Most builders of express cruisers design their boats to appeal to the tastes of the largest number of buyers, which makes good business sense. Because Sea Ray is the world's largest builder of such boats, you'd think it would do the same. But in the case of the new 310 Sundancer, you'd be wrong. Sea Ray has boldly targeted a specific boater with its latest design-people who crave inboard power. Its V-drive inboard engines and dual-lever, electronic engine controls appeal to those who think stern drives and single-lever controls are best left to small boats. Underway, these boaters want the weight-forward feel that V-drives provide. They want the superior twisting power of rudders and big props turning forward of the transom while docking. Sure, there are tradeoffs, including poorer serviceability, increased draft, and lower speed. But within the circle of those whose mantra is "the only real boat is an inboard boat," these sacrifices are accepted.
Yet the 310 Sundancer should appeal to more than this specific market. Its ingenious walkthrough windshield latch, molded gunwale spray rails, and engine hatch prop rod are the kinds of features that, unfortunately, I don't see often enough aboard the boats I test. Its accommodations are luxe, it looks good tied to the dock, and it's described in greater detail in the text that follows.
Sea Ray is one of the few boat companies that actually makes a prototype of its new models. Many manufacturers go from the drawing board to the water, sorting out the bugs via the warranty process. (Never buy Hull #1, I always say.) Since Boating strives to bring you the best first, I tested a prototype 310 Sundancer. As such, pricing for accessories and the test boat power weren't available as we went to press. I would suggest paying for some of these optional features simply because they further the 310 Sundancer's mission. Consider the MerCruiser DTS (digital throttle and shift) engine controls installed in the prototype.
DTS isn't new, but the way it was applied in my tester was a first for me. Instead of a single lever to provide shift and throttle for each of the 300-hp MerCruiser 350 MAG MPI Horizion engines, there were separate throttle shift levers for each engine. These were mounted traditionally: The throttles were to starboard of the wheel and the shift levers to port. The advantage? None really, although the inboard guys who disdain stern drives and their accouterments will appreciate the natural feel of facing aft and grabbing the levers behind them when backing into a slip. What's more, those four honkin' chromed-out levers look cool. You get engine synchronization, rudder angle indication, and the ability to shift immediately from forward to reverse in an emergency with less fear of breaking gears. Pushbutton starting is old hat for inboards, but DTS uses a touchpad, like a microwave oven…or a BMW. Touch the pad, bink, and a hearty vroom! follows.
Underway, the 310 Sundancer is quiet and smokeless, thanks to its underwater exhaust. I coaxed a 34.1-mph top speed out it and enjoyed its ride best at about 30 mph. I needed the trim tabs to attain plane in the prototype without losing visibility over the bow. Sea Ray says it will tweak the hull bottom before production begins. Despite its high inclination, it maintained an efficient minimum planing speed of 13.8 mph, achieved by decelerating from higher speeds, as you might when running an inlet.
The 310 Sundancer is great at the dock - you can't beat rudders and inboard props for that. But it was also equipped with integrated bow and stern thrusters. These allow you to spin the boat like a top and even move it sideways. But there is no dedicated battery bank for the thruster system, a feature I'd recommend. When I used the thrusters, the helm voltmeter needle fell through the basement. You'll need to be running the genset and charger, especially at low docking rpm, lest you risk shutting down more vital engine functions. Digitally controlled engines require a lot more electrical power than the old cable-operated, carbureted "relics."
V-drive engines make for a less compact installation than stern drives, so access to the aft bilge pump, the waste discharge through-hull, and the internal sea strainers for the genset and air-conditioning is horrendous. Many boats don't even use internal strainers (though they should), obviating the need to get to them. The boat is well rigged, and the engine serviceability is a function of the propulsion choice. Batteries, engine intakes and strainers, and fuel senders are all easily accessible. Other often-checked service points, such as the shower sump and the air-conditioner condenser are easy to get at.
Now, go on the platform and pull open the lazarette hatch. Surprise! It's a flip-out rumble seat. Stowage for shorepower cords and fenders are in two smaller hatches port and starboard. More flip-out seating is belowdecks, where the aft cabin settee and salon lounge both slide out to form berths. That lets you sleep six aboard without having to stow filler pieces and pedestals. I was also impressed by the hinged mattress in the master berth, which makes accessing the stowage below easy.
In the galley, I spied two exceptional features among the cherry cabinets, teak flooring, and two-burner stove recessed within the solid-surface counter. One was a microwave that incorporates a coffeemaker. Talk about a spacemaker. The second was the refrigerated drawer that complements the regular refrigerator/freezer. Two fixed skylights, in addition to the opening hull ports and deck hatch with sky screen, provide light and ventilation below. Topside, you access the bow via steps molded into the companionway slider. There are no sidedecks, accounting for the roominess belowdecks. I found a sunlounge with a headrest on the bow, standard windshield wipers, and the windlass, cleat, and chain stop all under a hatch for a clean installation. Look closely at the swivel shackle on the anchor rode. Its pin is seized with wire at the factory. That kind of attention to detail is hard to come by. Since Cruisers Yachts has discontinued its 320 Express for 2007, the 310 Sundancer is your only choice for an express cruiser this size with V-drive power right now. Keep them honest by saying you're considering stern drives and looking at Rinker's 320 Cruiser ($169,638 with twin 300-hp MerCruiser 350 MAG MPI Bravo Three stern drives) or Regal Marine's Window Express 3360 ($196,049, with twin 300-hp 350 MAG Bravo Threes), then take the 310 Sundancer for a ride.
The Highs: The Highs Docking prowess and intangible feel you get only with inboard power. A new twist on digital engine controls. Do the rumble-seat rumba (while anchored, of course). Lots of attention to small details.
The Lows: A dedicated battery bank would make the integrated bow and stern thruster system even better. More draft, less speed and efficiency, and tougher serviceability compared to similar-size cruisers with stern drive power.
n. mi. range
s. mi. range
Draft (max.): N/A
Displacement (lbs., approx.): 12,600
Transom deadrise: 21°
Bridge clearance: 10'2"
Max. cabin headroom: 6'7"
Fuel capacity (gal.): 201
Water capacity (gal.): 35
Price (w/standard power): $147,712
Price (w/test power): NA
Standard power: Twin 260-hp MerCruiser 5.0 MPI Bravo Three V-8 gasoline stern drives.
Optional power: Twin gasoline V-drives or stern drives to 640 hp total.
Test Boat Power: Twin 300-hp MerCruiser 350 MAG MPI Horizon V-8 gasoline V-drive inboards with 350-cid, swinging 18" x 18" four-bladed Nibral props through 2.03:1 reductions.
Standard equipment: (major items) Aft sunshade (fixed), aft, forward, side curtains; 2 windshield wipers; teak cockpit table; wetbar w/sink, cooler, stowage; AM/FM/CD/satellite stereo w/6 speakers and remote; microwave w/coffeemaker; 2-burner stove; hydraulic steering (V-drives); SmartCraft diagnostic gauge display; battery charger; galvanic isolator; internal sea strainers; 30a shorepower; hot/cold transom shower; 6-gal. water heater; vacuum-flush commode, holding tank, overboard discharge.