by Steve Lague

The entry-level segment is where, in reality, most of us shop for our boats. Sales statistics show that boats under 4.99m long account for more than 30 per cent of total sales. It is a similar figure for outboard motors under 20hp.

It is the most competitive segment of the market with many local and international manufacturers, and models to choose from. For many the choice gets down to two simple criteria – budget and planned usage.

Now the choice has become just a little more difficult with a new player in the segment. Morningstar is not a new brand to Australia, BoatAdvice has tested the entire range of Morningstar 498 models, but it is extending its line-up, offering a range of open boat models.

At the WA launch of Honda’s new range of portable outboard motors last week we had the opportunity to also spend some time in the new Morningstar M Series 380, the second biggest model in the new M Series range.

The M Series consists of four model lengths up to 4.15m. The M320, M340, M380 and M415. All four models are built from 2mm pressed plate and designed to carry up to 15hp outboard on the back. All Morningstar hulls are welded together by robots ensuring they are neat, precise and exactly the same.

These V-nosed punts are designed mostly for estuary, river and flat-water use but the two bigger models would be suitable for light offshore use in the right conditions.morningstar m series 380-1

morningstar m series 380-10The Morningstar M Series 380 we tested had the new Honda 6hp four-stroke on the back and was sitting on a single axle Dunbier trailer. The total package was priced at $8,345.00. The reason I tested this boat with the 6hp is that it makes it a very affordable package. You could also push the price under $7000 by opting for a budget trailer and a cheaper outboard motor brand. But remember that by doing this you are also compromising on quality.

WHAT YOU GET

Searano Marine added a handful of features to the M380 as part of the standard package that, I think, make it a more usable boat. For me best of these is the front locker that extends from the front bench seat to the bow. Two separate carpeted covers effectively create two good-sized lockers between the bow and front thwart seat. They had stored all the safety gear, in a waterproof bag, on one side and had the anchor sitting in the other side. When the locker is closed it creates a good-size platform that can be used as a seat or a casting platform.

While it does not have a built in anchor locker there is a shelf under the bow that could also be used to house the anchor.

Other extras that Searano had added were the aluminium cleat for securing the anchor and grab rails along the side of the bow and along each gunwale at the rear of the boat. They also added trays that ran long either side of the cockpit between the two bench seats and a bracket for a sonar unit transducer. There is foam under the two bench seats that give the M380 basic flotation.morningstar m series 380-7

morningstar m series 380-8The M380 also has a drink holder/glove box attached to the back of the front seat which provides secure, dry storage for your phone and car keys as well as holding two cans of drink.

There is a built-in rod holder in each corner of the stern.

POWER

As I said earlier the Morningstar M
Series 380 can handle up to 15hp but only had a 6hp Honda four-stroke, on the back. It is the first time Honda has offered a 6hp variant in its 50-year history in the marine industry. The Honda comes with a 1.5-litre in-built fuel tank but also has a fitting so an external tank can be used, which is something you would definitely need for a boat this size.

It uses a one cylinder 1.2-litre engine to produce the 6hp and is fitted with a number of new technologies including an oil alert system that will restrict the engine to 2300rpm (half power) if it senses low oil pressure.

It is also uses rubber engine mounts to reduce vibrations, something aluminium boat owners will appreciate, and has a decompression starting mechanism for easier starts.

One new feature that I really liked was the new one-touch kill switch. It was easier to use than the older style button that you had to hold in until the engine switches off and worked quicker. The new button is flat and takes just a simple touch to turn the engine off.

It also comes with an industry-leading seven year warranty.morningstar m series 380-11

morningstar m series 380-3ON THE WATER

On the test day the sea breeze  created a small chop on the Swan River but conditions were still close to ideal. The performance of the M380 was a pleasant surprise, especially considering the size of the motor on the back. Before getting too carried away with the performance there were only two people on board. There was also no gear, apart from safety gear and anchor, in the boat. But with two passengers it was skipping across the water at a pace that would suit most. It was certainly quick enough for anyone who planned on using it for crabbing or fishing the shallows of a sheltered waterway. The floor did flex a little, especially when heading upwind, but it was not unnerving. It was also reasonably quiet for this style of boat.

The Morningstar M Series 380 was surprisingly stable. Even when I moved around from side to side it sat nice and square, barely moving.

Turning at speed the hull slid, as you would expect in a boat of this type, but remained composed and sure-footed. The Honda did cavitate quite badly when turning hard but the boat was fitted with a short shaft model. The problem may be resolved by fitting the long shaft model that costs an additional $50.

The freeboard was high enough to make you feel quite secure when sitting on the bench seats and the additional grab rails at the back were well placed, providing the skipper with something to hold onto if required.

While I was more than happy with the performance, if you are the type of person who normally has a few passengers or likes to fill the boat with gear you are probably going to need to upgrade to at least a 10hp engine.morningstar m series 380-4

morningstar m series 380-2ON THE TRAILER

The test boat was sitting on a single-axle Dunbier trailer fitted with glides. It is a very simple set up that is easy to use.  The Morningstar M Series 380 hull weighs just 90kg and the Honda 6hp engine adds an additional 27.5kg so towing this boat will not be an issue for any car on the market. It also means the trailer does not need to be fitted with brakes as the whole package falls well below the 750kg limit. The light weight also makes it easy to handle, launch and retrieve for people of any age.

OVERVIEW

The thing that impressed me most about the Morningstar M Series 380 was its stability. Jumping into the boat from a pontoon I expected it rock around but it sat nice and flat making getting in and out very easy. It showed the same poise and stability underway making it an ideal platform for fishing, crabbing or any other activity. With a price tag of well under $10,000 it is an affordable boating package the whole family could enjoy.

POSITIVESmorningstar m series 380-12

  • Stability
  • Affordability
  • Ease of use

NEGATIVES

  • No sun protection

NUMBERS THAT MATTER

Price: (as tested) $8345.00
Length Overall: 3.8m
Beam: 1.65m
Construction: 2mm pressed aluminium
Rec Power: 15hp
Engine Fitted: 6hp Honda four-stroke
Max Persons: 5

 

 

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