Haines Signature 553C

Haines Signature 553C Boat Test
Boating New Zealand - December 2011

Haines Signature 553C
Haines Signature 553C
Haines Signature 553C
Haines Signature 553C
Haines Signature 553C

Classy Signature

Review Haines Signature 553C
Boating New Zealand Magazine December 2011  
Words and photos Sam Stewart


A choppy Lake Wanaka was the perfect test for the award-winning Haines Signature 553C, the family boat proving it’s just as comfortable in the sloppiest fresh water chop as it is pulled up on the stony beach.  

Test conditions: Lake Wanaka, stiff southerly, choppy waters 

You might have heard of the Bermuda Triangle, an area in the North Atlantic Ocean bordering the Caribbean that is said to have swallowed everything from planes to containerships without leaving a trace.

Lake Wanaka has its own ‘Bermuda Triangle’. At least, that’s what the South Island town’s locals are calling it.

While no aircraft or boats have vanished in the exposed area of lake, it is easily whipped into a washing machine-like frenzy in almost any blow meaning there is every potential for a mariner to come unstuck. 

The triangle was working overtime when Boating ventured out in the Haines Signature 553C. But every time the 5.9m boat looked like it was going to be sucked into a hole in the sharp chop, the 553C just punched its way back up. 

That’s because this predictable, all-round family boat has been designed to bash its way through the bad to get to the good.   

Last year the Australian-designed and Christchurch-built 553C was awarded All Purpose Boat Under Six-Metres at the Hutchwilco New Zealand Boat Show, and just one afternoon onboard is all it takes to see why. 

On and off

Seeing the 553C on its standard multi-roller Mudgway for the first time, my initial impression was that it looked rather squat, perhaps because of its bulbous foredeck designed to increase cabin headroom.  

However, as soon as she’s floated off the standard multi-roller Mudgway trailer and is sitting in the water, she comes into her own. The 553 takes on a far sleeker appearance and the raised foredeck moulds into the boat to create smoother lines.  

A niggly southerly blowing just off the Wanaka boat ramp did not deter the 553C. It’s fitted with a 130 Evinrude E-tech and 17” prop, so pushing the boat out of the hole was no issue. The two-stroke engine delivers instant power and complements the plank running the length of the boat’s keel which helps it get over the hump and planing in a hurry. No-one was game enough to brave the lake’s balmy nine-degree waters on test day, but it’s fair to say she’d happily pull up the most robustly-built water skier without issue.  

Once underway, the tried and true Signature Deadrise Hull "SVDH" comes into play. Rather than the hull running a straight angle from the keel to the chine, the SVDH is divided into two significant cambers, with planing strakes between each step. The idea is water flows over the warped hull created by the concave section, creating a large amount of lift rather than compressing the water.  

That, combined with a 33 degree vee entry at the bow and a 21 degree vee at the transom, saw the 553C happily cut its way through Wanaka’s Bermuda Triangle. Foam-filled sections at the front of the GRP boat give extra buoyancy and help make it a stronger, stiffer, quieter ride. Into the chop she was a soft and dry boat and that didn’t change when heading the other way. 

With such a flat section running down the keel it was always going to be interesting to see how the 553C held on. In the flat the variable deadrise hull tracks straight. With the wheel hard over she clutches onto the water, refusing to lean on her ear at all. 

Like all Haines Signature boats, the 553C has the non-return steering system. The steering column is fitted with a clutch that engages every time the wheel is not being turned, so pull the wheel over to 45 degrees, and it will stay there, meaning you’re never fighting in the turns, great for when you’re towing the kids on a biscuit.

The downside is it takes around 50 hours to loosen up so every time you turn the wheel there is a slight resistance which means trimming the boat mainly comes down to feel under foot, rather than feel in the steering wheel. 

From the driver’s point of view, sitting or standing is comfortable, with the throttles and wheel falling nicely to hand in both cases. The large curved acrylic windscreen means chatting while underway isn’t a problem either.  

While most ocean-going 553Cs will likely be set up with a driver’s pedestal and no reverse seat, lake boating tends to be about fitting in as many people as possible. This particular boat features back-to-back seats on both sides, and two seats built into the transom. While it’s not ideal for fishing, there’s still enough cockpit space for four people to throw a line over, especially if one sits over the transom. Stowage under the back-to-back seats is a big plus though, as under floor space is occupied by a 140 litre fuel tank. 

Rods can be kept in side pockets and water skis, wakeboards and the rest can sit down the middle of the boat or in the spacious cabin. Six-foot tall Perry Allen is a director of Torque Marine and a Haines Signature agent, and he was happy to demonstrate how even he could comfortably sprawl out in the enclosed space.  

Head-height in the aft part of the cabin is ample for someone of the same height, and two kids would be happy sitting further forward. More stowage is found under the cabin squabs. Access to the foredeck and deep anchor well is easy through the large cabin hatch.  

But it’s the subtle touches make this interior so user-friendly. Like the flap that dangles below the transom seats - covering the battery and bilge access areas - that is attached to the squab so as the squab is pulled on and off, the flap follows. That means no fiddling around with domes when it comes time to turning the batteries on and off.  

Electronics were yet to be fitted to this boat, but the dash has enough space to easily accommodate a 12 inch GPS/chartplotter. When a safe anchorage has been found and the boat has been brought gently onto the beach - as is common practice down south - unloading and loading is easy through the cabin hatch. The more nimble-footed boatie will be able to negotiate the modest side decks without too much hassle.  

Boating’s Verdict 

An afternoon on the confused waters of Lake Wanaka was enough to see why the 553C has the Hutchwilco New Zealand Boat Show, All Purpose Under Six-Metre award hanging around its neck. It rides well in the chop, has enough space for a large family and comes with a cabin that can be used by adults and kids. It has a base price of $50,995 so seems like good value for money but that sticker quickly climbs when optional extras are thrown into the mix.