McLay 581 CrossXover

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McLay 581 CrossXover


All new McLay 581 CrossXover breaks new ground for this South Island builder and puts a whole new meaning on the word ‘pontoon.’ Barry Thompson took one home for a few days to find out more.

The new McLay 581 crossXover, is one of three new boats in the series that are designed with the versatility for family boating, fishing, diving or towing water toys. However it is the innovative way in which McLay has incorporating hundreds of litres of closed cell foam under the gunnels from the transom to the anchor bay that makes this boat even more interesting.

Designer Steve McLay calls this “retaining great looks with pontoon safety”, it’s just that this version has flat sides and not the accepted semicircular hull design.

“What we set out to achieve was a boat that offered the same in-built safety of a pontoon boat, but with the form and design of a traditional Mclay.

“We have managed to provide all the same safety aspects of a pontoon boat without compromising any cockpit or cabin space”, said Steve.

Released at the Hutchwilco New Zealand Boat Show, the 581 crossXover is the middle in the trio off crossXover boats, the other two being a smaller 561 and a larger 601.

I picked up a 581 crossXover straight after the show and took it home for a few days. The plan was to cruise a little, fish a little and maybe even tow a few water toys. After all this is a boat that has been designed to cater for all wants, so checking out all aspects would be ideal. Well, no problem with the cruising aspect and also a serious fish, but as far as the water toy part of the equation went, I had no takers.

Seems everyone I talked to were already in winter mode and didn’t fancy jumping into the 19-20 deg water. Whimps all of them!

So with that aside, I will have to take the builder’s word for it that it is a good boat to ski or wakeboard behind. From what I could see at both wakeboard and skiing speeds, the wake looked clean and even, with a nice short curl on the top. I did pull a nice steep wake at around 20 mph, with four of us in the boat and the engine trimmed out, so casual wakeboarders should find the 581 crossXover to their liking.

I did get a chance to take the boat for a 30nm return run to Kawau Island on a reasonably calm afternoon and it ran well. With just two of us aboard, I set the throttles to cruise mode, around 35 mph @ 5000 rpm and the boat did the rest. What I did notice was how quiet the hull was, with no ‘tinnie’ slap and the predictability of the ride. The thick 5mm hull and foam throughout the boat certainly helps. Any wakes we came across were quickly flattened by the wide downturned chine that runs all the way to the transom.

Winter certainly produces some exceptionally calm days, but conversely can throw up some nasty seas and anyone who has boated in the Tiri Channel will know what I mean. We went across in calm water and came back with a quartering 1m sea whipped up by a 20 knot SE breeze. I set off at 4000 rpm @ 20 mph and slowly increased to 4500 rpm at around 25 mph as I got the feel of the boat. I was impressed with the solid feel and the way the boat sat on the water. Okay, we took a few hard knocks, but a hell of a lot less than I would have expected from an alloy boat of this size. Again I can’t say enough about the quietness and easy of handling. Having four guys aboard with all our gear certainly helped settle the boat down.

On both trips I got to appreciate the tall bimini (2m from the sole) with clears for the protection it offered us in the cold afternoon temperatures on the way back home. If you want some breeze in your hair then simply unclip the three clear panels.

Cuddy Cabin

The fully lined cabin is really a cuddy with two squabs with storage under and sitting headroom for two. Narrow side shelves take care of small items and the large alloy deck hatch gives you great access to the forepeak area for anchoring. Our boat wasn’t fitted with a capstan, but there is certainly room for that, so all anchoring duties could be carried out from the helm.

While our boat had no bulkheads, so there’s an uninterrupted flow from the cabin to the cockpit, you do have the option of full bulkheads and a lockable door. The starboard helm is divided into an internal mounting station for the GME VHF and Fusion system and a small recess above for the twin Mercury Smartcraft instruments and Lowrance Elite 5HD1 MFD. Unfortunately, I was unable to get the Lowrance off the demo mode, so we did our fishing the old fashion way, by gut feel!

