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The “RF” in the Haines Group’s latest Signature 543RF stands for “Runabout Fishing” but really that’s a bit back to front. Perhaps it should be "Fishing Runabout".




The cockpit is all important in any fishing boat and in this respect the Haines Signature 543RF starts out well and truly on the right foot, with uninterrupted leg support along both sides and across the transom.

Step back from the sides and your foot encounters one or the other of a pair of long and skinny iceboxes set into the deck. Because they're set into the hull's foam filling, they should be mighty effective at keeping your catch fresh.

Your eye can't miss a very-well-thought-out workbench perched atop our test boat's aft bulkhead. Mysteriously, this is an option. Few serious fishos would do without it, so the baitboard could almost be considered part of the deal, as would the stainless steel-framed, bimini-top-cum-rod-rack above the helm. With a full set of clears closing off the gap between the bimini and windscreen, this provided excellent shelter from the chill winter's day that fate had served up.

From here, (fishing) life only gets better. In big pockets along each side of the cockpit we find rodracks holding a minimum of two rods each side… Whoa, let's back up and take a count here. Four rigged rods stowed horizontally in out-of-the-way racks, with another four across the rack supporting the bimini top. That's eight rods, with nothing yet in any of four rodholders in the sidedecks - plus another three in holders set into the workbench.

Having said that, 15 rods in all is an overestimate, because you'd only use rod holders while actually fishing. Racks are for stowage and travelling. Still, the thought of 10 rods stowed securely makes me happy, if you include one each for two people with a rod in hand at any given time.

So, here's a boat you can fish from without laying any of your precious (not to mention hideously expensive) rigs on the deck. No wonder I'm happy - and it doesn't need engraved measuring boards in each sidepocket to keep me that way. The more time I spent going over Signature's 543RF, the happier I got…

As in all good contemporary runabouts, the centre of this boat's windscreen opens, as does the centre of the foredeck. This allows you to get to the anchorhatch or unload gear onto a beach or dock. An indication of how extravagantly optioned our test boat was could be found in the anchorwell, where a power-anchorwinch resided.

Turns out the boat you see here features over $20,000-worth of options, including a massive display unit for the Garmin GPSMAP 4008 in front of the steering wheel. Above this is more dash space, occupied in our test boat by a pair of Garmin GM10 display modules, interfaced with the Suzuki DF140 outboard.

We'll come back to the Suzi shortly, after mentioning that it makes its own (significant) addition to the boat's $68,000 price tag. However, I doubt you'd have to increase your investment by that much over and above the $47,000 base price to come up with a pretty darn good boat.

While stepping forward, you'll have to look down to notice a long hatch accessing underfloor stowage and a double-storey stowage bin each side of the walkway under the foredeck. Stowage on a trailerboat is always at a premium and this one has heaps. It's not just fishermen who need stowage though, just as fishing is rarely the sole reason for buying a boat, so let's look at what else the 543RF has to offer.




A comfortable lounge seat folds away into the aft bulkhead while you're fishing and adds two more seats for family or social outings, while on the portside of the lounge is a transom door accessing a foldaway boarding ladder set into a swim step. To starboard, in the covering board beside the workbench, is a plumbed livewell that could just as easily serve as drinks storage. The ladder and plumbing are both options.

Everything else about the boat, from the sheltered helm seating and glovebox in front of the passenger seat (with dash space for a radio and/or stereo) to the convenience of the walkthrough screen and foredeck, sets the 543RF up as a boat that's just as great for social outings as it is for serious fishing.

And I haven't even mentioned the hull. Over the years I've tested many different versions of the Signature Variable Deadrise Hull (SVDH) and they all worked as well as this one, which was very well indeed. On a day unfriendly enough to force us to search for sheltered water for our photoshoot, the 543RF justified the enviable reputation the SVDH has earned since John Haines Snr first penned it all those years ago.

At 5.3m the 543RF is big enough for offshore jaunts, although there was to be none of that on this particular day. Instead I found a soft dry ride around the confused slop that spreads across southern Moreton Bay when it's contending with a blustery westerly. The wind proved strong enough to reduce upwind top speed by 2kts (3.6kmh) compared to running across the wind. Wide open throttle speeds hovered above 35kts (64.7kmh) cross wind. At 4000-4500rpm the hull effortlessly maintained a comfortable 20-25kts (37-46kmh) across the chop. Minimum planing speed was just over 7kts (13kmh), so we could have slowed further to deal with the really rough water. At 3000-3500rpm we were running at 10-15kts (18-28kmh).

The Garmin interface told me that at 4000rpm I was burning 17.5lt/h. At 4500rpm it was 23.9lt/h, while dropping under 20kts (36.9kmh) reduced it to below 15lt/h.

Suzuki's DF140 was doing it easily at any speed and, while I always prefer as much power as I can afford on my own boats, I suspect performance with a 115 would satisfy most people who don't intend to ski or tow wake toys. If so, the 140, or even upgrading to the hull's 150hp maximum, may need consideration.



On the plane...

The rod racks

Great cockpit layout

Walkthrough screen and foredeck

Great ride on choppy water



Dragging the chain...

Nothing apparent






Specifications: Signature 543RF (Haines Group)



Suzuki DF140Price as tested: $68,000

Options fitted: Baitboard, battery and isolation system, bimini top and rod rack, Garmin 4008, Garmin GM10, Garmin/Suzuki interface kit, s/s boarding ladder, recessed cockpit lighting, livewell plumbing, VHF radio, Suzuki DF140 fit-up, transom steps, two-tone deck and hull

Priced from: $47,000




Type: Monohull runabout fishing boat

Material: GRP laminates

Length (overall): 5.33m

Beam: 2.13m

Deadrise: 21°

Weight (hull): Approx. 850kg

Weight (BMT): Approx. 1400kg




Fuel: 100lt (130lt optional)

Rec. min HP: 90

Rec. max. HP: 150




Make/model: Suzuki DF140

Type: 140hp, DOHC in-line, four-cylinder

Displacement: 2044cc

Weight: 186kg

Gearbox Ratio: 2.59:1




The Haines Group

140 Viking Drive

Wacol, Qld, 4076

Tel: (07) 3271 4400





Originally published in TrailerBoat 262.



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