Review: McLay 441 Fortress

By: John Willis, Photography by: John Willis

We test and rate the McLay 441 Fortress of Eden, NSW. This New Zealand-built aluminium fishing boat sure proves it’s tough.


  • McLay 441 Fortress price: $36,500 (as tested).


  • The McLay 441 Fortress is a well-engineered aluminium fishing boat.


  • Running and maintenance costs will be frugal.


  • It has a big deck area for a tinnie this size. The 4mm plate hull with 3mm sides is tough.


  • Some propeller cavitation was noted when the McLay 441 Fortress was pushed.


  • More bow lift would be good and I wasn’t comfortable with the power-tilt control’s position on the tiller handle.


McLay 441 Fortress boat

I recently got my hands on one of New Zealand aluminium boat builder McLay Boats’ latest vessels, the McLay Fortress 441. The location for our boat review was on the NSW south coast, a terrific place to test its character.


McLay Fortress 441

Eden’s ocean and inland waterways challenge those who dare the Sapphire Coast water and its many moods. The area is home to commercial fishermen who go to sea daily and often return home only to change the tackle for some recreational fishing and diving. It’s not a place where inferior boats last.

Eden is a terrific home for one of NZ’s tough McLay Boats. In a very short time it has achieved great success, with clients recognising the appeal of this longstanding brand and its many merits. Last time I was in Eden – for Australia’s Greatest Boats in November last year – I was lucky enough to meet local dealer Wayne Holding from Sapphire Marine & Automotive while he was completing the pre-delivery test drive of a larger McLay 681 hardtop cruiser, and I was most impressed. So I was happy to return to one of my favourite regions for the opportunity to fully test the McLay 441 Fortress.



Layout and design

Deck on McLay 441 Fortress

No matter how you dress it up, brute strength and muscle power are unmistakable. The rather glamorous canary yellow paint on the McLay Fortress 441 did nothing to hide the obvious design and engineering strengths of this compact little package. Internally, all surfaces are treated with clear Nyalic so the excellent welding quality is on display. Tiller-steer boats are enjoying a resurgence in popularity, and why not? The big open deck area and platforms allow a tremendous amount of room from a hull that measures a mere 4.4 metres, including the small welded bowsprit extension.

The chequerplate alloy floor on the McLay Fortress 441 is set deep into the hull, giving a terrific sense of security from the maximised freeboard. The large casting platform up front not only provides a nice high work area with its relocatable pedestal seat fitting, but also has the 50-litre fuel tank, battery and isolator mounted up out of harm’s way. There are short bow/grab rails bordering the sides and an electric motor mount – in this case fitted with a Minn Kota RT55ST iPilot. While I was pleased to find an enclosed anchor hatch, personally I’d talk to the dealer about replacing the bow set-up with a lockable split cross bollard and a bowsprit that’s capable of retaining a reasonable anchor. I hate lifting muddy anchors in and out of boats and every estuary where there’s fish also has a black silty bottom!

The McLay Fortress 441’s long deck area featured a further four mounting points for the two pedestal seats that come as standard. The driver will always have one at the rear but the passenger is free to move around as desired. However, I found I had to use trim to the point of cavitation to keep the nose up if there was a heavyweight in the bow along with the fuel and battery. And while the spray deflectors in the front chines kept spray to a minimum, I reckon the boat could use some deeper entry or perhaps better weight distribution – maybe move the fuel and battery aft?

Raymarine Dragonfly 5 marine electronics

In a small welded console central on the starboard side the dealer has fitted a GPS-equipped DragonFly 5 sonar with Raymarine’s wide-spectrum CHIRP technology. It gave an excellent super-bright and high-contrast view of the underwater structure with a very easy menu system. Underneath, a four-gang waterproof switch panel controls the anchor and navigation lights, bilge pump and an aerator pump for the livebait tank conveniently mounted in the stern quarter under the non-skid platform. There’s an enclosed storage hatch in the opposite corner and an open cavity in the centre. Storage is completed with a long side pocket to port and another shorter shelf on the starboard.

A very high degree of buoyancy and safety has been designed into the McLay Fortress 441, with its sealed floor leading to a rear bilge and the completely enclosed sides adding flotation. Out back, twin boarding platforms could easily take a dive ladder as an option. She’s completed with more short side rails, four fully welded alloy rod holders, transducer bracket and two rear cleats.


The Trade-a-Boat verdict

McLay 441 Fortress at boat ramp in Eden, NSW

This is one tough tinny, with exceptional construction strength, a great layout, plenty of features, adequate power, a long range and terrific economy. Sapphire Coast Marine & Automotive package it on a beaut Transtyle aluminium trailer with full drive-on ability completing a very attractive workhorse. 


McLay 441 Fortress specs

McLay 441 Fortress price: $13,129

Priced from, hull only



Underdeck 50L fuel tank; rear step and rails; four fishing rod holders; side switch and sounder box; Minn Kota set-up; painted sides; seats and bases; bait pump; Raymarine Dragonfly 5






MATERIAL 4mm plate aluminium hull, 3mm sides

TYPE Tiller steer V-bottom

LENGTH 4.4 metres

BEAM 1.85m








MAKE/MODEL Honda BF40 tiller control outboard motor

TYPE Four-stroke SOHC three-cylinder, six-valve outboard motor





PROPELLER 3 x 11¼ x 13



Sapphire Marine & Auto

2/2 Government Road, Eden, NSW

Phone (02) 6496 4490




See the full version of this review in Trade-A-Boat #478, on sale May 19, 2016. Why not subscribe today?


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