Boat test: Osprey 850

By: Norman Holtzhausen, Photography by: Norman Holtzhausen

Osprey 850 Osprey 850
Osprey 850 Osprey 850
Osprey 850 Osprey 850
Osprey 850 Osprey 850
Osprey 850 Osprey 850

When AUT’s Earth and Oceanic Sciences (EOS) Research Institute put out a tender for a new research vessel, price was only one factor. Above all it needed ruggedness, reliability, stability and space while still being suitable for occasional towing to remote locations. It chose the Osprey 850.

Boat test: Osprey 850
This Osprey 850 was built following a tender for AUT’s Earth and Oceanic Sciences (EOS) Research Institute.

Lloyd Elliot has been building Ospreys in Nelson for nearly two decades, and they feature prominently in many tourist snapshots. This is because most of the water taxis in the Abel Tasman National Park are Ospreys, and anyone who has walked, biked, or kayaked any of the trails in the region will not forget the site of one of these sturdy vessels loaded with a dozen people, and almost the same number of kayaks, pulling up onto the beach.

When combined with a pair of reliable, quiet, and economical 150hp Honda four-stroke outboards, the Osprey 850 hardtop is a package that will provide the AUT School of Applied Sciences and EOS with years of hard work and safe operation. The boat was built to AUT's very detailed requirements, but is essentially an extended version of the standard Osprey 800 hardtop. Specific changes included a raised cockpit floor with built-in scuppers to make the boat self draining, and an extended lockup cabin to allow the university to safely secure expensive hydrographical equipment.

Size and space

The big cabin provides shelter from the elements in all conditions, while moving the toilet to its own cabin facing the cockpit makes the most of the interior space. The university wanted a vessel able to safely take up to 12 people with gear, and this boat certainly has the capacity. The choice of black paintwork around the cabin was a decision based on AUT branding, which was still to be added at the time of our initial photoshoot.

All Ospreys are pontoon boats, with a pleasingly rounded hull shape. A hallmark of the Osprey pontoon's profile is a ledge welded all around the outermost edge, which serves three functions - a bumper strip when docking, a sturdy walkway all around the boat, and a hand hold for swimmers or divers in the water. The pontoon itself ensures the boat is unsinkable, and all Ospreys can be built to full survey requirements. This vessel will of course be put into Safe Ship Management, and she is rated to carry a dozen occupants.

Seen from the dock, the boat's size is not immediately apparent, but once you step aboard the cockpit space reminds you that her hull length alone is 8.5m, with an overall length of 10.5m. Her beam at 2.55m is just outside the standard trailer-legal width, with special considerations needed for taking her on the road. However, she will primarily be based at Auckland's Gulf Harbour and will not take to the road very often.

Fishing research

Everything about this boat is built for extreme toughness. The hull thickness is 6mm, and the pontoons are double-skinned with twin layers of 3mm plate. The dry weight of the bare hull is 1600kg, and with engines, equipment, and a full load of fuel in her twin 250-litre tanks she weighs about three tonne.

This would make a fantastic fishing boat, although she is, of course, destined for higher causes (which will also include fishing for research purposes!). The cockpit is huge and uncluttered, and a tube mat covers the floor area. Gunwales are high and wide, providing a safe barrier for leaning or sitting. Rod holders dot both gunwales, while the pontoons provide a wide parcel shelf running along either side. A bait board in the transom sports seven further rod holders, and is built sturdily enough to act as a towing point for sonar buoys and other equipment. The deck is self-draining through scuppers in the corners of the transom, and there are four dive-bottle holders in the side parcel shelves.

The huge boarding platform is uncluttered, and it is easy to step around the motor control cables. This boat features T-style boarding ladders on both sides, as serious diving will be one of the regular activities. A large transom step-through is built into the starboard side, with an alloy door able to be securely closed. Oversize bollards are welded onto each stern corner for towing purposes. The triple bank of batteries is securely tucked away in separate compartments high off the deck in the transom.

