Strolling down to the dock for a spin on the new Sea Ray 480 Motor Yacht, I mulled the company's new tag line in my head: "Unmistakably Sea Ray." "Unmistakably Sea Ray." What were the marketing gurus thinking? Sure, in general, you can walk through a boat yard and pick the Sea Rays out from the crowd, but the new Sea Ray 480 Motor Yacht looked nothing like the Sea Rays I had been aboard. She was unmistakably different.
The only comparison that comes to mind is the Chris Craft 47 flush-deck model, first introduced in 1966 and the largest fiberglass production boat available at the time, save the Hatteras 50. The 47 incorporated several of the traits inherent in flush-deck models, with staterooms divided from the rest of the yacht by a single-level main saloon for privacy and a helm deck area with the openness and shelter of an express model.
With the 480, Sea Ray gives the classic design a face-lift and addresses a lot of today's boating trends. The model combines the attributes of the company's Sundancer series and aft-cabin motoryacht line in a way that is, well, unmistakably Sea Ray.
"We wanted to make an aft-cabin model look good and incorporated feedback from our focus groups," said Robert Denney, who works in the project division of Sea Ray's Product Development and Engineering facility in Merritt Island, Florida.
This is usually how a new Sea Ray evolves. Dealers and customers provide feedback to the builder, which filters the information into concepts. Scale models are built and studied, and engineers sometimes construct a full-size mockup.
"We produce so many boats, we have a good idea of how relationships work," Denney said. "But if there are some questions about an area, we'll build a mockup of that section."
More than 250 engineers and craftsmen who work out of the Florida facility developed the 480 Motor Yacht by combining such feedback and research with Sea Ray's technology. Small parts are built with the company's closed-molding MIT proprietary technology, which ensures an exact amount of resin injection and results in a clean, smooth gelcoat surface on both sides of any given part. Another system developed at the Florida facility uses two FANUC P-200 robots that apply gelcoat with a computerized laser, ensuring uniform thickness and exact alignment over the entire hull and deck.
Thanks to the process that went into building the 480, she showed no major new-boat gremlins when we tested hull number two. We hit a top speed of 30 knots and maintained a respectable cruising speed of 26 knots with a pair of 519 hp Cummins QSM-11 diesels. She came out of the hole quickly and planed around 1500 rpm. I then backed her down, and she maintained a plane until 13.3 knots. This impressive trait will be important for getting on top of the rough stuff in bad weather.
Sea Ray offers twin 616 hp Cummins or 640 hp Caterpillar 3196s. The performance we achieved with the standard engine package was so good, you could argue the optional packages are not worth the added cost. However, if you want to consistently achieve the type of speeds we recorded, bear in mind that we had no owner gear on board, no tender and an empty bar, and consider the higher horsepower packages.
It is nice that Sea Ray offers a 12.5kW Westerbeke generator, which is needed when standard equipment includes a 38,000 BTU air-conditioning system, a microwave, an electric cooktop and an ice maker. My guess is that you will need to calculate your startup sequence but then will be able to run almost everything simultaneously, with the possible exception of the washer and dryer.
The generator and engines are in the engineroom below the main saloon. Two-inch insulation minimizes noise. Even with outboard fuel tanks, you can squeeze around to the outboard side of the engines for service. A drawback with an aft-cabin design like the 480 is that the only engineroom entrance is from the saloon. An outside entrance would keep oil and grease outside, and mechanics would not have to gain access to the interior for service.
Such inconvenience is far outweighed by what you gain in the interior. Large side windows surround the adjacent saloon and galley. A fixed forward window brings in light to the forward passageway and galley, which has a dinette opposite. I have a similar setup on my boat, and the dinette is my favorite perch. Guests can sit there while you cook, everyone can see outside while eating, and at night, the space makes a great berth.
The 480's galley has good stowage for extended cruising. It's tough to find wasted space. A large drawer slides under the dinette bench, drawers slide out with bins, and there are cabinets above and below the counter. Every drawer has a purpose, and there is a spot for everything, including the stacked dual-voltage refrigerator and freezer.
In the saloon, a U-shape settee to starboard and a straight settee to port are wrapped in easy-to-clean UltraLeather. While cruising, you can plop down on any of these settees and see the water around you. The sense of space is appealing, thanks to the open arrangement and abundant light.
The aft-cabin arrangement works well and includes a walkaround queen berth with innerspring mattress, a full-length cedar-lined hanging locker, an entertainment center and a split head. The doorway to the saloon is narrow by industry standards and may require anyone with a little girth to do a side-step entrance.
There are two guest staterooms forward, one with twin berths and the other with an island. The head serves both staterooms, and access from the passageway is a plus. Another bonus is the utility room, accessed by lifting the stairs to the galley. The utility space has a standard washer/dryer combo and enough shelves to stow spare parts and provisions. Sea Ray placed the water manifold system on the after bulkhead, which allows any faucet to be isolated in case of a leak.
Although the interior is nicely finished, the covered helm deck likely will see the most use. We had 16 people on board during an evening river cruise from Knoxville, Tennessee, and we never felt cramped. The helm deck on our test boat was enclosed and fully air conditioned. If you have kids or grandkids, you can pilot the 480, lock the two side doors and let the children have at it.
A wet bar is centrally located behind the helm, which is expertly engineered. All vital gauges are in the line of sight, and the seat and wheel position feel natural. The line of sight aft is also good, and the cockpit door is abaft the helm to ease docking in tight quarters. A bench seat flanks the helm, and stowage opens along the side with plenty of space for life jackets, chairs and deck gear.
Contact: Sea Ray Boats, Inc., (800) SR-BOATS; fax (314) 213-7878; www.searay.com.