AS WE headed out of Cairns Inlet the wrap-around rear lounge was too inviting and I gave up the helm to sprawl back and enjoy the ride. It was mayhem on the water as the north-easterly chop was torn apart by a continual stream of tourist vessels returning to port.
The layout of the Signature 600 RF is perfect for the family man as well as the dead-set fisho. The wife and kids would feel instantly at ease too, thanks to the extra-high sides, excellent stability and soft ride. The RF fits the ever-growing market where the fishing boat must double as the family runabout before it can get the nod from the Minister for Home Affairs.
Derek Mahony (a neighbour of mine who’s in the market for a family boat) and I took turns at the helm, while Rob Scarcella from Boat Scene, who supplied the test boat, ran through all the neat functions on the Mariner Smart Gauges. Boats Scenes' sales manager, Murray Clink, had taken up station in the port corner of the rear lounge and wasn't moving.
One thing that soon became evident was how dry the Signature was, especially with the brisk nor-easter kicking up a sharp chop. The Signature just ate it up at all angles, and the only spray was a few specks on the wrap-around screen.
Entry over the rear is a breeze via two wide boarding steps with a fold-down ladder to port. This set-up makes it easy to enter and leave the water for a swim, ski or dive, as well as boarding off the beach or at the boat ramp. U bolts on either side of the engine are set up for skiing, and the rear quarter horn cleats are recessed so they’re out of the way.
The transom top on the port side has a large wet locker/live bait tank with a hinged lid, and the same location to starboard holds the battery and oil reserve. The centre of the engine well has a small fold-down transom section to give a full-height transom.
The rear lounge invites a good stretch, and recessed grab rails on either side offer extra security for passengers. Another great feature of the rear lounge is the inside compartment, which is a huge kill pen/ice box with drain plugs at each end. It has the added bonus of being easy to remove for scrubbing at the end of a big day's fishing.
In the centre of the cockpit floor there’s a large wet well/kill pen which has a lid that hinges in the middle so that it can be accessed from either end. There are side pockets upon side pockets, and there’s even a third level of pockets on the passenger side. The bottom side pocket has elastic straps to hold two rods in place on each side, with the tips going through a hole at the rear to finish back under the transom. This setup is perfect for keeping rods completely out of harm’s way and well protected from the elements.
Wherever you look in the Signature there’s another neat little storage compartment. Your biggest problem would be overloading the boat over time, as you stow away more and more handy gadgets ‘just in case’. There are even two recessed tackle compartments just in front of the transom, with twin slide-out plastic storage trays.
Four stainless steel through gunwale rod holders, in trolling positions, all come with splash caps, so water won't run down them and inside the cockpit in rough weather.
The passenger dash holds a small ice box/hand basin, with a plug, under a hinged lid. In front of the dash is a grab rail for the passenger.
The 135hp Marina Optimax comes with standard Smart Gauges which give fingertip access to all the motor's goings on. An outstanding feature of the Optimax series is the trolling setting, where the motor can be set precisely to run at any revs, from idle to 1000rpm. The troll function drops out as soon as the motor is brought back to neutral, making it a breeze to release and get on the plane in a hurry. There’s also an eight-switch control panel below the gauges for all the other on-board electronics, a Ritchie compass and a 27 meg marine radio beside the helm seat.
The low-profile cab is deliberately small to maximize usable space in the rear, making it the ideal layout for the serious reef and offshore fisho. The small cab has a V berth which allows anglers to grab a few hours’ kip on an overnighter, or let the scone-grabbers have an afternoon nap.
Large side pockets above the bunk would hold a lot of gear. Under the floor of the step down into the cab is yet another wet well, with drain plugs. Between the V berth is a compartment to take a porta potty, if required.
The top of the cab and the middle of the screen fold open to create a full height walk-through to the anchor well. This is the best access system I’ve seen on an offshore boat. There’s no bending and crawling, with the usual head banging as the swell comes through, on the way to pulling the anchor. Once at the nose, the anchorman is still very secure with plenty of boat height around him.
The anchoring system is spot on, with a stainless steel bow roller on the end of the bowsprit. The split cross bollard, with lock pin, allows the anchor to be pinned on the bow for short moves. The self-draining anchor well has a lock-down hinged lid with an internal tie-off for the end of the rope. There is a stack of room to hold 100 metres of rope and a serious anchor.
Fueling the Signature is simply a matter of unscrewing the cap on the side of the engine well, allowing you to access it from the ground without having to climb up on the wheel arch. Marty Blake from Boat Scene commented on how easy it is to fuel up the Signature, with no back flow or tricky ways to hold the nozzle. You just stick it in and let it flow. Marty fills a lot of fuel tanks and is amazed how difficult this operation can be in many boats. And with a massive 250-litre underfloor fuel tank, the range of the Signature would be unbelievable!
The 135hp Mariner Optimax is at the bottom end of the recommended power range, but it certainly produced the goods. With four up it churned out 39km/h (24mph, 21 knots) at 3500rpm, 43km/h (24mph, 21 knots) at 4000rpm and had a stack to go, doing 57km/h (35mph, 31 knots) at 4500rpm. We were unable to rev the motor right out because it was till inside its two hour run-in time, but with another 1000rpm to spare it wouldn’t be short on top-end speed.
The Signature was an absolute pleasure to drive and behaved like a Labrador just out of obedience school. With the wakes hitting us from all angles and a confused sea, the Signature held its course beautifully and took everything in its stride. Steering was a one-handed relaxed operation, even in the difficult conditions.
The Signature 600 RF will certainly find a lot of fans who are looking for an all-round boat. The 600 is equally at home on the bay, cruising the islands, or skiing with the family, as it is heading out for a serious day's fishing.
Test boat BMT package priced at $__________, supplied by Boat Scene at Cairns (ph. (07) ____________).
Moulded length with bowsprit - 6.25m
Length - 5.95m
Beam - 2.43m
Deadrise - 33 to 21 degrees
Fuel – 250L
Berths - 2
Power – 115-175hp
Max engine weight -240kg
Hull weight - approx. 850kg
Towing weight - approx. 1960kg
1) The excellent internal gunwale height creates a very secure feel for passengers.
2) The Signature 600 RF looks good on the water.
3) The 600 RF has a huge uncluttered floor area between the helm seat and the lounge.
4) The fold-back screen and cabin top allows excellent access to the anchor.
5) The passenger dash hides a top little compartment that doubles as an ice box or hand basin.
6) The 600 RF has side pockets upon side pockets.
7) Slide-out tackle trays are another great storage system.Reads: 1201