Sea Ray 48 SundancerBy Capt. Richard Thiel
Success often breeds repetition. When something works well, it's human nature not to reinvent it. Arguably, the Sea Ray Sundancer series is the most successful franchise in boating, so when it came time to replace one of the most successful Dancers, the 460, Sea Ray engineers didn't reinvent the wheel. They just trued it up a little.
Dropping the zero from the model designation was step one. (I couldn't get anyone at Sea Ray to explain the change.) The new boat is called simply the 48 Sundancer, and it's a boat whose time is due. Introduced in late 1998, the 460 Sundancer, although a good seller, was getting a bit long in the tooth. But a few design tweaks have made a big difference. The sheer is now more gradual, avoiding the abrupt drop-off aft on the old boat. A standard integral arch-hardtop has replaced the radar arch-canvas combination, and there's solid glass on three sides, providing enough shelter that the optional bridge air conditioning really makes a difference. There's now only one entrance to the cockpit from the swim platform, allowing for a U-shape lounge that replaces the old electrically convertible benchseat/sunpad. And then there are those new hull-side windows, but more on them later.
One change you don't see is in the running bottom. Sea Ray added a slight amount of deadrise, presumably to improve rough-water performance. (I couldn't judge the result, as we had flat water on test day.) But deepening the V theoretically decreases lift and thereby on-plane speed, and that's what seems to have happened here, albeit to a minor degree. When we tested the 460 in February 1999, we measured a top speed of 34.3 mph with a pair of 411-shp Volvo Penta diesels. Compare that to the top speed we measured on the 48 of 32.8 mph with 517-shp Cummins electronic diesels, and you can see that the new boat has lost a step. (Oddly, even with a 212-hp difference, both boats came in at 0.7 mpg at WOT.) I suspect part of that is because the 48 is approximately 5,600 pounds heavier due to more standard equipment, although despite the nomenclature, she's four inches shorter: 51'0" compared to 51'4". The increase in deadrise also bumps draft from 3'7" to 4'0".
But for a lot of boaters, the important changes are inside. Of course, the 48 retains the traditional Sundancer forward-cabin-saloon-midcabin configuration made possible by a V-drive powertrain. The sleeping portion of the forward cabin hasn't really changed much, but thanks to a nifty pocket door that frees up floor space, there is now an en suite head that puts this stateroom more on par with the midcabin, which has always had such a facility. The trade-off? You no longer have a real day head—you have to enter a cabin to access it.
The midcabin has also changed. Part of it is still tucked under the bridge deck, but the new room appears to be bigger, probably because it's rectangular, instead of the old complex shape that put the head in the forward starboard corner. In the 48 the port side is occupied by a vanity, and an enclosed head and shower are in the aft port corner. I'd guess the heads are about the same size, but the 48 has a bigger vanity. There are now side-by-side berths instead of the previous convertible sofa, which seems like a more workable arrangement if you're going to use this as an adult cabin. Neither boat offers much stowage for clothing here. Both have one small hanging locker, but if you order the optional Splendide 2000 combination washer-dryer for the 48, you lose that.
The biggest change, at least in my opinion, is in the saloon. Sundancers have always excelled at squeezing a lot of accommodation space out of available LOA. But they've also always had one drawback: The cabin was dark, especially if the wood and fabrics weren't brightly colored. This situation is by no means exclusive to Sundancers; it's a characteristic of most express-style boats. It's just that Sea Ray has done something about it, namely added those side windows, a feature that frankly is turning up on a lot of boats these days. Sea Ray fits three on each side, and unlike some of its competitors, these don't open, so they are less likely to leak, and it's impossible for someone to accidentally leave them open. It has also added a skylight in the forward end of the cabin, and all combine to make a big difference. The cavelike feeling endemic to express cruisers is gone, and you now feel like you really want to spend some time down here--even if you leave the lights off.
One final change is the helm station. The basic design isn't all that different, but the 48 does feature some neat, modern thinking. For starters, the old faux wood dash is gone, replaced by slick brushed aluminum that looks like it came out of an Audi. Infinitely adjustable, the helm seat offers good driving position whether you stand or sit, nothing really new for Sea Ray. What is not only new but was virtually inconceivable by the average boater back when the 460 was introduced is SmartCraft. Standard on the 48, it includes electronic analog gauges for fuel level, oil pressure, voltage, coolant temperature, and engine rpm, so it's not so intimidating for nontechies. It also includes a digital readout that can be programmed to display everything from fuel consumption and range to depth and speed to GPS data—pretty much everything you might need or want to know except how much beer is left in the 'fridge. And it's intuitive. I was able to comfortably navigate the thing in about 20 minutes, and I'm no Ben Ellison when it comes to electronics.
New nomenclature notwithstanding, the 48 is not revolutionarily different from the 460. The changes are subtle but important, especially the extra light in the cabin. I guess you could say the 48 is just another bright idea from Sea Ray.
Sea Ray Boats
This article originally appeared in the April 2005 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.