What I did like was the heavy duty allow handrails supplied for the front seat passenger, but didn’t like the fact there was no upstand on the trailing edge of the deck area below the screen to stop anything rolling off and onto the cockpit sole…..such as my iPhone! But the handy cockpit side shelves by the helm and passenger’s seat took care of these items. The imitation carbon fibre finish is a nice touch.

Roomy Cockpit

The cockpit sole is a fully welded 4mm tread plate floor with buoyancy and a 130 litre fuel tank underneath.

Standard seating is king/queen with swivelling front bucket seats and rear bench seats. The steering position is okay both seated and standing, although I would have preferred an adjustable seat base as I found it too far forward when standing to drive. Both solid alloy box bases have built-in storage spaces, the port side being top accessed with plenty of space for gear, the starboard area open from the rear and in our boat used to stow a 60 litre Ice Station chilly bin.

I liked the flat bar at the rear of the rocket launcher where two Fusion speakers, a couple of cockpit lights and a Hella flood light were mounted. The test boat was fitted with the optional deluxe painted rocket launcher with wakeboard holders, along with eight rod tubes. There is a more basic version available if you’re just into fishing.

Storage trays either side of the cockpit are extra areas to keep your rods, gaff or net and fishing tackle. On the port side is a live bait tank with a Perspex viewing window, directly below the wide access to the transom gate leading too a very large aft deck and a three tier drop down alloy ladder. The portofino extends a full 750mm past the transom, with the outboard mounted on a pod. Divers will like the generous sized ladder, wide access and heavy duty handrails when getting back aboard.

All the batteries and extra storage is hidden behind the rear bench seat, which folds down when required, or can be tucked away flush with the transom when you need the cockpit space for fishing. Very cool.

Another neat item on our boat was the central bait station, which comes with a built-in drawer underneath. Not something I have seen before and an excellent feature, especially if you are like me and always changing your rig, lures or soft baits. Very handy.

Lets Go Fishing

But it was about the fishing that I was more interested in. McLay have pushed the boat as an all purpose (cross over) boat that fits all sectors of the market. However as we all know, it’s more likely that these boats will be sold with fishing in mind first and the other features only there to please the rest of the family.

Our fishing trip comprised four guys with a mix of soft baits, squid and pillies. The Maori fishing calendar said forget it and in some ways it was right. We did hook into some very large Kahawai which went home to be smoked and a few reasonable snapper, but generally it wasn’t that great.

The 581 crossXover is certainly a neat fishing platform that will comfortably handle up to four anglers. The bait board is conveniently positioned and at the right height, although I wasn’t so sure about the huge outlet hole that I could see my knife disappearing down, but as I have already mentioned, I loved the tackle drawer. The wide flat side decks are great to sit on when waiting for a bite and even with four fishing I didn’t find the rocket launcher got in the way.

With no underfloor storage or kill tanks you will need use the chilly/isky bin under the helm seat to keep the catch in. You have the option of having both king/queen seats with eskys in them instead of having one set up as storage for the BBQ as this boat had.

Overall a very interesting boat that is well suited to the multitasking that McLay have designed it for. With the choice of painted, wrapped or unpainted sides and cabintop you can bling the boat to whatever suits. Personally I liked the bright colours that McLay have chosen and they certainly make the boats stand out.

While packed with features, the McLay 581 crossXover offers surprisingly good value for money starting at just $NZD46,591 with 90 Merc 2 stroke and Toko single axle unbraked trailer. Our test boat came with a host of options, including a BBQ and fully painted hull and a retail of $NZD65,995.


  • Make & model: McLay 581 crossXover
  • Manufacturer: McLay Boats
  • Priced from: $46,591
  • Price as tested: $65,995
  • Type: Cabin Runabout
  • Construction: 5mm hull/ 4 & 3mm alloy
  • LOA: 5.81m
  • Beam: 2.28m
  • Deadrise: 17 Deg
  • Height on trailer: 2.10m/2.90m
  • Trailerable weight: 1200kg (approx)
  • Test Power: Mercury Optimax 115
  • Propellers: 19” Vengeance 3bld SS
  • Power Options: Outboard Only
  • HP Range: 90-115hp
  • Fuel capacity: 130 litre
  • Trailer: Toko Trailers

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