Donzi 39 ZSC Sport Cruiser

Fine breeding can't suppress the fast fun of Donzi's 39 ZSC Sport Cruiser.

October 4, 2007

There is often talk of “pedigree” where yachts are concerned. What is implied, of course, is a family history of good design and quality construction expected to yield reliable performance and long-term value. Donzi Marine, since its founding by Don Aronow in 1964, has enjoyed a reputation as a first-class builder of performance boats and has built a lasting pedigree. The company’s latest boat-make that yacht-is a new breed, but the old bloodlines are strong.

The Donzi 39 ZSC is not a rehashed model built on an existing hull. She is all new, and she is the first model in a series that will expand Donzi’s presence in the large sport cruiser market. Still, starting with a clean sheet of paper doesn’t mean the designers ignored everything learned during the past 36 years. The hull is about 3 feet wider than Donzi’s fishing and open boats of comparable length, but the twin-step Z-Tech hull form seems to work just as well as on the narrower boats.

This boat offers a combination of exhilarating performance and outstanding control, hallmarks that will be essential to Donzi’s success with this model. Past and current Donzi owners will see the 39 as a more refined vessel to move up to for family use, and buyers new to Donzi will see her as a viable alternative to European performance sport cruisers.


There’s also the “wow factor” that just can’t be ignored. Our test boat displayed none of the wild graphics popular on other Donzi models, wearing instead a subdued, tasteful coat of white with deep blue topsides that matched the helm console. That didn’t fool anyone, though; the hull steps and Donzi logo were enough of a clue for the Sarasota Hyatt conventioneers who crowded around for a closer look and a dream. There were enough big smiles to stock a Happy Face Warehouse.

Even if you miss the steps and the logo, there is no mistaking Donzi’s performance heritage once you are under way. A switch at the helm activates an exhaust bypass that adds sport to this sport cruiser. At low rpm, it does little except boost the throaty rumble leaving the twin Mercruiser T-500 EFI engines by about 10 decibels. Unless you are doing a slow Shooters drive-by or trying to impress your teenage sons, I’d leave it closed. Top end is another story entirely. There, it adds almost 3 mph with only a 2 decibel sound increase, moving you within spitting distance of the magic mile-per-minute mark.

While the speed figure is impressive for a sport cruiser that weighs considerably more than open boats of comparable length, I was most taken with the Donzi’s handling and dynamic stability. Many boats capable of this speed are race-derived, and considerable skill is sometimes required to keep them fully under control. The 39 ZSC, by contrast, exhibited none of the skittish behavior that might make her less than suitable for a family sport cruiser. Keep the Bravo drives trimmed properly, and the hull steps and the boat’s heft seem to do the rest, delivering a satisfying combination of speed and security.


Construction of the 39 ZSC fulfills what I’ve come to expect from Donzi. The engine stringers are Kevlar over foam, and the remainder of the structure is built solidly enough to take the inevitable high-speed knocks. That’s only a start, of course; the equipment and outfitting play a vital role, too. Looking at the small stuff is often the key to getting behind a builder’s marketing hype and into its real philosophy, and this is where Donzi shines.

On exterior doors and hatches, Donzi uses Taco stainless-steel latches that incorporate an O-ring to make them more water-resistant and less prone to rattling. Electrical junctions are made with triple-sealed Packard connectors to fight corrosion. There’s a Safe-T-Alert fume detector, and Beede gauges remain rock steady even at speed.

In the engineroom, a SeaFire automatic fire extinguisher stands guard. There’s unrestricted access to the seacocks, and all filters are mounted high so bilge-crawling isn’t necessary. Main and auxiliary batteries next to the standard 7.3kW generator are easily reached for maintenance or removal, so battery failure should never be a problem. In the unlikely event it is, however, there are “jumper” lugs conveniently mounted adjacent to the shorepower and TV/phone inlets in an abovedeck cabinet near the transom. A freshwater shower and saltwater washdown connection are in an adjoining cabinet. Boarding from the stern, there are two teak pads on the swim platform that not only dress up the boat, but provide good footing. A retractable swim ladder is on centerline, and a davit mount is molded into the transom to starboard should you decide to carry a PWC or small RBI at the stern. If not, the indent makes a handy step to the sunpad.


A transom door to port leads to the cockpit, which included an optional teak covering on our test boat. A U-shape lounge area to starboard incorporates considerable stowage under the seats. Part of it power-lifts, with the sunpad and transom, to provide wide-open access to the engines and auxiliary equipment. A wet bar to port includes a sink as standard, and a refrigerator or ice maker can be fitted.

Forward of the lounge is a helm that reflects considerable thought in its design. Steps to the foredeck are molded in, as are two levels of footrests for bracing whether you’re seated or standing. Either is convenient, thanks to twin seats that convert to bolsters, a welcome carry-over from Donzi’s performance boat heritage. The tilt steering wheel and Gaffrig controls are well-sited for easy command, and a solid grab rail is provided for the companion seat. Another seat for two is situated to port, forward of the wet bar.

Inside the cabin, through a large translucent sliding hatch from the cockpit, a high-gloss cherry interior is offset by cream leather and suede upholstery. Light carpet and overhead brighten the interior, as do three opening hatches. The forward hatch is large enough to provide access or emergency escape to the foredeck.


There’s a small sleeping cabin to port, tucked partially under the cockpit seat. It will sleep two close friends in a pinch, but is really more suited to a single occupant. The main berth will be the convertible bow V-shape dinette, whose table is mounted on an electric lift for easy conversion. Between the two is a modest galley to port. It is outfitted with a two-burner Kenyon cooktop, a GE microwave, a sink and an under-counter refrigerator.

The single head, with integral shower, is to starboard. Headroom is limited but workable, even for a 6-foot-plus guy like me. Like the galley, the head is fitted with an Avonite countertop, one of my few gripes. The corner next to the toilet was cut square, creating a sharp corner. I mentioned as much while aboard and received a call from Donzi two days later saying it was being corrected on this boat and changed to a rounded corner on future hulls.

For a boat that will probably see use primarily as a day boat with limited overnight trips, the Donzi 39 ZSC offers a remarkable amount of stowage. In addition to a cedar-lined hanging locker, every nook and cranny seems to have a door or drawer fitted. All are equipped with push-button catches, and drawers pull out on full-extension roller slides.

Donzi offers a five-year, transferable warranty that’s pretty close to stem-to-stern coverage. It even includes factory-installed electronics.

The 39 ZSC sport cruiser is an impressive entry into the world of yachting. We can’t wait to see what’s next.

Contact: Donzi Marine, (800) 624-3304; fax (941) 756-5638;


Our test boat was equipped with two top-of-the-line Mercruiser T-500 EFI gasoline engines hooked to Bravo 3 outdrives turning 28-inch stainless props. It was a perfect package that provided quick acceleration, good mid-range performance and top speed within whispering distance of 60 mph. No one needs that kind of speed, of course, but the boat handles it so well it would be a shame to forgo the thrill. If you really must keep yourself in check, I expect the Mercruiser 502 MPI engines, at 415 hp each, or the 496 MAG engines, at 425 hp each, will offer nearly the same kick and mid-range, but top end will be off 5 to 10 mph. Yanmars, at 300 hp each, are offered, but unless you’re going to do a lot of cruising or simply must have diesel, I’d pass on them. No question, they are a sensible choice that will provide plenty of speed for any reasonable use, but this isn’t really about reason, is it? -D.D.


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