Here are 10 of the best new fibreglass hardtop boats in Australia, Part I.
Aaaah, boat hardtops. Nothing’s more reassuring on a cold, windy day or when you head offshore. It's because you know you’ll remain dry and sheltered where occupants on open boats get drenched.
It’s no surprise that there’s been a surge of new hardtop boats released on the Australian boat market. Covering both imported American boats as well as locally built vessels, many of these new hardtop boats are designed for the purpose. They are made from the outset with a hardtop in mind and are much more than mere regular hulls with a heavy fibreglass hardtop stuck on top (which could possibly result in hull balance issues).
It’s also worth noting that, where T tops for boats are a good start with their grab handles and additional rod holders, real hardtops do all of the above, with the added benefit of a windscreen, shelter, more storage, and often even a lockable door.
Here are 10 of the best new fibreglass hardtop boats recently released in Australia. With so many new hard tops, we couldn’t fit them all here. This is Part I - so look out for Part II, coming soon.
10 of the best fibreglass hardtops
White Pointer 263 Hardtop
The White Pointer 263 is, without exaggeration, one of the best-riding trailerable boats, we’ve ever been on.
White Pointer boats are built by White Pointer Marine in Bairnsdale, Victoria. The company specialises in commercial boats for charter, abalone and dive operators, as well as premium fibreglass fishing boats for serious recreational boaters.
The White Pointer 263 Hardtop is derived from the famous Formula 233 hull. It comes with a very large deck, deep freeboard, a superb layout and an extraordinary selection of accessories to choose from. We tested one earlier this year, fitted with twin 250hp Suzuki outboard motors, and the performance was mind-blowing.
Quite simply, the fibreglass hardtop White Pointer 263HT is the kind of hull that a commercial operator would choose. We’re talking about professional boat operators who may very well spend more time on their boat than they do on land during peak season. The ride is unbelievably smooth and stable — as good as it gets on a boat this size.
It goes without saying that this hardtop fishing rig is a big, heavy muscle boat. It’s not cheap and it will require a serious tow vehicle and matching trailer. Of course, that fact that it’s fully trailerable and still capable of outfishing much larger (and even more expensive) gameboats should not be forgotten.
Few serious anglers in Australia haven’t heard of Haines Hunter boats. The brand has a tradition that goes back more than half a century and can rightly lay claim to building some of the best known fishing boats in the country.
The Haines Hunter 675 Offshore Hardtop was deemed the winner in the Fibreglass Fishing Boats division at Australia’s Greatest Boats 2015. Everything about this boat wowed the judges, from the ride to the finish.
The 675 hardtop evolved from the Haines Hunter 650 R Ltd that first won the very first Australia’s Greatest Boats event in 2010. The layout, capabilities, standard equipment and ride on this 675 Haines Hunter hardtop were sensational, and it’s no surprise that this boat was owned by local angler Jack Auld, a mad-keen fisher who regularly took his hardtop-protected boat out to the shelf and back.
Of note on this Haines Hunter 675 is the beautifully engineered fibreglass hardtop. It strikes a wonderful balance between warmth, shade, protection and aesthetics. So too is the transom, a complete work station with ergonomically designed rod racks, baitboards, livebait wells, sumps, and enclosed battery and pumps lockers.
Fitted with a 250hp Yamaha four-stroke outboard motor, the Haines Hunter 675 Offshore Hardtop could really move — and then some. The five judges who rated this hardtop boat to be the winner were rocketing out of the hole and hitting a top of speed of 45kts with a full load.
The Northbank 750HT came to within a hair’s breadth of taking out the top spot in the Fibreglass Fishing Boats division at Australia’s Greatest Boats 2016.
Built in South Australia by Northbank Fibreglass Boats, the hardtop Northbank 750 has proven construction credentials. It’s a very large, extremely deep-sided fishing platform with attractive lines that’s made to withstand the vicious Southern Ocean.
The boat is built to stringent marine Survey standards. Her deep-vee hull and low centre of gravity provide not only excellent stability, but also plenty of head room, especially for tall anglers.
The hardtop Northbank that we tested while contesting Australia’s Greatest Boats was fitted with a Volvo Penta D4 marine diesel engine and duoprop leg. The setup transmitted enormous torque with powerful grip and gave a thrilling top end. Fuel economy was also outstanding, delivering one-to-one fuel consumption (one litre to the nautical mile) at a comfortable 20kts. On this Northbank 750 Hardtop you could cover plenty of ground for very little expense at that rate and still have around 350nm range.
Handling was excellent, with plenty of torque coming from that Volvo Penta marine diesel. Stability is superb, with the engine’s low centre of gravity making this hardtop relatively immune to weight shifting.
