By: John Willis

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Could the TABS 5.00 Southerner be TrailerBoat’s next Budget Boat of the Year? If the results of this test are any indication, it’s got more than a fighting chance, says John “The Bear” Willis.




By George, I think they've finally done it. The new TABS Southerner may well be the most complete, value-packed 5m aluminium cuddy package on the market today. The all-new unit is the result of feedback from customers and dealers presenting their ideas to a manufacturer that obviously listens. If you thought there were already plenty of TABS boats on Aussie waters, just wait for this little baby to stamp its mark.

You can tow a Southerner package away from the dealership secure in the knowledge you don't have to spend another cent. Just insure it, load up the fishing, diving or watersports gear, fuel up and go! It offers a terrific combination of ample deck room, generous cabin and storage space, a sensible layout, a good ride and a beautiful finish. Yep, she's got the lot.

The 5m cuddy is a good size for general-purpose use. It's small enough for rivers and impoundments yet large enough for bays, estuaries and limited offshore work. Its light weight makes for easy towing with the average family sedan, and one person can handle it easily. Best still, this TABS 5m Southerner has enough room for the entire family.





For many years I owned another brand's 5m cuddy. I enjoyed its flexibility throughout years of competitive fishing in everything from headwaters to trips to the Shelf. In fact, I still own a similar-sized aluminium boat, but I would gladly trade up to the new TABS Southerner.

On first impression it seems like a much bigger boat. TABS has deliberately built a voluptuous hull with big, high sides and a full-height transom - a combination which creates a terrific workspace. There's plenty of room for three big fishos or a family. The drop-down and removable rear lounge will please anyone after a multi-purpose machine and the transom layout affords easy boarding for watersports.

I took TrailerBoat's newest team member, Emma Ryan, along for the ride on a beautiful spring morning on Port Phillip Bay. Unfortunately it was a little too beautiful, so I didn't get to thoroughly test the hull in the spine-splintering chop this package is designed to handle. However, Emma commented on just how good the boat would be to indulge her passion for SCUBA diving, where she requires tonnes of room for all the gear as well as plenty of seating for travelling and preparation. Indeed, the wide coamings and transom platforms help with all manner of active pursuits.

A standout on the TABS Southerner is the cabin height. Emma is a lightweight at a bit over 5ft and I'm a heavyweight at 183cm (6ft). Yet we both noted the comfortable helm and the exceptional vision through the curved Perspex windscreen. There's plenty of dashboard space and a simple but more than adequate helm that supports the analogue engine instruments, four-gang switch panel and sports-steering wheel. But where was the trim gauge?

The boat we tested had never been on the water before, and the non-feedback steering was more than a little stiff. The engine probably needed the trim anode adjusted and I'm sure the dealer, Victoria's Regal Marine, will have fixed that little hiccup before delivery. Incidentally, this boat had been on display at the Melbourne 4X4 Outdoors & Fishing Show for the previous four days, where the public response to this new model was phenomenal. In fact, Regal sold seven units at the show - a pretty good effort for a newcomer.





The high cabin provides a huge internal area with upholstered bunks and tonnes of storage. There are upholstered sidepockets and unrestricted entry to the Perspex cabin hatch. Anchoring is a breeze thanks to the hatch access and the bow contains a bowsprit, two-piece bowrails and a large anchorwell. Electric winches can also be fitted as an option. I've tested a number of boats recently that had limited bow access and sharp edges in the cabin and dash, making them uncomfortable in a pitching sea. However, the TABS is quite the opposite, being very well designed and constructed in this important area.

Budget-oriented aluminium boats can often take shortcuts, but that's not the case here. The 5m Southerner is carpeted throughout and has comfortable upholstered pedestal seats. The rear lounge is enhanced with padded coamings / backrests on the transom, making it comfortable for knees when the detachable lounge is removed for fishing. Completing the very workable cockpit is a full-width shelf across the inside transom for the battery, oil bottles and isolators, plus sidepockets for storage.

Regal Marine completes the TABS 5m Southerner package with a detachable cuttingboard, aluminium rocket launcher, bimini canopy with detachable front and side clears and a quality tonneau cover.

