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Zodiac’s 650 Pro Open brings European flair to Aussie shores, reports Andrew Norton.

The Zodiac 650 Pro Open. As fine a ride as you'll get on a craft this length.

It's strange how what's popular in Europe sometimes doesn't equate to what Aussie boaters want. Perhaps it's because we really are the 51st State of the USA instead of having our own identity.

I've been testing RIBs, or rigid hulls having side buoyancy tubes, for almost a decade. One I borrowed long-term, the 3m Mako RIB (reviewed in Trade-a-Boat in 2003) from South Africa, planed easily with two adults aboard powered only by a Suzuki DF6. Yet its ride into a stiff chop was unmatched by any other hull of its length I've yet tested and when left out in a rainstorm, removing the transom bung simply drained the cockpit. How many 10-footers can do that?

Another Mako I tested was the 5.5m centre console powered by a 115hp two-stroke, which, into waves to one metre on Lake Macquarie NSW, was simply brilliant. Not only did the buoyancy tubes provide lift and immense stability but also cushioned the waves between the 'glass hull and the tubes, returning a ride comparable to a well-designed cat.

However, like all inflatable dinghies, RIBs can be wet across a chop, but that's the fun of summer boating with sunburnt skin and matted, salt-encrusted hair. For winter boating, just invest in a wetsuit or full-length wet-weather gear and you're fine. Because RIBs demand to be driven hard getting wet is part of the experience!

Zodiac's range of Sport Cruising models span 4.2 to 8.5m, but the 650 Pro Open is the largest that can be legally towed in all states of Oz. Judging from how many times it appears in Zodiac's Sport Cruising catalogue it must also be the favourite of the range.

So not only is the 650 a stable and oh so exciting tender for your superyacht, she can be towed easily to new destinations should you tire of the endless inane conversations at your yacht club or marina. And heaven forbid should your house have only a measly standard garage the hull storage dimensions with the tubes deflated are 5.3 x 1.6m.

Thankfully the buoyancy tubes have a hefty 0.6m diameter and are made from Hypalon, which is way more UV-resistant than the PVC some manufacturers still use in their small RIBs. Unlike some makes of RIBs the tubes have tapered ends that run completely clear of the water when the hull is planing. There are five separate buoyancy compartments.

The fibreglass hull has a solid layup with fibreglass stringers and no under-floor foam.

In true French flair, like the Arvor range of semi-displacement cruisers, the Zodiac 650 Pro Open has a walkway to port of the helm area accessing the forward cockpit, which is a continuation of the main self-draining cockpit that's a one-piece inner liner for strength and easy cleaning. The internal length is 4.95m and cockpit width 1.35m so there's still a fair amount of onboard usable space. The side console is full height like a centre console, and standing at the helm is more likely than sitting.

At the stem head is a moulded mounting for the stainless steel bowroller, with locking pin and a cleat aft, but I question the effectiveness of the dinky nav lights either side. Perhaps Zodiac put them there for show as I wouldn't be trusting another boat to see them at night.

Aft of the bowroller moulding is a deep storage compartment for ground tackle and tube inflator. This raised compartment also makes a neat little casting platform for those adept at not dragging their hooks over the topsides.

The forward end of the side console opens to reveal a deep storage compartment with a corresponding hatch at the aft end. There's a shelf for car keys, wallet and mobile phone, but the latter would need cushioning to prevent damage when underway. There's a strong grabrail atop the console with side loop to hang onto, so the passenger won't get white-knuckle fever when you're driving the hull to its limits, which are pretty high!

A T-top is optional, which for northern latitudes would be essential.

The dash area has adequate space for full engine instrumentation but a dedicated fishing boat console it ain't. Let's face it serious anglers probably wouldn't buy a RIB anyway. Cleverly the helm-passenger seat is more a lean seat, which in my opinion is the way all centre console helm seats should be.

