Ultra modern helm dash and clever removable lounge are just some of the key vote-winners in this new mid-sized family/fishing cuddy from Signature.
One of the most successful fibreglass models of recent times is without a doubt the cuddy version of Signature's 492 series of compact trailer boats.
This design set a whole new standard in styling for small fibreglass boats when it appeared in 1993. No one before had used the attractive curved deck style, and rounded stern quarters in this style of trailer boat and it was a big hit with the boating public.
Knowing they were onto a good thing the Signature team naturally used the same styling for their subsequent new models above this size. That's why there such a close resemblance between this boat and her big sisters like the Signatures 520C and 540F.
As often happens in this process of model development the initial design often misses out on subsequent stern a bit more than normal. Certainly if you were concerned about the cost of fuel consumption, quietness and smooth running you'd be most interested in this motor.
You actually pay a bit more for a four-stroke, though perhaps these days the difference is not so great as the competition increases between the major brands.
Our test was carried out at Runaway Bay, Queensland but you'll see the pricing of the boat has come from John Smale's Family Boats, Sydney that just happens to be a major dealer of both Signature and Suzuki.
This design measures 4.87m from bow to stern without counting the short, moulded bowsprit. The hull is a bit smaller than some refinements. For this reason Signature recently decided to upgrade the 492F into a totally new model called the 493F.
First impressions are it's the same boat, however there's a number of quite significant changes like the totally new dash design with moulded recesses and stylish, wood-grain instrument panel. Then there's also the new rear deck and that luxury rear lounge which will impress the ladies.
Earlier this year we got the chance to get alongside one of these new 493F models which had also been matched to one of Suzuki's new 70hp four-strokes.
As four-strokes go this new car-based model has surprisingly good top end speed once it winds out. And this is despite the motor depressing the other mid-sized models particularly in the beam department, yet the boat's competitive pricing and standard features helps to even out the equation in value terms.
As with all the new Signatures this one has the VDH (variable deadrise) hull form developed by John Haines to give a good ride in choppy water without increasing fuel consumption. The VDH hull actually provides a reasonably deep 21 degree vee at the transom, however the hollowing of the bilge panels effectively makes the deadrise quite a bit deeper towards the keel centreline - up to 30 degrees.
This hull shape has the benefit of lifting easily onto the plane because of the way the hull flattens out under the chines and has a flat, runner plank along the keel line. Another benefit of VDH is that it allows the beam to be increased without significantly increasing the hull drag through the water. Previously you had to make the hulls fairly slim as well as deep veed to get them to ride well in rough water.
We'll talk about the performance shortly, but its also worth noting here that the hull does work well in a chop and has quite good stability for this size of boat. Other key 'signature' features include the very low hull which is built-up by the very high deck structure which includes the deep side coamings, cabin and even the transom stern well.
John Haines is without a doubt a very smart boat builder since the curved shape of the deck not only makes the boat attractive, but also a lot easier to extract from a fibreglass mould. As the old saying goes "up here for thinking, down there for dancing."
Other eye-appealing features include the way the deck structure rolls inwards at the sides and the downward flick of the gunwale line at the transom. The latter is just the right touch to enhance the sporty, fastback styling of the stern.
Internally the boat features a small but useable cabin with three-quarter length bunks on which you can sit when you're below. This cabin has a cut-away bulkhead so it's very easy to reach from the cockpit.
Clever design work has also enabled the Signature team to keep this boat's overall hull weight below the normal range and still maintain the strength required for local conditions. All up hull weight ex-factory is around 450kg, and this translates to around 900-950kg on the trailer, depending on the motor of your choice.
Our test boat weighed around 942kg (dry) due to the slightly heavier weight of the four-stroke. Not exactly a heavy rig, the 493F would comfortably meet all state requirements for towing behind cars like the Camry two litre, or Magna 2.6 litre.
Even with the added 150kg or so of weight you'd expect the boat to carry in real-life trailing it will still be legal behind these cars and quite easy to tow.
The compact size, and moderate weight of the 493F will also make it a very easy rig for handling on your own, whether hitching up, or on the water. Home stowage shouldn't be a problem either.
While it wasn't a particularly rough day it soon became very obvious the VDH hull ride is exceptionally good, especially when tackling a steep little water chop bow-on.
As we've found in the bigger Signatures these designs are quite soft riding and generally track well, even in the tightest of turns.
Good ride also equates to better average speeds as you can push the boat a bit quicker. We found we could hold the speed up around the 27 knot range a lot of the time, even when running over some lumpy wind blown chop.
The boat behaved in a sporty manner, except when we tried to run at speed over a large wash or patch of very peaky waves. Then I found the lighter hull tended to make it hard to keep the boat on track. However, as boats of this size go the handling was pretty good and certainly acceptable for family boating.
At-rest stability is quite good for a boat of this size, though the boat is somewhat sensitive to a lot of weight back aft. The stern was already several inches below its normal float line because of the four-stroke. Obviously you'd want to use some discretion as to how many people you had fishing down the back in rougher water, particularly if they were really big, heavy guys. But you'd could say that of a lot of boats this size.
Overall performance was quite impressive with the Suzuki four-strokes. These are a new breed of four-strokes which feature multi-point electronic fuel injection and a four-cylinder block of 1298 cubic capacity.
