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Five Big Bowriders Tested

We compile data from our boat tests archive on five of the best big bowriders.

November 16, 2020
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Once upon a time, bowriders were relegated in size to boats that could fit on a trailer, so if you wanted a large boat that could hold lots of people, you were stuck with a cabin cruiser, even if you never once planned to spend the night. Today, you can buy bowriders exceeding 40 feet length overall that are designed to fit how most people use their boats—as large entertainment platforms with plenty of space to enjoy the open air yet still handle big water. Here are five great dayboat mega-bowriders that will exceed your boating expectations.

Editor’s Note: Check out our in-depth test of each model – Formula 380 SSC OB, Tiara Sport 38 LX, Cruisers Yachts 38 GLS, Monterey 385 SE, Sea Ray SLX 400

Formula 380 SSC running offshore
The 380 SSC is designed for relaxation and entertainment. Courtesy Formula Boats

Formula 380 SSC

Formula is historically all about performance combined with top-level fit and finish. The 380 SSC has everything Formula brings to the table in this large dayboat that the builder calls a crossover. Beyond performance, the 380 SSC is designed for relaxation and entertainment. Start with the bow, which features a deep, secure and spacious lounge, with wraparound seating and stainless-steel grab rails along the gunwales. It makes a fantastic sun lounge, or you can set up the bow table for a social gathering point.

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Like its predecessor Super Sport Crossover models—the 430 and 400—the Formula 380 SSC is a joy to operate. It’s a 10-ton boat that, once up and running, carves through the water with the grace of one of Formula’s 24-foot bowriders. While Formula enthusiasts have always appreciated the brand’s performance attributes, any boater looking to cruise or anchor at the sandbar in style will appreciate the layout.

Visibility from the helm is excellent, with the driver’s line of sight extending above the heads of any bow passengers. The flush-mounted multifunction-display screens are easy to read underway, and the standard Joystick Piloting system makes docking and close-quarters handling stress-free endeavors. We especially loved that the triple-wide helm bench had three independent flip-up bolsters, so the captain and crew could adjust their seats to individual tastes.

If you prefer your power hanging from the transom, Formula offers the boat with triple Mercury Verado and Mercury Racing configurations. You sacrifice some space on the swim platform and the hydraulic swim step, but you can have 1,350 hp worth of outboards making you go. No matter what power you choose, you’ll benefit from Formula’s Fas3Tech hull, a performance design with twin steps to improve efficiency and running attitude. Powered by twin Mercury Racing 520s coupled with Bravo Three XR sterndrives, we raced to a top speed of just over 51 mph, an excellent number for a boat this size. The 380 SSC definitely lives up to its performance roots while offering a layout that provides entertainment and creature comforts anyone who steps aboard will love.

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How We Tested

  • Engines: Twin 520 hp Mercury Racing
  • Drive/Props: Bravo Three XR/BIII XR 21″ propsets
  • Gear Ratio: 2.00:1 Fuel Load: 188 gal. Crew Weight: 430 lb.
Price: $856,200 (base)
LOA: 38’0″
Beam: 11’6″
Draft: 3’5″
Displacement: 20,500 lb.
Transom Deadrise: 21 degrees
Bridge Clearance: 11’8″
Max Headroom: 6’6″
Fuel Capacity: 250 gal.
Water Capacity: 43 gal.
Max Horsepower: 1,040
Available Power: MerCruiser or Mercury Racing sterndrives

Formula Boats – Decatur, Indiana; 260-724-9111; formulaboats.com

Tiara Sport 38 L boating in emerald water
The 38 LX delivers speed, power and a penchant for entertaining. Garrett Cortese

Tiara Sport 38 LX

Tiara Sport has earned the reputation for overbuilding its boats to withstand the worst conditions the Great Lakes and other big waters have to offer, and the latest Tiara Sport lineup is no exception. The 38 LX delivers that rugged ability with speed, power and a penchant for entertaining.

