SEA RAY 380 Boat Test Sea Ray 380 Sundancer — GASOLINE Captain’s Report
By BoatTEST.com staff
A few years ago, BMW ran a series of TV commercials featuring a salesman for the competition. During his pitch to a customer, he kept saying things like, “BMW would do it like that,” or “It’s the same thing you’d find on a BMW.” We got the message.
At boat dealerships, you may well have heard the same line. But rather than BMW, the salesman would refer to Sea Ray when extolling the virtues of his competing brand. Without a doubt, Sea Ray is the king of the express cruisers, with more models—by far—than any other boat builder in the world. And to its stable of ever-popular designs, Sea Ray has now added not just one or two, but three new models to its Sundancer line for 1999. Granted, these three express cruisers replace earlier editions so the total number of Sundancers from 24- to 63-feet remains at 13 models, but these boats are positioned to carry the express cruiser concept into the next millennium. And frankly, they represent the benchmark that many other builders are shooting for. The three new models are the 340, the 380, and the 460 Sundancers (known as “DA”s in Sea Ray-speak), and in this comparative article we’ll take a look at each to see how they’re different, and surprisingly, how in many cases they’re the same.
Imagine, for a moment, that you’re interested in buying a sport utility vehicle. You walk into the showroom and the salesman points out that his SUV comes in a two-door, four-door, or a six-door stretch model. As you go up in size, you also go up in power, standard features, luxuries, seating/cargo/towing capacity, and of course, price, but essentially any of his models can run off-road with the best of them and provide you with the utility you’re looking for. That, in brief, is exactly what you find when you go up the line with these three new Sundancers. Your final choice may not be so much dependent on the layout or the design—since each is basically a progressively a larger version of the others—but on how you’ll use the boat, what your cruising requirements are, and which boat matches both your lifestyle and budget.
Across the board, these Sundancers are primarily designed to provide comfortable cruising accommodations for six guests with two separate staterooms. The owner’s stateroom is located in the forepeak, while the guest stateroom, or so-called “mid-cabin,” is located beneath the raised bridge deck at the helm (see sidebar on the origin of this design). Then, if called into service, the salon lounge converts into a double berth to accommodate the other two guests.
Outside, the cockpits are dedicated almost exclusively to suntanning and casual entertaining, while the hull is matched with a selection of V-drive power packages to yield a top-end speed in the mid-to-upper 30-mph range. The foredeck may also be used for suntanning, while the standard extended swim platform on all Sundancers makes a perfect staging area for swimmers, divers, and–on the 460 DA–personal watercraft. In addition, all Sundancers feature a straight, portside walkway that leads directly from transom door to companionway door to make gear on- and off-loading easy, and all have a portside wetbar area along the walkway for your cruising convenience.
For 1999, you’ll notice a new look in the Sundancers. Gone are the boxy, square-cornered transoms and narrow, integral swim platform, replaced instead by sweeping curves that keep the transom lockers absolutely integral with the flowing lines of the after sections. Engine-room vents near the stern have been redesigned in an eyebrow shape for a sporty look, and to keep things quiet at speed, all DAs now employ a dual exhaust system. At low idle, exhaust water and gases exit the hull in the aft quarters just above the waterline. But at speed, a natural underwater vacuum pulls the exhaust out through a fitting in the bottom of the hull where it mixes quietly with the water rushing past. Meanwhile, thanks to the raised bridge deck found on all Sundancers, visibility from the helm is always unrestricted.
As you look around on a Sundancer, you’ll find the same familiar brand names across the board—U-Line icemakers, Norcold dual-voltage refrigerator/freezers, CruisAir air conditioning systems, Westerbeke gensets, Clarion stereos, Panasonic TV/VCRs, and Raytheon marine electronics. You’ll find these names aboard since they’ve earned a right to be there. OEM products like these have proven their sea legs, and even though Sea Ray doesn’t make these products, the company wants you to be as satisfied with your Black & Decker coffeemaker as you are with your MerCruiser or Caterpillar powerplants, so they’re tested over time for reliability and durability.
