BOAT TEST: SAVAGE 540 BEACHCOMBER

By: Paul Tuzson, Photography by: Paul Tuzson


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The Savage 540 Beachcomber is TrailerBoat’s prize boat that one lucky subscriber will win. Paul Tuzson gives his appraisal of its performance and levels of comfort in foul and fine weather

BOAT TEST: SAVAGE 540 BEACHCOMBER
Savage 540 Beachcomber

 

STERN FUN
The Beachcomber sterndrive is a great dayboat, ideal for swimming, fishing or just cruising about enjoying time with the family - a top all-rounder.
The aluminium hull makes it light for its size, so it's easy to tow with the family car and a breeze to get in and out of the water, although a roller trailer would make it a touch easier. The 540 would, in fact, make an excellent first boat for anyone who wants to skip the smallest tinnies and the like. And we're not the only ones impressed with it, because it won the AMIF Boat Of The Year in the 'Cruiser Trailerable - Aluminium Under 6 metre' division in 2008.
The 540 Beachcomber is available as the sterndrive shown hereabouts or as an outboard powered model. The 2.26m beam is the same for both, but the sterndive is 300mm longer at 5.95m. However, despite its extra length, the sterndrive loses space in the main occupant area because of the engine cowling. So, does that make it feel more cramped? Well, no. The thing about sterndrives is they create a low profile that makes the boat seem longer. Most of the perceived (and real) length increase is in the broad flat area immediately behind the rear seats. Then there's the swim platform that stretches the eye even further and no powerhead to distract from the view.

 

COCKPIT COMFORTS
The top of the engine cowling is padded, with a step-cum-footrest moulded into the front edge, along with moulded drinkholders on either side. So it makes an extremely comfortable perch. The padded area isn't big enough to act as a sun lounge, but you can recline on it or place some fishing accessories.
The rear seats nestled in between the sides of the engine cowling and the bulwarks are quite comfortable and secure. In fact, they're not a bad spot for children because they're so well enclosed and the rear handrails are right next to them. These rails are actually welded in place so they can never come loose. Also, there's another moulded drinkholder in the side of the fibreglass liner next to each seat. Another reason this position might find favour with children is that it's very stable. We tested this boat on the same day as the Offshore Pro and used it as the camera boat. Severe chop with wave heights of around 1.5m made it difficult to get steady shots but given the conditions, this region of the boat proved to be the best.
While we're discussing the stern area, have a look at the generous swim platform. If you're going to take the family beachcombing, you can't go past a swim platform. They just can't be beaten as starting points for swimming or snorkelling. One criticism I had of the boat, though, was the lack of a ladder for the platform. A ladder that extends well down into the water could easily be stowed and would significantly increase the comfort and convenience for swimming from the back of the boat. There is a ladder available for the platform as an extra, so if you expect to do some swimming and diving, this may be a good accessory to tick on your list. Aside from its suitability for swimming, the platform is at the ideal height for boarding the boat. It's also the best place for skiers and wakeboarders to prepare.
The marine carpet in the boat makes barefoot use extremely comfortable. It extends up the inside of the hull behind the long, padded storage boxes, reducing wave noise. The boxes are low enough at the top to get oversized objects in and out of them, while they finish above deck level so you can get your toes under and right to the edge of the inner hull. Why would you care about that? Ask someone who works at a bench or fishes all day if it would make a difference to them if they had to stand two or three inches farther away and make up the distance by leaning. As we all know, fishing can involve standing and waiting for quite a long time, even when they are on the bite.

 

MOVING FORWARD
At the helm, the height adjustable main swivel seats are comfortable but don't have armrests. The pedestal mounts seemed strong enough to deal with heavy boned people like me. And Kim, from Central Marine (in the yellow shirt) is as well built as I am. If anyone was likely to shake something loose under the conditions on the day it would have been Kim or me. We didn't.
There's more storage in front of the foot areas in the console and a lockable glovebox with a small recessed flat area just in front of it. Again, each seat has a moulded drinkholder next to it. There's even more storage under each of the three seat pads in the bow, especially for the anchor rope. There's no provision for ice or bait but apart from that, the Beachcomber has plenty of storage areas. Two people fit in the bow section and the boat comes with a padded insert to cover the footwell, converting the whole bow into one big padded seat.
Split bowrails allow easy access to the bowsprit and stainless steel bowroller. TrailerBoat's prize boat comes with a sand anchor kit and split stainless steel bollard with pin. There's also a couple of fenders aboard but these are extras. For standard jetty protection, there's a bump strip right around the hull, but it's hard to beat the accessory fenders.
The five-piece windscreen opens in the centre to allow free access to the bow. Of course the bow area also doubles nicely as a fishing spot. Just inside the windscreen there's a grabrail in the perfect position and the hand seems to find it the instant you get into the boat.
The bimini isn't standard, nor are overhead rodholders. In fact, there are only two aft mounted flush-mount rodholders. Obviously, if you were to do more fishing than family outings you'd simply customise the boat to suit. Fortunately, our prize boat does have the accessory bimini. Although it complements the lines of the boat quite nicely, it is low and I was unable to stand under it, however the gap between the top of the windscreen and bimini rail allows you to stand.

