There’s a dictum in gambling: Don’t change tactics when you’re on a roll. It works when you’re trying to win money, and it works in boatbuilding, too—at least judging from the Sea Ray 550 Sedan Bridge.
One of those tactics is a design in which the dining table and U-shape settee are well forward on the main deck and directly across from the starboard galley. Obviously this vastly simplifies the cook’s labors, as all he or she needs to do is pirouette 180 degrees and plop the vittles on the table. A nice design, but not exactly revolutionary.
The trickery in the setup is elevating the table and settee a little more than a foot above the galley. The table is still easily reachable from the galley, but now the people sitting around it have a superb view through big windows in front and on both sides. Even better, in the 550 that extra foot creates just enough headroom to make practical the placement of a full-beam master stateroom directly below it and the galley.
I first saw this design on Sea Ray’s 400 Sedan Bridge (but with only a guest stateroom below), and its apparent success there has led the company to apply it to the 550 Sedan Bridge. The 550 will eventually replace the 560 Sedan Bridge, and according to Dave O’Connell, vice president of sales for Sea Ray’s Sport Yachts division, its target audience is primarily 480 Sedan Bridge owners. O’Connell points out that the new yacht’s improved interior space, lower price (which was not available at presstime), and better performance will make it much easier for owners of the smaller Sedan Bridge model to make the move up. (The 560 is still on sale but no longer in production.)
O’Connell emphasizes the importance Sea Ray placed on performance in creating this boat—specifically that the company wanted to make sure 480 owners wouldn’t give up either speed or range when they upsized to the 550. To do that Sea Ray again stuck with a tactic that’s served it well of late: the switch to MAN engines. Our test boat was powered by a pair of 800-hp D2848LE403s that, weighing just 2,971 pounds each, boast a rather remarkable weight-to-horsepower ratio of 3.71:1. Coupled with the 550’s moderate displacement, the result was a respectable 36-mph top speed (2375 rpm) and, more meaningful, a fast cruise (2250 rpm) of nearly 34 mph. According to Sea Ray, those numbers just about exactly match the 480’s.
Of course, 480 owners wouldn’t want everything to change in their new boat, so a lot of the 550 is conventional Sea Ray. For example, the saloon is big—about ten feet long with 6'10" headroom—and well equipped. Anyone seated on the comfortable, semicircular, port-side Ultraleather lounge will have an excellent view of the standard 30-inch Zenith flat-panel TV in the starboard aft corner. For that matter, so will those sitting in the semicircular settee to starboard. I did think it strange that there was no saloon table (two ottomans are standard), but then you can also see the TV from the aforementioned elevated table, which I’d guess could comfortably seat eight.
A single step up brings you to the level of the galley, which is aligned along the starboard side. Like those on all Sea Ray Sport Yachts, this one has the amenities you’d want, starting with the Panasonic microwave built into the aft athwartships leg. Moving forward you find a single sink, then two Sub-Zero refrigerator drawers and a Kenyon cooktop, which surprisingly has only two burners. The counter widens as you continue forward, creating a surplus of counter space and room below it for a cabinet-style Sub-Zero freezer. The waist-high grabrail is a nice touch, although it blocks access to the lock on the top refrigerator drawer. I noted the lack of a built-in coffee maker, a traditional Sea Ray touch, and on first glance I had the impression that there is less stowage here than in other Sea Ray galleys, probably due to the lack of overhead cabinets. However, after I found the drawers in the table base, I concluded that stowage was about the same.
I also concluded that the design of the midcabin master is a success once I stepped down the circular stairway to starboard, turned left at the landing, and took two stairs down and aft into it. Sea Ray’s designers craftily placed the queen-size berth athwartships and its head and built-in nightstands on the starboard side. That’s right under the galley, where there’s only about five feet of headroom—plenty for over a berth. The extra headroom from the elevated dinette is to port, the main walking area, where there’s also built-in stowage and a 20-inch Zenith flat-panel TV. The aft (engine-room) bulkhead is mirrored, and there’s plenty of light, so the space doesn’t feel cramped. The head is forward and up two steps at hallway level, along the port side. It has a roomy stall shower and Sealand MSD.
Forward from the saloon steps on the starboard side is a guest stateroom with right-angle bunks and yet another TV, making it well suited to kids. Unfortunately, the light switch for this space is behind the door, so to turn on the lights you must walk inside and close the door.
Between here and the forward VIP stateroom on the starboard side, there’s a floor-level closet for an optional Splendide 2000 washer/dryer and, farther forward, a five-shelf cabinet, which, although shallow, would make a good linen closet. To port is a head with no shower but with a second door to the VIP. A starboard door in the VIP opens onto a large, separate shower compartment. Our boat had a fourth TV in this stateroom, the obligatory pedestal queen-size berth, and a good variety of stowage compartments, including an odd cabinet on either side barely three inches deep.
There is yet another place aboard the 550 where Sea Ray resorted to a proven design: the flying bridge. Although the helm is well aft, it provides fine sightlines forward and creates enough room for ten people to sit around a table, albeit a too-small one. (There’s more seating on a benchseat aft of the helm.) The trick is that the tachometers, MAN engine monitors, and Sea Ray systems monitor are overhead, in a pod on the hardtop. Combined with the multitasking abilities of the Sea Ray Navigator display, there’s a surfeit of space for electronics, and the instrument panel is one of the cleanest and most uncluttered I’ve come across in a long time.
One feature I haven’t seen on other Sea Rays is found at the aft end of the ten-foot-long cockpit. Abaft the standard eight-foot-wide transom seat was an optional davit concealed in the transom beneath two lids, making it easy to launch a tender or PWC from the 4’2”-deep swim platform. A second compartment below places the connections for shorepower, water, and cable TV within easy reach. Engine room access is via a hatch in the cockpit sole (the saloon’s sole can be removed for major engine work), and most major maintenance points inside are aft for easy access. Despite the V-8 blocks, there’s still 1’3” between them. The batteries are in molded boxes with proper trays, but reaching the 220-volt shorepower breakers on the inside of the transom requires some serious belly-crawling.
After a day aboard the 550, I could see how owners of smaller Sea Rays will be attracted to her. I could also see why Sea Ray relies so much on established design tactics. Each is a proven success, and that takes a lot of the gamble out of boatbuilding and boat buying.
Sea Ray Boats
transom door; cockpit benchseat; ice maker, refrigerator, and satellite-ready Clarion AM/FM stereo/CD player on bridge; central vacuum; Bose Lifestyle Surround Sound system w/5 speakers and subwoofer and Zenith 30" flat-panel TV in saloon; coffee maker; Sub-Zero under-counter freezer and refrigerator; microwave; two-burner cooktop; 20" flat-panel TV in master; 13" TV/DVD/VCR in VIP and guest staterooms; Vetus bow thruster; electronic engine controls; 17-kW Onan genset; Raymarine autopilot, color radar, and VHF; Sea Ray Navigator
DSS satellite TV; colored hull; forward sunpad; transom davit
Test Boat Specifications
- Test Engine: 2/800-hp MAN D2848LE403 diesel inboards
- Transmission/Ratio: ZF 3251A/1.72:1
- Props: 28x24 4-blade Teinbridge
- Price as Tested: not available at presstime
This article originally appeared in the April 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.