REVIEW: Haines Signature 550F

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The new 550F is an updated version of the popular 543 hull, creating a beamier fishing platform packed with features.
The new 550F is an updated version of the popular 543 hull, creating a beamier fishing platform packed with features.

HAINES Signature takes a trusted hull and refines it to create the latest 550F, an ideal fishing and family crossover boat. Mark Ward reports.

THE mid-sized Haines Signature range has always been a popular choice for both families and anglers alike. One of the more popular models was the 543F which was a cuddy cab design and doubled well for both offshore and calm water fishing. The fibreglass hull provided stability and comfort while the fit-out could house everything from a toilet to rocket launchers. Just for versatility alone, this Haines Signature model was a real winner with both anglers and families.

2016 has seen Haines Signature improve the old 543F and introduce the brand new 550F. Not just a revamp but a new boat which is wider, heavier and even better looking than its predecessor. It’s a risky move to take the best-selling hull in the range and completely revamp it, however Haines Signature has done well in keeping the integrity of the boat while working on the improvements.

Lay-out

There’s nothing cleaner looking than a new fibreglass boat and nothing comes much neater than the 550F. The spacious cabin is big enough to sleep a couple of kids in and even long enough to have a couple of adults stretch out, so while I’d still place it in the cuddy cab class, overnight stays are an option.

The 3/4 bulkhead gives access to the cabin and is high enough to make it comfortable to move around. A portable toilet can be optioned as well as a cabin door for privacy. All standard inclusions such as side storage, anchor hatch and floor storage are included with options to convert the cabin into seating or a reasonable sized bed for two.

The forward deck has a large anchor well that’s big enough to house an electric anchor winch. Space to walk around to the bow is limited but the large hatch gives good access. The transom has a few changes from the old model. The Haines designed fold-down compact transom is still in use which is good to see but in addition there is a transom door, fold away bait board, fold down transom seat and live well.

The gunwales seem higher and have a grab rail for stability when trolling or bottom bashing the reefs. The side pockets are also very deep, so rod storage out of the salt spray can be added. The 550F can even be optioned with a full enclosable hardtop to ensure a dry ride is an option in all weather.

The helm is very comfortable with well-padded seats and plenty to grab hold of for stability. The black console gives lovely contrast to the while moulding of the cockpit and with the electronics in the test boat and sports steering wheel, it proved to be a very sexy helm indeed. The control box was in good reach when seated and the wide dash allowed for additional electronics if required as well as the addition of a glove box for a bit of dry storage.

The layout can be optioned up for the serious angler with rocket launchers, fish bins and deck wash. The bait board on the test boat was fitted with tackle storage, drink holders, and of course, a good sized cutting board. Overall, while the layout has nothing that we haven’t seen before, it has everything needed to make the 550F a great fishing boat.

Suzuki’s 140hp four stroke is a good match and provides the 550F with ample power. The bait board can be folded down to save space.
Suzuki’s 140hp four stroke is a good match and provides the 550F with ample power. The bait board can be folded down to save space.
Hull and ride

Haines Signature has retained its Variable Deadrise Hull now for almost 25 years. The VDH has a sharp entry point that flattens to provide both ride comfort and stability at rest. The 550F is more beamy than the 543F which adds to the stability and when coupled with being heavier and having a 177 litre fuel tank adding even more weight when full, the ride of the 550F is excellent.

From the helm the 550F was very responsive for such a heavy boat. Fitted with a 140hp Suzuki, the test boat launched out of the hole almost instantly and had no trouble cruising at 27 knots at an economical 5000rpm. Top speed achieved was 35 knots so the extra weight hasn’t impacted on the top speed much at all.

It would have been interesting to compare the old hull with the new beamier hull at rest. The 550F was very stable making it suitable to having anglers walking around the deck in a swell without being a safety issue. Overall, the heavy hull, fibreglass constriction and broader beam give the Haines Signature excellent ride and stability while being very responsive and easy to control from the helm. We can’t really ask for anything more than that.

Fishability

The 550F doubles as a bay or estuary boat suitable for families and weekends away as well as an offshore fishing platform that’s just at home trolling for pelagics as it is bottom bashing for reds. It may not be well suited for sneaking around the shallows flicking plastics for bream but that is the Signature’s only limitation. Bait fishing at anchor can be done either standing at the transom or by swivelling the skipper’s and first mate’s chairs and fishing in comfort. The heavy hull takes some momentum to get up on the plane so trolling at low speeds may burn a little fuel but the comfort of doing it in the heavy, Variable Deadrise Hull makes up for the few extra litres burnt.

For bottom bashing and floating baits, the 550F has easy access to the bait board with the transom seat folded down and plenty of rod holders to both store and hang baited tackle. The grab rail on the gunwale is a nice addition but there is nothing to really dig your knees into for stability. The wider design has the sides slightly flared and the gunwale has fibreglass dropping down to where the side pockets start. Some anglers prefer this set up because it avoids bruised knees, so it just depends on what you prefer.

Due to the larger fuel tank, the kill tank is more like an ice box but ideal for snapper and other bottom dwellers. It’s only the mackerel anglers that will miss the bigger kill tank. The starboard transom has a good sized live bait tank that is without any hard corners to avoid damage to live baits. This coupled with the bait board and fold down padded seat makes the transom very functional.

Overall The Haines Group has done a great job with its new model. There’s not too much to pick on at all; it’s very well suited to a number of fishing techniques and will keep the missus and family happy.

More info at signatureboats.com

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