Buyers Guide to Hardtop Trailerboats

by admin

With the advent of hardtop trailer boats, the whole way in which we go boating has changed. Being one that has spent countless years in open boats and bowriders, I am now a total convert to hardtops. It all started with a Steadecraft 179 bowrider and then through a succession of Bonitos and for over twelve years on an off with a Buccaneer 685 DC. I still consider this one of the best I ever owned and it’s hard to beat as an allrounder. I fished, skied, towed every form of water toy, went family cruising and just about did everything we could apart from overnighting!

When my three sons got older and moved overseas I didn’t really have the need for a fast open runabout and while it took a while for me to decide to sell it, I realised that it was time to move on. With my boating lifestyle now changed somewhat I started looking at hardtops and the more I looked the more I realised that this was the type of boat I needed.

My choice was for the three sided enclosed style, rather than a solid GRP top and clears. Buying a new boat is a big investment but fortunately a good friend of mine had just sold his Buccaneer 605 and was keen also to get into a big fibreglass hardtop. So a deal was done and we decided to buy a boat together. That way we could get into something of a reasonable size that we could also overnight in.

Although there are plenty of great hardtops on the market, as we had each owned a Buccaneer for years there was a natural swing that way. The call was made and we decided on a Buccaneer 685 Exess, one of two hardtop Exess models produced by Buccaneer Pleasure Craft Ltd and one of four hardtops in its range.

While the aluminium boat market embraced the hardtop concept very early on in the process, it took GRP builders a little longer to join the market. For alloy builders it’s simply a quick change to a jig or screen footprint to produce a hardtop model. For GRP builders it’s not quite that easy.

Generally it means a whole new mould, or at least a new deck with the standard windscreen replaced with full glass and a hardtop. Unfortunately, some manufacturers did a very poor job and their hardtops looked like a ‘Dr Who’s police box’. When it comes to hardtops there needs to be a certain amount of styling to go with the practicality and functionality of the design and layout.

Hardtops not only change the aesthetics and overall styling of a boat, they can also change its ride and handling characteristics. Everyone knows that a common trait of hardtop boats is their tendency to lean into the wind to counteract the extra windage they carry up high, so they need to be fitted with trim tabs in order to correct the riding attitude of the boat.

Gerry Gerrand of Buccaneer Pleasure Craft for example started with an existing hull for his Exess HT range and everything else was new. To ensure the hardtop had the right pleasing profile and wasn’t too high, he lowered the cockpit sole and was meticulous in getting the rake of the screen just right, so that everything looked in proportion.

Buccaneer is not on its own of course and there are plenty of outstanding examples of well-proportioned hardtop models that look like they were always planned that way…. and now many are.

After two seasons of being a ‘hardtopper’ I have certainly come to appreciate the benefits. Firstly there’s the protection from the elements, be it hot blazing sun or cold driving rain. There’s a small micro-climate under the hardtop that can be controlled somewhat with sliding side windows if you want more flow-through ventilation. I have also found that I cruise at a slower speed than I did in the open bowrider. Generally if conditions allowed I always sat the 635DC on around 40mph. With the 685 Exess I am more inclined to cruise around 30mph. That’s around 3500 rpm and the new generation Yamaha 250 V6 is using between 1L/NM and 1.5L/NM, which is great economy for a boat this size.

When fishing I have found the hardtop overhang is far enough forward so as to not get in the way of your rod action and the cockpit design is suitable to fish three to four anglers comfortably. The other bonus over the bow rider is we have a toilet in the cabin, two full length berths, and an Engel fridge, a fresh water tank and hand held shower, plus a Magma portable stainless steel BBQ. All in all, it’s well set up for overnighting and weekending. As well as the cabin that sleeps two, we add an airbed that fits nicely across the rear of the cockpit, so we can sleep 3-4 quite comfortably. Plus the rear of the cockpit can be completely closed in with the soft camper style awnings, so you have full protection from the weather and the ‘bugs’. LED lighting provides the brightness on-board, underwater lights are great to attract fish at night and a Fusion 600 looks after the sounds. For a boat of less than 7m it certainly does all we want.