 

BEHIND THE WHEEL
A speedometer, tacho, fuel, oil gauge and trim gauge comprise the standard instrumentation. A Northstar Explorer 657 combination fishfinder/chartplotter with a number of other instrumentation functions is available as an option. The switch panel is at lower right. At the helm, your hand naturally finds the mechanical throttle lever and built-in trim switch, which brings us to the engine.
The 540 sterndrive is powered by the in-line four-cylinder MerCruiser 3.0lt TKS. Like four or five other engines in the MerCruiser family, this is a carburetted engine. Mercury set about automating all the things that need to be done to get a carburetted engine running and called the resulting system TKS, which stands for Turn Key Starting. So, although it's carburetted, this engine requires no pumping or priming and it has no choke. In practice, we found if the engine was slow to start, pushing up the throttle in neutral was needed. The rev range is lower than a corresponding outboard at 4400 to 4800rpm. In fact, because of the different power and gearing characteristics of the engine, a corresponding outboard is a 115hp unit.
Torque is transferred through an Alpha drive which would have to be one of the most widely used units in the Mercury range. The only real problem with a sterndrive is that the prop can't be lifted enough to get it out of the water like most outboards can. This means that if your boat is going to stay in the water for any length of time corrosion could be an issue. However, most owners will be taking the boat home after each outing, finishing with a flush. I wrote an article outlining all of this last issue. For those who missed it, it's now posted at www.BoatPoint.com.au
The 540 sterndrive has good torque characteristics and it gets up on plane fairly quickly. Although we didn't tow a skier during testing, it would pull one up briskly without any trouble and there's a skipole available as an accessory. We've actually had this boat out a couple of times under varying conditions. The rough weather on our test day wasn't ideal, although it did handle the swell quite well. However, much reduced throttle, unwavering attention to oncoming waves and constant manoeuvring are essential in dirty weather.

 

STERNDRIVE RIDE
Our first trip on a fairly calm day demonstrated much improved handling characteristics. One advantage of a sterndrive is despite more weight than outboards, the low position of the motor in the hull makes for a very low centre of gravity. This means the boat sits flatter in turns. It doesn't quite turn 'on rails' as some have suggested, but it is flatter. Deadrise on this boat is 14.5 degrees at the transom sharpening up toward the bow. So, as with other aspects of the boat, it's a combination that does everything pretty well. A mild reverse chine helps with both handling and stability when fishing.
The alloy used in the hull is quoted as 3mm thick. The pressed form gives it the strength needed to endure weather well beyond the comfort zone of the boat. It's well reinforced and braced both longitudinally and laterally. It's also worth mentioning that the hull is foam filled up to the deck so you can't really sink it.
Options include a baitboard, canopy and zips, deluxe bucket seats, engine and wiring harness pre-rig, metallic painted topsides, side curtains, and a swim platform ladder. The basic features of the Savage 540 Beachcomber combined with the options available will get you just the boat you're after. There aren't many boats in this size that will do all the things the 540 will do, as well as it will do them. If you're looking at a boat in this size range you'll almost certainly like the Beachcomber and it's our bet that your family will, too.

WHAT WE LIKED
Easy to tow
Good storage
Marine carpet
Swim platform
Construction quality

NOT SO MUCH
Low bimini
Nose up at low speeds

 

 

 

Specifications: Savage 540 Beachcomber

 

HOW MUCH?
Price as tested: Approx $38,000 to $40,000-plus depending on accessories
Options fitted: Lowrance combination display, Tallon system receivers and baitboard, plus more to come for final prize version
Standard fittings: Anchor, lockup glovebox, and glass windscreen

GENERAL
Type:    Monohull welded
Material:    3mm aluminium plus foam flotation
Length overall:   5.95m
Beam:    2.26m
Deadrise:    14.5°
Weight:    Approx 970kg (w/ engine)
WOT:    66kmh

CAPACITIES
Fuel:     110lt
Rec. HP:    135

ENGINE
Make/model:   MerCruiser TKS 3.0lt
Type:    In-line four-cylinder four-stroke petrol
Rated HP:    135
Displacement:   3000cc
Gearbox ratio:   2:1
Propeller:    19in aluminium Black Max
Max. rpm:    4400 to 4800

SUPPLIED BY
Mercury Marine,
132-140 Frankston-Dandenong Road,
Dandenong, Vic, 3175
Phone: (03) 9791 5822
Website: www.savageboats.com.au

Originally published in TrailerBoat #237

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