Cabo 40 Flybridge Boat Test

Cabo have long held a reputation for manufacturing excellence. But with a pair of Zeus drives beneath the hull, Warren Steptoe found an invigorated gameboat that not only performed but amazed. And along with incredibly easy docking, the Zeus drive’s new Skyhook function opens a whole raft of new fishing opportunities.

Cabo 40 Flybridge Boat Test

Boat Test Cabo 40 Flybridge: REVOLUTIONIZING THE GAME

Author and photography: Warren Steptoe 

This boat test ran in ISSUE 77 of BlueWater magazine – FEB-MARCH 2010

For the complete feature, including all photos and information captions, you can purchase back-issues here

Without doubt, one of the most firmly entrenched mind’s eye images in gamefishing is that of a skipper on the bridge, backside on the steering wheel and a control stick in each hand. Bellowing diesels, spray bursting over transom, the boat pirouetting in a dance that, if you think about it, is amazingly delicate considering the amount of horsepower in use and the sheer mass of boat involved. This scenario is certainly a big part of the adrenalin rush of our sport.

However, after some thirty years in the cockpit, this test has me struggling to get my head around the fact that a Cabo 40 with Zeus drive makes those mind’s eye images somewhat redundant.

Mercury Marine’s new Zeus drive system arrived on the scene in 2009 with all the fanfare that happens when a corporation like Mercury releases an all new system radically different from everything that’s gone before it.

Now I’ll have to confess to a bit of journo cynicism leading up to Zeus’ birth. Professional spin doctors put press releases together of course and, to be blunt, when you’ve been around the boating industry a while the ‘walk’ often doesn’t live up to the ‘talk’.

I expressed my cynicism to Game and Leisure Boats’ Graham McCloy (who set up Lunchbox for us) while we were out on the water for the test. He laughed, then told me he was of much the same opinion until he went over to the States for Zeus drive’s launch, only to return an absolute convert. In the end, I drove away from Runaway Bay Marina after the test thinking to myself that the Zeus drive might just change the way we go gamefishing.

Before getting into Zeus in more depth, let’s talk about the Cabo 40 Flybridge.

A resurgent Aussie dollar has firmly placed American boats back on our antipodean radar – although that’s not really why everyone looking for a serious gamefisher should take a long hard look at a Cabo.

I’ve tested Cabos previously, and after being aboard Lunchbox I’m still happy to say that the longest, hardest look at Cabos will find a boat that stands out from the crowd. Every Cabo I’ve ever been aboard was a very well-built boat indeed. They leave you with an overall impression of quality and class.

Attention to detail

Cabos are production boats, but there’s enough hand finishing in there to compare with custom builds. Cabo ‘glass work is impeccable, and their cabinet work is solid. Doors and hatches fit properly, and open and close faultlessly.

Open hatches, go down into the engine room, go looking for circuit breakers, think about servicing, etc., and there’s nothing but excellent workmanship and plain commonsense thinking to be found. If you’ve ever worked day to day on boats it’s refreshing to say the least, and not something a boat tester comes across all that frequently either.

While not ‘all new’ models, ’09 Cabo boats have been through an update process which included a rework of the hull itself by Michael Peters Yacht Design. This multi-award-winning firm has earned itself quite a reputation in recent years for user friendly, sea kindly hulls, and if our day off Queensland’s Gold Coast is anything to go by, their reputation is well earned.

A great sea ride

On the day of our test we had 15kts of sea breeze across the remnants of a big swell offshore. Our Seaway crossing didn’t feature too much white water, although a run-out spring tide certainly steepened things up between the breakwalls. There was enough swell offshore to bring out any tricky traits.

It was a great ride. We had to throttle back some to deal with the pressure waves of course, but with a sensible hand on the go lever the inevitable bumps as the bows met each swell were softer than most boats I’ve crossed the Seaway in – including much larger ones!

At sea the hull tracked well and, I have to say, showed itself to have no handling vices at all. Some of this (presumably) is due to the Zeus drives, although how much is of course impossible to say without direct comparison to an otherwise identical hull driven by conventional shafts and rudders.

Suffice to say the Cabo 40 has impeccable manners at sea and a notably soft and dry ride. This boat is (obviously) a flybridge, while the hull is also offered in an Express version with a pipe tower holding an upper control station (higher than the flybridge model) and the lower station sited centrally beside a salon entry down stairs on the starboard side. A choice between the two is up to the individual.

A roomy flybridge

The 40’s flybridge is roomy and I particularly liked the security provided by a high rail across the aft end and a big, easily locked down hatch to block off that always hazardous ‘hole’ at the top of the stairs. For the skipper, the angle of view from the helm down over the cockpit is simply as it should be.

There’s plenty of extra seating (and stowage) along the portside and in front of the helm, and about the only thing not to like is that to reach the observer seat to starboard, beside the helm, the skipper has to stand aside.

In the cockpit there’s a long rectangular fish or stowage pit each side of a deck with a non-slip finish moulded in. In the centre there’s a reinforced chair mounting. At the cockpit’s forward end, across the cabin bulkhead, there’s an insulated fish box portside (which can be optioned as refrigerated or freezer space) beside a tackle/rigging station above a sink with a tackle locker underneath. The engine room entry then takes up the rest of the space available beside the salon entry door.

Putting my deckie hat on for a moment here, I think some deckies won’t be too impressed to find a workspace half behind the bridge ladder. I imagine it wouldn’t be too hard to organise some extra workspace atop either the fridge/freezer or engine room hatch. It’s a little thing I guess, and about the only negative I have after testing the Cabo 40 Flybridge.

Inside the Cabo’s salon is a fairly conventional layout with a double island type vee berth downstairs in the bows, separate bathrooms each side of a hallway and crew/guest quarters on the starboard side. A roll out extra single bunk above a double size main bunk adds versatility to the second stateroom.

