Boat test: Bonito 500 Centre Console

By: Kevin Smith, Photography by: Kevin Smith

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Kevin Smith has put his very own Bonito 500 centre console through the wringer for this test. How will his new custom boat fare?

Boat test: Bonito 500 Centre Console
The Bonito 500 Centre Console design was based on a tough commercial hull.

The year 2012 saw the release and revival of the original Bonito 5m dory, which had been out of production for several years. It seems like those boats had quite a reputation back in the days when fair-weather boating was not always an option, and that is especially true among the pro-fishing fraternity.

My first acquaintance with the dory hull version was in early 2012, and at that stage it was actually just a beaten-up mould being prepared for the first hull to be reborn. Bonito Boats owner Roger Barnes was over the moon about his latest acquisition and, to be honest, when looking at the mould I assumed it was another fibreglass dory - cum - open hull.

I just couldn't understand the hype and excitement over it, especially considering it was "only" a standard tiller-steer version.

Well, a few months down the track, the day came for the test on the newly resurrected Bonito 5m dory and, to put it simply, I was so blown away with the ride I promptly placed my order then and there.

I knew it would be close to the perfect boat for my on-water jaunts, and from there on it became a genuine project X, Y and Z boat, going from a simple open dory in design to what was going to be the first Bonito 500 centre console with all the bells and whistles.


Bonito commercial boats

When it came to designing the layout it seemed like a simple task. How hard could it be? It seemed just a matter of drawing up what was needed and where I needed it. But since everything needed to be customised, that was far from the case.

The customisation meant I needed to be as spot on as possible in every aspect. Anything added to the layout and its sizing was all up to me, which meant if I didn't like anything, it was my problem - and my fault. And since this was one of the first centre consoles of this type, a bit of trial and error was needed, with those getting the next boats benefitting from my mistakes.

Given I primarily fish lures offshore and in Queensland's Moreton Bay, my ideal layout included a usable raised cast deck platform in the bow, with decent stowage space below as well as a non-slip deck, decent space around the console, side pockets with toe locks, killtank, bait tank, and a simple setup where everything is user-friendly and accessible.

A number of trips to the factory then took place, plus plenty of agreeing and disagreeing in many ways, and finally the layout was set and the build commenced.

The final layout ended up with a small cast deck in the bow with enough space to mount the large Minn Kota i-Pilot electric motor off to the side. I opted for a split stowage section, which holds plenty of gear, features under-deck piping for electric cables running back to the console, and is the perfect spot for the 7in Fusion front speakers. The cast deck then butts up against a good-sized anchor well in the bow, which comfortably holds the anchor and 200m of line.

The decking, which includes the cast deck surface, is non-slip and done with paint-chip fleck for grip. In fact, it's so grippy that I reckon even a slimy fish would come to a grinding halt on it. The self-draining wet deck is another appealing aspect because it makes cleaning so much easier and is, in my opinion, far safer. And not having to rely on bilge pumps is an advantage.

The medium-sized console sits in the centre, leaving a decent amount of walkthrough room on the sides. It also has plenty of space for gauges and electronics, and has been fitted with a Lowrance HDS 7 GPS, Lowrance HDS 7 Gen2 GPS / StructureScan, the latest Ultraflex hydraulic steering, Fusion 700 stereo system, iPad mount, and Lenco trim tabs.

There is no seating behind the console, but there's enough space to install something down the line; it's just a matter of finding the correct seat set-up. The open area back to the transom works well as a bait fishing and trolling platform. The gunwales are then at a medium height with wide coamings and long side pockets below. Up against the transom, the dual side hatches can be used for livewells or stowage, and the customised Bonito baitboard between the two is a nice addition.

The layout works exceptionally well as a centre console, but over time I have realised where I went wrong and where I could have improved. If I could do it over I would have extended the cast deck all the way back to the console, done away with the side pockets and fitted dedicated rod racks with a stainless toe rail below. I would also have gone for a closed-off false transom area with some form of seating, and had a dedicated killtank built into the rear deck.


Handling and ride

About a year ago I did a 132km round trip up the side of Fraser Island in my 4.25m tiller-steer tinnie. The horrendous conditions meant we returned feeling very battered and bruised, to say the least. The day ended with me vowing to never make that trip again, especially on a small boat that's not designed for that sort of use.

The solution? Find a boat that can handle such trips, as well as the consistently average Moreton Bay short chop. After testing the original Bonito I was convinced it was the ideal boat for me and, boy, was I right.

