In the car heading to Echuca to do this boat test, I tried to picture how I was going to tackle a boat test on a pontoon style boat – a style of boat often referred to as a ‘party boat.’ I tried my best not to have too many pre-conceived ideas, but that proved to be impossible! I went into the test with some positive expectations in regards to comfort, space and family orientation but found myself unable to find too many angler friendly thoughts to go with them.
I met Paul Eade from Xtreme Marine the following morning and was introduced to the Harris Grand Mariner SL 230. Aside from the obvious comfort and luxury of the fit out, my eyes were immediately drawn to the Mercury Verado 300 PRO supercharged 4-stroke on the back of it. With that, some of those preconceived ideas I had were already being blown away and I could see this was going to be a lot of fun.
The Murray River at Echuca was the destination for the boat test and launching facilities there are excellent. First impressions are always important and the ease in which Paul launched the boat by himself was impressive. In less than a couple of minutes the SL 230 was nudged against the bank and you could just walked on and off through a front gate. Not a wet foot in sight and we were ready to take it for a spin!
Putting the boat back on the trailer proved to be just as easy. The SL 230 has a drive on trailer and once the boat is lined up, driven all the way onto the trailer and locked into place you are ready to head off to your next destination.
As you can imagine, many of my fixed ideas about a pontoon style boat at 25ft long, related to handling and manoeuvrability. I was full of questions for Paul and getting a feel for what the handling would be like prior to getting behind the wheel myself was of great interest to me. Paul conceded that many people who had come for an on water test had similar doubts to mine and he enjoyed seeing their thoughts change just by the look on their faces.
It didn’t take me long to understand this change of heart. The transition onto the plane was very smooth and it didn’t take long to get to a very respectable 42.5knot top speed.
Considering the size of the SL 230, it manoeuvred more like a small craft. I do not consider myself to be an immensely experienced boat driver and the beauty of this craft is that you do not need to be. The ride was incredibly soft, as you would expect from a pontoon style hull. The air pocket created by the pontoons cushions the boat from any harsh landings and the dolphin nose cones ensure you slice through any chop with ease.
Although we were testing on the Murray, there is no doubt that the Grand Mariner SL 230 would be at home in a saltwater environment and would deal with any wind chop, boat wake or swell with ease.
It will be difficult to fully explain just how many options are available to personalize the Grand Mariner SL 230 to your every need. First and foremost is the floor plan and seating configuration. Options for this area include a fishing pod with bait station, rod holders and live well at the rear of the boat, and that’s just the beginning. Layouts can include a ski tow bar, ski locker, entertainment bar, changing room with curtain, deluxe seating and multiple floor plan options.
There is clever storage in and under all of the seating and above floor fittings. The attention to detail to ensure the end result is user friendly and meets the purpose they are designed for is second to none. Paul showed me the battery housing and to say that it was immaculate would be an understatement. There was not a wire out of place and this was the same with every aspect of the fit out.
The boat we tested had a double bimini top, which zips together to provide a serious amount of sun protection. You can also option to have mesh sides to keep the bugs out or full clears to give you even more protection from the elements.
It also had a full multi-media system fitted, with LED lights in all the speakers. The LED lighting didn’t stop there either, with plenty of floor lighting, lighting in your cup holders and even in the bimini if you wanted, so you would never have an issue with not being able to see what you are looking for or navigating around the boat.
The Grand Mariner SL 230 is part of the performance package range of the Harris Pontoon boats. Basically this means that a third pontoon is incorporated into the hull design to allow for larger motors (150hp and above). There are three levels of performance package dependent on the motor configuration.
The tested boat had a level 3 package hull, which included a full-length centre tube that is lower by an inch, creating more of a V-hull design. This further improves handling, increases fuel capacity, improves the hole shot and increases the horsepower rating of the vessel to up to 350hp.
Considering the size of the SL 230, the handling and manoeuvrability is hard to believe. Until you get behind the wheel and take it through its paces, you can’t understand how well it performs and how easy it is to drive whether at top speed or cruising. Harris has been around for 55 years and continues striving to improve its hull designs. I have to say it would be pretty amazing to improve on what we tested.
No matter the hull, a quality outboard is required to bring all of the elements together. Mercury’s 300hp Verado Pro Four Stroke is an incredible piece of kit. A supercharged air-cooled inline 6 motor, it is one of the lightest in its class. The DTS (Digital Throttle & Shift) gearshift system provides a smooth power transfer and the electro-hydraulic power steering further enhances the ease of driving the SL 230.
The Mercury is perfectly suited to the SL 230 and had plenty of power to get us on the plane quickly, to tow a skier or slowly cruise and troll a lure behind the boat.
The Grand Mariner SL 230 is not a lure casters dreamboat. Heading up shallow backwaters is not what it is designed for. However it does come into its own as a platform to fish from and as a base to explore a waterway.
There would not be a more stable platform anywhere to fish from and if you included the fishing floorplan that has a bait station and live well you have some serious fishing options available to you, whether it be in an estuary system, on the Murray river or larger inland waterways.
The ability to easily park it on a bank, set up the biminis, sneak out for a bit of lure casting in the smaller boat you have towed behind you and then return knowing that there is a cold drink, shade and plenty of comfortable seating to come back to – a bizarre scenario where being left behind has its benefits!
The SL 230 is a large vessel and –with the additional weight of the Mercury 300hp Verado as well as extra fuel storage – it is not something that can be towed by the family sedan. However, any vehicle with a 3t towing capacity would easily tow it. There are no additional width towing requirements, so if you have the vehicle, you can get out and get on the water.
After three hours on the water my thoughts on what the Harris Pontoon had to offer had changed dramatically. The obvious things like family orientation, comfort and versatility had only been enhanced. I know my family would thoroughly enjoy getting out on the water, running a tube or skiing behind it, then sidling up to bank for a bit of lunch and wetting a line, before further exploring the waterway.
My reservations about launching, retrieving, manoeuvrability and handling had been totally dispelled. In fact, everything was hassle free.
The versatility of adapting the floorplan to meet your needs is a serious bonus. It can be set up to cruise, to fish, to ski or any variation of that. There are not too many boats that can offer this amount of choice.
If I had to use one word to describe my last impression of the Harris Grand Mariner SL 230 it would be ‘excellent.’
The Grand Mariner is second in line as far as what Harris Pontoon boats offer – other boats in the range include:
Crowne, Solstice, Sunliner, Cruiser, Omni.
To find out more about the SL 230 and the range of Harris pontoon boats you can contact Paul Eade at Xtreme Marine in Echuca on 03 5482 2333 or you can go to their website www.xtrememarine.net.au
|Overall length:||25 feet|
|Pontoon Length:||23 feet|