Seaforce 530 Skipa | Fibreglass pontoon-style boat beview

By: Norman Holtzhausen, Photography by: Norman Holtzhausen


Seaforce is New Zealand’s only fibreglass pontoon-style fishing boat builder (as compared to traditional aluminium). We test and rate the 530 Skipa.

Here at Trade-a-Boat we like to give our review boats a real-world test, putting them through a range of situations and uses to match that of a potential purchaser. Unfortunately commercial realities and time pressures mean that often this is not possible, and we have to get a good ‘feel’ for the boat from a compressed test session. So when Ric Lawrence of Seaforce said we could spend a couple of weeks playing with the new 530 Skipa centre console model, using it for whatever we liked, we were happy to make the time.

The reason that pontoon hulls generally have more stability is the wide collar around the outside of the hull. To a certain extent this impinges on the interior space but what it does is provide buoyancy across the full width of the boat. This was most striking when looking at the Seaforce 530 Skipa hull while towing her down the motorway. A quick glance at the wing mirror showed that the waterline beam of the boat is almost exactly the same as the gunwale beam, for most of the length of the hull. So at rest that full-width comes into play to provide stability, while at speed the 18-degree vee of the hull lifts this off the water surface to reduce drag.

Another important feature was obvious while looking in the mirror, namely the wide flange that also forms a rubrail. This has a sturdy bumper strip, but importantly also catches any spray that might creep up the side of the hull. As we found later, this works incredibly well to reduce spray coming onboard.

 

Fibreglass pontoon-style fishing boats

Seaforce 530 Skipa fibreglass pontoon style fishing boat

When collecting the Seaforce 530 Skipa, Lawrence showed us how the hull is formed from two main mouldings, the hull and the liner. The entire boat is composite, there is no wood or aluminum anywhere so nothing to rot or corrode. Fibreglass subfloor beams provide strength and isophthalic resins are used throughout the construction. The pontoon space and indeed all voids in the hull are filled with polyethylene foam rather than the more common polyurethane. This makes for a very quiet hull which retains the ability to flex slightly to absorb stresses but is superbly quiet. The beautifully finished smooth and curved surfaces of the pontoon and hull neatly turn the water away, creating a clean wake with little spray.

The interior of the Seaforce 530 Skipa pontoon-style boat is configured as a fairly standard centre console. The broad dash has a simple layout, with a single 7in Raymarine multifunction touchscreen display. This integrates on NMEA 2000 with the engine and fuel systems, so can display the usual rpm, speed, fuel level, fuel consumption etc., as well as provide chartplotter and fishfinder functions. While this is a very neat and elegant solution, the screen area on this unit is a bit small to display all the possible options at once. Hence, I found myself flipping between the engine displays and the split chartplotter/fishfinder screen, and would prefer to have a conventional rev counter and fuel gauge also fitted. The touchscreen functionality is also fantastic when the boat is not moving but is harder to use when bouncing along at speed or with wet hands.

 

Layout and design

Seaforce 530 Skipa layout

Like many centre console fishing modules, the throttle control is mounted vertically, so you shift the handle up to go faster and down to slow down or reverse. This is less intuitive than a horizontal layout and the neutral position is not immediately obvious. Also a heavy bounce of the boat has the potential to shift the throttle position, although in reality we found this seldom happened. A sealed glove compartment is perfect for keeping cellphones and keys safe, while a windscreen shields the skipper and a passenger from the wind.

The front of the console has a double-width padded bench seat. This hinges up to reveal a large storage area and we managed to fit two dive cylinders and a bulky dive bag into that compartment. This is often the shortcoming of a centre console – shortage of storage space – but this unit mitigates that. A neat cover hides the wiring on the back of the instruments and prevents accidental damage.

Bow on Seaforce 530 Skipa

The helm seat is a double-width bench seat with a reversible back support. The height and position of this is perfect for a 1.8m-tall skipper, providing a comfortable seat while underway but not being obstructive if you prefer to stand. Hidden underneath is a 70lt chilly bin for bait or the day’s catch.

 

Aluminium t-top

Aluminium T-top on Seaforce 530 Skipa fibreglass pontoon boat.

An aluminum T-top is fitted and Lawrence pointed out it has the ability to flex slightly with the hull. He says he has seen the mounting points of rigid stainless steel units tear the hull of boats. Two bright deck lights are fitted to illuminate the bow area and stern, as well as navigation lights on the side of the console unit.

Our first expedition in the Seaforce 530 Skipa was a fishing trip and the configuration is perfect for the task, allowing the whole length of the hull to be used for casting soft baits or lures. The plan was to head out and chase workups on the Hauraki Gulf, a ploy which has seen some amazing early-season action around Auckland.

So we slipped the Seaforce 530 Skipa off its trailer at the shallow Maraetai ramp in about 10kts of wind. This beach ramp regularly causes issues due to its lack of incline, but the shallow draft of this boat meant there was no drama even with only a foot of water depth. The Honda BF80 burbled into life and soon we were on our way. With the wind behind us the hull easily handled the swells, showing little tendency to self-steer, and as we sank down into the troughs the flange around the hull caught the spray and kept it well away from the interior.

Helm on Seaforce 530 Skipa

At more than 20kts, we were soon out and around the bottom end of Waiheke. Unfortunately the wind was a cold southerly and after a short period out north of the island we realised that it was colder than we had anticipated, despite the bright sunshine. We could see some squalls coming and knew it would not be getting any warmer, so we pulled the plug and decided to head home for something hot and sustaining.

