Seas the Day
A weekend spent testing Sea Ray’s 2017 model lineup offers a peek behind the curtain and reveals what makes this brand so successful.
Let’s play a quick game. I want you to say the first thing that comes to mind when I say the words “Sea Ray.”
A small, action-figure-filled cuddy cabin—a child-sized man cave if ever there was one—is what I think of. My first boating memories were aboard a 1980 Sea Ray Sundancer 260. And happy memories they were. From watching VHS tapes in the forward berth, to spaghetti-and-meatball dinners in the cramped galley, that boat (quite literally) brought our young family closer together and served as a proving ground for what would become lives spent on the water. Had our experiences aboard the 26-footer been less than positive, who knows where I’d be today. An editor at RV Monthly, perhaps? (I shudder at the very thought!) I’m lucky that my family, like thousands of others, had a positive first experience aboard an entry-level Sea Ray.
Now fast-forward some 22 years. My backpack is filled with notebooks and camera equipment—the action figures are long gone and the cut-off Gap shirts of my youth are replaced with a navy blazer. It’s a sweltering South Florida morning in Captiva and a fleet of 2017 Sea Rays (and Boston Whalers) are before me waiting to be tested as part of a Yacht Expo hosted by Brunswick Marine (Sea Ray’s parent company) to showcase new models to its most discerning customers and dealers.
The night before, I bore witness to a pretty incredible party, complete with live music, specialty cocktails, Fourth-of-July-worthy fireworks and, of course, the fleet of Sea Rays, smartly illuminated against the night sky. The sound of a loud ringing bell followed by cheers and applause punctuated the noise of the party. It was the signal that a Sea Ray or Whaler had been purchased. The bell rang often.
The next morning, I was preparing to run the new 460 Fly when I was joined by someone who had rung the bell the previous night, a New Jersey native and serial Sea Ray owner named Richard Grossbard. Flanked by his wife and a pair of friends he proudly stepped aboard and climbed through the boat.
Together we made our way out to the Gulf of Mexico on one of those perfect South Florida mornings that attract boaters from around the world. I sat on the flybridge sunpad with the wind on my face as Grossbard peppered our Sea Ray Sales Manager Scott Nault with questions ranging from electronics options—of which there are many—to what he was seeing on the Cummins engine display. This was all at the tail end of what was a very long weekend spent walking prospective customers through the boat, yet Nault answered every question with the patience of a Buddhist monk.
It took a few minutes, but eventually Grossbard settled in at the helm. His furrowed brow slowly disappeared as his smile grew. This would be his third Sea Ray, after previously owning a 40 and 31; prior to that he owned a 25-foot Crownline.
“And this won’t be my last boat,” he shouted with a laugh. “In about four years I’ll probably upgrade again!”
I asked him if he would ever consider switching to another brand. “Probably not. I like to be comfortable and I’m comfortable with Sea Ray,” he said. “I really liked how open my first Sea Ray was. But as you continue boating your priorities change. We started mostly day boating, cruising to Atlantic City or Manhattan. Now we’re thinking about joining a cruise to Block Island or the Cape with Marine Max.” Later, when he was out of earshot of his wife, he confessed he had dreams of taking the boat down to the islands.
“Sea Ray is just great to work with. They stand by their products,” said Grossbard after a long pause. He then alluded to the fact that he may not be the easiest owner to please. “I have a question almost every day. Just yesterday I had a question about something small and they brought over one of the designers to come speak with me. You become a Sea Ray owner and they’re there for you.”
I would eventually pry the helm away from Grossbard and discover why he was so happy with his purchase. The 460 is a driver’s boat and boasted exceptionally smooth handling. Granted it was flat calm on the day of our test, but you don’t need a heavy chop to realize that the hull powered by twin 550-horsepower Cummins QSB 6.7 diesels with V-drive inboards is responsive. (Zeus pods are optional). With, again, perfect conditions, the 460 hit 26.5 knots but felt more comfortable cruising between 20 and 22 knots (around 3000 rpm), which is exactly where Grossbard likes to run.
