The entry-level segment of the boating market is a fiercely competitive sector dominated by big companies like Quintrex and Stacer. It also is a segment where tinnies rule – mainly because they are cheaper to produce, lighter and easier to handle and tougher, which means that the small mistakes that are likely to occur with inexperienced skippers at the helm are not going to be costly. Because of all these factors it is unusual to see small companies have a crack at competing at this end of the market, especially those that specialise in fibreglass construction. But that is exactly what has happened in WA and early indications are that the gamble has paid off. Experienced boat builder Kevin Pallot, who designed the popular Ocean Whaler, and industry stalwart Glen Chapman formed a partnership to design a small fibreglass boat to compete with tinnies. The result is the Oz Runner 450, a runabout that is ideal for estuary, river and inshore use. And they have been able to put together a BMT (boat, motor, trailer) package for less than $23,000. The Oz Runner 450 will be shown for the first time at the Mandurah Boat Show starting October 9 and BoatAdvice had an opportunity to take it for  a run prior to the show.WHAT YOU GETAs you can imagine the Oz Runner 450 is a fairly basic package but what it does have in spades is space. For a boat with an overall length of 4.5m the cockpit is massive. If the boat was anchored four people could fish in comfort, while you could easily fit three down one side if you were drifting. Being a boat that has been designed and built in Mandurah, a coastal town about 80km south of Perth, it is ideal for crabbing, a favourite summer pastime in this region, with plenty of room to carry crab nets and seating for four people so you can enjoy a cuppa, or some other refreshment, between runs in comfort. For those days you just want to take friends for a cruise it would not look out of place with a small table set up in the middle and there would still be plenty of room for an esky and picnic hamper. With the driver and passenger chairs set up so you can sit facing forward or aft and a two-person bench seat across the transom it becomes a great little entertaining area. The gunnels on the 450 are also very high for a boat of this size which not only makes them comfortable to lean in against when fishing but provides some security for small children, or those who are not so comfortable on a boat. They also are wide enough to fit a couple of rod holders (not standard) each side and make a pretty good seat. There are storage shelves under the gunnels for keeping ropes and other bits and pieces. There are also small storage compartments under the boxes the driver and passenger seats are fixed to but the opening into them is small and they face backward, rather than forward so gear could fall out in rougher conditions. Apart from a small glovebox that will keep your mobile and other small valuables safe and dry, there is no other storage on the boat. This means things like lifejackets will need to be kept in a bag or a box. There is small space under the windscreen to store them but they would need to be secured to stop them moving around. At the bow of the boat there is a open anchor well (I would be fitting some type of rubber matting to the bottom and sides to try and protect it) with a bollard behind it for tying off and a couple of cleats on either side. The nose of the boat is very short so you need to access this area by rolling up clears and leaning over the short windscreen. The helm area is covered by a bimini clears, divided into three sections so each can be wound up or secured separately, at the front to protect you from the elements.The helm is on the small side but there is space to fit a built-in 7” MFD unit. You can also opt to fit a free standing unit behind the steering wheel. The test boat was only fitted with one small engine gauge (a tacho) but by the time a full set of engine gauges, a marine radio and GPS/fishfinder were installed it would be quite cluttered. Across the back of the boat there is no storage, transom door or ladder. The single battery and portable fuel tank (the test boat had a 25-litre tank but there was room to carry a second one) are stored behind the transom seat, on the floor.

POWERThe OZ Runner has been designed to handle up to a 60hp engine on the back. The test boat was fitted with a 40hp Suzuki four-stroke, though new boats will be sold with a 40hp Mercury four-stroke as part of the standard package. The Suzuki seemed to be a good fit with the boat providing more than enough power to get it up on the plane reasonably quickly. The choppy conditions we encountered on the test day did not allow us to experience its full capabilities. As I said earlier the test boat was only fitted with a rev counter so the only speeds I was able to record was off the Navionics on the phone. At 16knots the engine was spinning at 4500rpm while at 8knots it dropped back to 3200rpm. I am told that with the Mercury on the back it will have a top speed of 31 knots.

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ON THE WATERThe OZ Runner has been designed with a high bow, it was based on a Hartley Cray Boat, to help it cut through the water and small reverse chines and a single strake to give it a bit of lift. On the day we took the boat out for a test there was a nasty little chop that fully tested the comfort and capability of the hull. As we went over the first swell I was wishing the boat had been fitted with side clears as well as front. And then we landed on the other side with a crunch. I was now fully aware that I was behind the wheel of a 4.5m boat. To be fair, it was a steep little wave that lifted off a sand bar but it was a good reminder that this was a boat that was more suited to inland and inshore conditions than blue water.Once we got out into a little deeper water we were able to cruise at around 16 knots in reasonable comfort. With the trim set right the hull did start to slice through the chop more than bang over it and while there was still spray hitting the windscreen it was not coming into the cabin area. Going down wind you need to make sure the nose is trimmed up well but again, once we had the settings right it was a reasonably comfortable and dry ride. It was also a lot quieter than an aluminium boat would have been in similar conditions, thanks mainly to the foam-filled double skin floor. While we all know that fibreglass boats ride better than similar sized tinnies, this is a fibreglass boat that weighs just 700kg fully laden and it performs accordingly. Sitting in the drivers seat in a small runabout like this you do feel like you are sitting on the nose and it takes a little getting used to. On the Oz Runner there is enough space between the seat and the dash and enough height in the bimini for most people to stand and drive if they desire. Sitting down I found the top of the windscreen was right in the middle of my view. The steering was reasonably light and the boat turned without leaning too much or slipping. With the boat stationary the 2.0m beam and the flat bottom, it only has a 10deg deadrise, help it sit nicely in the water and with two of us standing on the one side there was only a slight lean.ON THE TRAILERThe Oz Runner 450 comes standard on a Sea Trial single axle trailer with two sleds and a self centering system that makes it extremely easy to get the boat on and off the trailer either driving or winching, though with the boat being so light there really is no need to drive it onto the trailer. The trailerable weight of the boat is just 700kg that means the trailer does not need to be braked and that most small cars can tow it.

OVERVIEWFor someone looking to buy their first boat or if you just want something light and easy to handle for use in inland or inshore waters the Oz Runner 450 is a great alternative to a tinnie. The ride won’t be as harsh or noisy as an equivalent sized tinnie. The cockpit size would be hard to match in a 4.5m boat and it is nice and light which means it is easy to two and and would  make a great little boat to take away on holidays. The high freeboard makes it ideal for families with small children.

NUMBERS THAT MATTERPrice: $22,900 (as tested) Length Overall: 4.5m Beam: 2.0m Draft: 170mm Deadrise: 10deg Maximum power: 60hp Engine fitted: Suzuki 40hp four-stroke Maximum passengers: 5

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