Savage 540 Beachcomber
The sterndrive Savage 540 Beachcomber is a great dayboat and ideal for swimming, fishing or just cruising with the family – a top all-rounder. Paul Tuzson gives his appraisal of its performance and levels of comfort in weather foul and fine.
Light for its size, it’s easy to tow with the family car and a breeze to get in and out of the water, although a roller trailer would make it even easier. The 540 would, in fact, make an excellent first boat for anyone who wants to skip the smallest tinnies and the like. And we’re not the only ones impressed with it – it won this year’s AMIF Boat of the Year in the "Cruiser Trailerable – aluminium under 6m" division.
The 540 Beachcomber is available as the sterndrive shown here, or as an outboard-powered model. The 2.26m beam is the same for both, but the sterndive is 300mm longer at 5.95m. Despite its extra length, however, the sterndrive loses space in the main occupant area because of the engine cowling.
So, does that make it feel more cramped? Well, no. The thing about sterndrives is they create a low profile that makes the boat seem longer. Most of the perceived (and real) length increase is in the broad flat area immediately behind the rear seats. Then there’s the swim platform that stretches the eye even further, and no powerhead to distract from the view.
Cockpit comforts The top of the engine cowling is padded, with a step-cum-footrest moulded into the front edge, along with moulded drinkholders on either side. So it makes an extremely comfortable perch. The padded area isn’t big enough to act as a sun lounge, but you can recline on it or place some fishing accessories.
The rear seats nestled in between the sides of the engine cowling and the bulwarks are quite comfortable and secure. In fact, they’re not a bad spot for children because they’re so well enclosed and the secure, welded rear handrails are right next to them.
Also, there’s another moulded drinkholder in the side of the fibreglass liner next to each seat. Another reason this position might find favour with children is that it’s very stable.
While we’re discussing the stern area, have a look at the generous swim platform. If you’re going to take the family beachcombing, you can’t go past a swim platform.
One criticism, though, is the lack of a ladder for the platform. A ladder that extends well down into the water could easily be stowed and would significantly increase the comfort and convenience for swimming from the back of the boat. There is a ladder available for the platform as an extra, so if you expect to do some swimming and diving, this may be a good accessory to tick on your list. Aside from its suitability for swimming, the platform is at the ideal height for boarding the boat. It’s also the best place for skiers and wakeboarders to prepare.
The boat’s marine carpet is easy on bare feet. It extends up the inside of the hull behind the long, padded storage boxes, reducing wave noise. The boxes are low enough at the top to get oversized objects in and out, while they finish above deck level so you can get your toes under and right to the edge of the inner hull.
Why would you care about that? Ask someone who works at a bench or fishes all day if it would make a difference to them if they had to stand two or three inches farther away and make up the distance by leaning. As we all know, fishing can involve standing and waiting for quite a long time, even when they are on the bite.
Moving forward At the helm, the height-adjustable main swivel seats are comfortable but don’t have armrests. There’s more storage in front of the foot areas in the console and a lockable glovebox with a small recessed flat area just in front of it. Again, each seat has a moulded drinkholder next to it. There’s even more storage under each of the three seat pads in the bow, especially for the anchor rope.
There’s no provision for ice or bait but apart from that, the Beachcomber has plenty of storage areas. Two people fit in the bow section and the boat comes with a padded insert to cover the footwell, converting the bow into one big, padded seat.
The five-piece windscreen opens in the centre to allow free access to the bow. Of course the bow area also doubles nicely as a fishing spot. Just inside the windscreen there’s a grabrail in the perfect position and the hand seems to find it the instant you get into the boat. Split bowrails give easy access to the bowsprit and stainless steel bowroller. For standard jetty protection, there’s a bump strip right around the hull.
The bimini isn’t standard, nor are overhead rodholders. In fact, there are only two aft-mounted flush-mount rodholders. Obviously, if you’re really keen on fishing, you’d simply customise the boat to suit. Although the bimini complements the lines of the boat nicely, it is low and I was unable to stand under it. There is, however, a gap between the top of the windscreen and bimini rail that allows you to stand.
Behind the wheel Standard instrumentation includes a speedometer and tacho, and fuel, oil and trim gauges. A Northstar Explorer 657 combination fishfinder/chartplotter with a number of other instrumentation functions is available as an option. At the helm, your hand naturally finds the mechanical throttle lever and built-in trim switch, which brings us to the engine.
She’s powered by the four-cylinder MerCruiser 3.0lt TKS – a carburetted engine. Mercury set about automating all the things that need to be done to get a carburetted engine running smoothly and called the resulting system, TKS (Turn Key Starting). So, although it’s carburetted, this engine requires no pumping or priming and it has no choke.
In practice, we found if the engine was slow to start, pushing up the throttle in neutral was needed. At 4400 to 4800rpm the rev range is lower than that of a corresponding outboard. In fact, because of the different power and gearing characteristics of the engine, a corresponding outboard would be a 115hp unit.
Torque is transferred through an Alpha drive. The only real problem with a sterndrive is that the prop can’t be lifted completely out of the water. So if your boat is going to stay in the water for any length of time, corrosion could be an issue. In reality, most owners take their boats home after each outing, finishing with a flush.
The 540 sterndrive has good torque characteristics and it gets up on plane fairly quickly. Although we didn’t tow a skier during testing, it would pull one up briskly without any trouble and a skipole’s available as an accessory.
Sterndrive ride We’ve taken the boat out a couple of times under varying conditions. Much reduced throttle, unwavering attention to oncoming waves and constant manoeuvring are essential in dirty weather.
Our first trip on a fairly calm day demonstrated much improved handling characteristics. One advantage of a sterndrive rig is despite being heavier than an outboards, the low position of the engine makes for a very low centre of gravity so the boat sits "flatter" in turns. Deadrise is 14.5o at the transom, sharpening up toward the bow. So, as with other aspects of the boat, it’s a combination that does everything pretty well. A mild reverse chine helps with both handling and stability when fishing.
The alloy used in the hull is 3mm. The pressed form gives it the strength needed to endure weather well beyond the comfort zone of the boat. It’s well reinforced and braced both longitudinally and laterally. It’s also worth mentioning that the hull is foam-filled up to the deck – so you can’t really sink it.
Options include a baitboard, canopy and zips, deluxe bucket seats, engine and wiring harness pre-rig, metallic painted topsides, side curtains, and a swim platform ladder.
There aren’t many boats in this size that will do all the things the 540 will do as well as it will do them. If you’re looking at a boat in this size range you’ll almost certainly like the Beachcomber and it’s our bet that your family will, too.
LOA: 5.95m Beam: 2.26m Deadrise: 14.5º Weight: Approx 970kg (with engine) WOT: 66kmh Fuel: 110 litres Engine: 135hp MerCruiser TKS 3.0 litre Propeller: 19in aluminium Black Max Max rpm: 4400 to 4800
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