Our test boat boasted triple Mercury Verado 400s, but you can opt for triple Yamaha F350s, or Seven Marine 527 hp engines. The Mercs pushed us to over 55 mph (48-plus knots), which is more than enough to thrill everyone aboard. Cruise speed with these is right around 30 mph at 4,000 rpm, sipping 33 gph for 0.9 mpg, which isn’t bad when you’re pushing 9 tons of sleek, waterborne family fun through the water.

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As for performance, the Tiara Sport 38 LX has a 20-degree deadrise at the transom, plus two full-length strakes underwater, and wide chine flats from bow to stern. What that means is the 38 LX slices the water like a knife through soft cheese. The strakes act like shock absorbers to soften the ride, the chines throw spray out to the side, and the result is what we’ve come to love about Tiara boats: soft-riding, stable, dry and seaworthy in all conditions.

On many outboard boats, you lose the swim platform, but the 38 LX has an ample platform to step aboard from a dock or climb aboard from a swim. We liked the one-level cockpit sole from transom to bow with no steps to trip Aunt Edna, and our test boat sported the optional faux-teak deck that looks terrific.

Tiara gets points for inventive aft seating with immense flexibility, with options to face aft or forward, and chaises with adjustable backs to lay flat as sun pads. And the space not used to house inboard or sterndrive engines creates tons of stowage, plus room for the standard Onan 5 kW diesel genset—you need it for the air conditioner, grill and other at-anchor niceties—and an optional Seakeeper 3 gyro. Under the standard full-beam hardtop with sunroof, you’ll find an L-shaped dinette to starboard with a gorgeous teak table, and an outdoor kitchen to port with a sink, drawer fridge and optional Kenyon grill.

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The helm sports a double-wide seat with fold-up bolsters for standing and dual footrests at different heights. A padded anti-glare eyebrow shades twin Garmin 16-inch monitors, the Mercury joystick (a bow thruster is also standard), and digital throttles for smooth shifting. The companion seat is also innovative, and it swivels to face the dinette. The entire helm console tilts aft, giving full access to helm rigging. Competitors lack this convenience.

Forward, the bow seating wraps around, with folding armrests and undercushion stowage. The coaming backrests are a full 40 inches high for kiddie security. The bulkhead in front of the companion seat opens like a gull wing, revealing a spacious compartment with a teak step and designer flooring, VacuFlush electric head, and air conditioning.

How We Tested

  • Engines: Triple 400 hp Mercury 400 Verados
  • Drive/Prop: Outboard/Mercury Enertia Eco 16″ x 17″ 3-blade stainless steel
  • Gear Ratio: 1.75:1 Fuel Load: 331 gal. Water: 50 gal. Crew Weight: 450 lb.
Price: $643,90 (with test power)
LOA: 38’1″
Beam: 12’6″
Draft (max): 3’4″
Displacement (approx.): 18,000 lb. (dry)
Transom Deadrise: 20 degrees
Bridge Clearance: 8’8″
Max Headroom: 5’5″
Fuel Capacity: 331 gal.
Max Horsepower: 1,200
Available Power: Triple Mercury 400 Verados, triple Yamaha 350 hp V-8s, twin Seven Marine 527 hp V-8s

Tiara Sport – Holland, Michigan; 616-392-7163; tiarasport.com

Cruisers Yachts 38 GLS running across the lake
The 38 GLS is a terrific dayboat with overnight capabilities. Garrett Cortese

Cruisers Yachts 38 GLS

The Cruisers Yachts 38 GLS includes everything most boaters love about their boats and combines them into a terrific dayboat with overnight capabilities. Upon first boarding and walking through the 38 GLS, most first-time boat shoppers will take away several high points, such as the foldout beach door that turns a big chunk of the starboard coaming into a water-level “beach,” a replacement for the transom platform you lose with outboards. It’s an elegant solution for allowing the corrosion resistance and other benefits of outboard power while simultaneously offering the ability to use the stern of the boat as a swimming, lounging and socializing center.

