As I have mentioned in previous tests, it seems that every time you go to a boat show, there is always a new aluminium boat brand making its first appearance. More often than not, it’s an APB (Aluminium Pontoon Boat). Freddy Foote goes Commando on Auckland harbour – well, not quite.
Though the Commando brand isn’t new by any means, it is a brand that has been quietly developing in the background. The company’s owner and builder/designer Bruce de Baugh actually had very strong ties to Fyran in its early days, and had in fact been the original manufacturer and designer of the Alicraft, a boat brand that almost everyone has heard of at one stage or another.
The company manufactures a diverse range of aluminium pleasure and commercial craft, from 3.6m dinghies through to tender and service dories and barges, for both the New Zealand domestic and export markets throughout the South Pacific region.
“In the Trooper range, there is just the one size – 5.4m – and we produce it in either a centre console version or this cabin model,” says Michael de Baugh of Commando Boats.
“We think that this is the ideal size for a day fishing boat, as it’s easily towed, and easily launched and handled at the ramp or off the beach.”
The boat is made up of six pontoon compartments, the two aft ones being fully sealed, the middle two having storage built-in and the forward two also being fully sealed and pressure/leak tested. To add extra flotation, the sole is also fully sealed, so there is no way that this thing is going to sink.
The Commando Trooper 5.4 is a boat that has been designed as a pure and basic package with a practical and functional layout. Essentially what you get is a cuddy cabin runabout with a big self draining cockpit. Big scuppers in the aft corners are a very noticeable feature. This particular model is the company’s demonstrator and has already had a year of use. It is launched off the beach much of the time, so the scuppers are a great aid, should the boat take a wave over the transom on launching.
This particular model is not only pitched at divers and fishos, it is also finding favour with boaters who are looking for something that is an all-rounder – you have a decent compromise on the features, whether it be for serious fishing or family cruising.
This particular boat was set up for the sheer fishing enthusiasts – chequer plate floor, no carpet and big scuppers. However, you may wish to spec it differently for family use with carpet, upholstery and appropriate seating to match. No nonsense when you’re fishing or diving and a whole lot easier to clean with the hose when you get back home.
The aft section of the low profile gunnel are flat, making them ideal for mounting rod holders and as a launching pad with full SCUBA gear on. Divers coming back aboard will like the low profile coamings for tossing in their gear.
The Trooper affords plenty of out of the weather protection, courtesy of the large bimini cover/rocket launcher combo (which easily folds down for garage storage. If you and the boys are wanting to really rough it and do some overnighting… well you can’t – no bunks in the cabin, which is too small to even think about overnighting. The cabin is purely for gear storage, and forward you’ll find a cavernous storage and anchor locker. Storage is also available in large pockets on the insides of the cabins and you can secure everything in place by closing the canvas curtains which are held in place with Velcro.
A very generously sized deck hatch allows access to the forepeak, but you can do all your anchoring without climbing through.
The cockpit storage has a lot more to offer than some pontoon boats, with side shelves and a large centre locker in the transom which houses the battery and oil tank. The boat comes with a 60L fuel tank, and should you prefer, you can opt for tote tanks. There is plenty of space for additional storage of tote tanks – a good idea should you want to venture slightly further afield, something the boat is more than capable of. Twin swivelling forward seats are standard issue and small seats in the aft corners can be fitted for the kids. There’s not a lot of space for any more seating but the builder would be happy to accommodate reasonable requests.
As far as fishability goes, it’s got everything you could want. Plenty of rod holders, including those really handy removable ones that also can be turned into drink holders. A large bait station is a stand-out feature in the centre of the transom, and the stability, typical of an APB, is pretty good. The cockpit is quite sizeable for a 5.4m boat, and would provide enough room for 4 anglers at a pinch.
The driving position was pretty good, either seated or standing, and the fully wrap-around windscreen provided plenty of protection from the wind. A small instrument panel handles the necessary gauges and there’s a little space above the dash for bracket mounted electronics should you wish.
The transom is conventional with a large boarding platform on either side of the outboard well. No walkthrough as such, but it’s low enough to easily step over when boarding.
Power range for the Trooper is as little as 40hp right through to 90hp. Michael says that a 50hp engine powers the boat well, and is a great option for those who are doing their boating to a budget or who are really inshore/coastal fishermen. But by far the ideal option for engine power is the 90hp two-stroke as we had on our test boat. It provided more than enough power, and being a conventional two-stroke, didn’t increase the price as much as a direct injection or four-stroke would have. Any other engine would really defeat the purpose of constructing a back to basics fishing boat, which is what the Trooper 5.4 is.
If you go for the maximum option, a 90hp outboard will be good for around 41.0 mph with the load we had on our test – two adults and a full load of fuel.
The boat handled exceedingly well. Our test day conditions got worse as the morning went on, and the return trip back to Half Moon Bay on Auckland harbour gave us blustery, choppy conditions in the Motuihe Channel, with the wind going against the tide. Perfect for a boat test! We just put the throttle down and powered on through it at around 30mph. There was no banging through the hull, and I certainly didn’t feel myself getting shorter with each wave we pushed through!
The Trooper is an easy and fun boat to drive, not requiring too much trim to get it running nicely. I think it’s a brilliant boat for someone new to boating, as it’s easily handled, easy to launch, and most importantly, very affordable.
The sheer simplicity of the Trooper is also another great attribute, a chequer plate cockpit sole means it’s easy to maintain and clean.
After a day’s fishing, simply remove the seat upholstery, take the bung out and open the scuppers and give the inside a good house out – no wet carpet or upholstery to worry about here!
Overall, I thought the Commando Trooper 5.4 was real hidden gem. Even I hadn’t heard of it before I tested it. Sure, it’s a real bare and back to basics type of boat, which has always been the type of boat that kiwis love.
APB’s have for some time now been an accepted part of the market and have an enviable reputation when it comes to handling adverse seas. Trouble is the ‘aesthetically challenging’ cabin tops haven’t always found favour with potential buyers. However, as a number of other APB manufacturers have demonstrated, the concept can be successfully marketed.
The Trooper 5.4 is the all-round answer to the family boat market from Commando Boats, and it certainly provides a lot of bang for your buck! Even in these tough times it has the potential to be enormously popular.
- Make: Commando
- Model: Trooper 5.4
- Price as Tested: $46,000
- Packages from: $35,000
- Material: Alloy
- Type: Pontoon
- LOA: 5.43m
- Beam: 2.25m
- Trailerable Weight: 840kg approx
- Height on Trailer: 2.1m
- Engine Capacity: 40 – 90hp
- Power Options: Outboard
- Fuel Capacity: 60L
PERFORMANCE – MERCURY 90
Speeds recorded on a Lowrance GPS