The package also includes an impressive little Eagle FishEasy 350C colour-sounder with a simple menu for the technologically disadvantaged. It has a high definition screen that's easy to read even in direct sunlight, as well as a water temperature display. Regal Marine also includes a Uniden 27MHz marine radio, and fits the package to the impressive new Dunbier Glider Series single-axle trailer with brakes. This roller and skid combination features a full roller track for the keel and no moving parts. The double centreline skids ensure trouble-free, drive-on capability for easy launching and retrieval.





On the water, the fine entry cuts down the chop. The hull spreads to a wide 2.3m beam, making for a stable platform at rest. There's minimal bow lift, even with the smaller horsepower engine, and the full-length spray chine keeps the boat dry while at the same time aiding lift and stability. While test conditions on the day weren't choppy enough for a complete shakedown, we managed to stir up enough slop to confirm that the ride feels exceptionally good for a 5m tinnie. Everyone noted the quiet ride and the fact that there was very little splash, aluminium "boing", slap or otherwise unpleasant harmonics. There was a slight vibration through the windscreen, but I emphasise the word "slight".

I nearly fell overboard when I was told the Southerner had a 110lt underfloor fuel tank. Combine that with the efficient 60hp Mercury fuel-injected four-stroke and you can be sure that refills with liquid gold will be minimal. The Merc 60 has the "Bigfoot" leg that gives terrific grip and torque transfer. The 60hp is minimal, but quite adequate for a couple of fishos, or as a "mum and dad" boat for limited bay, river and estuary use. Personally I prefer higher horsepower to carry a load and punch out more performance, and to that end Regal Marine will fit the gutsy 75hp two-stroke Mercury as a no-extra-cost option.

There's no underfloor killtank in the Southerner as the heavy construction combined with positive flotation and the big fuel tank takes up all the room. At rest it's just a little bit tender, but less than you would expect from a 5m boat with such high freeboard and a cabin. The plate thickness - 3mm in both the bottom and sides - gives it a hull weight of 500kg.

I don't think I've ever seen a TABS in Victoria that hasn't got ebony sides - or at least I haven't noticed one, anyway. Perhaps that's because the ebony / white combination is just so striking. The tasteful decals complete a great looking boat. The paint finish on the Southerner is pleasing and welding appears to be of a high standard.

Emma would have been grateful for a passenger grabrail as I ripped the package through its performance turns. Instead she used the sidepocket as a grip, where we did find a rough edge in the sidepocket return - easily fixed, Mr TABS.





The TABS 5m Southerner Cabin is a state-of-the-art aluminium boat package. It gets full points for completing the design criteria with a great combination of tried-and-true ideas and a nice touch of innovation.

So here's a challenge to all manufacturers and dealers. In the handsome and impressive Southerner, TABS has made a high quality, functional and value-packed 5m cuddy. Let's see if anyone can beat it.






Wind: Less than 5kts


Sea: Calm




On the plane...


Comprehensive package


Appealing price


High overall quality


Quiet ride


Big deck and cabin


Big fuel capacity


Good drive-on trailer




Dragging the chain...


Minimal 60hp four-stroke power


No passenger grabrail


No trim gauge






Two people onboard with a 60hp Mercury four-stroke.


13kts (24.1kmh) @ 3500rpm (not a bad travel speed)


17kts (31.5kmh) @ 4000rpm (engine working hard)


20kts (37.0kmh) @ 4500rpm (positive all round)


24kts (44.4kmh) @ 5000rpm (trimmed up and feeling good)

26.5kts (49.1kmh) @ 5500rpm (WOT on a new engine)





Specifications: TABS 5.00 SOUTHERNER





Price as tested: $35,073


Options fitted: .....Eagle sounder, bimini top, front and side clears, cuttingboard, cabin backrest, safety gear, registered boat and trailer (Victoria)


Priced from: $33,371





Type: Monohull family / fishing boat


Material: Alloy


Length: 5m


Beam: 2.3m


Weight: 500kg





People: 5


Rec. HP: 60


Max. HP: 90


Fuel: 110lt





Make/model: Mercury 60


Type: EFI BF four-stroke


Weight: 118kg


Displacement: 995cc


Gear ratio: 2.33:1


Propeller: Vengeance 14in





TABS Boats


2 Activity Crescent


Ernest, Qld, 4214


Tel: (07) 5594 6333







Regal Marine


514 Canterbury Road


Vermont, Vic, 3133


Tel: (03) 98744624




First published in TrailerBoat # 274

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