Review: Southern Pacific Cormorant 550

By: Norman Holtzhausen, Photography by: Norman Holtzhausen

Cormorant 550 RIB 01 Cormorant 550 RIB 01
Cormorant 550 RIB 03 Cormorant 550 RIB 03
Cormorant 550 RIB 05 Cormorant 550 RIB 05
Cormorant 550 RIB 06 Cormorant 550 RIB 06
Cormorant 550 RIB 07 Cormorant 550 RIB 07
Cormorant 550 RIB 08 Cormorant 550 RIB 08
Cormorant 550 RIB 09 Cormorant 550 RIB 09
Cormorant 550 RIB 10 Cormorant 550 RIB 10
Cormorant 550 RIB 11 Cormorant 550 RIB 11
Cormorant 550 RIB 12 Cormorant 550 RIB 12
Cormorant 550 RIB 13 Cormorant 550 RIB 13
Cormorant 550 RIB 14 Cormorant 550 RIB 14
Cormorant 550 RIB 17 Cormorant 550 RIB 17
Cormorant 550 RIB 18 Cormorant 550 RIB 18

Two decades on, Southern Pacific Inflatables are a best-selling RIB brand. We jumped at the chance to review one of its larger RIBS, the Cormorant 550.

Although Southern Pacific Inflatables (SPI) has an existing 5m fibreglass-hulled RIB design, it wanted something with a broader beam and extra length but without the weight premium of fibreglass. The builder therefore commissioned a brand-new design made of aluminium, engaging Dibley Marine to develop the hull.



Southern Pacific Cormorant 550 RIB

The brief was for durability, weight reduction and a dry, stable ride with stability at rest. The resulting boat is intended for all-round use, including fishing, diving and waterskiing, and capable of being launched straight off the beach or from a boat ramp.

The review Cormorant 550 RIB turned out to be SPI part-owner and Emirates Team New Zealand America’s Cup skipper Dean Barker’s personal family boat. So getting our hands on it meant we had to wait until the end of the school holidays when they returned from the family bach.

The advantage of the delay was we were able to see the boat after the motor had been fully run-in, it had a couple of weeks of real-life use and we had NZ’s highest-profile helmsman to help us put it through its paces.



Cormorant 550 RIB

The new boat is beautifully finished off in a smart-looking grey and charcoal tubes. The white centre console, polished stainless steel ski arch and gleaming black Suzuki DF90A outboard make this rig stand out from the crowd, and the beautiful Marinedeck teak finish further enhances the feeling of quality.

For some years now SPI has been welding rather than gluing the seams on its inflatable tubes and this shows in the extremely neat joins with no hard edge. It also enables SPI to incorporate durable finishes like the textured charcoal PVC used on the rear of the tube without any issues of leaks or uneven glue lines.

The bowsprit is also beautifully melded into the boat itself, rather than something glued on afterwards and makes for a robust and elegant solution. The test boat had a single centre console unit with a double bench seat (based on a large Icey-Tek chilly bin), but a variety of other options are available. Similarly, this boat did not have a canopy but several options of T-top or bimini are available.



Cormorant 550 RIB fishing rod holders

The rear of the Southern Pacific Cormorant 550 is dominated by the stainless steel ski arch with four rodholders welded on. A baitboard fits over the unit when fishing is the intended activity. Out the back the 90hp Suzuki four-stroke motor is at the upper end of the range for this hull, but then Barker is used to skippering very, very fast boats!

Stepping into the boat the honey colour of the Marinedeck 2000 decking adds an elegant touch. Barker says the boat was full of sand and small people’s food scraps after their holiday but the floor was completely unmarked. This product is becoming more and more popular as it’s elegant, hard-wearing nature and stain resistance are seen to outweigh the extra cost involved.

Anchor locker on Cormorant 550

The centre console featured Barker’s choice of Garmin chartplotter-fishfinder as well as a digital engine gauge rather than a standard analogue style. An Icom VHF and navigation lights are also installed. A large, sealed storage locker under the helm keeps gear dry if the occupants get caught out in the rains.

In the bow area a clever Railblaza accessory port combined with a cleat provides a place to tie-off the anchor which is tucked away under a hatch in the foredeck when not in use. Not on the boat for our test was a curved boarding ladder, since the ski arch prevents swimmers from climbing back into the boat over the transom.



Cormorant 550 on the water ride

It was interesting to see from the forward deck that on this boat the tubes fit outside the rigid hull, not on top of them as with many RIBs. This gives the boat extra internal beam, with plenty of space to step around either side of the centre console. Barker had a lot of input into the design of this boat and said they wanted something that had a deep-V for performance but as much internal space as possible, hence this configuration.

After launching the boat at Auckland’s Okahu Bay, Barker headed out while we got the photo boat ready. By the time we met him on the Waitemata harbour he was blasting around at full throttle, hitting well into the upper 30kts range. Still slower than an AC72 foiling catamaran, but pretty darn fast for an 18-foot boat.

Seeing the Southern Pacific Cormorant 550 in action showed clearly how well the pressed strakes work, lifting the boat well clear at speed so that the pontoons do not touch the water apart from keeping the spray away. The deep-V hull meant that the boat simply cut straight through smaller waves and wakes at speed, while bigger ones received the benefit of the pontoons to cushion the landing.

Steering the RIB into tight turns merely resulted on the inside pontoon dipping to water level, and hence the 550 had very little heel. Despite this it was comfortable to turn hard and the helm remained responsive. Barker says that the advantage of the bigger engine is obvious when towing a watertoy or skier, the engine easily capable of lifting the extra weight.

The Suzuki outboard motor was also remarkably fuel efficient and we were able to measure fuel usage of 11lt/h at 22kts. This gives the 80lt underfloor fuel tank an effective range of up to 160nm, meaning this boat could be used to get all the way around Great Barrier Island from Auckland on one tank of fuel. Even when we pushed the speed up to a still-comfortable 26kts the fuel usage was just 16lt/h with a range of 130nm.



Southern Pacific 550 Cormorant

As we returned to the wharf to put the boat back on its single-axle trailer, I quizzed Barker about his decision to go with a relatively modest boat. He said that they have a beach house and his young children like watersports, such as being towed on a sea biscuit. He wanted a versatile boat that was easily managed by one adult, was suited to swimming, had plenty of grunt and could accommodate extra people when needed. He also wanted something that could be used for fishing occasionally, required little maintenance and was relatively economical to run.

Which pretty much says it all. So if your requirements are the same then you should be looking at the Southern Pacific Cormorant 550.



Southern Pacific Cormorant 550 price: $52,950 (price as tested)






MATERIAL Aluminium hull, welded PVC tubes

LENGTH 5.5m (18ft)

BEAM 2.2m external; 1.2m internal

DEADRISE 22 degrees




FUEL 80lt

REC. HP RANGE 70 to 90



MAKE/MODEL Suzuki DF90A outboard motor

TYPE Four-cylinder four-stroke petrol outboard motor

RATED HP 90 at 5300 to 6300rpm





Southern Pacific Inflatables

22 Oraha Road,

Kumea, West Auckland 0810

Tel Simon Cantello +64 9 412 5591




See the full version of this review in Trade-A-Boat #254, July / August 2015. Why not subscribe today?

Keep up to date with news from Trade-A-boat or like us on Facebook!