By: KEVIN SMITH, Photography by: KEVIN SMITH

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Don’t be fooled by the Signature 543F’s modest dimensions. As Kevin Smith discovered, it’s up for just about anything.

The Signature 543F from the Haines Group: it distinguished itself on the day through some nasty chop.

As boat tests go, it was the perfect scenario: not only would I get to put a couple of new Signature models through their paces, but I’d also get to employ them in the annual Haines Group Fishing Classic, run out of the Little Ship Club on Queensland’s North Stradbroke Island.

Two full days of chasing gamefish and bottom dwellers offshore would surely test the smaller 543F’s mettle in particular, but then Mother Nature threw out an extra twist in the form of some of the most extreme and unpredictable weather I’ve ever dealt with on a boat review.

The first day had a sou-easter gusting at 26kts inside Moreton Bay, accompanied by a mongrel wind chop of 1.5m. In these sort of conditions anyone in their right mind would be hunkered down back home, doing anything other than attempting to fish or test a boat.

As we left the Little Ship Club to conquer the oceans, I sniggered to myself and quietly whispered to TrailerBoat’s editor, "I’m glad we chose to get on the larger of the two boats for this run over to the island. That little 543F is going to take a beating."


With a head start of a few hundred metres, I watched as the 543F exited the calm of the Little Ship Club’s moorings, expecting to see it lag further behind as we smashed our way through the chop. Between watching what was going on up front and holding on tight, I kept taking a quick look behind to see how the 543F was faring. Much to my surprise, it was quite clear I’d be eating my words, and with a rather large spoon.

If there was ever a time when a boat of this calibre deserved commendation, this was it. Instead of taking its beating quietly, the 543F sliced through the chop with the agility and poise of a wild stallion — with force, but also with control. Within a few minutes, the skipper, who was far from a maniac, overtook us like we were standing still.

It was quite clear the 543F could comfortably handle some serious abuse. It looked playful and even mischievous on the water, and at no point did I notice the skipper or passenger holding on for their lives. It was evident the 543F was a little weapon on the water, and the sooner we could get on it, the better.

I spent time on and off the 543F over the course of the weekend and the competition and, to be honest, I think I got just as good a feel for the boat by observing it from a distance as actually being on it. It contended with conditions that were far from ideal, both on the bay and during a day spent offshore, when we were finally allowed to venture through the North Stradbroke bar.


A 2m swell from every direction, combined with a 15-18kt nor-westerly, was the entrée to our three-course bar-crossing menu. Sporting the new Suzuki 140hp four-stroke, the 543F’s perky holeshot, tight turning abilities and fast top-end were equal to the task of weaving along our chosen channel for 1km.

We led the way through on the bigger boat, but it was hardly necessary; the 543F followed like it being remotely controlled from above.

Once offshore we headed to Signature’s secret fishing grounds, where we hoped to hook some black marlin, snapper and maybe a few spangled emperors. Of course, I was blindfolded so I can’t reveal the location, but none of it counted for much, anyway. We drew a big fat zero.

But not to worry. The offshore outing capped off a comprehensive test, giving me an excellent idea of how the 543F performed as a fishing / family craft. And, not to put too fine a point on it, I was astounded.

The 543F maintained an excellent attitude when offshore, either trolling or at rest, and when on the go it annihilated the swell and chop without drenching those aboard. The conditions offshore were also poor, but the 543F took it all in stride. I honestly couldn’t fault its performance.

While drifting in the building slop and trying my best to remain vertical, I took the opportunity to properly survey the lay of the land. While aimed at families looking to do it all, this boat certainly owes no apologies to hardcore offshore rigs. The deck is uncluttered, and without the rear lounger the fishing floor is open to full-on hip-hop strikes, while the high gunwales provides security for anyone working up against them.

The internal gunwale mouldings are also worthy of mention. Far from simple side pockets, they also have neatly integrated rod racks. In fact, most of the interior has moulded inserts, lending the boat a neat overall finish.

The demonstrator 543F on test was a base model with modest options. This meant it didn’t have the optional baitboard, but the livewell was generously sized and the innovative forward-folding transom panel allowed the engine to fully tilt without encroaching on the fishing cockpit — a great feature. That said, the new Suzuki DF140A has a tilt-limiting mechanism that can be set from the helm.

As mentioned, our test boat had no rear lounge, but from a fishing perspective I prefer it that way, and it’s available as an option if you need it. There is a super-sized killtank flush-mounted into the deck between the front seats, which could be just as easily utilised for stowing gear.


Up front, the 543F has a higher half-cab and windscreen section. I quite liked this because it not only creates extra protection, but also increases internal volume, making it light, airy and versatile.

Interestingly, this boat didn’t have clears fitted between the windscreen and bimini. Not that it seemed to matter — little spray came over the ’screen despite the conditions.

The new dash layout also appealed. It has a hinged section that opens it up for simple wiring and helm installations. The carbonfibre-look adds a touch of class and the more vertical angle works well when viewing electronics from a seated position. The GPS positioned in the second panel was a bit tricky to read while standing, but it could be fitted to the top panel for better viewing.

For offshore fishing the 543F will easily accommodate two, and even with three it wouldn’t be crammed.

I liked this boat from top to bottom, but if I were to change / add anything, I’d probably go for the optional stainless seat frames with eskis below rather than the standard pedestal seating. This would allow you the ability to double up on seats, and also to use use the eskis as killtanks.


Did the 543F maintain its composure in the rough conditions? That would be an emphatic yes. Was it suitable as a fishing platform in the bay and offshore? Hell yeah! Would it suit serious fishos and families alike? Of course it would, especially with the addition of some accessories to suit.

Signature is renowned for producing quality boats of all sizes, but if I was pressed to nominate a favourite all-rounder that impressed in terms of its quality, manageability and price, the 543F would be it.

If it could handle what we threw at it over the course of this test, it can handle just about anything.


  • Brave boat for its size
  • Sharp manoeuvrability
  • Classic Signature finish throughout
  • Innovative sidepocket design
  • Hinged dash panel for easy installations



  • Nothing to report — anything missing can be fitted as an option



Price as tested: $59,361

Options fitted: DF140ATX; two-tone deck and hull; 2 x GMI10s; Garmin 750S

Priced from: $49,824 (DF90ATX with standard analogue gauges)


Type: Family / fishing

Material: Fibreglass

Length: 5.53m LOA

Beam: 2.13m

Weight: 876kg

Deadrise: SVDH 21-33°


People: 7

Berths: 2

Rec. HP: 90-150

Max. HP: 150

Fuel: 100L

Water: Optional 45L


Make/model: Suzuki DF140ATX

Type: Four-stroke

Weight: 184kg

Displacement: 2044cc

Gear ratio: 2.59:1

Propeller: 3x14x21in


Signature Boats

The Haines Group

Mt Ommaney

Queensland 4074

Tel: (07) 3271 4400

Web: www.signatureboats.com.au

Originally published in TrailerBoat #294, April / May 2013

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