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Sea Ray 540: American Smooth

Go with the flow.

February 1, 2001

We gathered the performance data for this test of Sea Ray’s 540 Cockpit Motor Yacht with a crew of 10. Why? Because cruising with a crowd is what this boat is all about. Such a large group also boosts your confidence that the accompanying power and performance chart will more accurately reflect the speeds, fuel consumption, and range you can expect from the 540 CMY in real-world use. We were also better able to assess the 540 CMY’s accommodation plan. With two decks – three counting the flying bridge – the 540 CMY offers the elbow room a large crew needs. But other questions linger. Can the dinghy be easily launched? Is the boat equipped so that you can be relatively self-sufficient? Are machinery noises quiet enough to allow everyone aboard to sleep? As far as the 540 CMY is concerned, the answers are yes, yes, and yes. That’s not to say there’s no room for improvement, but overall, the 540 CMY should please those looking for a boat that combines classic motoryacht values with an upscale express cruiser twist.

WHOOOOSH. Think “motoryacht” and the word stodgy might come to mind. That’s not the case with the 540 CMY. From the dock you can see its sleek lines, and from the helm you’ll feel its authoritative power. Grab the throttles. Accelerate. Feel your body compress into the plush cushions of the power-adjustable bolster bench. Vibration is negligible. With twin 800-bhp Caterpillar 3406E diesel inboards turning thick, 2 1/2″ stainless-steel shafts and four-bladed props, we wrung a silky smooth 31.6 mph out of 2280 rpm.

Spin the wheel. The 540 CMY leans into turns without bogging down. Confidence is assured. Pull the levers back. The 540 CMY falls into a nice groove at 25 mph, consuming 40 gallons per hour. Based on 90 percent of the fuel supply, that means a range of 450 statute miles. If you want to eat up even more water property, throttle back. We kept the 540 CMY on plane at just 13.4 mph. Perfect for keeping doors from slamming and your better half from yelling if the seas get lumpy. Doing the “Ditch”? The 540 CMY makes 7.1 mph without leaving a wake. That’s slower than some traditionally styled motoryachts we’ve tested, which typically feature less transom deadrise.

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THE HIGHS: Spirited performance befitting its sporty looks. High-tech electronics blended with old-fashioned sea sense makes long cruises a joy.

THE LOWS: Make sure the upper station has a nonglare finish. Stark white sliding doors in a stateroom bedecked with softly glowing wood? The third stateroom is a bit noisy.

The Novatec 55 ($773,800 with twin 660-bhp Caterpillar diesels), for example, made a wake-free 9 mph when we tested it. But then, the 540 CMY isn’t a traditional motoryacht. With its rakish profile, and such features as integrated engine air intakes, the 540 CMY, like Jefferson’s 5300 International ($858,100 with twin 660-bhp CATs), is an express cruiser-styled motoryacht, featuring a deep-V hullform to go along with its sexy, rather than salty, lines.

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LOWER THE PLATFORM. Another break from motoryacht tradition is the way in which the 540 CMY enables the dinghy to be stowed and launched. With other cockpit motoryachts, such as Navigator’s 5600 ($758,144 with twin 430-bhp Volvo Penta 73L diesels), you need a davit to lower your small boat from the flying bridge. Your RIB stows aboard the 540 CMY on a cradle mounted to an optional hydraulic swim platform ($19,220). Push a button and off you go.

The 540 CMY is also offered with an optional PC-based navigation system ($20,031) that’s designed to take some of the stress out of cruising. It’s a touchscreen system so there’s no fumbling with a trackball or cursor buttons in a seaway. The Maptech software lets you literally point and shoot to call up a chart, a 3-D view of the ocean bottom, the light list, or marina descriptions. The information is displayed on 15″ color monitors that we easily read in bright sunlight, despite the glare from the white finish at the 540 CMY’s flying bridge helm. Sea Ray assured us production models would feature a nonglare finish. Like the Jefferson, there’s a full windshield instead of the more traditional Venturi screen.

