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Beneteau’s Power Move

The French builder is penning yachts aimed at the American yachtsmen.

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Beneteau Monte Carlo 52
The port and starboard windows on Beneteau’s Monte Carlo 52 drop down to create an open-air vibe. Courtesy Beneteau

Rick Brown, who is in his 60s, is old enough to know that you never pet the puppy. The problem is, he got on the bus. And at that point, his fate was sealed.

Brown and his wife, Brenda, had retired to Florida about 14 years ago from their lakeside home in Indianapolis. There, they’d owned a 20-foot pontoon boat for dinner cruises. In the Sunshine State, they focused their leisure time on golf. In 2018, they decided to try some distance cruising while they were still young enough to enjoy it. On the advice of friends and local captains, they bought a Beneteau Swift Trawler 44.

Then came the bus. In 2020, their yacht club in Punta Gorda organized a bus trip to the Miami International Boat Show, where they saw the Beneteau Swift Trawler 41, the boat they own today.

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“That was a classic ‘don’t pet the puppy,’ because if you pet the puppy, you’re liable to leave the store with it,” Brown says with a chuckle.

Their story is notable because it says as much about the Beneteau brand as it does about the Browns themselves. In just those few years that the couple had been cruising-boat owners, Beneteau Groupe had managed to improve the design of the Swift Trawler model line so much that they felt like they were getting a lot more boat in a shorter length overall. Brown particularly liked the 41’s seating, which was better laid out than the 44’s. He also liked the fact that the 41 had three staterooms compared with the 44’s two. The couple could use that third stateroom for stowage, freeing up even more livable space in the interior.

Beneteau Swift Trawler 41
The Beneteau Swift Trawler 41 is available in sedan and flybridge models. The latter is shown above. Courtesy Beneteau

“It’s just more comfortable,” he says. “Especially on something like a three-night trip or when we go over to the Bahamas, we can just put a lot more gear and spare parts on the boat and have it out of the way.”

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What the Browns experienced was a step in a design process that Groupe Beneteau had begun years earlier, rethinking and revamping its models specifically to appeal to American boaters. While the France-based company—which dates to 1884—has built powerboats for decades, it has more recently placed a strategic focus on building the kinds of powerboats Americans prefer. Beneteau never had a problem as a brand connecting with Americans who prefer to sail, but today, it’s a brand that more and more yachtsmen think of as a premiere builder of powerboats.

“Now, at boat shows, we’re hearing less and less, ‘Oh, I didn’t know they made powerboats,’” says Barrett Canfield, owner of the Beneteau dealership South Coast Yachts in Southern California. “The satisfying thing, the confidence-building part of that is the brand Beneteau is very respected in the world. Beneteau has actually built powerboats longer than sailboats.”  

Benjamin Beneteau
If Benjamin Beneteau hadn’t started building fishing boats in Croix-de-Vie, France, in 1884, there would be no Groupe Beneteau today. In the early 1900s, he designed the first engine-powered fishing boat in his region. Courtesy Beneteau

The Shift to Swift

The boat that helped Beneteau make that turn was its Swift Trawler 42, which launched in the mid-2000s. It looked like a trawler and was made for family cruising, but it also had enough kick in the engine room to get up and go faster than a traditional trawler. On the docks at US boat shows, it offered something boaters really hadn’t seen.

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Back then, Canfield was selling Beneteau’s sailboats and had never tried to sell the powerboats. He didn’t think his clientele would like their European feel. But with the Swift Trawler 42, he took a chance and brought one into his dealership. The boat’s layout and features, he thought, seemed more appropriate for Americans.

“It was really cool to see the response,” Canfield says. “It’s a very logical boat. It’s like the Suburban of boating. You can put a lot of stuff on it. You can put kids and dogs on it, you can get sand all over it and take it out to Catalina, and it just keeps going.”

Beneteau boat construction
Beneteau’s early days. Courtesy Beneteau

That first Swift Trawler also appealed significantly to American sailors who wanted to transition to powerboats, says Justin Joyner, powerboat manager for Beneteau America. The builder soon found itself with a bona fide hit in the marketplace, with a wide range of boaters coming from sailboats, traditional trawlers and more.

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“It was an easy stepping-off point into the powerboats for many people,” Joyner says. “The reality is that the trawler market 10 years ago was quite the niche market. Beneteau has produced over 1,300 Swift Trawlers now. In the grand scheme of the powerboat industry, that’s a small number, but it’s a huge number in that niche market.” 

Making the Move 

Les Cross is one of the, well, crossover boaters. He had sailed all his life, starting in his native Australia. “I was in the Royal Australian Navy,” he says. “I was a medic, and we were in the hospital one day, and it overlooked Sydney Harbour. There were all these sailboats out there, and I said to the guy I was with, ‘I’d love to learn to sail one day.’ And he said, ‘I know how to sail.’”

Those early lessons became a life’s passion. After he moved to California, Cross bought a Beneteau Oceanis 58 sailboat. But as he got older, he got the itch to switch to power. He wasn’t sure how to make the change when he found himself riding along with his captain on the delivery of a Beneteau Gran Turismo 45 to California’s Newport Boat Show.

