Finnish builder, Pioner, is famous for its use of roto-moulded polyethylene in the construction of robust, practical family runabouts. It’s an extremely tough material that also happens to be inherently buoyant and, because its pigment runs throughout the material, even a very deep scuff can be fixed with nothing more than a heat gun. It’s also resistant to salt, punctures and delamination; and while it’s neither especially lightweight nor cheap, its merits for everyday knockabout boating have seen it gain tremendous popularity in the Nordic countries.
As with aluminium, polyethylene craft do tend to lack the glossy showroom appeal of traditional fibreglass boats, but Pioner’s new ‘Dark Line’ edition of the 14 Active must surely rate as one of the finest looking polyethylene boats on the market. It also complements its fairly classical lines with a tremendously striking black pigment and lots of clever modern detailing. There are peripheral gulley mouldings, running fore and aft on both sides of the cockpit, creating very useful spaces for small items or to stow loose lines or spare rods; there are cleat holes, integrated into the topsides both forward and aft; and there are cupholders moulded into the key seating regions, complete with aft-facing drain channels to funnel away stray water.
The freeboard also seems uncommonly elevated for a boat of this type – and in tandem with the remote helm console and a pair of full-beam benches, complete with compartmentalised storage spaces, the Active 14 feels like a very grown-up and mature piece of equipment. That’s certainly borne out in various other details. For instance, the backrest above the aft bench (a sausage-shaped cushion wrapped around a metal bar) might seem rudimentary, but it looks good, it works well and it avoids impeding the lid for the seat base, which means you can access the various storage spaces without fuss or delay. That space itself is split into three sections, including a large central region big enough to accommodate six fenders and it also includes a dedicated battery compartment to starboard, which helps keep the important stuff very dry and secure.
Further forward, the screen rim doubles as a useful grabbing point for people trying to step on board and the moulding for the bow step also doubles as a comfortably curved aft-facing seat, with plenty of room for those with bigger bottoms. Aside from that, the only detail that really needs mentioning is the peculiar sensation engendered by the polyethylene construction itself. Walk around on board and, while the stability seems pretty good for a boat of these compact proportions, you can feel the deck flexing slightly underfoot, like the rubberised tarmac in a child’s playground. It’s a touch odd, but it’s by no means problematic – and given the shallow angles and considerable buoyancy of the hull, that same structural flexibility may well have positive benefits for the softness of ride once we get underway.
Your flexible friend
With Yamaha’s new F25G working away manfully at the back end, our transition to the plane involves a slightly exhausting ascent of the hump, before we settle back down in around eight seconds. That’s not fast and neither is it especially flat, but if you happen to have someone forward and to port, that certainly helps proceedings. Once up and running, though, the weight of this platform becomes less critical and, as anticipated, the inherent flex of the construction material begins to dominate the experience…
In addition to the deck flex, you get a substantial amount of flex in the console, which wobbles a touch with each transmission of soft, muted impacts through the hull. This might sound like a criticism but it really isn’t. Given that the hull of this boat is so flat, the natural damping properties of polyethylene are in fact a bonus. Despite the absence of any seat cushions, there’s a lilting, mellifluous quality to the helming experience that is unlike any other boat I’ve helmed. If this platform was built from a rigid, lightweight, unforgiving material like fibreglass, I’m willing to bet the transmission of impacts through your spine from that shallow hull would see you hurrying ashore for traction. But here, despite the curious spectacle of your wheel and throttle hands jigging gently from side to side, the helming experience in moderate conditions like these is tremendously pleasing.
However, the real high point is the handling. Throw her into a turn at pace and the nose points in, the back end steps out and, with a little bit of heel, the Pioner slides around the arc with a pivot point directly beneath the helm. The sheer bravado of the posturing is so outrageous that it’s difficult not to love it. It’s by no means a fast or ferocious experience and those who prefer to corner with a hard-edged carve will find it all rather juvenile and silly – but for such a modest platform with such a modest powerplant to treat you to such theatrical power slides every time you turn the wheel makes this one of the most charming entry-level driving experiences around.
On the face of it, a boat that slides, wobbles and flexes doesn’t sound good. But if you’ve ever helmed a wooden powerboat at pace, you will understand that different building materials engender different helming sensations - and while wood softens the impacts a little, the Active 14 softens them a lot. As for the handling, well that is even more distinctive. If you imagine a go-kart that moves like a hovercraft, drifting sideways and bobbing on its skirts, you’d be close to the mark. It is a ludicrous amount of fun - and the fact that the Pioner’s plastic construction enables you to beat it up for decades on end makes it practical as well as engaging. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s most definitely mine.
Pioner 14 Active ‘Dark Line’ specifications
Max people: four
Max power: 25hp
Engine: Yamaha F25
See also Plastic boats: polyethelene boat construction.