It would not be incorrect to say that RIBs have changed considerably over the last decade. That does not mean that conventional jockey-seated rigid inflatables have lost their following, just that the big inflatable has widened its appeal. Call it the Italian dimension. The Italians were a close second behind the Brits during the RIB revolution of the 1970s, and although they went off in a different direction, we have seen a wide selection of Mediterranean-style RIBs gracing our shores for some time as they have proven increasingly popular with the rank and file of UK boaters.
The MRL Stingher 900GT Custom Sport Hard Top, to use its full title, is a perfect example of an anglicised Med RIB. It has an Italian mother in the form of Stingher RIBs of Italy and a British father in the form of Southampton-based MRL Marine. Stingher build the hulls and tubes, MRL fit the boats out in the UK, including the decking and the various systems, and then MB Marine rig the boat with whatever engines have been specified. Finally, championship-winning powerboat racer Neil Holmes fettles each boat with a series of prop tests, which keeps the stainless propeller world in business.
No two boats are the same; for example, this boat is fitted with a double flip-up bolster bench seat with a large wet bar behind. The last Stingher I drove was the 900GT open version, fitted with two single shock-absorbing Scot seats for the helmsman and navigator. There are two types of Scot seat offered ‒ either with or without the short stump. The stump seats enable you to stand, leaning into the seat base with your legs anchored either side of the stump – the same principle as standing over a jockey seat. This works a treat if you want to gain a bit more height to look over the bow at the wave pattern ahead. Deck rails enable the fitting of an extra pair of Scots, or the leg length can be adjusted for the front pair as required.
It is a case of horses for courses, and the T-top version of the 900GT, with its overhead protection, is truly a Med-spec boat, focused not just on the adrenaline rush this boat provides, but its social side as well. The wet bar is generous for a RIB, insomuch as you get a fridge big enough for a family’s drinking needs on a hot day, a sink, and you can opt for a griddle if need be. One thing I have noticed about Stinghers is that they build them with sumptuous back seats. They not only soak up the occupants but enclose them safely with a raised coaming on each beam, tastefully lined with the same high-quality Silvertex upholstery for the seating.
Our test boat was fitted with the optional teak table, which stows away under the rear seat. If you opt for two rows of Scots, the table and the wet bar are not options, though I doubt anyone buying a boat with a T-top will not want these luxuries. To access the transom platform you step around the back seat courtesy of the teak-topped coamings, with the security of being able to use the roof supports as grab posts. The aft bench seat opens to reveal not only a storage cavity where the table lives but an impressive array of system controls. In this cavity there are a series of trips/fuses for all system components, plus a bridging system. This enables all or some of the batteries to be quickly linked in parallel if one or some of them are flat, enabling at least one engine to be started, and then subsequently the other. In reality, it is unlikely that any batteries will go flat as there is a solar charger on the T-top. In the port quarter, the power steering pump is conveniently located along with the transom shower pump. There is also a bilge blower, as would be normally fitted to an inboard engine bay, just in case of fuel spillage when cleaning or draining the fuel filter/separators. The system is built around not only easy access, but easy problem management. I have not often seen this level of precautionary engineering in a RIB. To start with, there are battery shut-off triggers at the helm for each of the three batteries: twin-engine, and one domestic/system battery.
As has become the trend with any self-respecting family RIB, it has a proper sea toilet, in this case courtesy of a hinging forward seat. It is not that obvious at a glance, because by locating the toilet as low as possible within the hull, it has not compromised the appearance of the console, as is sometimes the case. The bow has impressive storage in the form of three lockers and a windlass locker. Of the three storage lockers, the largest central cavity is simply that ‒ big enough for a multitude of water sports kit. Of the two slimmer lockers, the starboard one connects to the central cavity, enabling the storage of waterskis. This forward area can be used with the table ‒ or with the table dropped down the infill provides for a forward sunbed.
