Trailerable RIBs (rigid inflatable boats) are far from a common sight in Australia. Yes, you do see numerous RIBs used as tenders for fancy superyachts and sailboats, but the mid-sized trailerable versions are about as common as wild koalas.
The reasons? Well, there’s probably a bucket load, the first being limited choice; there are only a handful of dedicated dealers promoting a few of the imported brands. Secondly, the limited range available creates limited education and reviews on the products. Thirdly, I think most locals perceive RIBs to be just some form of Sunday joy-riding toy, that doesn’t or can’t serve multiple purposes.
After spending 20 years operating commercial trailerable RIBs for eco-tours, diving charters, and even the odd fishing charter, I can vouch firsthand for the versatility of a rigid inflatable hull. Aside from that, most decent quality RIBs are as nimble and forgiving in rough conditions as boats come, are an absolute blast to drive and, most importantly, are extremely safe on the water — having numerous air chambers built into the inflatable pontoons, along with fast self-draining decks.
It’s been a long time between RIB drinks for me, so when the latest Highfield Patrol 760 Sport popped up for a test, the answer was an easy yes, and swinging 300hp of Yamaha four-stroke grunt on the transom just sweetened the deal. I’m also used to fibreglass hull versions with heavy-duty PVC-material pontoons from the past, so this high-tensile 5083 aluminium hull version with quality Hypalon pontoons definitely sparked some extra interest.
The test day on the Gold Coast presented us with typical pre-winter conditions — a tad fresh with light variable winds and a small offshore swell, which was unfortunate as I was amped to put the 760 through its paces in some rough conditions. Upon first glance, it was exactly what I expected, that being a centre console sport-styled RIB destined for high-speed runs. Aesthetically, the blend of greys mixed with black powder-coating to the roll and seat bars added a nice modern and sporty look to the design. The 300hp V6 Yamaha needs no comment at all.
LESS IS MORE
Unlike the standard glorified trailer-boats we are used to, the Highfield Patrol 760 Sport and similar RIBs are simplistic when it comes to layouts — you certainly get the feeling of less is more. However, they are meant to be like that to significantly reduce the overall weight, and in this case, you are getting an ultralight 7.6m boat weighing in at only 1450kg, making it super easy to tow and handle.
Onboard I liked the clean transom setup with side ladder and angled splash-well leading to a false transom with dual rollbar and a full bench seat with spacious dry storage. A nice touch was the simple kick in the backrest on either side to restrain you in the event you have a hooligan of a driver.
The decks are then finished with non-slip EVA foam and are self-draining which makes it super easy to keep clean. For those that don’t mind bar crossings, the self-drain decks can be handy in the event you cop one over the snout when launching through the surf.
Moving forward, the dual console seats with hinged storage below are positioned behind the upgraded sports centre console on this model. This console has a stylish curve to it with an angled screen and is slightly wider to protect the skipper and passenger at the helm, as well as having an angled footrest, a front seat with a large hatch, and an ergonomic helm/dash set-up to suit numerous electronics and gauges. If I had to be picky, I would like to see a customised grab-rail installed to protect the screen from unsuspecting passengers leaning against it during hard turns and deceleration.
Upfront the bow consists of a small anchor hatch, large storage hatch, and an offset fuel filler with vent. By the way, the 760 comes standard with a healthy long-distance 285L fuel tank.
So, as you can see, they are pretty simple when it comes to the layout. However, there’s enough dedicated seating for seven persons (excluding using the bow or pontoons as seating), as well as ample dry storage for gear. Like any boat, you can easily add a few extra accessories to suit, like T-Top, a bimini, dive tank racks, or even a few fishing trinkets.
The hulls on the 760 are constructed of high-tensile 5083-grade aluminium, which no doubt weighs in a fair amount lighter than the standard fibreglass semi-rigid hulls and is more forgiving for beach launches. It doesn’t look round though; from a distance and even close up the 760’s hull could pass as fibreglass due to the smooth paint finishes throughout.
The pontoon material is Hypalon, which is commercial-grade and longer-lasting in comparison to more common PVC materials found on the cheaper imported RIBs. Interestingly, these pontoons are glued, and they have done a neat job at it. One of the biggest issues found in inferior quality pontoons from the past would be glues that could not stand up to high temperatures, and I’m going back 15 to 20 years or so when PVC and glue was the only economical option.