The conditions were again not great at the time of our test, and to be honest on a normal day we would likely have cancelled, but because of our knowledge of the Bonito's considerable capabilities we opted to roll the dice and run the boat directly into the howling 9kt northerly towards Peel Island.

Given the boat is fitted with the 115hp Evinrude E-TEC, you could imagine that power was no issue throughout the rev range. Once in the main channel with two on board, we maintained a constant speed of 17kts (31.5kmh) without straining to stay on our feet. A speed of 17kts without tapping on and off the throttle is quite an achievement for any boat given we were banging into 20kts of wind and chop.

One of the best things about the Bonito hull is that it is very soft in the chop, which means you can maintain a higher speed than usual. Stability is fair but goes hand in hand with the deeper vee of the hull, and dryness of ride is predictably a little compromised.

My solution to that was fitting the Lenco trim tabs, which turned an already top-riding boat into something even better because they allow you to manipulate the ride to suit the conditions. It wasn't about keeping the boat level, but rather using the tabs to forcefully lean the boat over when side-on to the wind and chop. And it worked, with the ride staying softer and dryer. Another advantage of the Lenco tabs is they stabilise the hull at higher speeds.

The original dory, fitted with 70hp four-stroke Yamaha, was a bit touchy at WOT and tended to chine-walk a little, but the tabs and the heavier centre console have eliminated that.

The 115hp might be a touch of overkill but it works well and I love having the extra power to play with on the flat days. The engine is very economical, but does tend to chew through a bit of juice when wide open.

Overall, the Bonny has a very impressive ride - so much so that I don't have to fish around the lower winds anymore. If there is a 20kt wind I have to bash through on my way home across the bay, so be it.


The Trade-a-Boat verdict

It might not be the ideal family boat, but the Bonito 500 centre console can easily be customised to suit anyone's needs. As a dedicated all-round fishing boat that suits dams, bays and offshore, it's an absolute winner - and I am not being biased just because I own one.

Like any boat, the 500 has its pros and cons. What I like about it might not appeal to some, but they are tough, easy to tow and launch alone, and can be ridden hard, fast, deep and long. And they suit my style of fishing and boating (at least until my young 'un takes to boating).

Over time there will be a few more accessories added, a few changes, and a detailed report on how all of the accessories have stood up to some fair abuse, so watch this space.


Bonito 500 Centre Console performance

5.2kts (9.6kmh) @ 1500rpm

6.7kts (12.4kmh) @ 2000rpm

7.8kts (14.4kmh) @ 2500rpm

21.1kts (39kmh) @ 3500rpm

29.6kts (54.8kmh) @ 4500rpm

34kts (63kmh) @ 5000rpm

38kts (70.3kmh) @ 5550rpm



· Dynamite on-water performance

· Comfortable ride in short chop

· Simple, spacious layout

· Full selfdraining wet deck

· Long-range ability, easy solo handling



· No built-in kill tank (I forgot to ask)

· Sidepockets restrict rod-racks inst.

· Bigger casting deck would've been nice

· I'd prefer a moulded electric motor bracket (on drawing board)


Bonito 500 Centre Console specs

Bonito 500 Cenre Console price: $43,200

Approx/ price as tested


Options fitted: Evinrude E-TEC 115hp engine; twin Lowrance HDS 7 units; Lenco trim tabs, Ultraflex hydraulic steering; Fusion 700 stereo with iPod / iPhone / USB dock and 4 x 7in marine speakers; 24V Minn Kota 80lb i-Pilot electric motor and batteries; twin Reelax rod-holders, custom baitboard, LED nav-lights, six-way switch panel and safety gear.

Priced from: $9250 (tiller steer hull only); $10,900 (centre console hull only)



Type: Open fishing runabout

Material: GRP

Length: 5m

Beam: 2.04m

Hull weight: 500kg (approx.)

Deadrise: Variable



People: 5

Rec. HP: 70

Max. HP: 115

Fuel: Optional



Make/model: Evinrude E-TEC E115DPX outboard motor

Type: Loop-charged V4 60° E-Tec direct injectionoutboard motor

Weight: 177kg

Displacement: 1727cc

Gear ratio: 2.25:1

Propeller: 19in stainless Viper



Bonito Boats

1 Steiglitz Road


Queensland 4207

Tel: 0438 886 813 (Roger)


Originally published TrailerBoat 292, March 2013.

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