By: Norman Holtzhausen, Photography by: Norman Holtzhausen


When David McKain was looking for a new boat he thought he would stay with a fibreglass model. But the space, durability and ride quality of the DNA 515XC pontoon model convinced him otherwise, and he is now an aluminium boat convert.


David McKain has owned only three boats in the past twenty years, and the first two were both fibreglass. Each was his pride and joy for about a decade, and McKain has been fiercely loyal to that construction material. So when the family grew up and he was looking to downsize, it seemed his next rig would be an obvious choice. However, he had some very specific requirements for his new ride, and, he believed, a moulded fibreglass boat was not going to be sufficiently customisable for his needs.

He started to look at options in aluminium and soon came across DNA boats, based near Nelson. Jason Elvines, managing director of DNA, says they have spent several years developing their standardised hull designs in both monohull and pontoon configurations. These form the basis of their dozen or so models, some of which are also available in kitset form for DIY experts to build themselves.

By using the latest in CAD software and CNC cutting machines, they have the ability to custom build every single boat. The extremely fine tolerances of the CNC machine enables them to create interlocking full-length frames, while also allowing them to incorporate unique design features most conventional alloy boat builders are unable to achieve.

Custom criteria

McKain started with the DNA 515XC cuddy series. The X designation of the DNA range indicates a pontoon boat, and this model features a stylish stepped pontoon profile tapering gently towards a slightly squared- off bow. McKain says what attracted him to this model was the substantial cockpit space, larger than most of its competitors in this length.

The pontoons provide stability at rest, while the 20-degree deadrise provides smooth-riding performance. In the DNA hull the pontoons lift just clear of the water when underway, reducing the wetted area and hence lowering drag while still being there to provide buoyancy when the going gets tough. So McKain's second criterion, namely a soft-riding boat, also got the big tick.

Unlike many blokes' fishing boats, this is clearly a joint venture between McKain and his wife Meg, and it was refreshing to see her as excited about the new boat as he was. The third criterion, due to a back injury some years ago, was additional secure handholds all over the boat. For the same reason, a rocket launcher wasn't practical, so Elvines designed a miniature ski arch on the transom with four rod holders.

An option in the 515XC is an underfloor fuel tank, but the McKains elected to go with two of the new 45-litre tote tanks. This boat will be based at their bach in Rotorua and, rather than tow the whole boat to the petrol station, they will just take the tanks out for refilling. The transom has therefore been set high enough for these tanks to slip neatly underneath and out of the way.

The McKains opted for the Targa top and clears to give shelter from the sun and rain. One of the cool things a CNC cutter can do is a custom cut-out, and they opted to have the boat's name, Te Namu (sand-fly), and a graphic of a trout fly of the same type cut into the arch supporting the top. Although the top is removable, there's no height issue at their bach so they opted to have the arch bolted on rather than mounted with hinges and clips. The Targa top has plenty of head height, even for those over six feet tall, and extends far enough forward that the clears drop down almost vertically to the windscreen.

Things to consider

Something looked slightly uncommon in the cabin layout and it took a few seconds to work out what one of Meg McKain's most unusual customisations was: the passenger seat (a moulded plastic unit mounted on a huge under-seat locker with a supplementary rear-facing seat) is set further forward in the cockpit than the skipper seat. This ensures the passenger can reach the handholds and foot rests while also ensuring the rear-facing seat doesn't occupy much in the way of cockpit space. Looking at how this works I can see the benefits of this asymmetrical arrangement, and it's something other designers should consider.

One final option the McKains selected was to have the entire boat, inside and out, apart from the treadplate deck, Nyalic coated. This is out of concern for the sulphur dioxide sometimes present in the air in Rotorua, and since the boat will be stored there most of the year they wanted to inhibit any corrosive effects. Of course, the Nyalic makes the boat gleam like it's been polished, and it will continue to gleam for years to come.

When it came to powering the vessel, David McKain chose to keep the Yamaha 115hp four-stroke from his previous boat, as it had relatively few hours on the clock. Although right at the upper end of the recommended horsepower for this hull (75 to 115hp), a bit of extra power is usually preferable to being underpowered. The 115hp is one of Yamaha's best-selling models and is generally regarded as being extremely reliable and economical to run. This is a decision McKain is unlikely  to regret.

DNA built the boat to the McKains' exact requirements. One of the advantages of this custom-build process is the ability to see the quality of the workmanship as it all comes together, and McKain says they received regular updates and photographs of the hull as it was assembled - no dodgy welding hidden under the deck when the client is watching the entire process! Also, although the boat is designed on the CAD system and the client gets to explore the design beforehand, during a custom build like this the client can choose to change aspects of the boat as it progresses. This is much easier to accommodate than retro-fitting any changes to an already-built hull.

Open throttle

It was a very pleased couple that took delivery of their new boat in mid-February, and it was during their couple of weeks of shakedown trips that we caught up with them. Since their boating will be almost exclusively fresh-water, and often in shallow water at that, they have the motor mounted perhaps slightly higher than is optimal. However, this allows a shallower draught for coming in to shore, while the stainless prop ensures an occasional powered clean-off in the mud will not cause undue harm.

We managed to get out onto Lake Karapiro on a brilliant sunny afternoon, and once we'd dodged the numerous jetskis and waterskiers, we headed up the lake. The boat proved to have amazing handling. Cutting through the huge skiboat wakes was no problem, and the chop down at the rowing club end of the lake hardly worried her. At low speeds the pontoons come into play, stabilising the  entire hull.

Once clear of the rowing lanes and jetskis we opened the throttles and hurtled out of the blocks. Well over 30 knots came up in seconds, and the curved chine, located just under the pontoons, kept spray well away. The boat rides on those chines under normal conditions, giving a smooth and stable feel.

The 515 does not have any planing strakes, nor does it need any, as the chines serve this purpose. Tight turns with no side-slip are also possible thanks to those same edges, with the pontoons providing extra grab when pushed very hard. Holeshot performance, with the big engine, was quite extraordinary as one might expect, but I believe it would be good even with a more modest power plant.

Since this boat will mostly be used for trout fishing on Lake Rotorua, stability at low speeds and in a wind and chop was paramount. The pontoons take care of all of this, and even three large adults leaning far over one side simply settled the side pontoon slightly further into the water.

Spot on

The cuddy cabin area is for storage only and, unlike some boats of this style, it does not have a step-through to the bow. However, the split windscreen swings open and access to the anchor well is easy while still standing fully supported inside the cabin. If access around the bow is required, a flat walking area has been recessed into the pontoons and covered with non-slip padding.

The helm seat, a plastic pod-mounted unit, was comfortable. The steering was incredibly light, almost as if it was a powered hydraulic unit, so clearly the motor position and trim is just spot on. A modest Garmin 500C colour fishfinder is fitted, as is a VHF radio.

The entire deck is treadplate but, for bare-foot comfort, a tube mat has been fitted over this. Two additional seats with padded squabs  are set in each corner of the transom, and access to the boarding platform is by stepping onto these. The outboard motor pod and boarding platforms on either side is a single unit, with a slight gap between the hull and boarding platform. An alloy T-style boarding ladder is fitted.

The last word

This is the first DNA boat I have reviewed, and I have to say I'm impressed. The ride quality was excellent and the stability equal to, if not better than, the best in its class. Performance was exceptional. The build quality was also very good, and the precise CNC cutter means there are no sharp edges to the aluminium.

For more details visit dnaboats.co.nz or give Jason a call on 03 542 3977. DNA Boats will also be at the Hutchwilco New Zealand boat show from 17 to 20 May, so visit them on stand B136.

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