While it has the flat torque curve typical of four-strokes this engine gives a top speed which compares very favourably to normal two-strokes. In fact, with a stainless-steel prop fitted we were probably doing a top speed better than many two-strokes this size.
Our performance figures certainly indicate this point:
17 knots 24 knots 30 knots
3500 rpm 4000 rpm 5500 rpm
Since the boat is rated up to 90hp you've obviously got a bit of room to move if you wanted more speed. For instance, you could go for one of Suzuki's oil-injected, two-strokers like the 85hp model which would easily give a speed in the 35 knot range, more than fast enough for getting you around the water.
Such a two-stroke would be a good choice also in as much that it also weighs about 29kg less on the transom with a dry weight of around 123kg.
Alternatively you could come down to a smaller 70hp two-stroke, which might also work quite well because of the quick acceleration of two-strokes, and their lighter weight. Certainly you save a few thousand in the price difference.
We didn't run fuel tests, but I would expect the four-stroke to very thrifty, maybe as low as 12 litres average use an hour. The boat comes with a 100 litre in-floor fuel tank so you've got enough capacity even if you do go with a two-strokes.
In terms of actual steering the 493F is quite comfortable with the separate instrument panel mounted high for easy viewing. While I also liked the sports steering wheel the helm seems to be mounted a touch too low for when you're steering standing up. However, I was pleased to see an adjustable seat slide provided standard on the helm seat.
The sporty handling of this boat is enhanced by the negative feedback steering system and the sporty steering wheel. I also like the extra padding in the pedestal seats, but would have preferred more of a 'bucket' design to give better body support in rough water.
Good features here also include footrest strips on the back of the bunk edges, and a grab rail being included in the dash for the passenger side seat.
The bow features a short moulded bowsprit to carry the anchor on deck when required. In the standard package you get all the gear you need like a bow roller, split bowrail, Tee bollard and self-draining anchor locker well.
You can access the anchor from the cabin hatch which is just as well because you can't really walk around from the outside of the cabin.
Moving aft we find a three-piece
perspex windscreen which has been redesigned to give more curve to the front panel, and hopefully increase its strength. I would be inclined to add the optional wrap-around windscreen grab rail for crew security, and added strength in the windscreen frame.
The dash area features a shallow recess on the passenger side for placing small items, however most personal items would be best stowed in the upper side pocket, alongside the passenger seat.
The cabin features a padded vee berth with padded backrest/shelf all finished in an attractive fabric. The headroom is just enough for the average adult, but otherwise the cabin offers a reasonable level of comfort for family use.
A bunk in-fill cushion is also provided to allow you to turn this whole area into a more useful space for sleeping, or at least having a cat-nap. The cockpit itself features long side pockets for stowing handlines, hand nets and gear of that nature. These pockets are also upholstered to add a bit of luxury to the cockpit.
Right aft there is a removable lounge which is a super comfortable unit and even has arm-rest with built-in cup-holders. This lounge has a moulded GRP base so you can lift it out as a complete unit and use it as a temporary seat ashore. Sounds like just the thing for those beach BBQs, especially when the base forms a large insulated icebox.
While that fastback stern and sporty cabin do cut into the cockpit fishing space, at least you still have reasonable room with the lounge removed. Once that's out of the way you can stand right up against the low rear deck.
The boat works reasonably well as a fishing platform with two gunwale rod holders provided aft along with a live bait tank hatch in the stern quarter. This live bait tank is also plumbed so you can easily add the electric pump system.
Signature'also offer a very clever cutting board which incorporates four rod holders, cutting board and even a little covered box for your bait. This unit is designed to slot into the two rod holder slots already provided in the rear deck.
There's obviously a few other things you might need to add to make this your own private fishing platform, but most people I think will keep the extras to a minimum as they don't want to over-capitalise the rig too much. You'd certainly want to add the basic stuff like a two-way radio, sounder and maybe the optional cutting board we've just mentioned.
Signature appear to have increased the level of standard items on its boats these days so you have less to buy in the way of options. For example this boat came from the factory already fitted with cockpit lights, nav and cabin lights. There's also a switch panel with wiring harness so you can easily add other electric accessories.
This is a good cross-over design for the person looking for a boat which will be equally at home day cruising or out fishing.
Sure it isn't a full-on serious fishing rig, yet it has the capacity to be a reasonable fishing platform for those times you do dangle a line. For instance, you have a stern area which can be quite easily converted to fishing without going to any great trouble, or expense.
There's no doubt the styling of this boat is a key selling feature and no doubt for this reason the 493F will also enjoy good sales levels. This in itself is very reassuring to buyers as popular selling models tend to also command good resale value long term. While I found the overall finish pretty good for the price category I was a little disappointed the builders hadn't been able to squeeze in a more stylish wraparound windscreen. The problem they face of course is the huge cost of these screens, especially when made in moulded glass. Interestingly enough they do include these screens in their larger boats, but that's because the higher price of these boats can absorb the extra cost.
Overall the 493F is an attractive looking rig which is helped along in the value stakes by the high level of standard features in the final price package. If you want to know more, I suggest you check the new 493F out for yourself at the nearest Haines Signature dealer.