Breaking New Ground
Winning the NZ Boat Show Innovation Award is one thing, but winning it with a boat, is certainly something extra special. It is not an award given out lightly and for the judges the inclusion of a boat in the finalists was certainly innovative in itself. Barry Thompson takes a look at the new Seaforce 530 Mate that was the centre of so much interest at the recent show.
Let’s be honest, there is not a lot you can do to make a small cuddy cabin fibreglass trailer boat that much different from the rest of the competition. Aesthetically different perhaps, but beam to length ratios, cabin heights, layouts and finish are all very much the same. Well, someone forgot to tell Ric Lawrence of Seaforce Boats in Hamilton.
Four years ago he had this idea that if he was going to revamp his current 5m model he needed to look at ways to improve the design. One area of concern was stability – nothing new in a small narrow-beam trailer boat, but what to do?
“It was really very obvious to me that the alloy builders had been capitalising on the pontoon boat concept for years and yet no one had attempted to make a serious fibreglass version, so I decided to give it a go”, says Ric.
After two years of R&D and another two building the plugs and moulds, the end result is the 530 Mate, New Zealand’s first genuine fibreglass pontoon boat.
Building a boat in fibreglass from a set of moulds has one major advantage over aluminium in that you can achieve softer radiuses right through the design, from the roll in the deck to the curve of the portofino stern pods. A number of aluminium pontoon boats tend to suffer from sharp angles in the pontoons, especially in the bow areas, although the use of fibreglass decks and cabin tops has done a lot to improve the overall look of the pontoon boat.
“We not only wanted to produce a better boat, we also saw it as an opportunity to take on the strong alloy pontoon boat sector and take our marketing in a new direction. Just building the same conventional fibreglass cuddy cabin wasn’t an option as far as I was concerned and I felt I couldn’t wait any longer for someone else to do it, so I took the plunge and the 530 Mate was born”, said Ric.
The 530 Mate is a full ‘glass’ boat with no timber used anywhere. Like the Seaforce 430 Winna, the boat is of all-composite construction with GRP sub-floor grid system and inner liner, plus is built using isopthalic resin. The new, improved building process also means that the hull is no more expensive to produce than using the old conventional system.
Future plans include building the hull using the injection moulding process, which will give smoother interior surfaces and better control over the raw materials used in construction. “We would expect a 40% stronger laminate for the same thickness and much better working conditions for our boatbuilders”, says Ric.
One of the secrets of the 530 Mate is the plastic foam strategically placed in cavities throughout the boat. “The flotation value of the boat was based on the amount of foam required, rather than just filling all the cavity spaces”, said Ric.The closed cell foam is highly chemical resistant and impervious to water.
Flotation tests carried out for the CPC have proven that the 530 Mate is unsinkable! Compared to the previous 5m version the 530 replaces, flotation is up by a staggering 200%. The increased chine beam means that the boat will more comfortably carry the extra weight of 4-stroke outboards, which in many smaller boats can have an adverse effect on both the handling and ride. I see no reason why the boat would not carry engines around 200kg without any handling issues.
When you first see the 530 Mate you can be excused if you think you have seen at least part of it before. The cabin top, foredeck and dash area are taken straight off the 600 Series, but from there on everything else is new.
The pontoon shape is very subtle and not as pronounced as on most alloy boats. In fact at the NZ Boat Show many people walked right past the boat, not even realising it was a pontoon boat.
“We often had to tell people before they would stop for a look and they were amazed with what they saw”, said Mike Boyce, of Mike’s Marine Centre, Auckland agent for Seaforce Boats and supplier of our test boat.
“First impression is that it didn’t look like a conventional pontoon boat and I found that that really appealed to a lot of people”, said Mike.
However, when viewed from the bow to the transom the pontoon design is more clearly evident. There is up to a 180mm wide overhang from the chine to the outside of the rolled pontoon and this carries well forward from the transom to the bow, where even at 2/3rds distance from the transom there is still a 140mm overhang. No wonder the boat is so stable at rest.