What you won’t easily see aboard the Sundancers is Sea Ray’s commitment to quality construction. The hull molds were first precision-cut out of huge blocks of Styrofoam using the company’s five-axis mill router. Driven by a computer program, this router assures that the hull that’s drawn by the naval architect is the hull you’ll drive home. You’ll never see unfinished lockers or bare fiberglass in a Sundancer—interior lockers are either carpeted, gelcoated, or finished off in cedar, and almost all of them have lights that turn on when you open the door. Down near the business end of things, engine hatches lift electrically with the push of a button, engine rooms are sprayed in gray gelcoat, all wires are neatly run and wrapped, and the engines are always bolted atop—not alongside—the stringers for the ultimate in support and power transfer. And though you may never see it, there’s one more critical item buried deep within a Sundancer’s engine room that’s worth noting: a pair of Strong dripless shaft seals. These Sundancers have a V-drive powertrain, which lets the designers’ position the engines further aft to allow extra room in the mid-cabin. As a result, the shaft logs are tucked away beneath the engines, making them hard to reach on a routine basis. But with dripless shaft seals the days of cranking down on a stuffing box are over since they’re a no-maintenance item under normal conditions. So the net result is, the less time you spend in the engine room, the more time you have to enjoy your boat. Now, let’s take a look at the specific details of each Sundancer in turn, and how each one fared in our performance tests.
In order to conduct a comparative test like this, the easiest approach is to start with the smallest of the three—the 340DA—and then go up in size from there. For as you’ll see, these boats are as alike as they are different.
340 DA: With a raked windshield and high, forward-angled radar arch, the 340DA’s profile suggests she’s one of the biggest 34-foot express cruisers on the market today—both inside and out. The cockpit features facing bench seats that will seat three adults on each, and a cockpit table and sunpad-support tray both stow in racks beneath the aft bench seat. There are two carpeted lockers a foot-and-a-half deep on either side of the cockpit for miscellaneous stowage, while docklines and fenders fit neatly into the transom locker. This locker also conceals the shoretie connections, all of which run out through a stainless steel hawsepipe for a clean look. A freshwater washdown and a hot/cold transom shower are convenient standard features here.
Equally convenient is the portside cockpit wetbar, with cold-water sink, concealed U-Line icemaker, and trash chute. And then, just ahead to starboard, the raised bridge deck will seat three adults all facing forward—two on a benchseat amidships, with the captain fully to starboard. The helm chair is one of the best I’ve seen on a boat this size, with deep padding and a bolster cushion that flips up to support your thighs while driving standing up. The optional tilt-wheel also helps for stand-up driving, as does the 6’4” headroom beneath the standard bimini top. I appreciated the tinted-brown dash that reduces glare, as well as a deep inwale storage locker and drinkholder at the helm. Other key features here include a molded pod to flush mount a radar (surrounded by a good grabrail for passengers headed down into the cabin), and an electrically operated windshield vent. About the only downside to the entire area is the height of the windshield top: it was directly in my line of sight from the seated position, and that was a bit annoying as I idled into the dock. However, at even a modest speed the slight bowrise lets you look through the windshield itself, and this is not an issue at all if you like to dock the boat while standing.
It’s three steps down to the carpeted salon, and the enclosed head is conveniently located just to port. Here you’ll find six feet of headroom and a telephone-style shower, but very little stowage. Against that, it does have an electric vent and opening port for natural light, as well as direct shower drainage to an optional gray-water system.
Just forward of the head is the fully equipped, inline galley, with Norcold refrigerator, GE microwave, Kenyon two-burner stove, trash bin, and a nice overhead locker with stowage racks for both plates and cups. There’s also a console that contains a TV/VCR which pulls out and swivels, so it can be viewed anywhere within the boat. It tucks neatly away when not in use, and it’s superior to some TV installations I’ve seen that simply use plastic straps to hold a TV on top of the console. With little exception, those straps will break.
Across to starboard you have two seating plans for the salon. Plan A had traditional facing bench seats at the dining table, while the more contemporary Plan B (as in our test boat) has curvy, C-shaped seating for four. This lounge converts to a double berth, and offers good stowage below and above in lockers.
Forward, the master stateroom is only separated from the salon by a privacy curtain, but it does feature a large, diamond-shaped double berth with twin ½-lockers on either side, plus a small settee. Two shelves beneath the berth provide primary stowage, as the CruisAir air conditioning compressor takes up the bulk of the room beneath the bed.
A privacy curtain also separates the large, U-shaped lounge of the midcabin, and this lounge converts to a full-size double berth as well. Here you’ll find a small, built-in countertop with stowage below, a half-length closet, and even a TV/phone jack for those who really want to get fancy here. When not in use for sleeping, this area makes a great conversation area or just a place to stow extra gear.
Abaft the midcabin’s firewall in the engine room, I was surprised to see just how much space the twin V-8, 7.4L Merc MPIs took up. There is virtually no room between them, and precious little space outboard to set a foot. Fortunately, you can check the dipsticks and add oil while sitting on the cockpit sole, and there is ample space to starboard for a 3.75-kW Westerbeke genset for those who like to keep cool and watch TV while away from the dock. Similarly, the walkways leading to the foredeck were equally tight on space, but the good news here is what you lose on the walkway, you gain below decks. Just keep a good hold on the stainless steel railings while making your way up to the foredeck, and you’ll be okay.
