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.