So what else is around? Hardtops come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from the traditional to the more complex. For the purpose of this feature I have listed as many trailerable fibreglass hardtop boats as I could find, from fully enclosed wheelhouse style to the more recognisable styles such as on our Buccaneer 685 Exess. It does not include those models only offered with solid hardtops and soft clears,
although quite a few listed do have this as an option, so you need to check with the manufacturer.

The listing is for boats available in New Zealand and/or Australia from both local and overseas manufacturers.

Arvor – France/Aust

Sydney based Collins Marine builds a wide range of the very classic Arvor boats, which are French designed and powered by Nanni or Cummins diesels onto conventional shaft drives. The first vessel was the Arvor 20 which has been manufactured in Nowra NSW since 1999. The baby of the fleet, the 7m Arvor Weekender semi-planing hull is a derivative of the Arvor range, with the same sea keeping qualities and performance. The high topsides equates to an exceptionally dry ride.

At the top end is the Arvor 280,AS the builder’s premier model. Designed as a serious fishing boat with fully enclosed wheelhouse, the Arvor 280AS is powered by a 4.2L 320hp diesel engine. Today, there are six models in the Arvor range: Weekender, Arvor 215, Arvor 215AS, Arvor 230AS, Arvor 250ASA and Arvor 280AS. www.

Atomix – China/NZ

The Atomix 600HT is the only hardtop model currently being built by this Kiwi based company that has its boats built in China. The 600 Hardtop Fisherman comes from the same hull mould as the 600 Sports Cuddy, with the addition of a full glass hardtop that has been designed for fishing It gives protection from the elements while still leaving plenty of room to swing a fishing rod or two. There is lots of good useable storage to secure and stow your catch, so the cockpit can be left relatively clear.

Bayliner – USA

More known for its bowriders and family sport cruisers, Bayliner markets one hardtop in the form of the 266 Discovery. The 266 Discovery is an all-seasons workhorse designed to fend off the elements with a three-sided cockpit enclosure and hardtop, then reveals its softer side with plush accommodations in the spacious cabin. With a forward V-berth, convertible dinette and mid-berth, the 266 easily feeds and sleeps four. With its secluded guest bunk, the quarter-berth makes a comfy on-board hideaway.  The 266 comes with a large, shower-equipped head and a galley that includes dual-voltage appliances so that meal preparation is easy and enjoyable, whether you’re docked or offshore. Power is provided by a MerCruiser 260 MPI or 350 MAG, through a Bravo drive.

Beneteau – France

Beneteau produces seven different trailerable fibreglass hardtop or pilothouse models, based on either the Antares range or Barracuda. The Barracuda and Antares 6.80 through to the Antares 8.80 are all outboard powered, apart from the Antares 8 which runs a diesel inboard and shaft drive. Anyone who wants a boat for the dual purpose of cruising and fishing will be pleased by the fact that a generously proportioned cabin is complemented by a clever wheelhouse design and accommodation layout.

The spacious wheelhouse doubles as a dining saloon and the entire space is enclosed with a three-panel sliding door that creates a very airy (almost open boat) feel when slid back. Close them up again, however, and you get that snug, cosy warmth that has given the pilothouse revival such impetus. Beneteau offers two Barracuda models, the Barracuda 7 and Barracuda 9, both of which feature large wheelhouses and the larger 9m version even has a small flybridge helm. www.

Boston Whaler – USA

For deep-ocean fishing, Conquest is a peak performer. A deep-V hull, wide beam and standard Mercury Verado power put the Conquest on plane quickly. For those who love relaxing cruises, the Conquest offers a spacious deck and helm and has plenty of storage and seating for family and friends, making the Conquest a gracious hosting platform. Fold-down seating and a cockpit table transform the boat into a fantastic ocean dining space. Whether you choose to go on a weekend outing with the family or simply cruise longer than anticipated, take advantage of the Conquest’s richly appointed cabin. 

This overnighting boat features an enclosed head, premium entertainment features and stunning headroom. The thoughtfully appointed 285 Conquest offers premium comfort and features for active day cruises, fishing runs and overnighting. When you’re not entertaining a crowd in the generous cockpit, go out and find the big fish – the 285 Conquest is fully equipped for offshore fishing. Three hard-top options and numerous innovations are available. www.

