By: Geoff Middleton

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Amphibious craft are not a new concept but they have been mainly restricted to commercial and military applications in the past. Now however, a New Zealand company has made them available to the general public, as Geoff Middleton found out



FROM THE ARCHIVE: First published in TrailerBoat #219, Jun 2007




Will Burrell is an interesting character. Originally from England he migrated to Australia and bought the vast El Questro station in the Kimberley and converted it into a popular five-star resort which was (and still is) frequented by wealthy patrons from all over the world.
During his tenure at El Questro, he became aware of the Sealegs amphibious RIBs and, thinking they'd be the ideal craft for his clients to take barramundi fishing, he ordered two.
"With the enormous tides we have up there, I thought they would be ideal for launching and retrieving quickly so that our patrons could get to the fishing grounds on the Pentacost River," Burrell said.
"But before we could take delivery of the boats, we sold the property and I redirected the order to Melbourne," he added.
He went on to say that the Sealegs fits his lifestyle well as he has a beach house on the foreshore at Portsea.
"I can keep the Sealegs at my beach house as a commuter to my bigger boat which is on the marina at the yacht club," said Burrell.
"When I want to go boating, I can simply drive the Sealegs off the beach and into the Bay, and I'm gone," he said.
Burrell was so impressed, he invested in the company and is now a director.
For the uninitiated, the Sealegs is a boat that is able to drive on dry land at the flick of a few switches. The 'legs' part of the Sealegs equation are hydraulically driven. There are three legs which swing down from their locked positions when needed, the two at the rear having drive units which can push the Sealegs along at around 10kmh when on the land.
The hydraulic servos are powered by a 16hp Honda motor which sits under the driver's seat. This is also used to raise and lower the legs on which the wheels are mounted and for steering on land.
The company claims that the terrestrial capabilities of the Sealegs are quite good and, in fact, comparable to those of a compact four-wheel drive vehicle. Our test showed that it could indeed traverse a beach and climb a small dune as well as take a boat ramp in its stride, but the compact 4WD analogy may be stretching it a bit.




We met the Sealegs on dry land, parked on the beach outside Burrell's beach house. I looked odd riding high on its legs, but we were soon to find out that it's no toy. The legs are each rated to two tonnes and the whole system appears over-engineered and well put together. Burrell was keen to show us that with a flick of a switch the front wheel could be raised, dropping the nose of the RIB onto the sand to facilitate an easier embarkation - not dissimilar to a camel kneeling down to let you aboard, I thought.
Once aboard, we fired up the little Honda, pushed the joystick forward and we were off down the beach, half in the water and half out. Will had lowered the tyre pressures to handle the soft sand and even above the high-water mark, the Sealegs didn't look like getting bogged.
One of the big features of the boat is that once you are used to the systems, the transition from land to sea and vice versa, can be seamless. As the Sealegs enters the water, the logs are left down and the engine can be lowered on the move. Hit the starter and the main engine can begin pushing while the legs are still down and the wheels still turning. Then it's simply a matter of selecting neutral on the joystick, lifting the legs, off with the servo motor, and you're a fully-fledged boat!
Once the legs are up, they don't create drag and the RIB is free to react like a normal rigid inflatable.
Our test boat was a 5.6m RIB fitted with a 130hp Yamaha two-stroke outboard. This is one of three hull variants available, all of which can be bought with or without engines. Along with this RIB are a similar-sized D-Tube (full aluminium) boat and a seven-metre version which is proving popular in Europe.
Our test boat was optioned up with Navman electronics, a Navman VHF, a stainless steel ski pole with rod holders and an upgraded helm seat with padded backrest. The standard boat offers plenty of storage under the seats and floor as well as handy anchor locker forward. There's seating for three or five adults and plenty of room around the centre console.
Apart from the usual outboard controls and gauges on the console, there are two rocker switches for raising and lowering the legs (one for the front wheel and one for the two rear wheels), electric start for the four-stroke Honda, a throttle setting for that engine and the joystick for forward/neutral/reverse functions of the servo motors in the rear wheels. It may sound like a lot but in reality it's very simple. After one quick lesson from Burrell, I was quite happy to take the Sealegs in and out of the water at leisure.




According to the company, the Sealegs 5.6m weights in at 890kg with a 90hp Yamaha on the back, so our test boat would be slightly more with the 130hp. The maximum payload is 500kg which is a fair amount of fish or six adults.
We were travelling fairly lightly and with the 130 on the back, the Sealegs was certainly no slouch and was good for a top speed of around 40mph. The company says that with a 90 it should do 35mph.
The 4mm 5083 marine grade aluminium hull has a deadrise of 21 degrees which carves through the chop admirably and while our test day was an absolute glamour, we did get a few waves to try it out on. It's probably not the most manoeuvrable RiB I've driven but it was certainly smooth and dry. It prefers wide arcs to super-tight turns but it is a fairly big boat with an overall length of 18'4" and a beam of 2.47m or 8'1".
With that deadrise and its sturdy and dry feel, I'd hazard a guess that this is a boat that would handle the rough stuff with little concern.
Added to that, the deck is self draining and a 4180lt/h bilge pump is standard.
We drove the Sealegs to the local boat ramp where Burrell had his car parked with the trailer hitched on. At the ramp, it was a simple matter of lowering the wheels, engaging the drive and then turning off the Yamaha as the wheels took over. Up the ramp we went to the amazement of local fishermen. We then drove the Sealegs to the trailer and drove it right on up, folding the front wheel as we went. Bingo, boat on trailer without even getting off, let alone getting your feet wet! After that, it's a matter of clipping on the safety chain and tie-downs and you're gone.
We actually drove it back off the trailer and back down the ramp and blasted off again much to the consternation of some folks who hadn't even managed to back their trailer down the ramp yet!
The good news for consumers is that Sealegs has dropped its price considerably and the boats are available now from $49,000 (without engine). This means that you can fit the engine of your choice (recommended from 90 to 130hp) or use the engine from your old RIB.
An extensive list of options including a custom built trailer and electronics packages are available so you can personalise your Sealegs to suit your specific needs.
According to Burrell, the company has recently moved into new premises in NZ which will bring production of the boats from around 150 per year to between 500 and 1000 units. This has been done to not only service the Australian and NZ markets but a steadily-building market from Europe including the Italian Fire Brigade and several coastal rescue services.




Specifications: Sealegs 5.6 RIB Inflatable




Price as tested: $82,500
Options fitted: Yamaha 130hp 2-stroke outboard, stainless steel rod holder including four-rod rocket launcher, Navman electronics package, upgraded driver's seat, hypalon tube upgrade
Priced from: $49,000




Material: 4mm aluminium hull with four-chamber Valmex inflatable tubes (Hypalon upgrade available)
Type: Moderate V rigid inflatable
Length overall: 5.6m
Beam: 2.47m
Draft: 82cm (engine down)
Deadrise: 21 degrees
Weight: 890kg (dry with 90hp Yamaha 2-stroke outboard)




Fuel: 80lt
Water: N/a




Make/model: Yamaha 2-stroke outboard
Rated HP: 130
Prop:  21-inch




Sealegs Amphibious Marine Craft
Phone: 1300 sealegs



WORDS Geoff Middleton

Originally published in TrailerBoat #219

Find Sealegs boats for sale.


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