REVIEW: SIGNATURE 788SF/SUZUKI DF350A

By: JOHN WILLIS, Photography by: JOHN WILLIS

Presented by
  • Trade-A-Boat

The new Signature 788SF, with twin Suzuki DF350A’S, was the headline act at the annual Suzuki Marine National Dealer Conference.

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When your sunglasses are forced back into your eye sockets, your nostrils start to flap and every physical motion is a calculated event then you know you’re passing that magical 50kts space/time continuum that launches you into the world of total exhilaration. This was once the realm of a race boat driver and mostly associated with jacking plates, outrigger steering, foot throttles and ballast, and not what you expect from the new Signature Boats 788SF offshore-style centre console.

Yet there’s no doubt of this boat’s heritage. This is the latest offering from the original Haines family DNA, a lineage that dates back to the heady offshore race days of the 1960s and the introduction of fibreglass as a miracle new boatbuilding material. The Haines family boatbuilding tradition has now entered its third generation yet still reflecting the old John Haines Snr premise that if you are going to build a boat then you may as well make it a good-looking one.

The old man’s blood flows thick and salty in his sons John Jnr and Greg Haines, but the all-new 788SF is unashamedly John Jnr’s love child. The big centre console is certainly reflective of some famous American creations but contains plenty of good old Aussie innovation. Yet most importantly the big rig is legally trailerable without wide load restrictions with its maximum beam of 2.5m.

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The Haines boys developed the Signature Variable Deadrise Hull (SVDH) some 30 years ago and their commitment to the design has never been stronger. One may expect that this long and relatively narrow hull may well suffer from stability issues but I was pleasantly surprised as we loaded five eager invitees on board all inspecting every nook and cranny with barely a hint of list.

Aesthetically this sleek hull looks terrific, in fact sexy! It has tremendous fishing appeal but its attraction doesn’t just finish there. This is a comfortable boat that will also host a harbourside party with its large convertible U-shaped lounge and plug-in table up in the bow. There’s removable backrests, storage under the seat for a portable ice box and it’s all beautifully trimmed in premium marine vinyl and made safe and secure with a lowline wraparound stainless rail and a recessed bow fitting and well for the winch.

The centre console unit features a forward-facing seat and a side-opening toilet complete with a porta potti and small vanity. It’s compact but more than adequate, and the gals will love it!

Overhead is a fibreglass T-top but the underside moulding wasn’t finished in time for the Dealer Conference, so watch this space.

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Whilst John Haines wasn’t happy with the windscreen and is currently refitting another, it was in fact quite acceptable but I will be pleased to see the production unit which I believe will fill the void between the top of the console and the bottom of the T-top but still include a folding window section to increase airflow on those hot and balmy days. The comfortable helm has plenty of room for electronics, accessories and twin binnacle controls, plus the twin Simrad NSS16 evo 3 multi-function displays, Lectrotab trim tab controls, JL Audio display, refreshment holders and a very sporty steering wheel with adjustable helm.

I particularly liked the access to the rear of the dash for servicing instruments and all of the many electrical components. The dash simply unclips from the top and tilts forward on hinges allowing plenty of room for technicians. This was teamed with a handy switchbox recess that eliminates searching for pesky hidden isolators at the beginning and end of every excursion.

The 788SF has two beautifully presented bolster-style helm seats in front of the fully plumbed livebait tank and rigging bench. Underfloor are wet box/kill tanks and the transom features a walk-through either side with platforms. The large work area is ideal for sports and game fishing, and you can fish over the twin engines quite easily. The deck area features nice deep sides with a coaming height that will be ideal for stand-up game fishing and still high enough to keep the kiddies safe on a family outing. There are moulded gaff and rod storages in the sides and stainless rod holders in sensible placement whilst still allowing plenty of space for customisation for finicky fishos.

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Make no mistake, the new Signature 788SF is an absolute weapon, particularly with the pair of new Suzuki 350hp four-stroke engines that rocketed the big, bootyful beast to 54.5kts (over 100kph) with five passengers, a load of fuel and a new presentation that was still being run-in and trialled for prop and height set up. I believe that they have now achieved figures close to 60kts with fine tuning and sensible load. She simply exploded out of the hole on take-off and drives with ultimate acceleration throughout the rev range with a deep, gutsy groan that certainly left me gasping with excitement!

However whilst this demonstration package was certainly a huge load of fun it is not commonly offered for sale – it was simply a demonstration for the Haines Group’s fine capabilities. Yet I predict that you will soon be seeing plenty of these fine innovations on the water with more sensible twin 200-250hp engines as the maximum recommended power is 500hp. And believe me, that’s plenty!

COUNTDOWN SUZUKI – "A REVOLUTION IN INNOVATION"

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The Haines/Suzuki Dealer Conference on the beautiful Noosa River presented a sneak peek of the new Signature 788SF hull which still had some finishing work to go. This one was the first out of the mould and became the test vessel for a pair of the new, mighty impressive Suzuki 350hp four-strokes that simply rocketed this fine hull through an eye-opening and jaw-dropping display of power and performance. When we asked John Haines as to why he had fitted a combined 700hp to his new toy that was officially rated to 500 he returned with a broad grin, "Because we can!"

We can’t argue with that eh!

