Boat Review by: Jon Blaicher
There are several reasons why rigid hull inflatable boats are becoming increasingly popular. They are extremely capable, have high passenger and load capacities, are relatively light weight and… don’t require any fenders! The downside has often been an industrial appearance. But, Highfield is improving on tradition with their latest line of deluxe Sport models.
This Sport 420 sits in the middle of the Sport line-up, which ranges from the the 9’10” Sport 300 to the potent 30’ Sport 900. The 420 is an extremely capable 14-foot boat, especially when powered by Yamaha’s potent F70.
To start, all Highfield rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs for short) have welded aluminum hulls. Once benefit of aluminum over fiberglass is it will never absorb water, which means it won’t get heavier over time. Highfield only uses DNV certified high-tensile marine grade 5000-series aluminum for strength and corrosion resistance. Cut with digital CNC machines, each hull piece remains consistent over the production run. Once welded, each hull is prepped in an acid bath and fully submerged in a chromate solution before the final baked-on powder coat. This ensures corrosion protection exists in areas where the powder may not reach. The powder coating process itself is subject to five different ISO tests for thickness, adhesion, accelerated weathering, and even salt spray.
Highfield offers two choices for the tubes - Valmex® PVC from Melher Texnologies in Germany, or ORCA® Hypalon, from Pennel and Flipo in France. Tube fabric also undergoes rigorous ISO testing for mechanical properties and glue-ability, heat and seam strength, air tightness and accelerated weathering. This quality assurance and testing is aimed at ensuring confidence in the boat’s longevity. So much so, that if you register your Highfield in North America, they will extend the standard factory 2-year warranty to 5-years on PVC and 10-years on Hypalon.
Highfield has a range of models suited to various needs. Classic models are popular tender models because of their light weight and versatility. Sport models, on the other hand, provide luxury and performance at the cost of some added weight. In terms of performance, the Sport 420 features heavy duty 4mm hull plating with a wave-slicing 20° deadrise and welded lifting strakes, as opposed to pressed strakes. Oversized 19-inch tubes provide the buoyancy and stability for a passenger rating of 8 and a load capacity of 1,744 pounds – all in a boat under 14 feet in length. The boat itself only weighs 681 pounds with the console. Fully rigged with fuel and the lightweight Yamaha F-70, the Sport 420 still weighs less than 1,000 pounds.
Since the 420 Sport weighs under 700 pounds unloaded, you could get away with a 40 HP engine. Most will opt for a 60, but for a few dollars more you can bolt on Yamaha’s super-lightweight F70. With a dry weight of only 253 pounds, the F70 weighs the same as the Suzuki 60, and is one pound lighter than the Honda 60 (Note: for the 2-stroke fans, the F70 is actually 67 pounds lighter than the now discontinued E-TEC 60 H.O.), that doesn’t mean the F70 is a stripped down 3-cylinder. Nope, this is a super-smooth 996cc 4-cylinder, with a single throttle valve and pulse tuned intake tracks much like the big 425. With relatively small pistons, each fed by their own individual fuel injector, you can imagine how well it moves.
With a light load and half a tank of fuel the time to plane was 3.5 seconds. Top speed was a hair over 40 miles per hour, which in a dinghy feels more like 60! But that isn’t even half the story. The 20° hull provides a very comfortable ride. More than that, it rides like a much longer boat. We rode out in 3-foot waves, and it wasn’t uncomfortable heading into them at 25 mph. Downwind it was downright fun! Handling is another noticeable feature. Those big strakes help keep the 420 planted when you turn the wheel. I could not get it to slide, even at full lock with full throttle. Crank the wheel at 25 and you’d better be hanging on. The 55-litre fuel tank is located below deck, helping keep the fuel mass low for improved handling. This is also a very dry boat for three reasons. One - the big 19-inch tubes ride high. Two - large wrap around spray guards help deflect spray down and away. Three - if you’ve ever experienced a wet helm seat on a dry, flat day, chances are your outboard in spraying you from behind. Not so with Yamaha's large anti-splash plate - standard on the F70 - which helps keep water from splashing up from behind.
Tow hooks are all welded into the hull and have hardened inserts to protect the aluminum when using steel tow hooks. An external transducer plate allows the additional of electronics without having to drill holes through the hull.
From a luxury perspective the Sport models really shine. Gorgeous hand-stitched upholstery with carbon accents has a super-premium look and feel. Reticulated foam allows water to pass straight through, helping to reduce the chance of mould accumulation. Almost all exposed aluminum surfaces are covered in soft EVA foam, which provides traction while staying relatively cool in the sun. The low-profile bow pad has flattened edges, flush mount navigation lights and folding cleats. It’s a great spot to sit and allows safe access to land when beached.
There is considerable storage for a 14-foot inflatable boat. The bow compartment has room for an anchor and a few PFDs. The forward-facing console seat flips up and is held open with two stainless gas struts, providing access to storage, the battery and console electronics. The largest storage compartment is located under the double-wide helm seat. On the smaller Sport models, this storage compartment is very generous and goes all the way to the transom.
This 420 has the optional arch which adds only 25 pounds to the boat. It features two raised heavy-duty cleats, and a valuable high tow point for water spots. Unless you have a clearance issue, this is an option worth considering.
Highfield’s are beamy boats, and with an 81-inch beam, the Sport 420 is no exception. 44-inches between the tubes makes for a very roomy interior, which will be appreciated if you get anywhere near the rated passenger capacity.
The console is finished with carbon accents and has room for 7-inch flush mount chart plotter.
Switches are flush and LED backlit. Ergonomics are just right for both sitting and standing, and the big rubber wheel provides plenty of grip. If you boat in a colder climate like I do, you come to appreciate rubber over stainless wheels.
For me the Sport 420 is all about exploring - finding new places and enjoying them with a few friends. If you’re in the market for a small runabout, one that can carry 8 people and still fit in the garage, the Highfield Sport 420 is worth looking into. And if you do, I highly recommend Yamaha’s F70. Does it need that much power? Perhaps not, but it only weighs 6 pounds more than the F50 or F60 so why wouldn’t you put the lightest 70 on it?!