It’s a perfect winter’s day, the sun shining and not a breeze, as I catch a fast ride on Port Phillip Bay in the Highfield Club 530 with Michah Shuwalow, brand manager of Highfield Boats Australia. It’s a high-performance RIB offering the strength and durability of an aluminium hull and spacious practicality. The club boats are lightweight, which makes them easy to use, easy to drive and easy to launch and recover on any slip way or beach front. And you know when the South Australian Water Police and other rescue agencies around the country have put their faith in the Highfield range, that’s a huge endorsement as to their capabilities.
In just nine years, Highfield Boats has become the world’s number one aluminium-hulled RIB manufacturer. They can trace their design heritage to the Australian line of Swift Boats, developed to handle the tough conditions found along the Great Barrier Reef. Highfield’s state-of-the-art production facility is located in Weihai, China with every component fully integrated, being made in-house. Under European management, the facility covers 10,000sqm, employs 200 staff and has adopted the latest technologies available to guarantee production of the finest RIBs money can buy.
Michah has been in the boating industry for 20 years and despite being a skilled power boat handler, his most memorable boating experience was his first time in the Sydney to Hobart back in 2004. “She was a 39-foot yacht called No Fear. It was a real glamour year with a north-easter all the way into Hobart.” But back to the Club 350.
When it comes to RIB design, the most important factors to consider are weight, all weather performance and durability. All Highfields are manufactured from marine-grade aluminium that has been powder-coated to provide a durable and lightweight platform. Unlike fibreglass boats, they won't soak up water over time, meaning they'll weigh the same in 10 years as they did when they were new. Being only 372 kilograms, the Club 530 requires a minimum amount of horsepower to pop it up on the plane. The 60-horsepower Suzuki motor has no problem propelling the vessel up to 30 knots. Another feature of the hull is the 21-degree deadrise which means that you can confidently cut through any sea state with ease. The large diameter tubes provide extra stability for coaching, rescue and general club duties — all important factors when operating in a marine environment that can change very quickly.
The boat uses Hypalon material, a fabric coated with a man-made rubber called CSM, or chlorosulfonated polyethylene. Hypalon fabric is used extensively to make high end products in the marine industry. Its outer layer of CSM provides resistance to UV rays, abrasion, hydrocarbons and extreme temperatures. The neoprene in the fabric provides fire/heat resistance and also seals the fabric to make sure it is air-tight, once again, all important factors when operating in an environment that can change quickly.
Built into the boat, and I make the distinction between built-in and retro-fitted, are handholds not only on the outside of the craft, but also inside the role of the pontoon. They are placed exactly where you would need them to grab hold — coming out of the water fully laden in scuba gear or exhausted as a rescued yachtie. These perfectly positioned handholds inside the vessel do not act as trip hazard and are not under your bum when you are sitting on the pontoon. They are sturdy enough to give confidence to even the biggest unit clambering aboard out of the brine.
The impressive power and torque is delivered through a 30-horsepower Suzuki outboard which I am told will deliver 28–30 knots pretty comfortably with a load of clubbies onboard. The fuel is by way of a remote tank so yacht and rescue clubs can manage their fuel more easily by simply swapping it out rather than driving to the bowser for a top-up.
The console was pretty impressive. It’s an offset design which means the starboard side acted as a perfect small space for flag buoys, boathooks and even my Go-Pro extension stick. The portside is open which means getting from one end of the boat to the other quickly and without interference to the helmsman was not a problem. And as this vessel will be popular with the rescue services and sailing clubs, the floor lets you lay down a patient for first-aid.
The helm seat itself was a great set-up for two although on this sea trial, due to social distancing, it was left to Michah while I concentrated on photography. The seat neatly and quickly gets out of the way and acts as a bolster for your back while in the standing position.
The helm itself is simply laid out with a plethora of handholds and easy-to-manage controls, although the console is offset, the helm remains to the centre of the boat which is a great practical ingredient, given this boat’s intention as a club and training vessel. The screen to the front of the helm is large and keeps the salt out of your eyes, although the ride is surprisingly dry due to the large rolled bow. Up forward in the bow there is plenty of comfortable seating, which also hosts a good-sized Samson post, anchored solidly into the hull, with cleats large enough to wrap a decent rope around.
There will be a gradual change of the range as new stock arrives and old stock is depleted with the new range simplified into four ‘love children’ — a blend of the nine now in the range, taking the best features from the current cohort. The new range will be made up of two recreational vessels in the Sports range and two commercial vessels, aptly named the Patrol range. That will make choices much easier for customers and end users.
The Sports range will have the extra daybeds, cushions and a bit more comfort whereas the Patrol range will be more of a workhorse craft for yacht clubs, search and rescue agencies.
Michah says the great thing about a Hypalon vessel is that “it is like parking a giant fender.
“The Club 530 has a full aluminium-constructed hull with an exceptionally deep deadrise at 21 degrees, making it handle any conditions with ease. It’s also an exceptionally cost-effective vessel with the cost breakdown on the $44,000 consisting of $2500 for the trailer and $16,000 for the engine, making the vessel itself at a price point of just north of $20,000.”
FACTS & FIGURES
Hull colour: Dark Grey
Pontoon colour: Dark Grey
Electrics: Factory electrical package
SUS 700 console includes Nisida 61812M wheel, boss and bezel, cable steering, factory electrical package, FS 700 bolster seat
MAKE/MODEL: Suzuki DF60A
TYPE: Inline three-cylinder fuel-injected petrol outboard
RATED: HP 60
GEAR RATIO: 2.27:1
Savage galvanised trailer
PRICE AS TESTED
MATERIAL: Powder coated aluminium,
DISPLACEMENT: 372kg (476kg including engine)
DEADRISE: 21 degrees
REC. HP RANGE: 50–80hp
FUEL: 25L portable tank
PHONE: 07 5594 6266