My test of the Meridian 541 Sedan took place in a narrow stretch of the Intracoastal Waterway with perilously shallow depth nearby just outside the marked channel. Still, we brought the 541 on plane and banked a hard turn to port, swinging the nose around 180 degrees while never straying outside the channel. That’s when it struck me: Maybe the true value of pod drives is not their reported efficiency or ability to make boats perform helicopter maneuvers in the water, but their ability to make a 54-foot boat with a wide beam and a high profile more easily manageable.
The 541 is Meridian’s first vessel devised for pod drives from the computer-aided design (CAD) stage. Our test boat had twin Zeus drives powered by 715 hp Cummins diesels, and during our sea trial we banked turns and carved S-turns at 30 mph, overcoming the restraints of inertia and momentum on a 52,000-pound object measuring 24 feet in height. A boat with this length and high profile is especially susceptible to wind at slow speeds, particularly around the dock. While wind is still a major factor, especially if it’s blowing side-to, it can be overcome by constantly keeping the joystick actuated to counter with thrust. In tight quarters, we kept the 541 steady while backing into a slip.
People buying a sedan bridge, however, aren’t doing so to spin circles and spin around like a PWC; they’re looking for accommodations for cruising and entertaining. From the sedan bridge to the cockpit to the salon, the 541 has been designed with the idea to create social gathering points, places where friends and family on board can congregate and enjoy each other’s company in comfort.
The best view is from the sedan bridge, where the helm sits to starboard. The dash houses twin Raymarine E120 widescreens. The captain has great visibility when standing, though the helm chair could use a flip-up bolster. To port, a double-wide passenger seat allows two others to keep up with the captain. When they want in on the action behind, they can rotate the seat to face aft, creating a conversation pit around the aft table and bench seating. A hatch closes off the stairs for quiet and safety under way.
The steps leading to the cockpit are open, rather than a molded fiberglass unit, to create more space in the cockpit, another obvious social gathering point. The first thing you’ll notice are the two bar stools aligned with the bar countertop and glass window on the salon bulkhead. A push of a button retracts that window into the bulkhead, creating a feeling of openness between the cockpit, which also has a transom lounge, and the salon. Cruisers can sit at the stools and enjoy a morning coffee or have an evening drink while talking to others through the window in the galley. Yep, the Meridian moved the galley to the aft end of the cabin to give it a central location, serving the cockpit, the dinette to starboard and the forward salon.
Twin-tier windows bathe the salon in natural light and give everyone, whether seated or standing, a glimpse of the horizon. These, combined with the bar windows, help give the 541 an open feel and — sometimes sorely lacking aboard larger vessels — let you realize you are actually on a boat.
Meridian raised the forward area of the salon higher than the galley and dinette, creating a circular living room with light-color upholstery. In a nod to the jostling that can occur in rough seas, the furniture has all molded-fiberglass components that are structurally part of the deck, ornately designed to resemble residential couches and chairs.
The sleeping quarters are divided between three staterooms below. A full-beam master stateroom sits amidships, with a diagonally positioned queen berth. It has a full complement of shelves and hanging lockers, with the option for a desk and chair on the starboard side. With 6 feet 5 inches of headroom, most people will feel anything but confined below. The master suite has a private head with a tile floor, granite countertop and circular stand-up shower.
The bow VIP stateroom has private access to the guest head. The third stateroom sits opposite the guest head and features over-under bunks capable of sleeping people 6 feet 5 inches tall. Need more bunk space? The dinette in the salon drops down and has filler cushions to make a full berth, bringing sleep options to eight.
The new Carver 54 Voyage ($1,156,000 with twin 575 hp Volvo diesels) is another three-stateroom midrange cruiser that sleeps eight. The Carver is powered with Volvo or Cat diesel inboards, but it does have a choice of joystick controls — either the Carver docking system or the Xenta Systems joystick.
Overall, the Meridian 541 Sedan is a boat that will please those looking to have a blast with their friends and family every nautical mile of the way.
Comparable model: Carver 54 Voyage