Buccaneer – NZ

Hamilton based Buccaneer Pleasure Craft Ltd has been building hardtops for some time now and enjoyed early success with its 720 Elite. Today it offers four hardtop models, the recently released 685 and 735 Exess and the 650 and 735 Billfisher. The emphasis on the Exess range is family weekenders with a well-balanced layout that is designed to cater for those who cruise and those who fish. Both offer exactly the same double cabin layout with under-squab head and sliding, lockable door. However it’s in the cockpit that the extra length is gained by the 735. Double back-to-back seats provide huge storage lockers beneath and allow space for an optional fridge. Power options are outboards only.

The Billfisher range is as the name suggests attuned towards those with a more serious fishing bent. Both models are walk-around designs so you can utilise the entire length of the boat when fighting a fish. A huge under-floor locker dominates the cockpit, the striking image of a leaping marlin etched into its surface affirming the boat’s aspirations. The lid lifts to reveal a removable moulded PVC bin. The locker extends well forward and is easily big enough for two fish-bins of gear, plus dive bottles. Aft is the central bait station and live bait tank and there are copious rod and tackle storage spaces.

Caribbean – Aust

Built in Melbourne by one of Australia’s longest established GRP boat builders, there are two Caribbean models that fit in to the trailerable hardtop range. The Caribbean 21 is a half-cabin with a solid hardtop that features a spacious cockpit. It’s a boat ideally designed for both game fishing and family outings. Easy forward access and an outside walkway, make the 21 a favourite of serious fishermen. It is the smallest of the Australian built Caribbean range. Standard features include an armour plate glass windscreen with dual windscreen wipers, and acrylic cabin windows. The larger Caribbean 2400 comes with a forward double berth cabin plus dedicated galley and dinette area. The solid hardtop is fitted with soft clears and power is restricted to a MerCruiser sterndrive package.

Challenger – NZ

Challenger Boats is a successful Bay of Plenty fibreglass boat design and build company. All its boats are designed and built with the unique Challenger strakeless hull. Recently, the top deck and hardtop of the Challenger 720 Hardtop SE was completely revamped, giving maximum room for families and fishing. The roof line is much sleeker yet not compromising on the cover or head height under the roof. The vision from the boat has been improved, giving all-round clear viewing whilst at the helm. The weight of the boat with trailer and 4-stroke outboard is 2250 kg making it comfortable to tow and handle, yet not too light for good seakeeping.

CruiseCraft – Aust

CruiseCraft offers two hardtop models, the smallest based on the very popular Explorer 685 hull. The hard top is a two-piece moulded system with a smooth gelcoat interior liner that makes it easy to clean and maintain. The two components are bonded together to form a very stylish hardtop shell.

The new deck design for the CruiseCraft Explorer 685 has provided an even bigger fishing cockpit, while a sliding lockable cabin door provides ample room for overnight accommodation. 

Boasting a pure CruiseCraft pedigree, the Explorer 685 is available with single or dual engines. The Executive 700 HT has been a stand-out success since its 2008 launch at the Brisbane Boat Show. This top-of-the-line Executive 700 is equipped with shower, toilet, galley, hot and cold water system and on-board sleeping accommodation. Configured primarily as an on-water weekender and designed to be legally towed on Australian roads, the 700 is the kind of boat where a family can launch after work on a Friday and slip away quietly for a weekend of peace and quiet.

CSB Huntsman – NZ

The Explorer is based on the Crusader hull, but goes that extra step with the comfort and luxury of total weather protection in an attractive, yet very functional hard-top. The Explorer’s hardtop has sliding side screens and is the first to feature an opening centre screen. The Explorer includes deluxe cabin squabs with an infill for conversion to a double berth, a single back-to-back seat and a swivel/slider skipper’s seat on a gas pedestal in the cockpit as well as a pair of rear seats on fish bins.

The moulded dash caters for the larger electronic MFD screens. The most recent release is the Explorer SD7, a very roomy, economical, and thoughtfully designed addition to CSB Huntsman’s fleet. Powered by a diesel sterndrive, in deference to the demand for lower running costs, the SD7 is an attractive, well-designed boat for those who want a more economical option, without sacrificing quality and comfort. With the same excellent performance on the water as the Explorer and Crusader, the SD7 stands out as practical, comfortable and versatile for keen fishermen and families alike.