Naval architect André Mauric
Naval architect André Mauric drew the brand’s 1976 head-turner. Courtesy Beneteau

“We liked that, but it didn’t quite feel like the right boat for us,” Cross says. “The next year, it was a Swift Trawler 44, and I said, ‘This is the boat for me. Our next boat is going to be a Swift Trawler 44.’”

He says he liked the trawler styling, and the fact that the boat could do 22 knots. “You had the comfort of a trawler and the look of a trawler, but you could do things like go to Catalina at 19 knots the whole way,” Cross says. “On our sailboat, it used to take us all night to get there. This took four and a half hours.”

After spending some time cruising on his Swift Trawler 44, Cross decided he wanted a little more room.

“Our family is big people,” he says. “My son is 6-foot-3, my daughter is 5-foot-10, and my wife said, ‘If we’re going to have the kids stay with us, we need something a little bigger.’”

2021 raft-up of Beneteau owners
South Coast Yachts in California hosted this 2021 raft-up of Beneteau owners. Courtesy Beneteau

This past November, a dealer handed him the keys to a Beneteau Monte Carlo 52. It was 18 months old and still had warranty coverage.

“As much as we loved the Swift Trawler 44, we thought the Monte Carlo would be a little better for having our tall family members on board and spending time with them,” Cross says. “We put in an offer on the MC52, which they accepted, and they had an offer on the Swift Trawler in three or four days.”

With Hawaiian Sol II now headed to a new owner, Hawaiian Sol III will be the first boat Cross has ever owned with Volvo Penta pod drives.

“It’s like flying a drone,” he says. “It’s amazing how responsive that joystick is. And on the MC, you have three stations to control the boat. There’s the flybridge and the salon, and there’s one out on the swim platform. It’s great visibility when you’re docking. You just dock the boat and step off. You don’t have to jump off—you can step off. We were on the boat on Tuesday, planning how to get to Cabo.”

Beneteau Swift Trawler 48
The layout above is the Beneteau Swift Trawler 48, which is scheduled to make its debut this month at the Miami International Boat Show. This model is the flagship of Beneteau’s Swift Trawler line, whose smallest model is the 35. For taller boaters, the 48’s master stateroom has headroom of 6 feet, 6 inches. Courtesy Beneteau

Feeling Comfortable All Around

While the Cross family is organizing their future adventures in Mexico, the Browns—with no regrets about having pet the puppy—are planning to take their Swift Trawler 41, Hoosier Duck, from Florida to the Bahamas this spring.

“We’re heading back to the Bahamas in May, and our plan is to go for two months,” Brown says. “We were over there 28 days last year, and God willing, we’ll be there for two months this year, in May and June.”

And out in Southern California, Canfield is cheering on all of the Beneteau owners he’s come to know over the years. “The world of Beneteau is really focused on that family experience,” Canfield says. “It’s not just about building the boat; it’s about taking care of the customers far beyond the delivery day. Too often, when you buy something, it’s, ‘Here’s the keys, good luck.’ We have a whole plan. Delivery day is when our relationship really starts. We’ll meet you over on Catalina Island or down at the yacht club. You’re part of the Beneteau family, and we’re here to support you the whole time you own this boat.”

Beneteau Monte Carlo 52
Beneteau’s Monte Carlo 52 has design by Italy’s Nuvolari Lenard. A fridge and grill are on the flybridge. Courtesy Beneteau

That kind of service, Joyner says, is another thing Beneteau is focused on nationwide to ensure that all of its US-based powerboat owners feel supported. Groupe Beneteau is a big organization—it employs some 7,600 people in six countries—but the goal is for each person who buys a Beneteau boat to feel seen, heard and well taken care of, no matter where they go cruising.

“We really do care about these buyers. We know them,” Joyner says. “We’re a billion-plus-dollar-a-year revenue company, but we know these people by name, and we have these types of relationships. I think a lot of times, people are afraid of big businesses. We’re not the size of Ford, where you’re just buying one of a thousand cars that they build a week, but we know our owners.”

The 6 Lines

Beneteau has six lines of powerboats. The Flyer and Antares lines are outboard-powered designs (the biggest is the 36-foot-7-inch Antares 11). The Gran Turismo line has models from a 32 to a 45, while the Swift Trawler line runs from the 35 to the 48 that will premiere this month at the Miami International Boat Show. Larger than that, Beneteau offers the Monte Carlo 52, which has a full-beam stateroom aft, and the Grand Trawler 62, which can accommodate six to eight guests along with crew.

20 knots

Every Swift Trawler that Beneteau builds can achieve at least that speed, according to Justin Joyner, powerboat manager for Beneteau America. Swift Trawlers blend trawler styling and cruising abilities with motoryacht features. Some have flybridges.

The 30 Test

Justin Joyner, powerboat manager for Beneteau America, says growth in the brand’s US following can be seen by comparing the late-model Swift Trawler 30 with the Antares 11, which is similar in terms of LOA. “Our preorders for the Antares 11—preorders—have already exceeded our entire production run of the Trawler 30,” he says. “Now that we’re more mainstream and building boats for that core powerboat market, we’re seeing this exponential growth in our sales numbers in the United States.”

Take the next step: beneteau.com

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