Performancewise, the 340 was surprisingly similar to her bigger sisters. In fact, all three Sundancers came in with a top-end speed of about 35 mph. Though the gasoline engines burned more fuel-per-mile than the diesels in the larger boats (as you’d expect), they showed strong acceleration, particularly in the lower rpm ranges. The turning radius on the 340—as with the others—was fairly wide, but the hydraulic steering was easy and she is capable of dodging lobster pots quickly at the last second. In short, her handling is predictable, dependable, and easy whether at speed or around the docks.
380DA: With an overall length of 40’8” including the standard swim platform, the 380 is quite a step up in size from the 340. The cockpit features full wrap-around seating for seven adults and a removable table that converts to a small sunpad. Meanwhile, the inwales have inset steps for easy access to the sidedecks, which are slightly wider than the 340’s at seven inches vs. five. The 380 is also a foot-and-a-half wider in beam than the 340, and that translates into additional room both at the helm and belowdecks.
Just inside the companionway door, the big L-shaped galley sits across from the stretched salon to starboard. Meanwhile, the head on the 380 is centrally located between the galley and the owner’s stateroom, and features its own separate shower stall. Fully forward, you’ll enjoy real privacy thanks to a sliding wood door that separates the owner’s stateroom from the salon, and this area features two full-size closets and its own TV/VCR. Way aft, the midcabin is within easy conversation range to the salon, and boasts a comfortable lounge for four that converts to a double berth, with big mirrors on three sides that make the space seem even bigger.
Surprisingly, I found plenty of room to move around in the engine room even though it had a pair of 340-hp Caterpillar diesels tucked within. The 380 turned in a nearly identical top speed to the 340, but thanks to her extra 50 gallon of fuel capacity and diesel power, she’ll out last the 340 by nearly 100 miles at best cruise (262 miles vs. 162), and she’ll do it more economically, too. I found no difference between the two boats in handling and performance, other than the fact that the gas-powered 340 will get up on plane a bit faster than the 380, but with a bigger bowrise.
460DA: Once you step up to the 460, you’re really batting in another league. Electrically-powered everything is the name of the game here, as demonstrated by the aft cockpit benchseat that slides forward electrically to create a huge sunpad, plus the salon and mid-cabin sofas that slide down and out to create spacious double berths. Just to give you an idea of how much bigger this boat is than the 380, the main salon has 6’9” of headroom, and there’s even 6’5” of standing headroom in the mid-cabin, which is now really a full guest cabin. In addition to its own head/shower, the mid-cabin has complete privacy behind two sliding wood doors and even boasts its own TV/VCR and Splendide 2000 washer/dryer as standard equipment. That, combined with the big TV in the salon and third TV in the owner’s stateroom means you can watch the game no matter where you are.
Other additions on the 460 include a large sunpad on the foredeck, a much larger dash (which should be tinted gray, not white) for a full array of cruising electronics, a Glendinning cablemaster, and twin Racor filters for the powerful 430-hp Volvo TAMD 73P diesels we had on our test boat.
Even with all these amenities, the 460 still got up on plane in just seven seconds, and shouldered down into turns a bit more than either the 340 or 380. She exhibited a nice, level running attitude, and the Volvo electronic controls made for smooth, predicable shifting.
As we’ve seen, you get a lot more than an extra four or six feet when you move up the Sundancer line from the 340 to the 460. You get more room, power, features, and amenities. But no matter which Sundancer is right for you, all of them come with Sea Ray’s commitment to quality construction. Maybe that’s why you’ll still hear the competition saying things like, “They’d do it like that on a Sea Ray.”
Sea Ray 380 Sundancer — GASOLINE Test Result Highlights
- Top speed for the Sea Ray 380 Sundancer — GASOLINE is 36.4 mph (58.6 kph), burning 60.3 gallons per hour (gph) or 228.24 liters per hour (lph).
- Best cruise for the Sea Ray 380 Sundancer — GASOLINE is 26.6 mph (42.8 kph), and the boat gets 0.80 miles per gallon (mpg) or 0.34 kilometers per liter (kpl), giving the boat a cruising range of 198 miles (318.65 kilometers).
- Tested power is 2 x 370-hp MerCruiser 8.1S Horizon.
For complete test results including fuel consumption, range and sound levels
go to our Test Results section.