Seahouse 5.2 Glass Top
Dunedin-based Seahouse Boats specialise in the manufacture of entry-level trailer boats, proving that big is not necessarily best, as Paul Smith discovered.
A prospective new boater today is spoilt for choice when it comes to the selection and purchase of a new entry level boat. As it is with the purchase of any major asset, a buyer would be well advised to research the market carefully in order that the final selection best meets the intended use of that asset. When it comes to boats it is important that integrity of design, strength of construction and quality of workmanship, especially in the setting up of the finished product, are paramount considerations. Such qualities are often compromised by price, but not always.
Seahouse Boats is one of a number of boat manufacturers based in Dunedin. While production output from its factory is less than many of their highly profiled neighbouring competitors, the quality of the Seahouse product is right up there with the best of them. Managing director Paul Rutter commenced crafting aluminium boats in 1992 and since then, has developed the marine side of the business so that the company now builds nine different models, which are sold through a four dealer network around the country.
The Seahouse Boats dealer in Christchurch is Butler Marine Ltd and John Butler could not have chosen a better day weather wise, for Trade-A-Boat to evaluate two of the entry level boats in the Seahouse range. The Seahouse 4.5m open runabout and the 5.2m Glass Top cuddy cabin are obviously targeted at different markets, but each incorporates similar construction techniques that are common to the Seahouse range.
Construction and design
The Seahouse 4.5m runabout is constructed of marine grade aluminium alloy. The standard hull thickness is 3mm and rated for 50hp, while 4mm is an extra cost option and increases the power rating to 70hp. In either case, the hull sides are also 3mm and these are multi-folded clinker-style for additional rigidity. The deck is 3mm alloy while the transom and engine pod are 4mm as standard.
The hull construction features two full-length box section bearers with gussets athwartships. The full-length treadplate alloy floors are fully welded and sealed. The gunnel is reinforced with a full-length 50mm gusset and this, in conjunction with the design of the hull structure, contributes to a very rigid and strong monocoque.
Unique to the runabout is the use of inverted strakes, two either side of the keel. The outboard pod is anchored through the transom to the box section beams rather than just being tacked on to the transom. Treadplate alloy rear platforms sit either side of the pod and these are reinforced with solid alloy grab rails extending to the coaming along the length of the rear deck.
The cockpit, being clear of any other fittings, provides plenty of working space for fishing, retrieving waterskiers and/or divers; remembering of course that this is just a 4.5m boat. In standard form, the boat is supplied with twin forward facing bucket seats mounted on alloy bases.
The perspex windscreen is mounted on its own coaming some 125mm above the foredeck and provides more than adequate wind and spray protection. A bimini cover attaches to this providing shelter from the sun and elements. We elected not to put it up during our time on the water. A solid bollard is fitted to the foredeck and this along with a roller fairlead is sufficient for anchoring duties.
The Seahouse 5.2m Glass Top is manufactured using similar methods and a broadly similar specification, in that full-length box bearers are used, and in standard specification the hull plates are 4mm thick with a 5mm option. The full-length gunnel beam is 100mm deep rather than 50mm as on the runabout. The Glass Reinforced Plastic cuddy cabin moulding is not required to act as a structural member of the hull that is, by virtue of its design, torsionally rigid.
Although the variable deadrise design of the hull aids the ride characteristics, the moderate deadrise of 15 degrees, when measured at the transom, would suggest a harsher ride in reasonably choppy water than is actually the case. The fact that the 520 has a clan hull bottom devoid of planing strakes contributes to the better than expected ride offered.
Access to the strong alloy roller fairlead and covered anchor locker is via a good-sized tinted Weaver hatch in the roof of the cuddy. The fully lined cabin (optional extra) also features two full-length bunks with storage under. A one-piece curved windscreen integrates well with the lines of the boat and provides excellent vision and wind protection.
The helm is set into the starboard cabin bulkhead, while to port the absence of a bulkhead allows easy access to the cabin. The instruments are displayed on a flat panel and above this there is a large flat area ideal for bracket mounting of electronics as required.
The review boat was supplied fully loaded with all options boxes ticked. This meant that seating was by way of a pair of king/queen seats on carpeted alloy bases with copious storage under. The front bucket seats swivel and the rear squabs lift off for storage access. The cockpit, side and transom coamings are covered with non-slip material, which is also featured on the portafino stern boarding platform. An 80-litre alloy underfloor fuel tank is mounted centrally beneath the treadplate cockpit sole and a solid centrally mounted alloy ski pole, along with strong grab rails to assist divers and swimmers to access the boat from the water. The cockpit is sufficiently clear and spacious to allow up to four to fish in relative comfort. Like the smaller 4.5m runabout, the engine pod is anchored back through the transom to the main bearers.
Performance and handling
The Seahouse 4.5 Runabout was fitted with a Suzuki DF50 outboard engine. This four stroke, in line 3-cylinder engine displaces just under 50ci (814cc) and features multi-point sequential electronic fuel injection and solid-state ignition. The power output of 50hp (36.8kW) is produced at a lusty 6200rpm.
Being comparatively light, the Suzuki outboard endowed the runabout with lively performance and sufficient urge to tow skiers and other water toys. Like other four stroke outboards, the absence of oil smell and instant starting, combine with excellent fuel economy to make this a favourable entry-level boating experience. The package proved nimble and easy to handle.
Out beyond the Lyttelton Harbour headlands, a reasonable swell was running. While we were aware that we were travelling in a small boat with a comparatively flat bottom - deadrise is 13 degrees - there was not one drop of spray taken on the windscreen.
The Seahouse 5.2 Glass Top took me completely by surprise in terms of its rough water capability and smooth, quiet ride. Naturally, this is not a purpose designed and built rough water boat. However, its capabilities are very much greater than a casual observation of its specifications would suggest. Once we found some open water and associated one metre swells, we found the Seahouse 5.2 capable of tackling them safely while maintaining a steady cruising speed.
The boat would occasionally fly off the top of one wave and into the next. Even so, the landings were deceptively smooth and the hull felt solid just as though it was heavily moulded in GRP. There was no "booming" at all as is more often the case than not in other alloy boats. Much of this quiet running is due to the "dampening plate" incorporated into the specification of the hull design. When pushed hard, the bow lifted nicely with the chines doing their job well, deflected water down and away from the hull. Again, despite our reasonably harsh driving, the windscreen remained free of spray.
Being of such moderate deadrise, the boat remained quite stable at rest and produced a reasonably flat wake, which is ideal for water skiing, if not wakeboarding.
The 5.2 Glass Top was fitted with a Suzuki DF90 four stroke engine that is effectively a detuned version of the Suzuki DF 115. Like others in the Suzuki four stroke range, this in-line four-cylinder engine features sequential multi-point electronic fuel injection, solid-state ignition and twin cam, 4 valve per cylinder technology. The two-litre engine produces its 90hp (66.2kW) at a moderate 5000rpm. Both engines proved to be ideally matched to the respective hulls providing plenty of mid range and top end power.
While the Seahouse 4.5 Runabout seems to be an excellent, if basic entry level boat, it is the 5.2 Glass Top that really left a favourable impression on me. I like the clean, crisp lines, the basic but functional layout, and the high standard of workmanship. The four stroke Suzukis are very quiet and smooth in their operation and I understand are proving economical to run and maintain. What impresses me most of all, however, is the quiet, solid feel of the boat on the water. If you expect to conduct the majority of your boating in sheltered inshore waters but want a boat that is capable of getting you home if the weather suddenly cuts up - and all in a moderate price bracket - then the Seahouse 5.2 Glass Top is definitely worth close inspection.
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