OFFSHORE FISHING IS A GAME OF NUMBERS. IT'S three hours to the drop, six microseconds from there to the
edge. Surface water temperature breaks are measured in tenths of a degree. And while you can't bring the offshore canyons any closer to shore, you can cut down on the running time and wring out more fishing opportunity with some more speed.

The Hatteras 54 with Caterpillar's 3412C V-12 diesels is one example of how this can be done. Top speed: 39.7 mph. But this 1,212-hp, four-stroke, direct injection, turbo-charged and aftercooled engine with 1,649 cid has more going for it than sheer muscle. This is Cat's electronic response to Detroit Diesel's DDEC system.

The major difference between the two is that the Detroit engine uses an electronic unit injector while the Cat relies on an electrical impulse from its electronic control module to signal the mechanical fuel-delivery system.

In other words, the Cat isn't as reliant on electronics as the Detroit. However, the ECM has advantages over the traditional mechanically controlled engine. One example is that the fuel system is more exact and the efficiency is demonstrated by minimal smoking. It was obvious during a cold start up and when the five-bladed 43" by 73" propellers loaded the engines during rapid acceleration. Going from idle to WOT in 25 seconds, I had to strain my eyes to see any smoke. Compared to the boat I run with 3208 Cats that smoke at even the thought of starting up, I was impressed.

Another advantage of the ECM is the low-idle control that lets you drop idle speed down to 550 rpm. With this much horsepower it's a good feature unless you're comfortable coming into the slip at eight knots. The unit also provides a trolling valve mode and a built-in engine synchronizer. Because the synchronizer is electronic, rpm drop-off is barely noticeable even in high-speed hard-over turns.

The Cat's ECM collects data from various sensors distributed throughout the engine, yet requires only two wires to monitor and record the information as it travels from its source to the control module to the readouts on the bridge. It helps eliminate a tangle of wires on the engine and potential trouble spots that can crop up whenever there's a maze of terminals. When service is needed, troubleshooting is as simple as plugging in an Electronic Control Analyzer Programmer. Routine maintenance is made easy thanks to spin-on fuel and oil filters. 

Anything electronic is suspect in a damp marine environment, so one feature I especially like on the 3412C is its backup speed sensor. This sensor is the only one of 12 that could cause the engines to shut down if a malfunction occurs in this particular unit. The second sensor is good offshore insurance you'll get back to the dock without pushing a rope. 

In addition, default modes let you override other component sensors after the ECM alerts the main station at the helm. This override means an electronic glitch won't kill the engine. 

One item I did find quirky, however, is the monitoring system displays at the helm. Engine and transmission diagnostics are featured as symbols that take time getting used to. Gauges for oil and gear pressure and water and gear oil temperature have no numbers, just pointers. To find the exact figure you have to press the appropriate diagnostic icon and the number appears beneath the symbol. The tachs are fine, however, and include a digital readout of boat speed, trolling gear and synchronization status. 

As on most Hatterases, the 54's engine room is intelligently laid out even though the machinery space is crowded with two big V-12s. But headroom is 5'9", maintenance checks are in the clear and getting around the engines is easy.

Another strong argument for these Cats is price. Our test boat, supplied by Capt. Bob Hoste of Cape Island Marina, Waretown, New Jersey, has a base price of $1,227,100. The non-electronic 1,052-hp MAN D2842
LE406 (November 1994) reached a top speed of 35.2 mph and has a base price of $1,306,400. Our Detroit Diesel 54 (January 1992) hit 34.6, a non-DDEC package with 1,040-hp 12V-92TAs that lists for $1,220,800. The electronically-equipped DDEC package adds $57,000 to the base.

The Hatteras 54 is a remarkable boat and is engineered to run well with all of its power options. The new Cat 3412s might just be the best choice if you want speed, efficiency and electronic controls.

This review/article originally appeared in Boating Magazine, January 1996 and is written by Peter Frederiksen. For more great powerboat reviews, visit their website and subscribe at: http://subscriptions.boatingmag.com/