Another former Australia’s Greatest Boats contender, the Arvor 605 Sportfish raised some eyebrows when it was nominated as one of the five best boats in the 2015 Fibreglass Fishing Boats division.
Arvor boats are built in Europe and were originally intended to handle the North Sea. Arvor is in turn owned by the Brunswick Corporation (the massive conglomerate that owns Mercury and numerous other internationally recognised marine brands). Local distribution in Australia prompted the development of three outboard-powered models from 6m to 7.5m.
Design features on the hardtop Arvor 605 Sportsfish include a walkaround bow, large self-draining cockpit and bait holding tanks, large lockable cabin, large flat wraparound windscreen and opening side hatches and sun roof, plus sealable hatches. The design is angler-friendly and yet retains plenty of luxury features. Indeed, while the trawler-style cabin seems odd, the interior has a 360° view, full-height windows and ample headroom to boot, not to mention a load of storage. The cockpit has deep freeboard, a self-draining deck, two automatic bilge pumps and a dual battery system, among many other features.
On the water, the Mercury FourStroke 150 — apart from appealing to Australia’s love with outboard motors — puts the hull on the plane with surprising ease. The forward positioning of the wheelhouse means the skipper doesn’t lose sight when hopping onto the plane, and stability at rest was superb, given the wide (2.54m) beam.
The Tournament 2000 Bluewater Gen2 is based on an already proven (and rather popular) offshore fibreglass boat, with the addition of a stylish hardtop. And in case you hadn’t heard, Tournament Pleasure Boats are now made by The Haines Group.
The hardtop Tournament 2000 Bluewater Gen2 sports a mix of original Mustang lines with updates from Tournament. The cockpit is fairly standard but has everything you need and expect: rear foldaway stern seat, spacious sidepockets, livewell, baitboard, non-slip deck, lots of grabrails, and sealed and raised compartments for batteries and the like. Everything is neat, accessible and well placed for uncluttered and spacious fishing.
The engineered fibreglass hardtop has a modern slimline design, with unrestricted 180° visibility, heaps of light, good airflow and provisions for speakers and wiring. The stainless steel frame that follows the shape of the hardtop is also a nice touch, providing additional grabrails while keeping things structurally sound with no vibrations or rattles.
We tested one with a Suzuki DF200ATX (the Haines Group is the Suzuki outboards distributor) which was a good match. In choppy Moreton Bay, an optimum cruise of 25-29kts was achieved at around 4000 to 4500rpm, with the hull responding well to trim. Stability at rest was also good.
From Europe comes the Karnic Bluewater 2250, a family fishing boat with Down Under appeal. Karnic Boats are built in Cyprus of all places — an island-nation, as you know — which suggests the manufacturers have always been near the sea and therefore know exactly what they’re doing.
The hardtop Karnic Bluewater 2250 will please both offshore anglers and more social boaters. This stylish trailerboat has a healthy-sized cabin with head, a large cockpit, decent hardtop and a cool deck layout. This can be left open for offshore fishing or can transform into a family entertainer by adding some of the many seating options that are supplied as standard.
With a 2.5m beam the cockpit and helm section is quite spacious and still leaves enough room for a decent walkaround to the bow. The dash layout is low for good vision through the screens, with plenty of space for gauges and small electronics.
We tested a hardtop Karnic Bluewater 2250, fitted with a new 200hp Yamaha four-stroke outboard motor. With this marine engine, the Karnic hardtop was nippy out of the hole, attaining a wide open throttle speed of 38kts. A decent cruise of 20-25kts gave a comfortable ride in moderate to choppy conditions. Higher speeds offshore are easily attainable but you need to stand and work the throttle a bit to maintain a better ride.
Having a very deep-vee and fine bow entry, there was a fair amount of spray deflecting outwards and in a quartering sea – with a bit of wind – you would cop some of it. Fine tuning on the trim helps though. Full clears for added protection are highly recommended.
The Jeanneau Merry Fisher range is a strong seller in Europe’s sub-30ft market, where it can happily be either a practical fishing boat or a recreational craft.
With a 2.54m beam, the hardtop Jeanneau Merry Fisher Marlin 695 is still trailerable (with some wide load restrictions). It’s an all-rounder kind of boat, available with one or two wheelhouse doors, with the single-door version offering more seating inside and out with benches in both locations.
