Surtees 850 Game Fisher Boat Test

The flagship of the New Zealand Surtees boat range is the impressive 850 Game Fisher. This enclosed cabin, wide-beam trailerboat is a heavy-duty, plate-alloy sportfisher with immense stability at rest. It also boasts a large, well laid-out rear cockpit, accepts single or twin outboards and is easily capable of fishing wide offshore waters.

Surtees 850 Game Fisher Boat Test

Boat Test Surtees 850 Game Fisher: GAME ON!
Author and photography: Jeff Webster

This boat test ran in ISSUE 114 of BlueWater magazine – JAN-FEB 2016

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

Big plate-alloy trailerboats have always been popular among Aussie anglers, although we don’t have quite the love affair with them as our fishing mates across the Tasman. In New Zealand, plate-alloy boats are the offshore fishing rigs of choice and as such there are plenty of top brands to choose from. These range from pontoon-style boats from Stabicraft and Aqualine, along with traditional monohull craft from the likes of White Pointer, Extreme and McLay. One of the biggest and best-known New Zealand-based brands is Surtees. From its Whakatane location in the North Island, Surtees manufactures about 20 different models.

As with many competitor Kiwi brands, Surtees boats can be regarded as production plate boats – as opposed to the full custom-built craft we see from many of Australia’s smaller, regionally based boatbuilders. That Surtees is able to compete with Australia’s full custom craft says a lot about the good design, performance and fishability of these distinctive-looking boats. Clearly these craft have been fine-tuned for offshore fishing over many years.

In the Surtees boat range there are open centre consoles, cuddy cabins, half cabins and enclosed hardtop cruisers. At the smaller end of their range is the 495 Pro Fisher centre console, while the flagship model, and the subject of this review, is the 850 Game Fisher.

Refined Design

The Surtees 850 Game Fisher was released initially with a regular trailerable beam of 2.5m, but was subsequently broadened to 2.8m, making it quite a substantial-sized craft on a trailer. When fully kitted, this package will surpass 3500 tonnes in highway trim, so you will need the largest of 4WD vehicles to haul it on the highway.

The beam was increased to create a much bigger volume boat with a great deal more interior and cockpit fishing space. The boat is still trailerable at the new width, but you may need a permit and over-width flags to tow it in some States.

The Surtees 850 has an overall length of 8.65m and has a moderate, 18-degree deadrise hull bottom, built from 6mm plate aluminium. The topsides are 4mm and the cabin superstructure is made from 3mm alloy. The hull has a noticeable sheer in the topsides, with a sharp entry and finely angled stem for safe, comfortable handling in a following sea.

A water-ballast stability system is also standard with the 850 Game Fisher, along with most of the company’s other models. At the keel of the boat is a hollow chamber that can hold 200L of water. A flap at the transom is opened and closed hydraulically to allow seawater to flood in or out of the keel chamber as required. Flooding the keel stiffens the boat up at rest, reducing lateral movement and improving stability. If your mates are prone to seasickness, flooding the keel when fishing might help them out as the boat won’t rock or roll quite as much.

When you accelerate away and rise up on to the plane, the water can be drained out of the keel so you don’t have to carry it about with you. If extra stability is not needed– and this boat is remarkably solid anyway – then you can leave the keel flap in the closed position.

All-Weather Comfort

The 850 Game Fisher is the largest of five Game Fisher models. All have a hardtop configuration and the larger models have an enclosed helm with bi-fold rear doors and bulkhead separating the saloon from the rear cockpit. This makes the Surtees an all-weather craft and ensures the crew stay warm and dry during trips to and from the offshore fishing grounds.

The test boat was configured to double as a day/overnight cruiser and offshore fishing rig. This may sound like a contradiction, but this boat is big enough to easily perform dual roles. To this end, the saloon has a dinette seating area on the port side in place of a regular bucket chair. The dinette table folds down to create an additional single berth, while underneath there is plenty of storage space to complement the array of drawers and underfloor storage compartments.

The helm side of the saloon has a comfortable bucket chair mounted above a storage box, complete with a built-in, 12-volt, 75L capacity fridge, a three-drawer storage compartment, sink and two-burner gas stove. Other features include power-saving LED lighting throughout the boat, carpeted floors and sliding side and rear windows for much-needed ventilation.

The Helm

The dash and fascia is designed to accept modern, flush-fitted electronics, but there is also space above the instrument panel for bracket-mounted gear. While the test boat was optioned with Simrad electronics, the package price we have listed includes a Garmin 7012 multi-function display, Raymarine VHF radio and a Fusion IP700 stereo system.

The Surtees is comfortable to drive while standing or seated. The helm chair slides forward and aft, while the front-seat bolster flips up and back to make space for standing at the helm. The steering wheel and binnacle-mount throttle, which is offset on a platform to starboard, are also easy to use and within comfortable reach.