 

Handling and ride

Seaforce 530 Skipa pontoon fibreglass boat

That said, we were now heading directly into a raging southerly with swells up to two metres in places. Not the place to be out in a relatively small open boat. And yet the Skipa handled it superbly. Yes, we had to slow down to about 10 to 12kts, but at no time did we feel anything but confidence in the boat’s ability to handle the conditions. We powered up the waves, crested the top and then smoothly slid down the back. At each stage the hull handled it, pushing spray away. The landings were characterised by an absence of crashing, with the hull certainly living up to Lawrence’s description of being a "journey on a cushion of air".

Make no mistake, we got wet. This is an open boat, we were head-on into a 20kt wind and 2m swell and no boat would be dry in those conditions. But the water that came onboard was wind-flung spray rather than a splash from the hull, especially when we were not paying attention and turned at an angle to the wind. Most of the time the spray went harmlessly out the sides and behind us.

Pulling the boat back on the trailer was quick and easy, a blessing since we were keen to dry off and get a hot drink. This new Honda BF80 outboard motor is fantastic, providing all the technology usually seen in larger engines (such as, VTEC variable valve timing, NMEA 2000 connectivity, Lean Burn Control, and ECOmo mode) in a package that is light and economical to run. Filling up afterwards we found we had used just 20lt for the trip, travelling around 28nm, and the day therefore cost us a mere $40 in fuel. This means the underfloor 70lt fuel tank is good for around 100nm, more than enough for even an extended day trip in this type of boat.

 

Family boat?

Seaforce 530 Skipa at rest

The next expedition was a family fishing trip, with a couple of boys and their dad. An open boat is not always the best option with children, since they can get cold and bored quite quickly. However, we chose a relatively calm and sunny day and kept the trip to a modest distance. The bow area proved to be the most popular place to be, the boys both preferring the bow seat where they had the best view.

The third trip was a serious blokes evening fishing trip. I put the word out to my fishing group on social media and within 10 minutes had a full boat. One of the guys had a successful trip targeting snapper the previous weekend, and we were all keen to try and repeat his success. So at 5.30pm we took the boat to the Half Moon Bay boat ramp, loaded up with bait and burley and headed out into just 10kts of wind. Winding the Honda up to full throttle we hit 32kts, with three blokes and a full load of fuel and gear, and were soon at the chosen spot.

A fierce hour of fishing followed, with numerous fish coming on board. The anchor proved easy to deploy manually over the bow, although the anchor locker is huge and a drum winch could easily be fitted into the space. Once we had some fish onboard the Seaforce 530 Skipa we headed off to get some photos back at the Maraetai Beach Boat Club. The light throttle and responsive steering made it easy to manoeuver the boat close in to the wharf. The fisheries officers strolled over to check our catch and were impressed by the boat, commenting on how much fishing room there was and how well the ‘flow’ around the console worked. Then we headed home, in the gathering gloom, and were soon back on the trailer again.

 

The Trade-a-Boat verdict

Seaforce 530 Skipa 'glass pontoon boat with 80hp Honda

So, what did we learn from this extended test of the Seaforce 530 Skipa fibreglass pontoon-style boat? There are a few minor negatives, all easily rectified: the under-seat chilly bin cannot be opened fully without pulling it out from under the seat. The navigation lights on the side of the console reflect on the T-top uprights, but Lawrence has already indicated he has relocated these to the outside gunwales. The touchscreen display is hard to use when the boat is bouncing around.

On the positives, though, the boat has a comfortable ride, the brass keel strip and shallow draft make launching off a beach easy. The Honda motor is ultra-economical, although I would probably go for the next bigger model. The seat positions are comfortable, and the boat is stable even with three big lads all on the same side.

Overall the Seaforce 530 Skipa is a great fishing boat, with space for several big guys and plenty of gear. It would also make a good small dive boat, with storage for scuba gear for two divers. Yes, it is an open boat and therefore most suited to summer and fine weather, but can handle the rough conditions when necessary. The Honda BF80 outboard motor is a fantastic motor with a five-year warranty and this matches the warranty on the hull. 

 

HIGHS

• Heaps of fishing space in a relatively small boat

• Superb ride and stability

• Ultra-economical

• Easy launching even off shallow ramps

 

LOWS

• The vertical throttle control is not intuitive

• The navigation lights placement was not ideal (but has been changed in new versions)

• The under-seat chilly bin is not easy to access

 

Seaforce 530 Skipa specs

Seaforce 530 Skipa price: $47,995

Price as tested

 

PRICED FROM

$37,000 w/ two-stroke outboard motor

 

GENERAL

MATERIAL Fibreglass

TYPE Planing monohull fibreglass pontoon-style boat

LENGTH 5.65m overall

BEAM 2.25m

WEIGHT 500kg hull; 1000kg BMT

DEADRISE 18°

 

CAPACITIES

PEOPLE 6

REC HP RANGE 75 to 115

REC HP 90

FUEL 70lt

 

ENGINE

MAKE/MODEL Honda BF80 outboard motor

TYPE Four-cylinder VTEC four-stroke outboard motor

RATED HP 80 at 5500rpm

DISPLACEMENT 1496cc

 

MORE INFORMATION

Seaforce Marine

22 Mexted Place, Riverlea, 3216, Hamilton

Phone (07) 856 3336

Email info@seaforcemarine.co.nz

Web seaforce.co.nz

 

See the full version of this review in Trade-A-Boat #260, November / December 2015. Why not subscribe today?

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