Even better, the aft seating swivels to face this “beach” so that parents can watch their little water rats paddle around. The rest of the 38 GLS’s capacious cockpit is notable for offering a full bar—complete with stools—and an outdoor kitchen including a grill, sink, refrigerator and ice maker. Cruisers Yachts makes the most of the bowrider seating with streamlined headrests and a removable table, adding flexibility and function.

The other takeaway is the cabin, which surprises first with 6 feet, 5 inches of headroom, second with a nearly queen-size berth in a private stateroom for naps or overnighting, and last—but really important—is an enclosed head with a hot-and-cold freshwater shower. That means no more rinse-offs on the transom, although there is another shower there. The settee/dinette below also converts into a double, offering comfy sleeping for four.

Standard power is a trio of 300 hp Mercury Verado outboards (350 hp Verados are optional), and we easily hit 53 mph with a bunch of people aboard and a full fuel tank. These Mercs give you joystick maneuvering for docking; they’re surprisingly fuel-efficient too. At a near 30 mph cruising speed, this boat has a range of almost 270 miles. Handling the boat at speed proved predictable, with no unpleasant surprises for the captain or crew.

How We Tested

  • Engines: Triple 300 hp Mercury Verado
  • Drive/Props: Outboard/Revolution 4 16″ x 18″ stainless-steel 4-blade
  • Gear Ratio: 1.75:1 Fuel Load: 200 gal. Water on Board: 0 gal. Crew Weight: 850 lb.
Price: $629,130
LOA: 38’0″
Beam: 12’6″
Draft (max): 3’8 1/4″
Displacement (approx.): 23,916 lb.
Transom Deadrise: 21.5 degrees
Bridge Clearance: 12’9″
Max Headroom: 6’5″
Fuel Capacity: 335 gal.
Max Horsepower: 1,050
Available Power: Mercury Verado outboards 300 hp or 350 hp

Cruisers Yachts – Oconto, Wisconsin; 800-743-3478; cruisersyachts.com

Monterey 385 SE running wide open
The 385 SE is a mega-bowrider with a well-designed layout. Courtesy Monterey Boats

Monterey 385 SE

The Monterey 385 SE deck design gives this cruiser a feel of sporty luxury, and it has seating for the largest of crews. It’s a mega-bowrider with a well-designed layout. Start on the starboard-side, where there’s a double-wide sun lounge with a fold-down armrest. An included filler cushion covers the synthetic teak sole to complete a double-wide sun pad. There’s a single-width lounge with folding armrest on the port side too. Without the center cushion, the entire area could seat six to eight without crowding, and the cup holders are tucked in behind the cushions, under the bolsters, so drinks won’t be jostled.

Seating in the cockpit includes the first-mate’s double seat, with a foldaway step for stand-up options. An L-shaped lounge begins behind that seat, and as it turns the corner to the transom, the seat bottom widens to become a nearly 6-by-6-foot sun pad. It converts from a back-to-back bench to an aft-facing lounge. The cabin below has a large berth, a galley area, and an enclosed head with a shower—all practical and well-designed.

On the performance end, the 385 SE does not disappoint. When a boat like this can jump up onto plane in about 4.5 seconds and hit a top speed of more than 57 mph, it’s certainly an eye-opener. But when it’s a 38-foot day cruiser with a connection to the water that happens to be sports-car-crisp (thanks to the Optimus 360 power steering with electronic throttle and shift), that’s downright startling. As we accelerated and trimmed up, the chines astern lifted nearly clear of the spray, yet the boat stayed hooked up and even accepted some authoritative rudder input, responding without complaint.

In port, the Optimus 360 joystick steering gives confidence to dock this boat like a runabout. Nudge the stick in the direction of travel, and the boat crabs sideways; twist the stick, and the boat pivots steadily. It’s the complete package.