Fi Glass – NZ

For Fi-Glass Boats, one of the country’s leading and unquestionably most experienced trailer boat builders, the hardtop evolution didn’t come around till 2007, with the release of the Warrior Hardtop. Apart from the addition of a hardtop on the same deck footprint as the standard screen of the Warrior open boat, everything else is much the same. The fibreglass hardtop has toughened glass screens, with the moulded aft stays incorporating a set of pre-wired marine speakers. There is a canvas backdrop with dual zips for easy access.

If you are staying out overnight, with the cockpit canvas in place you can transform the boat into a nice, compact weekender. With over 45 years of manufacturing boats, Fi-Glass builds its boats to the highest standard and supports that with a six-year structural hull warranty – one of the longest hull warranties offered by any company in the New Zealand boating industry.

The Warrior Hardtop is constructed with fibreglass stringers and Klegecell, with 95% of the under-floor cavities filled with closed cell polyurethane foam buoyancy. The standing headroom under the fibreglass hardtop is sufficient for the vast majority of boaters and the full wrap-around screens afford great visibility for the driver. Standard seating is a fully adjustable pedestal helm seat on a Softrider base and a back-to-back king/queen opposite.

Haines Hunter – NZ

Haines Hunter New Zealand produces three hardtops, based on two hull sizes. The baby of the fleet is the SS660, which also comes in a soft top version as the SF660. Overall length is still a generous 7.35m and with a beam of 2.45m, this is a big volume boat. The SS660 features full-length cabin berths and an option of modules to transform the boat from a day cruiser to an overnighter.

A toilet, small galley, fresh water and hand held shower are all optional. Standard seating is a back-to-back and single helm, which leaves a spacious cockpit for fishing. The hardtop screens are 6mm curved safety glass, with sliding side windows and a single wiper to help visibility. Top of the range are the SP725 and the SS 725, both of which are based on the same 7.50m hull and visually are very similar to the SS660 in layout and styling. They are the successors of the hugely popular 700 and 720 and have full internal liners. The main difference between the two is that the SP725 is open plan and the SS725 has a lockable cabin.

Haines Hunter – Aust

Incorporating all of the benefits synonymous with the Haines Hunter brand, the Enclosed range has been designed specifically for the commercial sector and serious anglers, with a standard hard-core fishing package. Haines Hunter has also designed these boats to allow many customisation options to suit various applications. The well-designed helm area offers ample space to install any combination of marine electronics, wide side pockets provide plenty of storage for all manner of gear, while the huge cockpit allows anglers to fish in comfort.

The cabin offers overnight accommodation and ample storage. There are four models available, all based on existing hulls in the Haines Hunter range, from the 6.0m, 585 Enclosed through to the 8.2m, 760 Enclosed.

Jeanneau – France

The Jeanneau Merry Fisher range is historically the boat for the serious European fisherman. In Kiwi and Aussie terms it’s a wheelhouse boat. However, it does have a hardtop and while looking somewhat different from anything made locally, it still fits well into our hardtop category. Aboard the Jeanneau Merry Fisher range you will find everything you need for days (and nights!) on the water – cabins, heads, galley, fridge, shore power and the ever-useful fully washable decks. Boats in the Merry Fisher range have become the true do-it-all boats of the sea, used as fishing boats, family cruisers and all-weather day boats.

After a hard day cruising/fishing, you’ll appreciate the comfortable seating areas and home comforts afforded to you – ingenious layouts and use of space offer true overnight capabilities even in the smallest models. All boats are available with a variety of outboard engine options to suit your taste and budget and a range of optional extras to customise your boat to make it exactly what you want.

PowerCat – Aust

The Powercat catamaran range has enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance since its revitalisation in the late 90’s. While the range extends well into the non trailerable sector, there is one model, the Powercat 2600 Sports Cabriolet that is trailerable. The 2600 Powercat as a mini cruiser, for look inside the cockpit and there is everything there that you would expect to find on a larger cruiser alternative.

