Haines Signature 550F Boat Test

Haines Signature 550F Boat Test

Leading Australian trailerboat manufacturer the Haines Group has launched a new Signature 550F cuddy-cabin to replace its long-running and very successful 543F. The upgrade model has a wider beam, deeper cockpit, bigger fuel tank and a new hull shape, making it a very functional and economical pint-sized performer.

Haines Signature 550F Boat Test

Boat Test Haines Signature 550F: PINT-SIZED GAMEFISHER
Author and photography: Jeff Webster

This boat test ran in ISSUE 118of BlueWater magazine – JULY-AUG 2016

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

At the Gold Coast Marine Expo in May, the Haines Group released a new, family friendly fibreglass trailerable fishing boat. The new model is set to replace the 543F cuddy-cabin, a craft regarded by many as a modern classic. The two boats will sit alongside each other in the range for a time, but the older model will ultimately be phased out.

The addition of the 550F boosts the Haines Signature fishing boat line-up to 15 models. For offshore sport and gamefishing the new 550F is about as small as you would want to go. However, it is a capable boat, especially with its new 2.41m wide beam and larger, deeper cockpit. Make no mistake, despite its diminutive size the 550F will prove a capable short-range gamefishing boat.

Options And Equipment

A huge list of features and optional equipment makes it possible to customise the 550F to suit individual fishing requirements. For example, you can option the boat with a fully enclosed hardtop, complete with safety-glass windscreen and wiper to create an all-weather fishing platform.

Our test boat was the soft-top version with a bimini, front and side clears and a stainless-steel rocket-launcher rod rack. As befitting a demonstration model, it was loaded with optional gear, including a deluxe, folding transom bait board, raw water deckwash, livebait tank plumbing, bow rails and a moulded side-storage compartment for the passenger. Among the other options are recessed cockpit lighting, hydraulic steering upgrade, Porta Potti toilet, transom steps and boarding ladder, two-tone hull and deck and a removable, fold-down rear bench seat.

The 550F comes priced at a respectable $79,990 including these options, and packaged with a Suzuki 140hp extra-longshaft 63cm outboard, Dunbier tandem-axle braked trailer and a Furuno NavNet TZTL12F multi-function touch-screen display (with 600w through-hull transducer and AUS mapping). With the same engine and trailer set-up, but sans options, the package is priced from an affordable $56,990.

Helm And Dash

The helm layout has received a full makeover, as compared to the previous 543F model. While the new boat still has a half bulkhead between the helm and cabin, the dash is larger. It has also been designed to accept the largest of flush-fitted electronics displays, along with your regular switch panel and engine instruments.

Cleverly, the fascia itself is a separate moulding with a black gelcoat finish, clipped in place at the top and hinged at the bottom so it can rotate out from the dash. The whole panel – with steering wheel – rotates out and back from the top so that you can access the wiring behind it (see photo). This cleans up the area in the cabin behind the helm, which is now sealed off. There’s a handy glovebox on the port side of the dash, and a low-glare, black finish has been applied forward of the rotating fascia to reduce reflection from the curved, safety-glass windscreen.

The side-mounted throttle lever is positioned alongside the pedestal-mounted, bucket helm chair. For me the throttle was a little too far back to be completely comfortable to use, but the sports steering wheel was well placed whether seated or standing.

The helm can be adjusted to any person as the chair slides fore and aft, rotates 360 degrees and is height-adjustable. It also has a flip-up bolster on the front so you can position the seat for seated driving and then simply lift up the front bolster to make space for standing up. Visibility forward and aft from the helm was clear while standing or seated and the helm position was generally pretty comfortable, although I would have welcomed a footrest.

The optional bimini with front and side clears is well designed and won’t restrict your view to the sides from the helm. It was also relatively short, so it did not intrude over the rear cockpit. The rear bracing struts and bimini side curtains are shaped so they curve forward, enabling you to stand and fish right up to the back of the helm chairs without interference. The metal work on the 32mm stainless-steel rocket launcher is also well thought out.

In The Cabin

The forward cabin has a traditional vee-berth, set up with vinyl upholstery for greater durability, rather than cloth. However, I have some reservations about the white colour as this may prove difficult to keep clean. At around 1.78m the berths are not quite full length, but they are great for children to stretch out for a nap, or to let you sit and shelter from the weather. An infill board and cushion is available to convert the two single berths/seats into a decent-sized double berth. With the infill cushion in place a couple could bunk down in the cabin overnight, although it would be cosy.