How We Tested

  • Engines: Triple Yamaha F300s
  • Drive/Prop: Outboard/Saltwater Series II 19″
  • Gear Ratio: 1.75:1 Fuel Load: 125 gal. Water on Board: 7 gal. Crew Weight: 350 lb.
Price: $482,714
LOA: 37’0″
Beam: 11’0″
Draft (max): 3’1″
Displacement (approx.): 16,000 lb.
Transom Deadrise: 21 degrees
Bridge Clearance: 10’3″
Fuel Capacity: 250 gal.
Max Horsepower: 1,200
Available Power: Yamaha and Mercury outboards

Monterey Boats – Williston, Florida; 352-528-2628; montereyboats.com

Sea Ray 400 SLX running inshore
The 400 SLX has a ton of well-thought-out amenities. Courtesy Sea Ray

Sea Ray 400 SLX

This 2017 Boating Boat of the Year still makes the grade as a boater’s version of a Swiss Army knife. The largest of the bowriders we’ve included here, it’s got a ton of well-thought-out amenities.

Why would we call it a Swiss Army knife? Start in the cockpit. The wide swim platform features a center section that lowers for easy water access, and the teak-planked starboard coaming folds out to vastly expand the deck. Sea Ray calls it a swim terrace and, though only for use at rest, it turns the cockpit into a waterfront patio. There’s a big sun pad next to it with a backrest cushion that transforms by spinning to create several sitting and lounging areas. There’s also a hidden compartment in the transom big enough to stow full-length stand-up paddleboards. No more strapping boards onto the hardtop.

The midcockpit has a wraparound dinette (using that movable backrest), and an outdoor galley with a sink is to starboard. Our test boat had double electric Kenyon grills plus an Isotherm fridge—both no-brainer options. An optional retractable sunshade deploys electrically from the hardtop. The double-wide seat opposite the helm spins around to face the cockpit seating, and the teak cockpit table unfolds to dining-size.

With our twin 380 hp Mercury sterndrive test power, the SLX 400 provided a performance that was nothing but sheer fun. In hard-over turns, it felt rock-solid, and no one aboard felt a need to reach for a grab rail. We topped out at a shade over 46 mph, and cruised at 3,500 rpm and 30-plus mph. If you prefer outboard power, the 400 SLX can be rigged with Mercury outboards.

Forward is another entertainment area, and getting there is easy and safe via a wide portside walkway and flush-mounted door, which combines with the folding windshield to protect the cockpit from wind and spray. Three forward-facing touring seats have folding armrests and storage bins on both sides. Seating on each side of the bow converts to a sun pad, and a removable table provides another area for munchies. Grab rails are everywhere, and the entire boat has padded coamings.

Stepping down from the helm through the slider and into the cabin, headroom is nearly 7 feet. The starboard-side head includes a shower and a VacuFlush toilet. A mini galley to port features a microwave and fridge, and a wraparound couch with a folding table converts into a V-berth. Tucked under the cockpit is a vast playroom with a queen-size mattress with padded backrests so you can stretch out.

How We Tested

  • Engines: Twin 380 hp MerCruiser 8.2 Mag ECTs
  • Drive/Props: Bravo III X/B3 24″ pitch stainless-steel propsets
  • Gear Ratio: 2.00:1 Fuel Load: 240 gal. Water on Board: 10 gal. Crew Weight: 350 lb.
Price: $613,434
LOA: 39’6″
Beam: 12’1″
Draft (max): 3’8″
Displacement (approx.): 18,000 lb.
Transom Deadrise: 21 degrees
Bridge Clearance: 9’8″
Max Cabin Headroom: 6’10”
Fuel Capacity: 250 gal.
Max Horsepower: 860
Available Power: Twin 430 hp MerCruiser 8.2 Mag ECTs with Bravo Three X drives

Sea Ray Boats – Vonore, Tennessee; 423-884-6631; searay.com

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