The two-stateroom layout, with an amidships master, also felt like a good fit for Grossbard, who enjoys cruising with another couple. The other prominent selling point for him was the aft galley that allows for a large L-shaped sofa beside the helm. “The aft galley is exactly where it should be,” he says. “I can see and talk to everyone because the seating is right next to me. The whole layout is just phenomenal.”
Model: Sea Ray 460 Fly
Displ: 44,000 lb.
Fuel: 375 gal.
Water: 140 gal.
Test Power: 2/550-hp Cummins QSB 6.7 diesel inboards
Optional Power: 2/473-hp T-Zeus-Cummins QSB 6.7s
Transmissions: ZF 280 IV, 2.1:1 gear ratio
Base Price: $1,078,347
Before I knew it we were back at the dock. Grossbard headed off to plan his next adventure on the 460 Fly and I was off to test more boats. I’d run older-model L-Class yachts and bow riders alike, noting that there’s a tangible focus on seakeeping throughout the Sea Ray lineup.
My last test of the day would be the star of the show, the brand-new L550 Fly, which is the smallest in a line of luxury yachts that stretches to 65 feet. On this final test of the day I would be joined by a number of members of the Sea Ray staff, from dealers and engineers to the marketing team. By this time the sun was starting to set, giving the flat sea a metallic-gold sheen. I couldn’t blame everyone for piling on.
In fact it was a great opportunity to see how a large group of people would interact aboard. As everyone took shifts at the helm, the Sea Ray team dispersed throughout the boat. Some gathered around the bar that juts out from the aft galley. It looked like a very natural spot to stand and enjoy a cold beverage. Another group congregated on the flying bridge. No surprise there, as it’s a nice spot that offers views, features plush sunpads and gives passengers the added benefit of watching the action at the helm. (Driving from the lower helm on a day like we had would just be foolish.)
But the most coveted spot by far was the lounge area on the bow. With room for eight adult guests to sit back, face one another and enjoy the warm breeze, it was coveted real estate, and home base for more iPhone snapshots and selfies than you could count. The only downside to this spot’s popularity was that even when guests are sitting, they impede the visibility of the person driving from the lower helm.
Another thing I liked about this lounge area was that all the guests seemed secure. The handrail surrounding the bow is tall and robust and the seatbacks and armrests give you something to hold onto when you hit a wake. I was especially glad for that when I took over the helm. I recorded fuel burn and speed data before running the boat in tight circles and through its own wake. I was leery of slamming hard into our own wake and inadvertently soaking the happy, selfie-snapping crew. Apologizing to a cold, wet marketing team while concluding my first and last Yacht Expo was not exactly how I wanted to wrap up the day.
As it turned out, I was pleasantly surprised that the 550 handled the tight turns comfortably and that not even a light mist landed on the team at the bow. Luxury, fittingly enough, was the word that came to mind as we made our way back to the dock.
Now that I’m back from the Yacht Expo, I’ve had the time to review my notes and digest all the testing I did on site. I’ve also been thinking about my early experiences with the brand. I’m starting to piece together why Sea Ray has been so successful. The builder has filled the market with solid, reliable, entry-level boats that get people hooked on boating; those earliest memories have a funny way of staying with you. Then Sea Ray offers such a diverse product line that allows brand loyalists, like Richard Grossbard, to stay with the company no matter how their tastes and ambitions change. These owners move into a boat that better suits their growing needs, but they still manage to hold onto a piece of that nautical nostalgia.
So whether the right boat is the L550 Fly, the 460 Fly, a 19-foot wake boat or a 1980 Sundancer 260, Sea Ray has a model for you. The builder has a desire to get boaters of all ages and means on the water and making memories. That might just be the secret to its success.
Conditions During Boat Test
Air temperature: 85°F; humidity: 75%; seas: 1-2'.
Load During Boat Test
300 gal. fuel, 0 gal. water, 6 persons.
500 gal. fuel, 0 gal. water, 12 persons.
Test Boat Specifications
- Test Engine: 2/850-hp Caterpillar C12.9Ls
- Transmission/Ratio: ZF 360A 1.9:1 gear ratio
- Props: 30x 30.5 5-blade
This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.