Boat Review Date: June 2009
Author: Mike Brown
When Signature put an F in a boat’s name, they are saying this is a boat designed around fishermen. Our review 542 had an F, but it also had a lot more comforts built in than most anglers would put down as vital. For instance a cabin with bunks – just possible to sleep in, though Signature suggest they are more for a power nap or just sitting – and a porta potti.
Ancillary, of course, to the cockpit, where the real action takes place, and where the builders have put a lot of fisherman-friendly items. Such as two sets of tackle drawers, rod racks above the side pockets, bait tank, and under-floor stowage you could fill with ice slurry.
There are seats as well of course: a pair of swivels on pedestals and, aft, a three-seat folding lounge. They accommodate about as many people as you would want to carry at sea. The official capacity is seven, but that many would definitely need to be on intimate terms.
The owner and best friend seats have the use of a Bimini and clears, recessed panic rails, and minor storage in the right places. The seats are very comfortable (as I age I get better qualified to judge them), and the driver’s puts him or her in a good relationship with the controls.
In many people’s minds, the main feature of a Signature is not its suitability for fishing or anything else; it is about its sea kindliness, its ability to make lousy weather tolerable, and mediocre weather good. In other words, it’s about its hull design.
Signature makes a lot of fuss about its variable deadrise hulls. The accepted meaning of this expression is a deadrise or bottom V that changes along a boat’s length, getting steeper towards the bow. What Signature means is a deadrise that changes from keel to chine, and it does this by a hollowing of the bottom – which is a cunning thing to do. Simply steepening a deadrise usually puts more buoyancy underwater than you want, but the hollowing both gives a sharper bottom and takes away that buoyancy.
Does it all work? It certainly gives a startlingly sharp bottom: 33deg at the keel, easing to a still-acute 21 at the chines. This is common to all the Signatures, and the ride quality is consistently good in every one I have driven. The only real difference between them is in the greater vertical accelerations of the shorter models.
Which brings us to size; the 542 feels like a smaller boat than its name suggests. At 5.33m hull length, it is a smidge shorter than you might expect, but the beam is probably the biggest contributor. Plenty of boats around this length have beams of 2.3m or more, and the 542 has just 2.13m. There are good reasons for this, all to do with deadrise, beam and weight being in balance for good stability.
Signature certainly got the stability right. No one wants a twitchy fishing boat – or any other kind of boat for that matter – and 250kg of people were able to move around this one at will without causing any great movement.
With all this ability to go fast in poor conditions, our boat was fitted with a motor smaller than Signature’s suggested minimum, just 90hp of Suzuki four-stroke. But, three-up, it briskly took to us to 35 knots. The maximum 140hp would obviously deliver fearsome performance but, for the targeted fisherman buyer, so what? That top speed means mid 20s would be effortless cruising, and few ocean anglers want more except for the occasional downwind blast. A 90hp-equipped 420 would happily provide that.
The detail of the design, which has a 50-odd year history to draw on, shows all the sensible touches a boat-using designer would incorporate. The more obvious recessed cockpit grab rails and recessed cleats, and the less so steps within the side pockets to get you onto the side decks. The access to the electronics’ wiring demonstrates a frustration with the usual need for the removal of a multitude of screws.
Here, with the twist of a couple of thumbscrews, the whole attractive burr dash hinges back to give a technician access to gauges and electronics. It will definitely make life cheaper.
This is a developed boat, one that answered all the questions about suitability for purpose a long time ago. Its price is a little above average, but its resale is a lot above. There are people who would not dream of buying anything else.
Price as reviewed $56,900
Length overall 5.53m
Hull length 5.33m
Fuel capacity 100L
Towing weight 1690kg
Maximum power 140hp
Motor fitted 90 Suzuki 4-stroke