Additional long-range cruising features include spare shafts and props stowed in the engine room. Bend a wheel and you won’t be waiting on FedEx to save you. There’s also a labeled, color-coded water system manifold. Individual shutoffs for each of the 24 water lines make finding a leak a simple process of elimination. You won’t suffer from an electrical “brown out” at a crowded marina. A standard auto-sensing transformer steps up low incoming voltage. This ensures bright lighting and extends the life of electric pumps and motors. A reserve pump backs up the AC system, and the dripless propshaft seals feature a spare seal carrier. Systems like these take the worry out of cruising.

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CRUISIN’ AND SNOOZIN’. Push a button and morph the flying bridge lounge into a sunpad. Or break out the buffet. With a wetbar on hand, this lounge and table, which occupies the space that’s traditionally devoted to a motoryacht’s dinghy and davit, successfully turns this area into the 540 CMY’s entertaining hub. Even better is that air conditioning is ducted to the flying bridge and the cold air is retained by the standard hardtop’s (“sport spoiler” in Sea Ray speak) enclosure. It kept us cool in 92-degree heat. A standard skylight adds ambiance.

Belowdecks, you’ll find an interior in your choice of maple or cherry. Handrails are elliptical for a good grip. Air-conditioning registers are hidden. Breaking from tradition, there’s no dining space abaft the pilothouse helm. But a movable, hi-lo table in the salon serves dinner or cocktails equally well. Footlights grace the passageway steps.

These descend to the lower deck, where two heads and three staterooms await. Most impressive is the master suite, which hides the washer/dryer in a locker, offers a vanity, and conceals a private head to starboard behind – get this – two white Formica sliding doors. I’d rather see these covered by the same wood laminate covering the bulkheads. Open these doors and a sink with another vanity is revealed along with two other doors, fore and aft. These make separate, private compartments for shower and commode. Fixtures are gold tone, shower grates are teak, and the soles are cultured marble. It was in this master suite that I closed the door and turned on my sound meter. I left both the genset and the air conditioner running. But the noise level wouldn’t register. Rest assured, you’ll sleep well.

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As will guests in the forward stateroom, which also features a queen-size innerspring mattress and illuminated hanging lockers. The third stateroom has over-under berths that are configured in a rather comfortable arrangement. But while taking notes in this berth, I noticed a gloop-gloop sound. A step onto the dock revealed the source. The chines and strakes break the waterline here on their way to the stem. As wavelets gently rocked the boat in its slip, these created the suction that caused the noise. Just be glad you reside in the master suite.

LAST WORD. Sea Ray reinterprets the motoryacht with the technologically precocious new 540 CMY.

LOA……….50’6″

Beam………15’6″

Draft………4’11”

Displacement (lbs., approx.) ……………..49,000 ** **

Transom deadrise..18° ****

Bridge clearance ……………..20’5″ ****

Minimum cockpit depth ……………..2’4 1/2″ ****

Max. cabin headroom ……………..7’4″

Fuel capacity (gal.)..800 ****

Water capacity (gal.) ..200 ****

Price (w/standard power) ……………..$1,222,130 ****

Price (w/test power) ……………..$1,346,826 ****

STANDARD POWER: Twin 660-bhp Caterpillar 3196E in-line-6 diesel inboards.

OPTIONAL POWER: Twin Caterpillar or Volvo Penta diesel inboards to 1,600 bhp total.

TEST BOAT POWER: Twin 800-bhp Caterpillar 3406E in-line-6 diesel inboards with 893 cid, 5.4″ bore x 6.5″ stroke, swinging 30″ x 33″ four-bladed Hy-Torque props through 1.92:1 reductions.

STANDARD EQUIPMENT (major items): Hardtop w/canvas enclosure and skylight; windlass; anchor rode washdown; remote spotlight; electrically actuated sunpad/dinette; power-adjustable helm seats; 3 TVs/VCRs; 2 AM/FM/CD stereos; central vac; Sub-Zero freezer; refrigerator; microwave/conve ction oven; washer/dryer; queen-size innerspring mattresses; intercom; wireless remote; 50′ Glendenning Cablemaster shorepower cables featuring 50a/ 120v and 50a/240v; 2 isolation transformers; galvanic isolator; 15kW Westerbeke genset; 62,000-Btu zone-controlled a/c; oil-exchange system; dripless shaft seals.

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