There is provision for a Porta Potti toilet under the centre-berth cushion, which is padded and has upholstered side storage pockets. In addition, there are two underberth moulded storage lockers, a small sub-floor safety gear locker and a maximum of 960mm of headroom, ample space for decent clearance overhead when sitting on the berth cushions.

A wide acrylic hatch at the front of the cabin provides access to the foredeck for anchoring, although it’s easy enough to climb around the cabin sides. Easy to open and to climb through, the cabin hatch also has a gas strut to hold it up in the open position, which is a nice touch.

Raising and lowering the anchor manually will be easy enough as you can stand in the open hatchway and reach forward to the positively huge anchor well, and beyond to the stainless-steel bollard and bow roller. If that sounds like too much hard work, you can option the boat with an electric anchor winch to drop the anchor at the press of a button back at the helm.

Cockpit And Fishing Features

The cockpit in the new 550F has received a makeover to incorporate an efficiently designed three-quarter-width, padded bench seat that folds up and back so that it sits flush with the transom wall. This allows you to stand and fish over the transom, while leaning comfortably against the padded coaming bolster.

Aside from that, the design of the transom/cockpit is pretty similar to the previous model. The 550F retains the port side transom door, as well as the hinged section of transom wall, which folds forward to make space for the outboard’s powerhead when the engine is tilted up for trailering. This cockpit/transom configuration has been a feature of Haines Signature fishing models for many years and I believe it works well. The hinged section allows for a smaller, shorter outboard well, which in turn makes it possible to increase the length of the cockpit.

The cockpit is 1.82m wide, with an overall length of 2.3m from the helm bulkhead to transom wall. This provides 1.5m of fishing space behind the helm chairs. A noticeable difference compared to the older 543F is the extra width and depth of the cockpit. The boat is only 5.5m long, but there is easily enough fishing space for three anglers, along with a minimum of 795mm of internal cockpit freeboard. The new design also provides good cockpit storage space with full-length, above-floor side storage pockets, as well as a handy sub-floor insulated icebox situated between the helm chairs.

Four stainless-steel rodholders with caps are included and built into the relatively narrow side coamings. Under-coaming horizontal rod racks cater for six light-tackle outfits.

The decent-sized livebait tank in the starboard-side transom corner has been redesigned with rounded corners to keep your baits in good condition. Plumbing for the tank is optional.

Another option is the lift-out baitboard and workstation, which has been designed specifically for this model. It incorporates hinged stainless-steel legs so that the board can be folded forward, along with the top section of the transom wall to make space for the outboard’s powerhead when the engine is tilted up. The baitboard is well designed with three cupholders, three aft-facing rodholders, nylon cutting-board surface, several trays and a terminal tackle compartment.

Other features in and around the cockpit include recessed coaming rails and stern cleats, a water-catchment recess under the transom with bilge pump, and a flow-coated fibreglass finish to the cockpit floor and sidedecks. Hard-wearing clip-on outdoor carpet is an option for the cockpit and forward cabin.

On The Trailer

The new Haines Signature 550F has a listed hull weight of 1000kg. Add the weight of a tandem-axle trailer and a few hundred kilograms for the outboard engine and you can expect the package to weigh around 1800kg without fuel or gear.

In highway trim the package should still sneak under the 2000kg mark. This is important, as if it exceeded this weight then it would need to be upgraded with a more expensive trailer equipped with a break-away braking system. As it is though, you can tow the package on a regular tandem-axle trailer with mechanical over-ride brakes and no modifications to the towing vehicle required.

Performance

The Signature 550F is rated to accept single extra-longshaft 63cmoutboards up to a maximum of 150hp, although that much horsepower is not really necessary. Our test rig was packaged with Suzuki’s very popular DF140A four-cylinder 4-stroke outboard. For its power output the Suzuki 140hp is quite a lightweight, efficient and compact motor, making it ideal for the 550F.

You could also opt for the smaller 115hp Suzuki, but it is basically a de-tuned version of the DF140A, so you are better served to spend a few more dollars for the higher-power motor.