Quite clearly the quality is now chalk and cheese and the Hypalon pontoons are lasting a long time before needing any attention. Look at the commercial RIBs out there — they are all Hypalon pontoons with glued seams and you don’t see them in poor or worn-out condition. Hypalon is durable, can take high heat and pressure, and endure quite the beating and abuse before puncturing or damage.
For those fearful of a puncture, fear not, as the pontoons have multiple chambers, which means if you accidentally pop one, there’s plenty of buoyancy still left to get you home safely. Simple punctures are also pretty easy to repair; with a standard heat gun, the right glue, and some patch material, you can do a basic repair within a few minutes.
Aside from adding safety to the boat, the pontoons also serve as additional comfortable seating, provide better stability at rest and underway, and help maintain a drier ride in all conditions, due to the pontoon bottom acting like an oversized reversed chine to deflect spray downwards.
So, a hull that weighs 1450kg and has a 300hp Yamaha fitted — I’m sure it’s a no-brainer that this thing is going to be an absolute beast on the water. I’m all for maxed-out horsepower on boats, as the wear and tear is far less than you would have on lower horsepower motors that work a lot harder. While that is true, I’m probably telling a small fib; I do prefer having adrenaline performance on tap as well.
I started as anyone would, gentle and respectful on the throttle to get used to the feel and handling, but that didn’t last long as I just had to see what this machine could spit out when heavy-handed on the throttle. From stationary to on the plane, the 760’s holeshot nothing short of lighting fast, with the mid-range acceleration even more exhilarating, and top-end just blowing your hair back, to put it bluntly.
Wide-open throttle gets you up to a flighty 52kt (96.3km/h). However, that was at 5600rpm and with a bit of fine-tuning on the prop pitch, I reckon you could crack 6000rpm and a touch over 100km/h. Yes, that is belting it and not the kind of speed you should be doing on a regular basis, but it is bloody exciting and nice to know there’s a bit of extra power available if you need it, for whatever reason.
With the adrenaline kick formalities over I then settled into what felt like a decent cruise speed, both inshore and offshore. That ended up being a comfortable, nippy and consistent 30 to 35 knots whilst seated, which once again is still a fast average speed. Interestingly, the economy at 30 knots was a mere 34 litres per hour, and that’s light considering the V6 300hp on the transom. For those not needing to go places in a hurry, 20 to 25 knots will keep you well under 25 litres per hour fuel consumption.
Chucking it into hard turns, punching into swell and chop — whatever I threw at the 760, it handled it with ease. I love the ease of handling and manoeuvrability, and that’s probably a general comment for most rigid inflatable boats. Overall, I was impressed with the ally hull’s handling, and for once I’m going to say that a 200–250hp would be more than sufficient on this hull.
Once again, you would be surprised at the overall versatility of the 760 and even rigid inflatables in general. You can head to the dam skiing with the family, load up the scuba gear and head for the islands or offshore for a dive, load up to 12 of the family and mates for simple day trips or cruises, or even head out to chase offshore gamefish — you can do it all and quite comfortably at that with a few extra accessories added to suit.
Priced up the Highfield Patrol 760 Sport is competitive and comes in a lot less than some other high-end RIBs on the market. So, if you’re chasing something sporty, a bit of an entertainer for the family and mates, or just a stylish big tender for your superyacht, the 760 is most certainly worth a look. If the 760 is a bit big, Highfield also has a number of smaller sizes available and prices to suit your budget.
FACTS & FIGURES
PRICE AS TESTED $109,000 (inc trailer)
Garmin Echo Map 95, GME VHF and aerial, Fusion Stereo MS-RA55 with speakers, aluminium Aztech Trailer
PRICED FROM $87,000
Type Alloy Hull RIB
Material High tensile aluminium hull, Hypalon tubes
Rec. HP 250hp
Max. HP 300hp
Make/model Yamaha F300hp XL
Type 24 Valve DOHC with VCT Direct Action 60°, V6
Gear ratio 1.75:1
19 Reichert Street, Molendinar, Queensland
P (07) 5594 6266