Seriously though it is always good for a manufacturer to push its new designs to the limits and that’s exactly what John is doing with his 788SF. The Suzuki DF350s have already taken out the converted NMMA Innovation Award for 2017 with a tag line that confidently boasts, "A Revolution in Innovation!"

This is an entirely new design with some major innovative features. Instead of just boosting performance by traditional methods Suzuki have stuck with a narrow 55-degree V6 design with 4.4lt displacement but increased the compression ratio and improved the ventilation via a new dual louvre design. They induct a greater volume of cool, dry air thus improving performance whilst maintaining, and actually improving efficiency. To keep the fuel, air and exhaust mixtures moving rapidly Suzuki have fitted four valves per cylinder with dual injectors thus developing 80 horsepower per cylinder from the highest compression engine ever fitted to a production four-stroke outboard engine (12.0:1). The engineers at Suzuki know it works as they have been utilising similar technology in their motor vehicles for many years.

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It’s all good increasing the powerhead efficiencies but the added torque and horsepower must transfer to on-water performance. Suzuki engineers recognised further improvements in their drive train, gearbox design and power transfer by maintaining the traditional offset drive, but enhancing the concept with a freshly designed gearcase and ‘contra-rotating’ drive. The result is more positive power transfer direct to the water with two propellers pushing more blade area for enormous grip throughout the rev range. Try as we could, in steep banking turns we couldn’t get the 788SF to break its grip even at high speeds.

In a high speed run offshore John’s new toy peaked at 54.5kts (101kph) with a tank full of fuel and five passengers onboard, but it handled it beautifully. She lifts to the plane through the variable deadrise effortlessly and has a constant power transmission throughout the rev range with no obvious peaky power bands. The note is more like a high performance sports car than an outboard, enough to take the wrinkles out for any red-blooded soul. Unfortunately our sneak peek didn’t allow the opportunity to get the beast out into the rough stuff, but that will come soon enough. (I can’t wait!)

JOYFUL JOYSTICK

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This is the first boat out of the new mould that John has labelled his own for the season. Hence the decision was made to also fit the Precision Manoeuvring Joystick Control system. These impressive engine controls will certainly come in handy for those in tight mooring spaces as it allows ridiculously easy control including sideways motion. It will be invaluable for some customers, particularly commercial and rescue, but for me twin outboards on a trailer boat allow plenty of manoeuvring flexibility without spending nearly $30K extra on the joystick. In fact, I’d spend far less and fit a bow thruster if mooring were a problem. But no doubt, some will love it and it’s the latest new gizmo for the gadgets among us!

MEET AND GREET

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What a tremendous assembly of boats and engines greeted us at the Annual Suzuki Marine National Dealer Conference, with the new Signature 788SF with twin 350hp engines topping the bill. However there was much more to see and feel for this innovative company.

It was an outstanding array of Haines Family Group and Suzuki Dealers all gathered together for two days of information, display, education and of course some fun on the water with some of Australia’s leading brands. It is hard to appreciate the actual size of the brand partners until they are all gathered with a multitude of national and international dealerships all represented. Haines Family Group products include Signature, Seafarer and Tournament hulls and they also contract manufacture a number of other leading brands from the Wacol (Qld) factory.

STAR-STRUCK

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Whilst the 788SF was the new star of the show the Hooker 8m Centre Console with single DF350A turned plenty of heads with the ride and construction, especially when teamed with the new Suzuki 350. It showed us all the power and performance from a single engine fit to a large offshore hull. The Queensland Police Service tactical vessel NAIAD 11.2m with triple DF350A’s also turned heads and provided plenty of thrills for large groups at a time. We spoke with the skippers of the unit who told us that the boat had previously been fitted with Suzuki 300’s and had given sensational service and gutsy power, however upgrading to the new 350’s with the contra-rotating props had given the boat an amazing upgrade in power and handling both at high and low speed. 

SPECIFICATIONS

PRICED FROM 

$N/A 

OPTIONS FITTED 

Twin Suzuki DF350A four-stroke outboards with joystick controls, Twin Simrad NSS16 evo 3 multi-function displays, Lectrotab trim tab controls, JL Audio display

GENERAL

TYPE Offshore Signature Variable Deadrise Hull (SVDH) centre console  

MATERIAL Fibreglass  

TYPE Offshore Centre console 

LENGTH 7.88m 

BEAM 2.5m 

WEIGHT 1900kg approx. (dry hull only) 

DEADRISE 16-34 degrees 

DRAFT N/A 

MAX HP 500 

CAPACITIES 

PEOPLE 10/900kg 

FUEL 500lt 

WATER 57lt 

ENGINE 

MAKE/MODEL DF350A (x2) 

TYPE V6 – 55-degree DOHC 24-valve  

RATED HP 350  

DISPLACEMENT 4390cc 

WEIGHT 330kg each 

GEAR RATIO 2.29:1 

PROPELLER Front – 3 x 15.5 x 19.5in, rear 3 x 15.5 x 19.5in 

SUPPLIED BY: 

SIGNATURE BOATS/SUZUKI MARINE

140 Viking Drive, Wacol, Qld, 4076

WEB www.signatureboats.com.au, www.suzukimarine.com.au

Check out the full review in issue #498 of Trade-a-Boat magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.  

 


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