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McLay is hard to top

McLay is hard to top

Greater numbers of well-respected plate aluminium recreational fishing boats from New Zealand are making their presence known across the Ditch and, as BARRY WISEMAN reports, more are heading West like the McLay 651 CrossXover.

Designed for the avid fisho’ who loves to head offshore but also take the family to Rottnest or up the Swan for lunch, the McLay 651 CrossXover Hardtop is a solid plate aluminium rig well suited to our conditions.

If New Zealanders highly regard it, it is sure to meet the likings of West Aussies venturing out into open waters.

McLay Boats introduced its CrossXover range four years ago to cater for keen fishers, enthusiastic divers and the many families who enjoy boating to get away from it all for picnics and sleepovers.

Boasting a 5mm plate bottom and 4mm sides, the 651 CrossXover HT is the big brother and, like the whole McLay range, comes with a reinforced keel measuring 10mm thick to add strength to the build.

This is supported by the full-length acute reverse chines plus a welded rib and stringer system under the chequer plate floor.

Like most New Zealand plate ali boats, there is no hiding the quality of welding which is clearly visible as soon as you step aboard.

The Nyalic poly coating has been applied to provide a barrier between salt water and bare aluminium and if (when) you do scratch it, it is far easier and cheaper to repair than a two-pack paint job.

What you cannot see below the deck is the 175-litre fuel tank which comes with this rig and has been built into the stringer system, also adding extra strength.

Also under the floor is an in-built flotation tank to aid buoyancy, plus high-density foam has been added under the gunwales, so you have true level flotation, not basic.

This is certainly an excellent safety feature not normally found in aluminium craft and should go a long way to convincing adults of the safety features of this boat when taking children on board.

With the high 720mm freeboard and interior walls, a family of four or five would be very safe.

I arranged to meet local agent Johny Lupu, manager of Malaga’s Searano Marine, at the Hillarys boat ramps and by the time I got there he had the vessel on the water and was bringing it alongside the floating pontoon jetty.

It was the first warm day of spring with a temperature above 30 degrees and the boating public were out there to soak up the sun.

Light easterlies made it perfect for boating and this new kid on the block attracted much interest as we slowly motored out of the harbour.

Had the weather come up whilst out on the water the carpet-lined hard top cabin provides great protection and that feeling of security.

The carpet feature lines the cabin walls and shelves plus the large dash behind the toughened glass windscreen.

As well as being cooler to touch in our sweltering summer, there was also the sound deadening factor.

The side bunks come with in-fill cushions to convert the bow section into a queen-size bed and there’s room under the centre cushions for a plumbed toilet.

On the review vessel there was no solid bulkhead nor cabin door; the forward section has been left open for ventilation which is a good thing on hot nights.

In front of the passenger seat there is a solid grab rail plus large lockable glove box as well as an even larger open carpet-lined shelf to store mobile phones, binoculars, and such.

I find you can never have enough storage room at the dash, and this fits the bill nicely.

At the helm of the review vessel, the dash was adorned only by a switch panel on the left, and to the right the circuit-breaker switch for the Australian-made Lone Star drum winch in the anchor well up front, plus the engine management gauge for the Honda 225hp outboard on the transom.

The large area in front of the stainless-steel steering wheel was vacant awaiting the installation of a flush-mounted GPS/sonar unit.

Top quality bucket seats, complete with lower back bolster support, are fitted to the McLay 651 as well as sturdy footrests just at that right height, allowing both skipper and passenger a soft ride when cruising in such conditions as were experiencing that day.

The vessel provided good security and a feeling of confidence in its performance.


Well clear of the marina entrance and increasing the throttle, the Honda 225hp motor was soon sitting on 4000rpm, bringing to the fore the agility of this New Zealand craft.

The hydraulic steering was effortless and the response was immediate.

Increasing to 5000 revs in these conditions we could have turned the nose and headed to Mandurah no trouble at all, calling in at Rottnest for morning tea.

With two of us on board and a half tank of fuel, we had plenty of range and power to spare.

The 225hp is the maximum rating for the 651, however with a hull weight of 1000 kilos you could easily get away with fitting a 150hp engine on the transom.

On these smooth waters the hull performed extremely well, with the reverse chines throwing the spray away from the vessel.

It was a real shaker and mover on the straight runs and cutting back on the power while making a sharp turn to port, the reinforced keel underneath dug in to execute a 180-degree turn while holding onto the surface without a hint of slip.

The sliding side windows provided plenty of ventilation inside the cabin as the temperature rose to 30 degrees following our long, wet winter.

That hint of summer made this an enjoyable day on the water in what is an excellent value-for-money vessel.

Behind the bucket seats there are ‘dickie’ seats with a hinged lid and storage on the starboard side.

The port side seat comes with room underneath for a slide-in portable fridge/ice box, which is a skilful use of space and leaves the remaining rear cockpit area free for fishing or family activities.

Deep side pockets, which also double as steps when getting out of the boat, run from the dickie seats to the transom, with room to store fenders, ropes, gaffs, and snorkel gear.


The transom is fitted with a removable bait station which incorporates a deep drawer to store tools and tackle.

A rear lounge folds up when the vessel is being used as a fishing machine, giving anglers room to move, and when in use enables three people to be seated across the back.

The transom is cut away on the port side, allowing divers and bathers good access from the dive ladder to walk through into the cockpit.

This step-through houses a see-through plumbed live bait tank, just the job to keep those rock lobsters fresh while spending a night at Rottnest Island.

