Sea Ray 390 Sundancer Review

Sea Ray 390 Sundancer Is Worth Successor in the Express Cruiser Line

Three-ninety seems a lucky number for Sea Ray. Few yachts in the builder's history have been as successful as the Sea Ray 390 Express Cruiser, built from 1984 to 1991. It was one of the first big express designs, and helped blaze a trail that others would follow. It has been more than a decade of change in boating, but the Sea Ray 390 (39 feet, give or take a few inches) is still a magic number-Sea Ray's latest Sundancer is on target.

Sea Ray builds all sorts of boats, but the Sundancer brand is perhaps the most well known. In Sea Ray-speak, the company no longer builds a 390 Express Cruiser, since the mid-cabin layout of the Sundancer line has dominated customer interest. Without splitting hairs, I would suggest that it has dominated the "express market", as well.

Sea Ray fans will find the 390's features familiar, and those new to the marque will likely be impressed. She is far more sophisticated than her distant sister, yet she shares proportions that have always made sense to me. Though the 390 is midsize in today's market, she is large enough for a couple to cruise comfortably but not so large she will be a handful dockside when it comes time to clean up.

The Sea Ray 390 replaces the 380 and fits between the 360 and the 420 in Sea Ray's Sundancer lineup. Like the 420, she displays Sea Ray's new look, which all in the family will eventually share. Her deck lines balance her sweeping reverse sheer, which peaks amidships and drops aft, incorporating an integral swim platform. She is pleasantly free of hull graphics-her optional dark-blue hull and contrasting white deck define her lines. All are capped by a forward-raking arch or, as was the case with our test boat, an integral arch/hardtop. Both complement her slightly aggressive posture.

The Sea Ray 390's helm design incorporates many of the features Sea Ray has developed to consolidate and simplify vessel operation. The automotive-inspired console, designed to accommodate the Sea Ray Navigator system, leaves everything within reach. The system's 10.4-inch, sunlight-viewable touch-screen LCD conveys charting and navigation information in a user-friendly format. The 390 is also equipped with Mercury Marine's SmartCraft electronic information system. The helm-mounted control head coordinates and displays data from a number of sources. On our test boat, data included engine vitals, fuel burn, range, navigation information, depth, and air and seawater temperature.

The 390 I tested was fitted with a pair of 370 hp MerCruiser 8.1S Horizon gas engines with ZF V-drives. This shaft-line configuration keeps weight aft, which benefits performance and maximizes interior accommodation space, making the mid-cabin layout possible. The cockpit sole lifts with the push of a button, allowing good access to the engine compartment.

Acceleration to maximum speed took 15 seconds; I recorded 30.2 knots. The SmartCraft electronics indicated 4700 rpm with a total fuel burn of 60.3 gallons per hour. At 3900 rpm, I noted a speed of 23.9 knots and a fuel burn of 39.1 gallons per hour.

The fuel-burn figures tell the story. For a boat of this size and type, gas power is fine if you don't wander far. Diesel power would be a wise choice for more serious cruising. Sea Ray offers a Cummins package, and I inspected the first installation in the 390 diesel prototype. While data is not yet available, it seems a good match, and I would expect solid performance.

At speed, the 390 has excellent response and feel. Though the Intracoastal Waterway offered little challenge, my sense is that she will deliver the dry, comfortable ride typical of Sea Ray designs. Her 19-degree transom deadrise is appropriate for her size and service. Driving position (standing, leaning or sitting) is excellent thanks to an adjustable steering wheel and an adjustable helm seat, which has a flip-up bolster.

I toured the Merritt Island, Florida, production line where the Sea Ray 390 is built alongside the 360 and 420. I have inspected a number of Sea Ray facilities over the years, and I have always been impressed by the company's process and people. When I asked about the fastening of the hull-deck joint, I was referred to a fellow on the line who had been handling the task for 20 years. Such tenure is rare in production boatbuilding, but it seems the norm at Sea Ray.

The hull of the Sea Ray 390 is a handlaid blend of fiberglass woven roving, stitched reinforcements and mat. Polyester resin is used for general lamination, while a vinylester skin coat reduces the chance of blistering. Longitudinal stringers are molded fiberglass, and bulkheads are plywood; all are glassed in place. Balsa coring stiffens the cockpit sole and foredeck. Exterior fit and finish are excellent, a reflection of Sea Ray's tooling, which is produced using a five-axis mill capable of tolerances within thousandths of an inch.

The cockpit of the Sea Ray 390 follows the Sundancer theme with an open seating area aft for entertaining dockside or lounging while under way. The swim platform is steps away, as is a wet bar fitted with a sink, cooler stowage and an icemaker (a refrigerator in place of the icemaker is optional). The helm has bench-style companion seating for two. While the hardtop's hatch and the windshield's vent are effective, an air-conditioning duct at the helm would be useful in the South Florida summer. The side decks are easy to navigate, and the foredeck is designed to accommodate a sunpad, which is perfect for lounging.

If you haven't inspected a Sea Ray interior lately, you might be surprised. The fabric, wood veneer and tambour finishes of the past have been replaced with a durable synthetic faux-wood finish. Edges of doors and drawers are trimmed with wood. The design is so well executed I confess that the first time I saw it I thought it was the real thing. In terms of style, the rich wood tone, high-quality soft goods, and upscale fixtures and hardware are more refined than those that have come before. Because of this, I suspect the 390's look will have a longer shelf life.

The cabin is arranged with a settee that converts to a double berth, and a table that stows out of the way forward. An entertainment system includes a 20-inch flat-screen TV that pulls out, revealing a stowage area for media-very clever. The galley is outfitted with a microwave oven, a two-burner cooktop and an under-counter dual-voltage refrigerator and a separate freezer. The mid-cabin, abaft the entryway, serves as a seating area by day and a double berth by night. The forward cabin has a full-size berth with an innerspring mattress. A 13-inch TV/DVD player is standard. The dual-access head compartment and separate shower compartment make sense on a boat with a single head. Both areas are finished in molded fiberglass.

My bet is that Sea Ray has hit another home run. Whether you intend to spend a day coasting the waterway or a week wandering the Bahamas, the Sea Ray 390 seems a perfect fit.

Contact: Sea Ray Boats Inc., (800) SR-BOATS; www.searay.com. For more information, contact: (866) 922-4877