Ahead of the transom is a three-person seat having backrest bolsters, low stainless steel grabrails and a cleverly-integrated 54lt cooler. Under this area is the 180lt fuel tank, positioned where, when full, it can help trim the hull down aft, the way all deep-vee hulls like to run. A stainless steel skipole is mounted aft of the seating but as there's no aft-facing observer's seat there could be some legal issues when towing a skier.

Lifelines along the tubes may detract from the sportsboat look of the Zodiac 650 Pro Open, but as there's nowhere for a boarding ladder to be fitted these will help swimmers drag themselves over the topsides. The large Z attached to the topsides either side aft does add flair to the otherwise unbroken orange rubbing strip running from stem to stern.

I always like testing a hull with the maximum rated power fitted and the Mercury Verado 175 was in keeping with the upmarket appeal of this boat. It started instantly hot or cold with no oil smoke appearing, but despite drive-by-wire DTS throttle and gearshift controls fitted there was a fair clunk when engaging ahead. Still the low-speed handling was precise and the deep-vee hull tracked well, enabling the Zodiac 650 to be easily docked without needing bursts of throttle. The little four-cylinder supercharged powerhead returned excellent trolling and midrange fuel efficiency combined with blistering top-end speeds, particularly over 4000rpm.

Standing at the high sided console gave excellent vision forward over the raised bow and in my opinion was the natural way to drive the 650 Pro Open.

Displacing around 1250kg with photographer Barry Ashenhurst and myself aboard, the 650 handled beautifully with no prop ventilation occurring through the tight figure of eight turns at 4000rpm and the steering remaining direct. The hull cornered fairly flat, but not excessively. As expected running such a deep hull deadrise at more than 40kts there was some chine-walking, but unlike a normal fibreglass monohull the tubes touched the water limiting how far the hull flopped from side to side. This is a hull that can be driven easily by a novice without fear of unknown handling qualities.

As the test conditions on Lake Macquarie (NSW) were a little rougher than a low windblown chop, the rough-water ride qualities remain unknown but when driven at Wide Open Throttle over our own wash there was absolutely no slamming. With its fine hull entry and raised bow the Zodiac 650 should remain dry in a head sea, but based on my testing of other RIBs in this size range, across larger waves I'd expect some spray to come aboard aft of the console.

When the throttle was closed quickly the combination of the tapered buoyancy tubes and extra longshaft (25in) transom prevented any water from reaching the outboard well. At rest the 650 Pro Open was like a half-tide rock, the hull barely reacting with Barry and me (total 200kg) sitting on one side.

The 650 Pro Open can be fitted with three lifting points, one forward and two aft to provide an even sling onto a support cradle. The mountings for these points are already installed in the cockpit liner. As tested with the Mercury Verado 175 and a full fuel tank, ground tackle and safety gear, the lifting weight is around 1050kg.

Zodiac's years of inflatable boat production have sure paid off and the attention to detail and finish of the 650 Pro Open simply leaves some of the lesser known brands for dead.

Specifications: ZODIAC 650 PRO OPEN


Single 175hp Mercury Verado outboard, two people, full fuel

3.6kts       600rpm      1.5lt/h
12.1kts     3000rpm    15.3lt/h
26.0kts     4000rpm    28.9lt/h
34.3kts     5000rpm    49.4lt/h
43.4kts     6000rpm    69.7lt/h

* Sea-trial figures supplied by the author.


MATERIAL: Fibreglass/Hypalon
LENGTH: 6.5m
BEAM: 2.5m
WEIGHT: 670kg (hull)
DEADRISE: 24 degrees

Rec. HP: 150
Rec. max HP: 175
FUEL: 180lt

MAKE/MODEL: Mercury Verado 175
TYPE: Supercharged four-stroke petrol outboard
WEIGHT: 236kg
PROP: 21in Inertia stainless steel

Zodiac Marine

Lifestyle Marine,
1 Wharf Road,
Toronto, NSW, 2283
Phone: (02) 4959 1444
Fax: (02) 4950 4300

From Trade-a-Boat Issue 430, Aug-Sept 2012. Photos: Barry Ashenhurst.

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