The bowrider format is fast becoming one of the most popular layouts for family boating in Australia. And for good reason. It’s a great concept that allows mum, dad and the kids to get the most out of their boating time together. Generally, the bowrider layout offers great flexibility and allows easy movement around the boat. Kids love riding up front – at least on flat water – and when the time comes to rig the tackle, there are plenty of spots to stand without getting lines tangled. Of course, as with any specialist layout, there are compromises. In the case of the bowrider, there is no cabin to provide protection from the elements – or privacy when it comes time to change cossies or when answering nature’s call.
But for many, the benefits and freedom of the bowrider layout far outweigh any perceived disadvantages.
Backed by the giant Mercury Marine corporation, Savage has plenty of boat building expertise and technology to draw on and it has utilised its resources well to come up with the new Savage 540 Beachcomber bowrider. An aluminium-hulled, fibreglass-decked craft, the 540 is the direct result of customer feedback and market research, according to Savage, and has the added benefit of a convertible fishing platform up front.
Fundamental to the new Beachcomber 540 is the adoption of a compact sterndrive package, which Savage says offers significant advantages over conventional outboard power seen more commonly in this size of boat. The 3-litre, 135hp, four-cylinder petrol MerCruiser engine takes up relatively little space, tucked in as it is very low and well into the transom. It’s housed inside a flip-up fibreglass engine cover and there is enough room either side for passenger seating.
Apart from its relatively compact dimensions, Savage says its low positioning within the aluminium hull contributes to an overall low centre of gravity, which translates to added stability and good turning at all speeds.
Of course, by opting for sterndrive propulsion, Savage was able to make the Beachcomber even more family-friendly by fitting a generous carpeted swim platform where an outboard would normally reside.
Adding to its family focus is the use of a fibreglass upper deck and moulded coamings, that give the boat a softer look and feel. According to Savage, the fibreglass also helps to suppress the hull noise normally transmitted through sterndrive-powered aluminium boats.
Passenger comfort is a step above what you’d normally experience in a ‘tinnie’ of this size. There is ample seating throughout the boat, which is rated to carry six adults. On either side of the engine hatch are two compact, but comfortable removable seats, which can be tucked away when it comes time to get the rods out. The moulded coamings either side feature rounded edges and moulded-in drink holders. In addition, the engine hatch is topped by an upholstered pad, which doubles as a passenger armrest and also incorporates a moulded step to aid access to the rear swim platform. Polyurethane buoyancy foam is used in the aft rear quarters to provide flotation.
Skipper and companion get a pair of stylish, low-mounted adjustable pedestal seats that are well-placed and comfortable enough, when in flat water. But when the going gets a bit lumpy, I – and I’d venture a few other skippers – prefer to stand, especially in tinnies, which tend to punish the joints in rougher seas. The trouble is, the low-set dash and helm make this a bit of a chore on the 540, so it’s a case of sit down and hang on if push turns to shove. I have to say, though, that in calm conditions, the helm ergonomics are just about spot-on. The low-set, five-piece windscreen gives good protection and visibility and the surrounding grab-rail is perfectly placed for both passenger and skipper to hang on to. There is also a passenger hand-hold in the centre of the console, along with a small lockable glovebox.
Simplicity is the name of the game as far as the helm and dash go. A set of Mercury analogue gauges keep track of the basics, while the skipper maintains control via a sports-style wheel and conventional throttle binnacle.
Cockpit layout is, again, all about simplicity. Full marine-grade carpeting is a nice family-friendly touch, while the nicely styled side storage pockets are generously proportioned to store everything from tackle to trinkets and water toys. I also liked the steel grabrails that extend from the swim platform halfway along the gunwales – a good idea for a craft that is likely to be carrying more than its share of kids. It’s a spacious, uncluttered area, ideal for fishing or preparing the water toys for the kids.