The secret is simple – more volume in a catamaran-style hull – for complementing the 7.9m (26ft) length is the generous beam of 2.5m, right on the maximum allowable. Despite its size and volume, its modest 3200kg towing weight means it can still be towed very easily by your average large-capacity 4 x4. If you are seriously into your fishing and looking for a boat that will handle the toughest sea conditions, then the Powercat 2600 is such a boat.

Northbank – Aust

Northbank Fibreglass Boats are built in Adelaide and offer two hardtops in their extensive range. The smallest of the two, the Northbank 650 Hard Top is based on the same hull as their traditional cabin version with bimini top. The hardtop version offers all the extra comforts of three sided toughened glass windscreen, sliding cabin windows, custom upholstery and plenty of storage, The flagship of the Northbank range, the 750HT takes boating to another level. A newly designed cabin, offers a larger sleeping area and an ergonomic dash layout to accommodate large screen electronics, switch gear and digital gauge systems With a metre of freeboard, a huge working deck area of over 5m2, trim tabs and a 350 litre underfloor tank floor as standard, the 750HT offers great offshore credentials.

Raeline – NZ

From the automatic windlass to the extended swim platform the 235 H Series is featurepacked to ensure comfort and fun on the water. With the standard power of a 5.0L MPI MerCruiser Alpha I sterndrive, an enclosed head and a comfortable cabin, the 235 has everything you need for a weekender.

Now, with the option of a custom stainless steel bait station, bait wells and rod holders, the whole aft end of the 235 becomes a great fishing platform. By having the extended platform and no outboard engine in your way, you get full access from both the sides and the transom of the boat!

The 235 H includes a gourmet galley with granite-coloured countertop, gas burner stove, moulded sink, bottle holder and cherry blossom wood cabinet. There is also a fully enclosed self-draining head compartment  which features a pump-out toilet plus a sink with pull-out sprayer.

Rayglass – NZ

One of New Zealand’s most successful trailer boat builders in recent years, Rayglass offers three hardtop models in its extensive Legend range. The smallest is the Legend 2200 which is designed primarily as a fishing machine, but with plenty of comforts for day boating. The 2200 has plenty of stowage capacity, with a large locker under each of two rear-facing seats, two substantial and easy-to-remove fish bins under the floor and plenty of space both sides of the transom.

The 2500 hardtop is crafted for fishermen and with a 25° deadrise hull is designed with bluewater fishing in mind. The 2500 has gained a few embellishments over recent years and is packed with new and redefined features and a few surprises such as the fully curved windscreen and the extended transom. Powered by single or dual outboards, or a sterndrive, the 2500 features a generously sized cockpit with copious storage options, such as huge dual under-seat storage spaces for dive gear and tanks.

If the 2500 isn’t big enough for you then Rayglass also offers the Legend 2800, which features everything the Legend 2500 does but in a bigger form. The cockpit is bigger and the boat length is increased from 7.7m to 8.7m. Workboats with all the built-in comforts of a pleasure boat is the best way to describe the Rayglass Protector series of hardtop RIBs. Utilising the same hull as the Legend 2800 is the Protector 8.5 Cabin, one of the world’s most recognised hardtop inflatable RIBs. Width deflated is 2.45m so it is easily trailerable. The Legend 9m is a slightly larger version that has found favour as a superyacht and yacht racing tender and service boat for support crews and team members. The diesel sterndrive or petrol outboard power options coupled with the Hypalon tube configuration make this tender fast, safe and reliable.

Ranger Tug – USA

And for something completely different you can always look at the classic Ranger Tugs from the USA. Styled on traditional tugboat lines, they offer all the comforts for weekend and extended coastal cruising.

Ranger Tugs are all about economical cruising and the figures speak volumes for the efficiency of all the models. The R-21EC cruises at 6 – 9 knots using less than 3 litres of diesel per hour and has a top speed of around 10/11 knots, depending on conditions, with the Yanmar 3YM30 30hp freshwater cooled diesel inboard engine

The R-25SC has a top speed of around 20 knots, cruising anywhere between 10 and 15 knots, with a Yanmar 4BY2 150hp diesel inboard. The engine is quiet, smooth and fuel efficient. It has a range of around 200 nautical miles at 10 knots. The R R-27 is powered by Yanmar’s 4BY2 180hp diesel inboard. The R27 boasts almost 5 square metres of aft deck space and a wellappointed cabin. There’s a midship office with desk and chair which also converts to a berth.