Both versions of the Jeanneau Merry Fisher Marlin 695 use a cleverly designed pole to slide round a wooden table for dining. The single-door model seats four around, an impressive feat given the available space. The area also turns into a berth that is ideal for kids to bunk down in while the adults snuggle in the cuddy below. Indeed, the upright and slightly raked forward wheelhouse design maximises the inside volume and even with three in the cab, it doesn’t feel stifling. The all-round view from the helm is also good.
There are rodholders on both sides of the Jeanneau Merry Fisher Marlin 695 and at the transom, plus five storage holders on the wheelhouse. For the solo angler there’s an optional outside helmstation.
We reviewed a hardtop Jeanneau Merry Fisher Marlin 695 that was powered by a Yamaha F150 outboard motor. It handled well, with the hydraulic steering requiring minimum effort to turn while offering good acceleration. Skipping across chop we reached a cruising speed of 17.5kts with fuel consumption a moderate 28.3lt/h.
Caribbean boats need little introduction, having been a mainstay in the Australian marine industry for generations. The Caribbean 2300 Outboard is a fine trailerable hardtop fishing boat, and was in fact Caribbean Boats’ first entry in Trade-a-Boat’s Australia’s Greatest Boats shoot-out.
With the hardtop Caribbean 2300 Outboard, Caribbean boats use tried and proven formulas. This boat is in effect the latest generation of the popular Caribbean 23 that was available as a runabout and flybridge, but only with sterndrive configurations. The designers of the hardtop 2300 Outboard morphed the Caribbean 23 hull with a beautifully sloped rear shear, dropping into a twin-outboard well configuration. The design has an appealing hardtop with traditional safety glass split-windows and stainless steel frames.
No less than five Trade-a-Boat judges tested the Caribbean 2300 Outboard for the Greatest Boats contest. At the time, our review boat belonged to a customer who had fitted his Caribbean hardtop with his personal choice of twin 130hp Evinrude E-TEC outboard motors. Power was gutsy and responsive, confidently powering the package through all obstacles. The wide-bodied deep-vee hull made short work of any rough stuff, with the Caribbean exhibiting a nice bow-high attitude at speed. The weighting of the hull, combined with the efficient hull shape ensured the hull tracked the true, even when speeding down the face of large following seas.
Add 400lt fuel capacity and you have a highly capable offshore hardtop fishing boat.
The American-made Pursuit DC 265 (Dual Console) embodies the very best of premium fibreglass American boats. It is made for both versatility and serious performance, although with a 2.67m beam and a fuelled weight exceeding 3500kg it’s basically a boat for a drystack or mooring — or is an option for a powerful truck and a wide load permit.
The hardtop Pursuit DC 265 is built from handlaid vinylester resin with heavy layup over the keel and a unified grid of stringers and crossbeams infused to the hull. All marine wiring is tinned copper in a purpose-built harness and electrical components are connected to the harness with waterproof plugged electrical connections. Yes, this truly is a premium American fibreglass boat.
We tested a Pursuit DC 265 with a Mercury Verado 350 outboard motor on NSW’s Lake Macquarie. On flat water the hull got onto the plane at just 9kts. Acceleration from a standing stop was outstanding and we managed to get it all the way up to 45kts.
Handling in calm water was lively and fun for a boat of its size and at no time did the hull cavitate in sharp turns. Once across the bar, the Pursuit DC 265 made easy work of short 1m chop and a low swell. The ride was soft and — even when most of the hull was out of the water — it landed with no banging. Coming back through the bar the Pursuit DC 265 felt safe and competent in the following sea, with enough power to drive through waves without any tendency to broach.
Another magnificent example of the premium quality of fibreglass American boats, the Grady-White Seafarer 226 is a hardtop design that shows that a boat can be loaded with features but not compromise on design or functionality.
The Grady-White Seafarer 226 walkaround is a mid-range all-rounder catering for keen offshore anglers and trailerboat enthusiasts alike. As was the case on all Grady-White boat reviews that we’ve had the privilege of doing over the years, the design creatively crams in a huge array of features without cluttering the deck.
In this instance, we tested a hardtop Grady-White Seafarer 226 with a 300hp Yamaha V6 outboard motor. The combination was wonderfully smooth and never felt overpowered. On test day, a solid 15 to 20kt south-easterly pumped through the seaway, along with a fair swell. The hardtop Grady-White Seafarer 226 sliced through the chop, the skipper sitting back and relaxing without having worry about getting bashed to pieces.
We achieved a good 44.8kts at wide open throttle but the comfortable cruise speed sat at around 25kts. Here the Grady-White Seafarer 226 purred along between 3800 to 4000rpm, with fuel consumption below 40lt/h. Off the plane, the boat was comfortable, particularly at troll speeds — and as you might expect, there were no complaints about stability at rest either.