With the help of her local sailing clubs, Ali Wood tests the lightweight Polycraft 300 Tuffy tender with both electric and petrol outboard motor power
The Polycraft 300 Tuffy is a tough little boat from Down Under.
It started life as a yacht tender, but evolved into a popular choice for day-hire, fishing and exploring sheltered waters.
It found its way to the UK earlier this year via distributor Mareta, who shared it with the public at BoatLife.
We thought we’d put it to the test, so I asked my local sailing clubs to give it a (slow) blast in Christchurch harbour.
What better way to test its credentials than dragging it up and down slipways, running it into sandbanks and reed-beds, and using it to tow little Optimist sailors – though not a dragonboat, it transpired…
The tri-hull boat is made of 100% recyclable polyethylene, weighs 108kg, and isn’t abrasive against a yacht hull’s gelcoat.
Though the Polycraft 300 Tuffy 3.0 can accept up to a 15hp outboard, we were given a Mariner 9.9hp outboard for test purposes, and also tried it with an 1,000W ePropulsion Spirit 1.0 electric outboard.
First up, I met Steve Chapman, chairman of my local club, Hengistbury Head Adult Sailors (HHASC), where we sail a range of dinghies, including Laser Picos, Hartleys and Wayfarers.
Steve is a dinghy and powerboat instructor and often drives the club safety boat. I was keen to know how the Polycraft 300 Tuffy compared to the 4m Jeanneau Rigiflex (‘Jaffa’) club boat he usually drives.
Polycraft 300 Tuffy powered with a 1kW electric motor
To experience the boat as we might a tender or a little dayboat, Steve brought his Spirit 1.0 Plus ePropulsion electric outboard.
A keen caravanner, Steve takes the Spirit on holiday with his inflatable boat for exploring rivers and waterways.
“With electric outboards you have to be patient,” he warned. “They don’t have the power of 4-strokes, and with a maximum speed of 6 knots, are no good for safety boat duty, where you need to quickly go to a sailor’s aid. Of course, the pay-off is you don’t have to buy petrol and lug that around, the battery and engine are much lighter and smaller, and the silence – as they say – is golden.”
Another feature I wasn’t aware of is that the battery actually floats.
Steve told me about someone who’d recently been reunited with his dropped battery, after it washed ashore in Christchurch and was traced back to him, saving a £1,000+ replacement.
Steve easily lifted the 10.2kg engine from the car boot and screwed it to the aluminium transom plate on the Polycraft 300 Tuffy.
He then attached the fully charged lithium battery and power lead – all very lightweight and easy to handle.
Next came the magnetic kill cord, and the engine powered on, displaying 1,000W and 9:59 hours. It was fully charged and time to go.
It was a calm, sunny day in Christchurch; perfect conditions for exploring the shallow harbour and, with the electric outboard, little likelihood of disturbing the nesting swans, egrets and wild ponies of Stanpit Marsh.
Off we went for a quiet potter around the harbour in the lee of Hengistbury Head – once Britain’s largest Iron Age trading port, and now a nature reserve.
Had we had fishing rods with us there were two holes at the stern for mounting these. Next time maybe…
Electric outboard operation
Having always operated petrol outboards, I was struck by how utterly simple it was to use an electric one.
No priming, no fiddling with the choke, or yanking the pull-cord hoping it would start on the third pull.
A child could easily operate this (and in fact, I’ve since ordered my own ePropulsion electric outboard for testing in the harbour with the kids).
Steve advised me to sit where I could get the most leverage on the arm, and from this position it was a simple matter of twisting the throttle away from me to increase speed, and towards me to decrease speed, until it reached neutral, or zero (indicated by a soft click).
At this point, if I pulled it further towards me it took us quietly into reverse. No ear-grating gear changes.
It felt very intuitive, and the boat handled easily between forwards and reverse, speeding up and slowing down.
Most of us Christchurch dinghy sailors become acquainted with the reeds at some point.
In fact, being towed out from the reeds is a rite of passage, so it was nice to get close up, enjoy the birdlife, but know we had the manoeuvrability to ease away when necessary, and the tranquillity to hold a conversation.
Steve used an app on his phone to measure our top speed via GPS, and though it felt like we were going faster, we reached a top speed, against 2 knots of tide, of 4 knots.
That was with the engine on full power, ie using all of its 1,000W capacity. At this rate, we only had 1.5 hour’s battery life left!
Interestingly, when we decreased the throttle to less than 20% (185W to be precise) we still made 1.4 knots, but now had 7 hours of battery life left.
Electric engines are popular with fishermen because they don’t spook the fish, and are designed to be most efficient at ‘trolling speed’, that is, the ideal speed for trailing a hooked lure through the water.
Though the electric engine lacked the power of a petrol engine, it wasn’t this alone that topped our speed at 4 knots.
The Polycraft 300 Tuffy has three hulls, rather than a V-hull.
Good for stability, but less so for efficient motoring with low power, noted Steve, as at displacement speeds the boat created three sets of bow waves, interfering with one another and churning about inefficiently in the hull concaves.
We achieved a much higher speed with the 9.9hp Mariner 4-stroke as the cathedral nature of the hull allowed efficient planing performance combined with a soft ride and sharp, predictable handling.
The boat’s outboard sponsons are carried aft of the transom providing ample additional buoyancy exactly where it is required to support today’s heavy 4-stroke outboard engines allowing the boat to trim very level at slow speeds.
The sponsons’ sterns also have a handy moulded step for getting swimmers out of the water.
Polycraft 300 Tuffy powered with 9.9hp Mariner 4-stroke
The feel of a 4-stroke engine was markedly heavier after using an electric outboard and the noise much more intrusive, of course, though I soon got used to it.