The cuddy cabin features twin 1.8m berths with an infill and sitting headroom for two adults or a half a dozen kids. There are storage lockers under the side squabs and in side trays with a hatch access to behind the helm. Seaforce has finished the interior off with soft fabrics on the squabs and side panels, with an antiskid pattern on the fibreglass working surfaces.
A generous size forward hatch allows comfortable access to the anchor locker and bollard and it was pleasing to see a seriously large fairlead. There is also provision for either a vertical or horizontal capstan or an auto winch – a nice addition on any boat.
The cockpit layout is not at all compromised by the pontoon design and in fact Seaforce has incorporated the side trays with rod storage into the pontoons, which probably gives even more useable cockpit space. There is no other dedicated storage outside apart from a couple of recessed shelves on the port side, ahead of the passenger seat.
The port and starboard BLA seats are both swivelling and adjustable allowing you to set the seat in the best driving position for your size. The split level dash has a large flat area for an 8” combo GPS/fishfinder/plotter combo plus the necessary few instruments needed for the outboard. I liked the driving position both when standing and seated. All-round visibility was good, inhibited only by the corners of the canopy.
I counted seven stainless handholds in the cockpit, which was a nice feature, as well as four quality rod holders, and a couple of drink holders. They are all standard items in the 530 Mate.
The rear squab seats are removable and the bases double as steps into the cockpit. Between the seats is a raised locker, which houses the battery, fuel filter and BEP battery-isolating switch – off the cockpit sole and out of the salt water! A 70-litre stainless steel underfloor fuel tank is built-in at the aft end of the cockpit.
Our test boat was fitted with an optional bait board and ski pole, so the set up is designed for a wide variety of applications from fishing to wake boarding.
The best test of any pontoon boat is its stability, especially at rest. The 530 Mate passed with distinction with two of us (total weight 185kg) standing hard up against the coaming and the hull heeling only slightly.
You would be hard pressed to find a more stable non-pontoon boat of a similar size and for a novice boat owner the 530 Mate would make an ideal first choice. It’s the sort of boat that you should not have any trouble handling and has no particular quirks when underway.
When I tested the boat, the conditions were foul, so much so that we were the only trailer in the car park that day. In the only short piece of calm water I could find, the Mercury 90 returned a top speed of 41 mph. This is a perfect horsepower for the 530 Mate, although a Mercury 60hp has been tested and the boat still achieved 34 mph. I would rather go for the bigger rating, especially if you are going to use the boat for skiing.
In sloppy water in a 1/2m breaking sea, at 3500 rpm the boat ran comfortably at around 22 mph both in the head and following sea. The short distance between the swells didn’t offer a pleasant ride, but for its size, the 530 Mate performed well.
It is interesting that there is no excessive bow lift when accelerating from a standing start, even when the trim is out to ½ on the gauge. I found that by leaving the indicator around ¼ trim, the boat did everything right and you hardly needed to change it.
It was noticeably quiet and I liked the fact that in the following sea the wide flare in the bow pushed the water away. We took a bit of spray through the front canopy, but then it was blowing 20 knots and we were the only boat out there!
The 530 Mate cuddy cabin is the first of four planned models of the new Seaforce pontoon series. Later this year the company will be releasing the 530 Utility with a longer cockpit, short foredeck, stand-up driving position and a very basic utilitarian layout. This will be followed next year by both a bowrider version and a centre console model.
- Model: 530 Mate
- Price as tested: $43,243
- Packages from: $38,750 (75hp)
- Type: Pontoon cuddy cabin
- Construction: GRP/foam
- LOA: 5.65m
- LOH: 5.30m
- Beam: 2.22m
- Deadrise: 17 degrees
- Height on Trailer: 2.15m
- Trailerable Weight: 950kg
- Engine Capacity: 60-90hp
- Power Options: outboards
- Fuel Capacity: 70 litres
Notable Options on Test Boat : VHF, canopy, Ski pole, bait board, fishfinder