AUT's specifications

Between the cabin and cockpit are some custom features built to AUT's specifications. On the port side is the separate toilet compartment with electric macerator. In the centre under the tube mat is a 200-litre live-bait tank with aerator for keeping specimens alive. This is complemented by a smaller portable live-bait tank, which can be removed fully-laden to transport more delicate specimens back to the laboratory aquarium. On the starboard side is a saltwater sink, with a Maxwell pot hauler built into the side of the cabinet. A gantry is fitted into the cabin top, and this can be swung out when needed for heavy lifting purposes. The cabin door neatly slides in behind the toilet compartment, reducing the space occupied and keeping it out of the way.

The cabin roof has been extended to shelter part of the cockpit, but this blocks access to the standard rocket launcher mounted on what would normally be the rear of the cabin.

Stepping into the cabin is a further eye opener, as it is completely lined with charcoal-coloured carpet. This played havoc with the photo shoot, but means there will be no glare from any interior surfaces. The skipper's seat is an unusual slimline design - the skipper half sits and half leans against it. It looked awkward, but after driving the boat for a while it proved extremely practical and comfortable.

The dash is dominated by a huge 10-inch Lowrance HDS10. This top-of-the-range unit provides high-definition broadband sounder functionality as well as integrated chartplotter and Lowrance's new broadband radar. The unit is networked to the digital engine management system as well as the fuel tanks, providing a complete digital display solution. A separate Garmin GMI-10 digital display is dedicated to engine management and can display both engines' performance data on the same colour screen.

Serious work

The huge windscreen is kept clear by twin wipers, and a stroke of genius is the inclusion of a fresh-water spray on each wiper to remove any salt crystals and mitigate sun strike. Behind the skipper are sink and storage cupboards with carpeted shelves. This boat is not intended for extended away trips, so a full galley has been left out. Both side windows slide open for fresh air, visibility and communication.

One downside of a large cabin layout like this is the limited rearward visibility, and the skipper has two blind spots behind him on either side. In real terms, this should not be an issue, and the radar can be used in conditions where 360-degree awareness of surrounding vessels is required.

On the port side is a fold-down table, with a seat against the rear of the cabin and a reversible seat on the forward side. This allows up to four people to sit facing forward while underway, while for serious work the seat is swung around to face the table. An inverter is installed to power several laptops and other equipment as needed. The forward cabin has twin upholstered bunks, allowing occasional respite, and there's room for all the necessary safety equipment.

Out on the bow, an alloy fairlead holds a Sarca anchor, controlled by a Quick Aster winch. Thanks to the ledges on the outside of the pontoons and a grab rail along the top of the cabin, it's easy to walk around the full-width cabin to get to the bow area, if that's ever necessary. A full-size hatch in the cabin roof also gives access to the bow.

On a dime

After a week of extreme weather, including the tragic Albany tornado in Auckland, it was something of an anticlimax to get the boat out on a fantastic sunny and calm summer's afternoon. The good conditions meant we had less chance to test the rough-water handling of the big boat, but a commissioning trip in the rough earlier in the week showed that the boat could cope well in the bad stuff.

Despite the boat's weight, the twin Hondas seemed to have adequate power, but bigger power plants might have been justified if the budget allowed. As was to be expected of a boat this size, acceleration was not quite leap-out-the-hole, but it was no slouch and the speed was soon close to 30 knots. This will be a serious workboat, so outright speed is of less concern than economy and overall performance.

Handling was extremely good, with the pontoons providing excellent stability both at rest and while underway. We pulled some very hard turns and the boat simply dug in and turned on a dime. The advantage of such a big hull is that you can try manoeuvres that would be risky or uncomfortable in a smaller boat, with the weight and stability simply carrying it through.

The hull has a 23-degree deadrise at the transom and, despite the pontoons acting as ultra-wide chines, the ride is comfortable, with the big 850 powering through smaller chop easily. The carpeted interior and rigidity of the hull provided by the pontoons ensure that hard, loud landings are not a feature.

The 850 is supplied on a Hosking tandem trailer with stainless steel brakes and sense brake control. It was supplied through Brokerage Marine in Auckland's Westpark Marina, with after-sales service a factor in its AUT tender win.

The last word

The final product has once again affirmed Osprey's pedigree in building stylish and sturdy boats that are well up to the rigors of everyday use. Osprey has also built a successful export network in Australia, with its boats being sold in New South Wales and Queensland. The build quality and finish are of the highest standard, and while this size boat is not suited to most recreational users, there is a range of smaller models built to a similar standard.

For more details on Osprey boats contact one of its dealers or visit

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