A portable barbecue on the side gunwale, a glass of wine while watching the sun set and tucking into a crayfish salad – what more could you want?

The use of EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) high-density foam for use as deck flooring is becoming increasingly popular and there are several brands on the market these days.

Designed to relieve fatigue in the legs and feet after hours of constant moving with the flow of the vessel on the water, the flooring is easy to hose down and is stain resistant.

Vessel names and designs can be lasered into the foam and in the case of the McLay 651 CrossXover the charcoal grey flooring features deck planking plus a large 1m fish rule along the starboard side.

Initially a deck covering, the material is being used in all areas of vessels and doubles as a sound barrier, particularly on aluminium boats.

It solves the old problem of drying marine carpet for regular users and offers respite for the feet in our hot climate, but I would suggest a rubber covering during the cray season to protect the foam from being damaged while moving heavy pots about the deck as nail heads, sharp metal or timber corners will damage the high-density foam.

In what is a nice touch, the McLay 651 features the same non-skid foam on the side decks and along the transom.

This is a good safety feature when standing on the gunwales, say at the jetty, walking across the marlin boards at the rear or coming in through the transom door area.

Not only does it look stylish, but there is also the serious safety issue.

Care must be taken lifting heavy items over the side as scuffing could still occur if you are lifting a heavy ice box or portable fridge and resting it on the gunwale.

You may also get a hook or two stuck in it, so be prepared to give that extra bit of care if you do install EVA foam in, or on, your vessel.

There is no doubt, it does give a great finishing look to any craft and applying it to the gunwales and side decks certainly helps protect your valuable fishing gear.

I do a fair bit of crabbing during the season, and I have installed the Eva foam along the transom and sides to protect the paintwork from the wire-based drop nets I use.

Its use on the McLay adds style to the presentation of the vessel whilst being a practical feature.

The cockpit gunwales have aluminium rod holders welded in position and again you can see the top quality of workmanship here.

The non-skid foam has been laid around the outer edge of each holder, as is the case around the aluminium cleats, hatch latches and the cast aluminium hinges for the kill tank.

The charcoal-coloured foam on the review vessel contrasts nicely against the polished Nyalic-coated plate aluminium hull.

The clear polymeric resin is designed to add years of protection against chemical, environmental and ultraviolet corrosion and it is used widely, particularly by New Zealand alloy boat manufacturers.

More Australian aluminium boat builders are also using the same product, especially here in WA where the customised plate boat industry is strong. Scratches and repairs are easier to deal with, plus you do not get those salt corrosion problems hidden by paintwork.


The review McLay 651 featured several factory-fitted options above that of the standard vessel and included painted sides in a gloss charcoal metallic finish with a flash of blue and orange striping astern highlighting the brand name.

This colour choice contrasts with the thousands of white vessels on the ocean and was rather refreshing.

The bait board and drawer combo are another option, as is the pull-out canopy awning which slides out from under the hardtop cabin roof.

This extends shade over the rear cockpit; another must for our hot summers.

Your live bait tank, walk-through transom, two marlin boards, sliding side windows in the cabin, saltwater pick-up and tap, bilge pump, anchor and navigation lights are all standard equipment.

Our vessel had a windscreen wiper fitted to the curved toughened glass screen on the driver’s side.

The hard top’s built-in curved awning over the front of the screen throws good shade over the dash interior and instrument area.

There are solid grab rails on top, doubling this area as a roof rack when camping out, plus there is a bank of eight rod holders/rocket launchers at the rear where a slim-look Targa houses the anchor light, folding down if height for storage is an issue.

Searano Marine at Wangara has packaged this rig with the Honda BF225hp motor and latest Dunbier EZ-Loader trailer, as well as fitting dual batteries, VHF marine radio and antenna, stainless steel propellor, offshore safety kit and 12 months’ registration.

As mentioned, the 651 comes with all standard features plus a lengthy list of options and is a very capable fishing/family boat in a popular 6.5m size range that is well suited to local conditions.

The 651 is also available in a wheelhouse version for that extra protection.


  • MODEL: McLay CrossXover 651 Hard Top
  • LENGTH: 6.6m
  • BEAM: 2.3m
  • FREEBOARD: 720mm
  • DEADRISE: 17 degrees
  • POWER: Honda BF225hp with stainless steel propeller
  • FUEL: 175 litres
  • MANUFACTURER: McLay Boats; Milton, New Zealand.
  • AGENT: Searano Marine; 795 Marshall Road, Malaga, WA 6090; www.searano.com.au; (08) 9248.2242 or Johny Lupu on 0438 181 640.
  • Price: $119,000 boat/motor/trailer package as reviewed including 12 months government registration.

Thanks to the team at Searano Marine for providing the test boat, the top-selling model in McLay’s CrossXover range.



  • A good all-rounder to suit the avid fisher out deep or a family day out
  • High quality welding and workmanship
  • Polished aluminium areas coated with Nyalic polymeric resin
  • Painted exterior sides; you could order the clear coating
  • Large wheelhouse with side ventilation
  • Large foredeck cabin hatch to access the anchor well
  • Plenty of factory options included
  • Walk-through transom
  • Heaps of power from the Honda 225hp engine
  • Agile performer sporting excellent safety features, including level flotation


  • Some might argue overuse of carpet on the dash, however I do not mind it. It is cooler than bare metal behind the glass windscreen, plus it is easy to keep clean by running the vacuum over it. It is in keeping with the lining on the hardtop roof and cabin walls. It’s just people are not used to seeing it. The New Zealanders finish off their vessels well and the McLay brand is highly regarded.
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