Visibility forward and to the sides through the reinforced-glass windscreen and side windows is excellent, although there are a few blind spots when looking aft through the bi-fold doors, largely due to the bulkhead separating the saloon from the cockpit. This could make it difficult for a skipper to track a fish being fought off the stern, particularly if the battle ensues over on the port side.

Forward Cabin

The helm and forward cabin area is open plan, in the sense that there is only a half bulkhead separating the saloon from the cabin. A traditional vee berth occupies the forward cabin and will accommodate two adults or a couple once you add the infill berth cushions to create a large double berth. There is ample storage under the berths and in the cabin sidepockets, while a toilet is well located under the starboard-side berth, behind and below the wiring box.

The test boat had carpet lining the ceiling and surrounds, and although this is by no means a requirement for a fishing rig, it does look smart and lends a homier feel to the interior.

The foredeck is most easily accessed via the wide acrylic hatch in the cabin, although you won’t need to move forward to the bow deck too often as the boat comes standard with a helm switch-operated Stress-Free anchor winch to raise and lower the included Sarca-brand anchor.

Cockpit And Fishing Features

The cockpit is about as big as you will find in any trailerboat, thanks to the 2.8m-wide maximum beam. It is almost square in shape, with 2.4m from the cabin/saloon bulkhead to the transom by 2.34m wide.

The cockpit is cleverly designed to maximise the available space, with a fold-out, three-quarter-width bench seat at the transom providing seating for three people. Once folded away again there is ample space to stand against the rear coaming and fish unimpeded over the stern. Behind this seat and under the rear coaming is an elevated shelf that houses the batteries, oil tank and plumbing.

Offset to port, and situated just above the floor level, is a decent-sized, almost square-shaped livebait tank with a helpful viewing window in the front. It should be sufficient for perhaps 15 to 20 mackerel-sized livebaits. The top of the livebait tank forms a step leading out to the rear boarding platform and port-side boarding ladder.

A range of bait boards/rigging stations are available for the 850 Game Fisher. The standard set-up should be suitable for most fishing applications. The generous cutting board is wide enough to prepare baits, but not so large that it will inhibit passing a rod around the stern of the boat.

The cutting/bait board incorporates fresh and saltwater taps, cup/sinker holders, knife holders and an overboard-draining rear channel or gutter. The trailing edge of the bait board also has four angled rodholders for storage or for trolling centre lines.

There is an additional 10 in-deck gunnel mount rodholders to cover most fishing applications, along with an eight-spread rocket launcher across the rear of the hardtop for stowing rods en route to the fishing grounds. Rods can also be stowed in a series of vertical rod storage racks that slot down over the side storage pockets and can be moved or removed as required.

The sidepockets stretch the full cockpit length, allowing plenty of stowage space for accessories as well as gaffs, landing nets and tag poles.

With wide 290mm gunnels, you can comfortably fight a fish over the stern or the sides of the Surtees. The sidepockets are lifted well above the cockpit floor and there is a minimum of 700mm of cockpit freeboard at the stern. Along the sides the freeboard rises to over 800mm.

An ice/storage box, angled fore and aft, occupied the centre of the cockpit in the test boat. Although this did not really impact on the overall fishability of the cockpit, it can be removed or swapped out for a game chair as required.

One of the few options fitted to the test rig was the dive door on the port side, which can double as a landing door for hauling aboard big pelagics like yellowfin and bluefin tuna. Other cockpit features include amidships and stern cleats, stern rails, rubber tube matting to the cockpit floor, a canvas shade extension to the hardtop, deck wash and a storage compartment housing the cockpit shower rose, gas bottle and hot-water heater.

All things considered, the cockpit is well designed and caters for both reef fishing and bluewater trolling, with plenty of space to move about and high sides for security.

Engine Performance

The Surtees 850 Game Fisher is rated for power up to 400hp.The test boat was set-up with a single extra longshaft 63cm Yamaha 350hp 4-stroke outboard, which was well matched to the boat. That said, I can also see a pair of 175 to 200hp outboards being a popular choice for this craft, given the added reliability of twin engines for bluewater applications.

Nevertheless, thanks to the reliability of modern 4-stroke outboards you can certainly get away with a single engine, and Yamaha’s F350XCB is a fine motor. This massive, 60-degree, 5.3-litre V8 outboard pumps out plenty of power and torque but does not overwhelm the Surtees by any means. The 850 Game Fisher is a big trailerboat and needs a minimum of 300hp to perform well; 350hp makes the boat shine. On the water with three adults and minimal fuel or gear we recorded a wind/current-assisted top speed of 37 knots, more than ample for a big, hefty, trailerable cruiser.