As with the ePropulsion Spirit, the gear change was operated by twisting the throttle itself, but with a much clearer feel and sound when the engine changed gears.
I was more comfortable with this; knowing you’re in neutral is an obvious safety feature and useful for tight manoeuvres, not to mention when you’re around swimmers or objects that might foul the prop.
With the electric engine, the whole feel of gear changes was much more subtle.
The unique feature of this engine is that it tilts on a ratchet – good for quickly lifting and securing a prop in shallow water – but in order to get it back down you first have to lean right down on the tiller (tip the engine all the way forwards) to release it, therefore taking your eyes off the water.
Steve wasn’t keen on this feature.
“With a club boat, you have different drivers from one week to the next, with varying powerboat experience,” he said. “An unusual feature like this could be tricky to get the hang of. Most people will be more familiar with simply lifting the engine and securing it at the new height with a lever.”
I quite liked it, because I could quickly lift the prop without fiddling or having to lean outside the boat to find the lever.
A feature Steve and I both agreed was a bad idea on the Mariner 9.9 was that it could operate without the eye-drop style killcord.
Granted, if the helm falls overboard the crew needs to start the engine to rescue him or her, but this is why we carry a second kill cord.
There have been too many well publicised cases of powerboat crew falling overboard, and the boat driving in ever-decreasing circles around them until they are hit by the propeller with devastating consequences.
When driving a safety boat, I like to know that I (or anyone else) can stop the engine in an emergency by pulling out the killcord – especially with kids in the water.
With a 1.4m beam and 3m length, the Polycraft 300 Tuffy isn’t the most compact boat, so you’d need to ensure you’ve enough space to keep it as a tender.
However, it is light enough to be handled by just two people, using the recessed stainless steel handles.
The capacity states three people but gives a maximum weight of 217kg, which I would say is on the low side for three average men.
Two adults and a child might be more realistic.
Dragon boat racing
We passed the Polycraft 300 Tuffy onto fellow club member David Brookes, who drives the safety boat for Pink Champagne, a dragon boat crewed by breast cancer survivors.
David used the Polycraft 300 Tuffy for a three-hour session and found it to be comfy, lightweight and stable.
When single-handed it was great, though he did add that having the fuel tank stowage at the back isn’t as useful as at the front, where it can counter-balance the weight of the helm.
With a longer fuel line, the tank could be stored in the bow locker.
Perhaps because of this imbalance when David shared the boat with another ‘largish’ man, he found the 9.9hp engine wasn’t quite powerful enough and towing a dragon boat was out of the question (Mareta say the Polycraft 300 Tuffy would normally easily plane with a 9.9hp engine).
A 15hp motor might have been better on the day. Another important feature of a safety boat is having space for a casualty.
“If we’re rescuing someone, we need the space to sort them out, warm them up; put a tinfoil blanket on them, for example,” said David.
“It’s a great layout, but needs to be bigger to help out in that respect, so I’d be interested to try the next size up.”
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Water in the Polycraft 300 Tuffy test boat
Though impressed with the boat in general, David pointed out a few issues with the Polycraft 300 Tuffy.
The three lockers had no self-drainage and need to be bailed out if water gets in.
I also noted an inch or two of water in the locker after our session.
Mareta states there is a waterproof lid and lip to stop ingress so this shouldn’t happen.
The anchor locker, which does drain, is on the small side and not big enough for club boat marker buoys, for example, although these were easily carried on the open floor deck.
Also, when they lifted the boat out they found water between the two hull skins.
There’s no reason for water to be trapped there: bungs are provided only to release trapped water if the boat sustains damage and gets a minor hole.
However, there was no evidence of any impact damage.
After contacting Mareta we concluded that the rubber seals on the bungs of this particular boat were not sealing correctly – an annoying but easily rectifiable problem.
Second opinion on the Polycraft 300 Tuffy
Given high winds, and a shortage of volunteers at the next HHASC session, it wasn’t practical to use the Polycraft 300 Tuffy for safety boat duty with the adult sailors.
However, we lent it to Ricky Lee-Harris, Junior Captain at Christchurch Sailing Club, where it could be used to tow young sailors on Optimists.
Ricky was impressed with the Polycraft 300 Tuffy’s lightness and easy handling onshore.
It could be lifted on and off a trailer with just two people, or dragged ashore and launched single-handed.
On the water, he commented: “It planes quickly and turns on a sixpence. However, it’s quite ‘floaty’, and drifts quite a lot, which can make it tricky to judge manoeuvres.”
Conclusions on the Polycraft 300 Tuffy
We found the 3m Polycraft 300 Tuffy to be nippy, easy to drive and responsive.
However, its lower payload capability makes it impractical for a three-man club boat (two crew and one casualty).
As an easy-to-lauch coaching or committee boat, however, it could be ideal.
While a nice feature is the steps in the sterns, they’re too near the propeller for this to be safe in a rescue situation – though the engine would, of course, need to be fully off to recover a casualty.
What the club Jaffas have, which this boat lacks, is a smoother, more domed bow that does not have a great deal of volume or freeboard.
It means that if the worst happens, and you have to rescue an immobile casualty, you can drag/slither them out over the bow, which sinks a fair bit, and can be kept low to the water by the weight of the crew.
So, while not comparable to the larger Jaffa safety boats used by Christchurch and Hengistbury Head Sailing clubs, the Polycraft 300 Tuffy is a tough, rigid alternative to an inflatable tender.
It’s also suitable for day trips and is surprisingly light and manoeuvrable, with plenty of space for a coolbox, fishing gear and for two people to go pottering and exploring.
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