Speaking of which, they can gain access to the bow couches via the central folding windscreen. Up front there is plenty of storage available under the cushions, while a centre in-fill turns the bow pocket into a sunlounge, bunk or fishing platform. There is ample padding around the sides, but I’d like to see a couple of well-placed handholds in case the bow gets a little ‘air’ while underway.
Additional hardware at the front includes a pair of sturdy stainless steel bowrails and bollard and bowsprit with rollers for when you decide to anchor-up in your favourite picnic or fishing spot. The anchor resides in the central storage pod under the seat.
From the options list, our Beachcomber came with a small bimini cover and the stainless steel bow rollers.
Overall finish and attention to detail is good to very good, especially when compared to some other aluminium boats in the class.
Conditions on the water for our test enabled me to sample the 540 in both calm, and not-so-calm conditions. Melbourne put on one of its ‘one with the lot’ days, so that Col Perkovic, Mercury’s aluminium boat group sales manager, and I were put through our paces as much as the Beachcomber. It began close to mirror flat, but in the space of 20 minutes we were dealing with Port Phillip Bay’s notorious metre-plus chop as a nor-westerly stirred the Bay into action.
Once out of the protection of the marina, we were able to give it a bit of throttle and I was keen to see how it felt before the looming black clouds rolled in. The carburetted powerplant doesn’t have quite the punch or responsiveness of a comparable size outboard, but felt up to the task of pushing the 970kg craft along at a good pace. Before the rough stuff hit, we managed 40km/h at 5000rpm and I can only assume that, with a boatload of people, fuel – speaking of which, there’s a 110-litre tank under the cockpit floor – and associated cargo, there would still be enough grunt to haul a skier out of the water.
I would have to say that it’s not the quietest or smoothest engine/hull package on the market, but the vibes and noise, damped somewhat by the fibreglass engine cover and upper deck, are not to the point of being overly intrusive or overwhelming. For the most part, it’s just what you’d expect of a conventional four-cylinder petrol sterndrive bolted to an aluminium hull.
Where the 540 really shined was in its tracking and turning. The low-slung engine and drive allows the Beachcomber to turn on the proverbial dime. It has a precise, predictable and confidence-inspiring feel at the helm, with no hint of slippage or instability. This is obviously a consideration when towing water toys or skis. And at rest, it felt very stable and soft.
As the wind whipped the waves up, I ran the 540 over a few speed humps and it’s in these conditions that you have to drive to suit the craft you’re in. The Beachcomber is obviously not intended as an all-weather, offshore runner, but it still did relatively well in the conditions. Sure, you can’t leap from crest to crest like you might in a sturdier, larger craft, but within limitations it rode relatively well. There was some of the ‘slap’ normally associated with aluminium craft, but when driven with the conditions in mind, it was adequate, but not brilliant – pretty much what I’d expected.
Fundamentally, the Beachcomber 540 is a relatively simple, straight forward and functional boat that doesn’t come with all of the ‘bells and whistles’ associated with some fibreglass boats in the same class – although it does have a lengthy options list. But it’s a stylish, honest, solid craft that offers plenty in the way of family fun on days when the water toys get an airing, while there is plenty of good ‘fishability’ when the fish are on the bite. Pricing reflects the nature of the 540, with an affordable tag of $36,781 in base form, which is pretty good value overall.
Ultimately, the Beachcomber 540 is a great affordable package that would be ideal as a userfriendly, entry-level proposition or for someone wanting to trade up from a basic tinny or smaller ‘glass boat.
Every new Savage hull is backed by a comprehensive three-year limited warranty and Mercury finance is available to buyers. The 540 comes with an Easy Launch Savage trailer by Dunbier.
For more information, go to: www.savageboats.com.au or call your nearest Savage dealer.
SPECIFICATIONS: SAVAGE BEACHCOMBER 540
Capacity: 6 people
Construction: 3mm aluminium bottom/2mm topsides with fibreglass upper deck
Engine: 130hp MerCruiser Sterndrive
Fuel capacity: 110lt
Price: $36,781 ($38,700 as tested)