An open RIB may not be the obvious choice for adventure cruising but the Highfield HX76 offers much more than your ordinary RIB
First and foremost it has an aluminium hull rather than a GRP one. As well as being usefully lighter than most of its 7-8m competitors (875kg ex-engine), this also means it’s robust and easy to repair. Then there’s its unusually deep-vee hull design, boasting a knife-like 24° deadrise at the transom for cutting through the waves.
Last but not least it has a large built-in fuel tank with a 285-litre capacity, giving a safe cruising range of over 200nm at 20 knots. In other words, it has the credentials to be a genuine offshore contender not just an attractive day boat for blatting around from beach to beach.
Before finding out how that all stacks up at sea, it’s worth recapping who Highfield is. The company was only established in 2011 in Weihai, China but can trace its heritage back to the Swift range of Australian aluminium RIBs, designed to tackle big seas around the Great Barrier Reef.
In that time it has sold over 15,000 boats in 38 different countries and now claims to be the world’s number one manufacturer of aluminium RIBs and tenders from 2.4m to 8.6m.
That’s all well and good for hardcore RIB enthusiasts but to appeal to the lucrative European market for more luxurious, leisure oriented RIBs it needed to up its game on the style front. To that end it has recently employed the services of Italian designer Alessandro Chessa to smarten up its act.
In the UK it has also linked up with Honda Marine to supply all its craft with its efficient four-stroke outboard engines. The current flagship of this new and improved range is the Highfield HX76 Sport.
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First impressions are largely very positive. GRP internal mouldings create a sportier, more user-friendly look and feel than the cold, flat surfaces of an all-aluminium fit out.
The rear moulding includes access steps and a bench set low in the hull with cushioned supports and grab rails on either side, the centre console has sweeping lines with an integrated windscreen and the bow section creates a sociable U-shaped seating area that makes up to a sunpad as well an anchor platform for stepping on and off.
The mouldings are all good quality and most of the seats hinge to provide access to locker space beneath. Brightly coloured cushions help lift the look while large diameter Orca hypalon tubes provide buoyancy and stability at rest. Optional textured foam decking feels soft and grippy under foot without trying too hard to look like teak.
The standard hydraulic steering feels a bit sticky at low speeds but is nicely weighted at faster speeds with just the right gearing for agile but not overly sensitive handling. Honda’s latest digital throttle is almost too small and light for such a powerful engine but is blessed with a wonderfully smooth action when slipping into and out of gear.
However, it’s that deep-vee hull that is the real star of the show, delivering a wonderfully soft, dry ride with plenty of grip through the turns. Admittedly the conditions were unusually benign for the Solent but it brushed aside the wakes of passing ferries without the slightest slam and inspired nothing but confidence in its sea-keeping.
We recorded a top speed of 43 knots from the top of the range 250hp engine with three people on board, a speed at which it felt utterly composed and within its limits. Knock it back to 28 knots and that lightweight hull helps it burn just 42lph or 1.5 lpnm.
Price as reviewed:
£62,151 inc. VAT with Honda BF200 DXRU
The layout of our test boat wasn’t perfect. The helm seat was too close to the console to make standing comfortable and lacked support. The windscreen was also too small to create a windbreak. However, Highfield is already working on a new layout that should solve these issues and create a more sociable U-shaped rear seating area with wet bar and heads under the console. These changes should turn the Highfield HX76 into one of the most complete, affordable packages on the market.
LOA: 24ft 11in (7.6m)
Beam: 9ft 3in (2.83m)
Displacement: 875 kg (ex. engine)
Fuel capacity: 285 litres
Engine: 200-250hp Honda outboard
Top speed on test: 42.7 knots
Cruising range at 28.6 knots: 152nm
RCD Category: C for 12 people