Our Suzuki DF140A-equipped test package proved quite agile off the mark and was able to achieve a handy top speed of 35.8 knots at 6300rpm. The engine was smooth and responsive through the 3000 to 4500 middle rpm range and most economical at 4000rpm, burning 15.2 litres per hour for a speed of 19.5 knots. This speed enables the test rig to travel 1.26 nautical miles per litre of fuel consumed and achieve a maximum range on the standard 177-litre fuel tank (less 5% for fuel-line losses) of 215.72 nautical miles.

Handling And Ride

Much has been written about Haines Signature’s variable deadrise, concave vee-hulls since the design was introduced on the 492F back in 1992. The hull shape was innovative at the time and remains unique to Haines Signature today, although the Millennium hull concept under modern Quintrex boats is not dissimilar.

The variable-vee, concave shape allows the Signature VDH hulls to provide excellent stability at rest due to the extreme flaring or reversing of the chines. At the same time, the sharp entry and bottom vee shape – at 33 degrees at bow, 21 degrees at transom – softens the ride into choppy water.

With the introduction of the 550F, the variable deadrise hull has been tweaked for greater stability and increased stern buoyancy to handle the weight of heavier outboards and more people standing in the stern of the boat. The new hull is derived from the larger 575F cuddy-cabin. The wider beam and broader keel section of this latest design not only increases stability, but allows the hull to plane at a lower rpm for improved fuel economy.

With a lower planing speed, travelling long distances in rough weather is also easier and more comfortable as you can set the boat up at a slow cruise speed, while still remaining on the plane. You’ll also be able to slog into the weather without the need for constant throttle adjustments.

In a headsea the new hull retains the soft ride for which Haines Signatures have always been highly regarded, although I did find the 550F needs a lot of negative (engine down) trim for best performance and the softest ride.

In beam and following seas the 550F is well balanced, safe and predictable. It is a hull for both novices and experienced boaters.

Pint-sized Gamefisher

The Haines Signature 550F is a significant step up from its predecessor. As well as being bigger, wider and more capable at sea, it is better equipped for offshore sport and gamefishing. At only 5.5m in length, you will need to pick your days and your weather before foraging wide offshore. However, in suitable conditions, you should have no problem fishing out to the edge of the continental shelf.

The 550F has the stability, ride and inherent seaworthiness to handle some rough water, and get you back safely should conditions deteriorate.

The boat is light in weight, easy to tow, readily transportable and can easily double as a family cruiser/day boat.

Highlights

  • Very good all-round performance.
  • Excellent stability.
  • Long, deep cockpit.
  • Space-efficient transom layout.
  • Plenty of optional gear to customise.

Capacities

  • Maximum power: 150hp
  • Maximum load: 850kg
  • Maximum outboard weight: 220kg
  • Fuel capacity: 177 litres
  • People: 7
  • Maximum weight: 630kg

General

  • Type: Monohull cuddy-cabin
  • Material: Fibreglass
  • Length: 5.5m
  • Beam: 2.41m
  • Deadrise: 21-33 degrees
  • Hull weight: 1000kg
  • Weight on trailer: 1780kg (dry)

Engines

  • Make/model: Suzuki DF140ATX
  • Type: In-line 4-cylinder, 16-valve DOHC EFI 4-stroke outboard
  • Rated hp: 140
  • Displacement: 2 litres
  • No. cylinders: 4
  • Weight: 179kg (lightest model)
  • Shaft length: 63cm extra-longshaft
  • Gearbox ratio: 2.59:1

SPECIFICATIONS: Haines Signature 550F
Options fitted: Suzuki 140hp extra-longshaft 63cm 4-stroke outboard, Dunbier tandem-axle braked trailer, bimini top with front and side clears, stainless-steel rocket-launcher rod rack, hydraulic steering, Furuno NavNet TZTL12F multi-function touch-screen display with 600-watt through-hull transducer, two-tone gelcoat to hull and deck, bow rail, recessed cockpit lighting, livebait tank plumbing, folding rear lounge, deluxe baitboard, chemical toilet, among others.

Haines Signature 550F Boat Test

Boat Test Haines Signature 550F: PINT-SIZED GAMEFISHER
Author and photography: Jeff Webster
Supplied by: The Haines Group

This boat test ran in ISSUE 118 of BlueWater magazine – JULY-AUG 2016

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