And then we come to Zeus

Mercury’s new Zeus system comprises a pair of independently movable drive units mounted into a tunnel in the hull bottom. These provide thrust parallel with the hull surface, as opposed to the angle inherent in the prop shaft and rudder system. And because the drive pods are tucked up in a tunnel, the system doesn’t draw as much water. That’s something not to be underrated when negotiating anchorages around the Great Barrier Reef, for example, nor any location with lots of shallow water.

Reports from independent commentators overseas actually support Mercury Marine’s claims of increased efficiencies in boats driven by Zeus, compared to the prop shaft and rudder system. These efficiencies include higher top and cruising speeds with less powerful motors, and significantly improved fuel economy.

I’ve seen figures of 20 to 30 percent bandied about and while that seems a bit hard to swallow without comprehensive testing, it’s fair to say that the body of evidence available has become compelling.

Zeus drives feature aft facing counter-rotating propellers and have built-in automatic trim tabs. Graham took some delight in showing me how the tabs deploy themselves downward for a quick getaway out of the hole, and then trim themselves out once the hull is up and running.

Under the conditions, determining absolute top speed was impossible, so all I can tell you is that it’s well above 30 knots, and that it didn’t take long to get there.

For an automatic system, the trim tabs work remarkably well, to a point where you don’t notice them at all until they’re brought to your attention. They can also be controlled manually within the sophisticated Zeus system.

In our test boat the Zeus drives are situated underneath two square hatches in the cockpit. A pair of Cummins QSC 8.3 litre engines sit forward, as per normal, in the engine room, with drive transmitted through jackshafts back to the Zeus units.

Zeus is a fly-by-wire system, doing away with the dreaded control cabling completely. Anyone who has spent a few hours head down through a hatch, trying to sort out cabling issues, won’t miss them, that’s for sure. However, what I really like about the Zeus controls is the amount of ‘feel’ they offer.

You could crank the Cabo 40 into turns that would do a runabout proud and that’s definitely a good thing to have available the next time some idiot in a tinny ignores your approach along a narrow channel. But it’s Zeus’ low speed handling that impresses most.

Manoeuvrability plus Skyhook

Gone are the old twin motor controls in favour of a single joystick. If it seems over simplified to tell you that you just push the joystick in the direction you want the boat to go and that’s where it goes, I’m sorry, but that’s what happens. And what really impressed was how Zeus could move a 40-foot flybridge bodily sideways, regardless of wind and current! Nestling up to fuel docks and squeezing into awkward marina pens has never been so easy.

Zeus is highly computerised, which includes complete integration with Mercury’s propriety ‘Smartcraft’ systems including various display options with compatible electronics. This means interface with appropriate GPS units and that brings us to an aspect of Zeus with exciting fishing potential – to put it mildly.

Mercury call it ‘Skyhook’, an automated ‘hover-in-position’ facility. Think about the boat being able to hold itself in place over a bait school, a pinnacle, or a drop off – regardless of wind and current –and you’ve entered the realm of possibilities Skyhook offers. It works. We tried it and it works! Mark something on the sounder, push the button to activate Skyhook, and the boat just holds itself in place until you instruct it otherwise. Amazing is not the word!

No, maybe amazed is the word to describe my reaction to the Cabo 40 Flybridge with Zeus drive. The hardest thing to do here is properly appreciate a great boat overshadowed by my first close encounter with this revolutionary new drive system.


  • Zeus drive system and all that goes with it
  • Unprecedented manoeuvrability
  • Excellent finish
  • Beautifully laid out easily serviced onboard systems
  • Moulded engine room liner
  • Sea kindly hull
  • A gamefisher’s gamefisher


  • Berths – 4
  • Fuel – 2475 litres
  • Fresh Water – 427 litres
  • Holding Tank/s – 200 litres (inc 100 litre extra tank fitted)


  • Material – GRP composites featuring vinylester resins bonding stitched biaxial ’glass interior modules with the hull to form a single unit.
  • Hull Type – variable deadrise mono hull with flared bows
  • Length – 12.2m
  • Length Overall – 13m (inc bowsprit)
  • Beam – 4.8m
  • Draft – 0.9m
  • Deadrise – 16.5 degrees (at transom)
  • Displacement – 14,545kg (approx)


  • Make/model – Cummins QSC8.3
  • Type – inline 6 cylinder common rail diesel, turbocharged and aftercooled.
  • Rated hp – 600hp
  • Displacement – 8.3 litres
  • No. cylinders – 6
  • Weight – 896kg
  • Zeus Drives – 3800 Series
  • Weight – 418kg
  • Gearbox ratio – 2:1
  • Propellers used for test – counter rotating 22” diameter stainless steel

SPECIFICATIONS: Cabo 40 Flybridge With Zeus Drive
Options fitted: Factory options fitted – teak and holly sole, icemaker, flybridge stereo, cockpit shower, swim platform and ladder, West Coast style s/s rail option. Ex factory options fitted – cockpit hand control for Zeus, 2nd 100 litre holding tank, flybridge hatch, underwater lighting, underwater camera, Sea-Fab hardtop, Rupp outriggers, bow deck dingy rack, flybridge clears, 240V inverter, remote searchlight, anchor winch meter, Garmin electronics – 2 X 5215 screens, GSD22 sdr, GMR24 radar/GPS, 2 kw inhull transducer 

Cabo 40 Flybridge Boat Test

Author and photography: Warren Steptoe 
Supplied by: Game and Leisure Boats

This boat test ran in ISSUE 77 of BlueWater magazine – FEB-MARCH 2010

For the complete feature, including all photos and information captions, you can purchase back-issues here

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