Bertram 540 – Boat Review

Preference for Excellence

May 8, 2013

| |Courtesy Bertram Yacht|

Although many quotes could describe the Bertram 540 Convertible, one rings particularly true: “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation.” Aristotle said that more than 2,000 years ago, unwittingly — and perfectly — describing the evolution of the iconic Bertram 540.

One merely has to look at the history of this iconic brand to realize the importance of the company, not only in the development and refinement of sport-fishing boats, but in the continued advancement of the design as well.


From its self-confident beginnings in the early 1960s, when that first 31-foot Bertram pushed itself to the forefront of the boating community’s awareness with a record-setting run and win in the Miami-to-Nassau race, to its present brand-spanking-new Merritt Island facility, Bertram Yacht has learned and refined the art and skill of boatbuilding by continually paying attention to what it does best.

The 540 takes its pedigree from the decades its predecessors have spent on the sport-fishing circuit, with many of the lessons and designs learned while dealing with unpleasant conditions. Tournament anglers fish when they have to.

Her lines, courtesy of the collaborative effort between Bertram and Zuccon International, are in perfect proportion to her length and 17-foot beam. The soft sheer easily carries the elegant look of the boat’s profile from her pulpit to the transom. And your eye has no trouble following the curve of her black mask back to those oversize side windows and then up as her tower rises above the 160-square-foot cockpit.



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| |Courtesy Bertram Yacht|

Things can change once you get on board the 540. That’s because the boat can be configured in just about any way its owner may want her. For example, my test 540 had a fairly traditional interior layout, with a couch to port, a large flat-screen TV in the aft starboard corner, the galley forward and to starboard, and a dinette area opposite.


In another arrangement, the galley location is swapped with the seating area. To add an extra layer of innovation to this option, Bertram installed a large, electrically operated aft bulkhead window that replaces the usual fixed one. This gives the owner the ability to open up that salon space to those seated on the cockpit mezzanine. There was even a request for a portside galley down layout, as this prospective owner did not need the stateroom on that side.

As far as living accommodations go, the 540 offers a three-stateroom, two-head boat with a forepeak master to starboard and a twin cabin to port. (The twin and forepeak share the second head.) I found the quarters roomy and comfortable with ample storage areas and pleasing decor throughout.


Of course, being a Bertram, the 540’s business end is exactly what one would expect aboard a competitive sport-fishing boat. With the aforementioned 160 square feet of working space, you could put together the best fishing amenities to suit your needs, including the requisite top-of-the-line chair or a stylish leaning post. You could outfit the boat with an array of rocket launchers or in-gunwale rod holders, and there is comfortable mezzanine seating and a host of in-sole boxes, a large transom door and gate, freezers, ice makers, coaming padding and a long list of optional equipment. Want to dress things up a bit? Try the teak coaming and opt to have the exotic wood put down on the deck as well.


Engine Room

The engine room boasted a pair of optional 1,676 hp CAT C32s — twin 1,224 MAN V-12s are standard, with 1,360 MAN V-12s being yet another available engine option. A pair of 15.5 kw Cummins-Onan gensets (one is standard, and there’s the option to upgrade to 23 kw) also live down below. You can easily access the engine room through a cockpit door, and you get two hands on anything that needs servicing. In addition, Bertram allocates added space for watermakers and an anti-roll gyro system.


Topside, the bridge is first class, with plenty of storage space, a forward centerline cooler and lots of comfortable seating. The expansive electronics console accommodates as many high-tech navigational instruments as you could possibly want. Options include helm and companion seats finished off in high-gloss teak and a handy table forward of the helm.

| |Courtesy Bertram Yacht|


Out on the water, the 540 is a spirited performer. While she posted a wide-open-throttle speed of 40.5 knots, at 2,200 rpm she clipped right along at a comfortable 37 knots. And just as impressive is her 31-knot turn of speed at 1,800 rpm. Of particular note is the way she answered the helm with almost instantaneous response to either port or starboard turns. Whether hard-over maneuvering or countering through S-curves, she came right back to straight and true tracking. And while my test day saw flat-calm conditions, I did manage to find a rather large vessel throwing a more than substantial wake, and, making a beeline for it, I put her right into it, noting the way she shouldered through with no slamming or pounding.


The 540 is built with all the attention to detail and quality that the Bertram brand is known for. And now, with the new facility at Merritt Island, the company will be infusing all of its boats, switching over from the traditional hand-laid, open-molding lamination process.

“The plan with all new production is to infuse the laminate and the main longitudinal stringer system in the initial process, as well as all major parts, including the superstructure,” says Ken Beauregard, Bertram’s vice president of manufacturing. Including the stringers in the first shot of the process has a couple of advantages; chief among them is that it results in a much stronger structure than that used in a secondary bonding method, where preparation and grinding is necessary. In addition, and across the board on all of its boats, Bertram will also be tying in all of the cabinetry with fiberglass during the assembly process, creating as solid a total structure as possible, especially when operating in less than suitable sea conditions.


“In this business, it has to be a team effort. From our quality inspector through the engineering staff to our human resources folks, whoever is involved in that end product and beyond, it has to be first class,” says Alton Herndon, who took the helm of Bertram Yacht in March 2010.

Herndon, a well-known industry veteran, has seen significant time at Hatteras, Palmer Johnson, Tiara and KCS International. Additionally, before coming aboard at Bertram, he was the co-founder and managing partner of Southport Boat Works, and he has made a habit of seeking excellence.

The 540’s place in the Bertram convertible hierarchy is an important one. Its owner-friendly length, its ability to be as custom as custom can get, and its inherent versatility as a highly competitive fishing platform that also provides onboard comfort ensure that it will continue to set a high standard in its size class.

“We’re focused on going in a certain direction. Getting Robert Ullberg in here as our vice president of engineering and product development means that new designs will be coming along; and they will still come with all the great things that everyone expects from owning a Bertram,” Herndon says, with a knowing smile and a twinkle in his eye. “It gives all of us here at the company a great deal of satisfaction to do what we do, and to do it well.”

This brings us full circle to another fitting thought from Aristotle: “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.”


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