In reality you would rarely use all of the Yamaha V8’s available performance, but it is nice to know it is there to get you across a bar quickly or out of a dangerous situation offshore.

At cruise speeds of 20 to 23 knots and between 3500 and 4000rpm, the Surtees lopes along very comfortably, and you can basically set a course and sit back comfortably for the journey out to the fishing grounds. At low speeds the hull rises gently on to the plane from displacement trolling speed with only a minor planing hump – so high-speed lure trolling should be no problem.

The single Yamaha 350hp V8 works very well with the Surtees Game Fisher and will be quiet and frugal on fuel. However, I’d still opt for a pair of smaller V6 Yamahas over the single V8 for bluewater fishing. A pair of outboards gives you added reliability and better low-speed manoeuvrability for close-quarter battles with big gamefish.

A single sterndrive diesel engine is a third power option available with the 850 Game Fisher.

The standard fuel capacity for the Surtees is a useful 450 litres, with the tank situated fore and aft under the cockpit floor. This fuel supply should be ample for day fishing trips wide offshore regardless of the power option fitted.

Handling And Ride

The Surtees 850 Game Fisher is not a big boat by bluewater gamefishing standards, but it is a large trailerboat, and it feels like it on the water. The 6mm hull bottom and heavy-duty construction gives the hull a fair bit of weight on the water, which helps to soften out the ride and give the boat a cruiser-like feel.

The hydraulic steering was heavier than I would have liked, but the boat tracked straight and handled easily through long, sweeping turns. You can also corner quite tightly, although this ability is somewhat irrelevant in a boat designed for offshore cruising and passage making.

Choppy water is dispensed with easily in the big Surtees, thanks to the fine entry and substantial hull weight. It is no rocket ship from a standing start, but with the 350hp Yamaha on the transom it accelerates in a smooth, progressive fashion.

With the extra-wide 2.8m beam, I expected the hull to be stable, and so it was no surprise to find there was very little side-to-side rocking. As noted earlier, the water-ballast stability system will further stiffen up the hull at rest, but to be honest, the boat does not really need it. It is a very stableboat and will easily handle the weight of four men fishing over one side, or hauling a weighty tuna aboard through the cockpit side door.

As you would expect in a boat of this size, the Surtees comes standard with trim tabs – and you do need them. The high cabin superstructure does get pulled down in a strong cross-wind, but a slight adjustment with the trim tabs will keep the hull trucking along on an even keel. You could achieve the same thing with twin outboards, but with a single outboard installation trim tabs are essential.

Bigger Is Better

The Surtees 850 Game Fisher is about as big as you would want to go with a trailerboat. While it will be manageable behind a long wheelbase, 3.5-tonne-rated towing vehicle, this is pushing the limit, especially given the over-width 2.8m beam. That said, this is the sort of craft you could haul to Portland to chase southern bluefin during the winter months, then turn around and head for Port Stephens or Queensland for the summer billfish season.

The Surtees 850 has all the onboard creature comforts you will need, including a toilet, galley and sleeping facilities, along with the build quality, cockpit layout, handling, ride and performance you need to fish wide offshore waters in comfort and safety.

With prices starting at over $300,000, the Surtees 850 Game Fisher is not a cheap boat, but it is an excellent fishing package that comes pre-loaded with plenty of features and equipment.

Highlights

  • Massive stability
  • Big, wide cockpit
  • Cruiser/offshore fisher versatility
  • Excellent build quality

Capacities

  • Maximum power: 400hp
  • Maximum load: 1060kg
  • Fuel capacity: 450 litres
  • Freshwater: 100 litres
  • People: 10
  • Stabilising ballast: 200 litres

General

  • Type: Monohull enclosed hardtop
  • Material: Plate aluminium
  • Bottom alloy: 6mm
  • Topside alloy: 4mm
  • Length overall: 8.65m
  • Beam: 2.8m
  • Deadrise: 18 degrees
  • Hull weight: 2200kg (dry)
  • Weight on trailer: 3500kg (approx)
  • Height on trailer: 3.21m
  • Length on trailer: 9.8m (engine down)

Engines

  • Make/model: Yamaha F350XCB
  • Type: V8 32 valve DOHC EFI 4-stroke outboard
  • Rated hp: 350
  • Displacement: 5.33 litres
  • No. cylinders: 8
  • Weight: 365kg
  • Gearbox ratio: 1.73:1
Surtees 850 Game Fisher Boat Test

Boat Test Surtees 850 Game Fisher: GAME ON!
Author and photography: Jeff Webster
Supplied by: Northside Marine

This boat test ran in ISSUE 114 of BlueWater magazine – JAN-FEB 2016

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