It had been just about a year since I’d tested my last gasoline-powered boat when I stepped aboard the Sea Ray 36 Sedan Bridge, and boy, had things changed. Not so much with boats, but rather with gasoline. See, that very day, oil had hit $70 a barrel for the first time, causing ripples in financial markets and, more relevant to my endeavor, making three- and maybe four-dollar-a-gallon gasoline at the fuel dock a sure thing and so calling into question the viability of gasoline power in boats of this size.
The advantages of gasoline power in a mid-30-footer are pretty clear. First is low purchase price. The 36’s BH (before haggling) price is $345,903, not bad for a well-equipped cruiser. The upgrade to Cummins MerCruiser QSB 380 diesels will nick you for $63,017, or an additional 18 percent. Is it worth it? That depends on how much gasoline costs, how many hours you log annually, and what kind of a trade-in premium those diesels will yield in your area.
So, basically, the gasoline-versus-diesel issue comes down to economics, right? Not entirely, and the 36 shows why. First, her MerCruisers make her way quicker out of the hole and more responsive through the midrange than any diesel could—and yes, that includes common-rail diesels. Combined with responsive power-assisted steering—standard with gasoline power but optional with diesels—and big rudders, the 36 is a ball to run. And those big V-8s are smoother and quieter (thanks also to underwater exhausts) than diesels.
On the other hand, they’re also wider, which means only 11 inches between the engines. (The QSB 380s are in-line sixes, narrower but longer.) A cockpit hatch provides access to the lazarette and optional Kohler genset, which is aft but, as far as the engine goes, not much more than the marine gears. You can’t even see the dipsticks (hidden behind a floor brace) or fluid reservoirs from here. To check them you must roll up the standard saloon carpet—no easy task—then lift a hatch that leads to the forward part of the engine room. Things are still tight—you step off the ladder right onto the float switch, and the only place to sit is on the bottom rung—but everything is reachable, although the dipsticks are way aft and require a stretch. I suspect less-scrupulous boaters will forego the daily fluid checks, and as for changing oil and filters, I highly recommend an automatic unit like the Oil X-Change-R, which unfortunately I did not see on the 36’s options list.
Of course, the V-8s are also thirstier, knocking back a little more than 62 gph at WOT. But 0.70 mpg at 23 mph (3500 rpm) isn’t bad. Worth noting also is the fact that like all diesels, the Cummins MerCruisers can be cruised at 90-percent throttle all day long, where gasoline mills like the MerCruisers do best (and last longer) at 3800 rpm or less. In other words, you’ll be able to cruise faster and more economically with the diesel option.
Which might be an important factor, since this boat invites horizon-chasing. Her flying bridge is both comfortable and practical, offering good sightlines and an excellent driving position from one of two comfortable pedestal bucket seats. SmartCraft monitors and dedicated room for displays (our boat had optional twin Northstar 6000is) make for a simple, easy-to-read instrument panel. And while you’re enjoying the 36’s nimbleness, your guests will be appreciating the large L-shape settee and table aft, also a great place to hang out after you drop the hook. Our boat had the optional hardtop, which I would order for the shade it provides, even though to my eye it makes the boat seem a bit top-heavy.
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