The helm has clearly been set up from a driver’s point of view, laid out impressively with its carbon-fiber dash, and the chart plotter located immediately in front of you. The Navigator gets a grab handle, and the option to control the music via the Fusion hi-fi, as well as Mercury’s VesselView display, to occupy them. VesselView is a topic in its own right, and needless to say, it provides you with a massive host of system information for up to four engines. More significantly it provides ‘Active Trim’, enabling you to set the system to automatically control engine trim ‒ great when you may have different payloads of guests needing different trim settings, which are all stored in the system. There is also ‘Smart Tow’, which enables the user to create perfect conditions for wakesurfing and skiing.
Driving the 900GT T-top
Having already tested Mercury’s new 225hp V6, I was expecting a quick boat, and I was not disappointed. These new motors have a huge amount of bottom-end grunt, virtually 2-stroke like. You are hitting over 40 knots in 8 seconds, and seemingly moments later flat out at 56 knots. This is certainly helped by Neil’s religious propeller testing. Strangely, the T-top boat is no slower than the standard 900GT, and, like its counterpart, just as sure-footed when you decide to throw it about – which of course you will do. It is a non-stepped hull, which MRL consider to be ideal for an all-rounder family sports boat, providing that perfectly predictable ride. The T-top steers on rails, and I could not induce the slightest hint of hull slide, try as I might. This boat has superbly precise steering, which is both very quick to react to the wheel and totally composed. You do not feel the need to keep a check on whether you may have inadvertently oversteered. It has electrical power steering, which can be fine-tuned as required, and clearly somebody had spent some time setting this to this specific boat.
Running into the weather, she is reassuringly steady all the way up to her 56-knot top speed. The hull cuts easily and coming down off some of the bigger waves at 40 knots plus there are no spine-jarring landings that have you bending your legs in anticipation. If you are intending to do the sort of offshore work that this boat is capable of, you should be looking at the Scot seat option. Trimming the engines, she requires just a small amount of trim out to squeeze the last few knots out of her. If she had had her Active Trim set up and stored, it would have made this a purely point-and-shoot affair. Though the new Mercury range is the latest topic in outboards at the moment, you can spec this boat with whatever outboard you choose.
The 900GT T-top is built as a family boat, yet it is very capable as an offshore sports boat. It manages this combination well while remaining safe in the process. It suffers no handling quirks, and by its forgiving nature is perfect for both novice and experienced boaters. What is particularly impressive is the MRL engineering input behind the scenes, which has been clearly thought out.
What we thought
- Great handling – very responsive steering, yet sure-footed
- Soft-riding hull
- Rapid performance
- Solid build quality
- A windscreen that needs to be 6in taller
Fuel figures (Mercury fuel flow meter)
RPM Speed (knots) LPH (both engines) NMPG (both engines)
2000 10.0 20.6 2.2
2500 18.3 24.8 3.3
3000 25.0 33.2 3.4
3500 31.4 43.2 3.3
4000 36.0 60.2 2.7
4500 41.7 76.6 2.5
5000 45.3 94.4 2.2
5500 50.3 135.0 1.7
6000 56.1 152.4 1.7
- LOA:8.8m (29ft)
- Beam: 3.0m (10ft 10in)
- Transom deadrise angle: 23 degrees
- Displacement: 2300kg (with twin 225hp Mercury V6s ‒ dry)
- Power options: Single 300‒400 hp to twin 200‒300 hp, all brands available
- Fuel capacity: 370 litres (80 gallons)
- RCD category: B for 14
- Test engines: Twin 225hp Mercury V6s
- Props: 21in pitch Tempest Plus (no vent holes)
56.1 knots (2-way average), moderate sea conditions, 1 crew, 50% fuel
0–26 knots: 5 seconds
0–43 knots: 8 seconds
From: £119,500 (inc. VAT) (single 300hp Mercury V8)
As tested: £142,500 (inc. VAT)
Hampshire SO14 5QN
Photo credits: Greg Copp