features Suzuki’s computer-controlled Lean Burn Control system as seen on the DF70/80/90. Lean Burn monitors and adjusts air to fuel mixture at various engine revolutions for optimal performance and economy. I liked the Suzuki’s 19amp alternator that’s capable of supplying 11.5 amps at 1000rpm to keep all our 12 volt gadgets working! We connected the DF60A up to Bay Star hydraulic steering for smooth reliable handling and manoeuvrability.

So how did our 485sf perform? Beyond our expectation is the short answer and to top it off some great fish came over its gunwales in the 3 years we owned her.

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Its stability is fantastic with two anglers being able to fish up front without any problems. The extra wide gunwales also make it easy to get around the deck quickly when chasing a fish. The decks are uncluttered with enough storage to keep everything needed for a day’s fishing organised and close at hand.

The non-skid fibreglass decks are fantastic for keeping clean. About the only hassle I’ve noted comes with having to remove the passenger pedestal seat to access the rod locker, but it still provides good insurance when carrying more rods than we ever really need.

The 485sf has been described as being soft riding, dry, predictable and one of the safest hulls in an under-five-metre boat by those more qualified than me. I can now endorse all of these comments – it really is that good.

Tune in next week to Part 2 as I review the current 543Sf………

Scott Mitchell

About Scott Mitchell

I have been fishing since I was 8 years old – some say obsessed. Originally from the Illawarra, just south of Sydney NSW Australia. I grew up fishing for anything with fins (and sometimes without). I have many fond memories of fishing in Lake Illawarra ,Warilla Beach , Barrack point, Bass point and from the front of Windang Island as a kid. I spent my teenage years land based game fishing from just about every ledge along the NSW coast from Coffs Harbour in the North to Green Cape in the South. Some of the most memorable fishing I have done to date was on the stones doing battle with large tuna and marlin.I picked up my first fly rod in 1989 - a #9wht outfit which I used to catch tailor , salmon, frigates, luderick, bream etc while waiting for a run on the big gear. I now enjoy fly fishing when ever the oppertunity arrises with over 150 species on the long wand to date. http://www.scotto.com.au/

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