You need only look around at all the Bertram 31s and 54s in the world’s more remote fishing hot spots to realize that even today, Bertram arguably qualifies as one of the most successful offshore boatbuilders in history. This newest Bertram 54 actually represents the third iteration of this proven hull.
The original Bertram 54 debuted in 1981 and was produced through 1992. Production stopped during a redesign, with the resultant model carrying the day from 1995 through 2005. And yet this latest version of the 54, the 540, still reflects the model’s vaunted reputation as a fishing machine.
Considered by many to be offshore Sherman tanks, the earliest Bertram 54s were indestructible – even though they sported a large windshield in the cabin front. (This was before manufacturers insisted that solid fronts were inherently safer by keeping breaking waves from crashing into the salon). Bertram 54 owners I knew during that era thought they were virtually impervious to the weather. That’s a tough reputation to live up to.
It’s surprising that the 540’s predecessors ran much slower, especially since this newbie weighs almost 10,000 pounds heavier and stretches a foot wider than its forefathers. Perhaps the speed difference stems from the 540’s considerably flatter deadrise at the transom and the addition of prop tunnels. Or perhaps, they just didn’t build super-light and powerful diesel engines like they do today. Whatever the reason, the 540 tops the 40-knot mark at wide-open throttle – the older models hit 28 to 32 knots on their best days running down-sea with a tail wind. We actually topped out at 42 knots with her twin 1,676 hp Caterpillar C32 diesels turning 2,320 rpms. A 31-knot cruise seemed more efficient and certainly qualifies as a respectable speed for a 54-footer. And the 540 reaches her cruising speed a lot faster than the old models thanks in part (I believe) to the underwater exhaust providing an added boost beneath the stern.
The 540 backs down at more than 6 knots, and because of the pair of SeaKeeper gyro stabilizers, you’ll love the boat’s roll moment in a beam sea, These units take a few rolls to catch up to the motion, but then the difference is quite dramatic – and the stabilizers work at any speed.
The flybridge bows to tradition with its substantial seating forward of the helm, placing the captain and guest seats near the aft rail. And I enjoyed an unblocked view both fore and aft from the wheel.
However, I would like to see a slight redesign of the flybridge hatch for those who plan on adding a tuna tower. Without enough room to squeeze behind the helm seats to access the portside tower leg, you’re forced to use the starboard ladder. When climbing up or down, the hatch to the cockpit makes for quite an obstacle. Since you can’t move the tower leg, I’d like to see a hatch covering the flybridge ladder for a safer dismount. With that said, I commend Bertram for the number and placement of solid handholds on the bridge and throughout the entire boat.
Having grown up with boats sporting broad windows across the front of the house and having taken them offshore in all sorts of weather, I never did agree with the “safety” argument against big windows up front. Being an “outdoorsman,” I truly like the return of the cabin-front windows, as I much prefer ambient light to LEDs, halogens or whatever.
Another change I find very gratifying takes place in the 540’s galley. Bertram placed the galley in the aft port side of the salon – right next to a large window that actually opens directly into the cockpit. How much easier could it be to make and serve meals while fishing? And without the risk of spilling your chili con carne on the salon carpet or furniture while trying to get it from a forward galley up to the flybridge! From the chef’s perspective, the farther aft you locate the galley, the calmer the ride. If I’m handling a stove and hot pots, etc., I want it to be as smooth a ride as possible. Bertram also smartly installed a hidden recessed rod locker in the galley overhead, allowing you to pass the big guns directly out the window into the cockpit as needed.
The rest of the interior consists of three cabins: a typical island double in the fo’c’sle, an athwartship double amidships to starboard and over/under singles (at right angles) opposite to port, with the forward and portside guest cabins sharing one of the two head/shower compartments. Bowing to the European influence of Bertram’s yacht-building parent company, Ferretti, the hull boasts port lights in each side, which admittedly brighten up the usually dark and cavelike cabins of most sport-fishing yachts. Also feeling the Euro influence is the interior decor. Rather than traditional teak and mahogany, Bertram uses light woods and veneers throughout the 540, making for a much brighter and more modern ambience.
I welcome standing headroom in any engine compartment. And while it may be a squeeze to get around the engines to access plumbing or ventilation systems, once outboard, you’ll find plenty of space in which to work. I also appreciate the crash-pump valves attached to the engine raw-water pumps for emergency bilge-pump assistance. However, I’d rather see the valve controls placed aft by the hatch rather than at the forward end. The last thing I want to do if I’m taking on water is to make my way into an enclosed, flooding compartment.
Every routine maintenance point can be accessed readily, and this space qualifies as surgically neat and clean.
Design and Construction
While similar to the original 54, improvements have been made to the 540’s running surface that help it perform even better than its ancestors. Strakes have been widened for stability and to knock down spray, but Bertram also sharpened and angled the strakes forward to make the ride in head seas more comfortable. The prop tunnels help the ride as well by channeling thrust more parallel to the water’s surface for increased fuel efficiency and speed. The tunnels also shorten the draft so you can get into those tighter spots in the islands.
One thing remaining relatively unchanged, however, is the actual laminate schedule. Bertram still builds a solid fiberglass running surface for unsurpassed strength. But it now adds high-density, closed-cell-foam composite in some areas to help the new 540 go from tank status to a more nimble and efficient stature.
And finally, despite the Italianate family tree to which Bertram now belongs, the Euro-design influence has been kept to a minimum. This 540 looks like a Bertram 54 – there’s no mistaking it even from a distance. I generally find sequels to be unsatisfying – but Bertram’s new 540 proves an exception to that rule.
MAX POWER……T 1,676 hp Cat C32 diesels
Bertram Yachts / Miami, Florida / 305-633-8011 / www.bertram.com