Boat Review Date: June 2012
Author: Mike Brown
The bad news first: this 7.1m boat costs $129,000. It is the only bad news, though, and the good news is very good. The boat is the Sealegs 7.1, the only brand offer genuine amphibians in Australia.
The amphibiousness is the reason for the cost: the engineering involved is clever, massive, and there is quite of lot of it. Essentially, the Sealegs is an aluminium hulled rigid inflatable (rib) with a retractable wheel at each corner. A 20hp Honda stationary engine generates hydraulic power to raise and lower the legs and to drive the rear wheels - a powered bow wheel is optional. The outboard’s wheel and steering hydraulics also control the bow wheel steering.
Apart from the added weight of the legs, the Honda and the hydraulic system, afloat the 7.1 operated just like any other RIB. Powered by a 150hp Evinrude ETEC we wound up into the 30s, the wheels completely clear of the water and causing no drag, and put the boat through its paces. No surprises: a well behaved, slippery boat that responded predictably to instructions.
It was its differences from any other RIB that interested me more. We had driven into the water down a concrete ramp and we were going to leave via a steep beach of fairly loose sand. Quite a test I thought. The Honda started at the turn of a key and settled into the noisy running inevitable in an air cooled motor, and the legs dropped at the press of a pair of rocker switches.
The trick was to have some forward speed from the outboard to get the wheels well and truly in contact with the bottom. With the throttle fully open and forward selected on the other lever, the wheels bit and we turned off and tilted the outboard. The Sealegs managed the beach climb with ease, and left me to consider just who the amphibian could appeal to enough to part with the dollars. My co-pilot told me about an unlikely buyer.
An 80-year old in Tasmania, beyond driving a car, barely able to walk and in love with fishing, bought one at a cost higher than his beachfront humpy. With its legs retracted and sitting in his backyard, he can board it by sitting on a side tube and swivelling his own legs inboard. He then deploys the legs, drives out of the garden and into the ocean; four days a week.
More typical buyers have further up market beachfront or riverfront property, but share the liking for zero tow vehicle involvement and the principle of getting the passengers aboard with dry feet. The big customers, though, are people who need rather than want to launch off ocean beaches – sea rescue groups and water police. There is more here than the convenience of a dry launch: ocean launching and recovery have produced a lot of serious injuries and even deaths from people getting sandwiched between boats and trailers in surf. The Sealegs has the potential for removing this risk.
The boat itself has plenty of adaptability for more leisurely customers who have use as tender, fishing boat or day cruiser in mind. Seats for eight are provided though, as in all boats with inflatable side tubes, a near infinite number can comfortably sit on the tubes. Some of the conventional storage spots are taken up by the Honda motor and auxiliary fuel tank, but here are lots left under seats and under the deck.
The price includes a trailer which is literally drive aboard. A ramp automatically drops down and just as automatically raises when the boat is aboard. Another trick here is to raise the bow wheel as soon as the boat has its nose aboard, letting the rollers do their self centering job.
Perhaps the best move for people who want one but hesitate in front of their cheque books would be to look for second hand versions. Buyers of new ones tend to update as soon as new models turn up.
Price AUD $129,000
Fuel capacity 175L in two tanks
Motor fitted 150hp Evinrude ETEC