Seaforce – NZ

Hamilton based Seaforce offers just one hardtop in its range, the Seaforce 675. A strong boat, the 675 is suitable for serious fishermen. Equipped with a large cockpit, it has plenty of space for extras. This boat is great for cruising, skiing, over-nighting, fishing, diving, or game fishing. The boat can be set up as either a hardtop or soft top, with rocket launchers on both versions.

It is CPC rated to 225hp, and the 675 gives a good performance with just 150hp. Filled with lots of features, the 675 has many uses and can be customised to your needs. The Fisherman model includes all the additional extras that a serious fisherman needs including built-in tuna tubes.

Smuggler – NZ

Smuggler’s Stealth series of hardtop models covers five models, all based on the legendary Smuggler deep V hull. The Smuggler Stealth 695 XS Hardtop, through to the 720 SPT provide the ultimate in performance and comfort. You can be confident that any one of the models will give you the best ride possible, with the Smuggler 27° deep V hull – no matter what the conditions. The innovative and incredibly practical pontoons make the Smuggler Stealth an exceptionally stable boat on the water, so you get the best in ride and stability.

 If you want to sneak away for the odd weekend, have a family day out, go fishing, diving, or just play, they all offer the appointments required for overnighting. Standard features include a 5-year structural hull warranty, curved toughened glass windscreen with sides, teak coamings and boarding platform trim, keel strip and closed cabin with sliding door. Power options are outboard only.

Tristram – NZ

Tristram boats have long been considered the “Rolls Royce” of the production trailerboat market. There are three large hardtop models, the 741 Offshore, 851 Grandeur and the 881 Offshore. Dedication to finish and appointments is of the highest possible standard on every Tristram that leaves the Hamilton factory. However they are also very practical, with efficient layouts that cater for those looking to cruise with all the comforts. Tristram has not forgotten the fishing aspects and its Offshore series especially caters for that market.

Targeted at the offshore fishing market, the Tristram 741 Offshore boasts excellent cockpit space for 5 to 6 anglers, live bait tank, and unbeatable rod and accessory storage. Above all, the 741 features the same blue water performance and exceptional design traits that are eminent in every Tristram model to date. The 881 Offshore is the largest in the Offshore series and offers the best of fishing conveniences with ample storage, space, a cockpit that offers a long side deck span and spacious working area, with an all new transom design that has fishermen’s needs at the centre of its design.

The 851 Grandeur is the most luxurious Tristram available. The sterndrive-only Grandeur is suited to any marine related activity imaginable, whether it be fishing, diving, skiing or overnighting, and will ensure passengers receive only the best of comforts while away from home, including a separate toilet cubicle, hot and cold running water in the galley and cockpit shower, wine racks, ‘lounge’ type seating arrangements, and a fully moulded hardtop. Power options are sterndrive MerCruiser or Volvo Penta petrol V8, or diesel.

Whittley – Aus

Of the nine models in the Whittley range of cruisers, four are offered in hardtop style, the SL24 and SL 26 and the CR2600 and CR2800. All are based on fishing and family cruising. The Whittley SL 24 is a thoroughbred sports fishing boat suitable for either outboard or a sterndrive. Storage is vast. Fully adjustable helm seats hinge to reveal enormous storage bins, and a host of fishing rods, nets and gaffs can be tucked away under the padded coaming.

The SL26 is the biggest SL in the range and has all the creature comforts of a cruiser, including toilet, galley and two showers. With the hardtop option the SL 26 offers a boat with superior dryness and excellent protection for electronic equipment. Whittley’s Cruiser 2800 is the flagship of the fleet and has been named New Zealand Boat Show “Boat of the Show” and AMIF “Best Cruiser Trailerable Fibreglass over 6 metres” for 2008.

From its rakish windscreen and hardtop to ultra-smart helm and chic colour schemes, CR2800 has been computer-designed for exceptional comfort, space and performance in an impeccably finished boat. Within its nine metre overall length, it provides spacious day
cruising for eight and comfortable berths for four. The CR2600 is basically just a smaller version of the CR2800 and offers all the same outstanding features, but in a smaller package.

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