The Sea Ray 330 Sundancer has had legs for years and continues to be one of the builder’s bread and butter models. Why do people like it?
Boat building is highly competitive and when one company comes out with something new, it is quickly copied by other builders. Within 6 months to a year all other competitive boats have jumped on the innovation. Since unit sales in this size range are relatively low, it takes years for tooling to be amortized and, as a result, at first glance most boats in a given class may appear to be the same. But once you drill down into the details, you find the differences, and some of them are terribly important.
Despite its relatively large size, and that fact that it is owned by the biggest conglomerate in the boating industry, Brunswick, Sea Ray is still a scrappy builder which works hard to give consumers what they want. The company probably has more engineers and designers working on its 41 models that range from 17’ to 60’ than any other boat builder in the world. And because Sea Ray builds more boats, it naturally gets more owner feed-back than any other builder. So, for these two reasons alone, the Sea Ray 330 should be a reference point for the 25 or so competitive models in this size range. Let’s start our investigation of the 330 at the stern –
Note the two cleats placed on the stern quarters. By having two cleats the boat can be tied up in most all situations so that the line will not rub on the gelcoat. A hand-hold for coming up the swim ladder is a must.
The Stern Area
Most people don’t give much consideration to the air intakes for the engine room, but this is a detail that Sea Ray engineers have not overlooked. The intakes are placed about as far aft and as high as possible in the 330. This is good because it is about the last place that salt spray is going to reach, and if it does you are in very sloppy conditions, indeed. This placement is important because salt air and saltwater in your engine room is only going to lead to corrosion and gremlins. While the air intake is baffled on most boats, locating them more further forward and lower down, as they are on many boats, is simply not good design, in our opinion.
It is an ABYC standard that all boats have a re-boarding device accessible from the water. What isn’t stipulated is how many rungs the ladder should have and we are constantly amazed at how many quarter of a million dollar boats have only three rungs in their boarding ladders. It is a small thing, until you’re in the water trying to re-board – particularly if you are tall, older, heavier, or have scuba gear on your back. The Sea Ray 330 has four rungs on its ladder, which is easily accessible.
Access to the shore power connection, water, and the cable TV connection is behind a hatch on the starboard side of the transom rather than being exposed to the elements. It’s on the starboard side because that is the side of the boat the helm is on and therefore the side most likely to be up against the dock.
An aft-facing seat folds down from the transom, something that many builders have been doing the last few years. It provides a place where someone or a couple can “get away” from the rest of the group when at anchor and watch the sun go down, or where parents can sit watching their kids play in the water.
Stereo speakers and a remote control are placed low on the transom, just above the swim platform. Many builders are doing this sort of thing these days, which is a testament to the fact that younger people are getting into the market, or at least have a strong influence on Dad’s buying decision.
Sea Ray will build scores of the 330 this year and each buyer will have his own intended purpose. If you are planning week-long cruising where anchoring is involved, then serious consideration will have to be given to several aspects of this boat, and dinghy placement is one. We suspect that a small tender can be hinged onto the swim platform and be carried on its side, but there is not a lot of space available. The swim platform is relatively small when we compare this boat to others in class. One might also want to consider an extended hydraulic platform. If you are going to flit from marina to marina and only anchor the boat for day cruising, you probably do not need a dinghy at all, so this need not be a consideration. Your mission statement needs to be in harmony with that of the boat you buy.
The electric grill and icemaker are optional. The cabinet doors have long piano ss hinges which we like.
The cockpit is also conventional with both a forward facing and aft facing bench seat with removable table (with a dedicated storage spot under the seat), large enough for four people. Opposite is a wet bar with room for an optional built-in electric grill and ice maker. The radar arch – which is called a “Sport Spoiler” by Sea Ray – with overhead lighting embedded, comes standard. This will be the anchor for your canvas sunshades or cruising canvas to button up the boat. The canvas is standard.
The placement of the chartplottter screen is perfect – the companion should be watching the chartplottter and the helmsman should have his eyes glued forward. VHF (Standard) placement is ideal for the same reason.
There is a lot to like about the bridge and it starts with the large, comfortable helm seat with companion seat next to it, both with flip-up bolsters so people can stand at the helm. The helm seat is moved inboard about 6 inches from the side of the boat giving the skipper right elbow room, and there are two drink holders just outboard of the seat. The throttle placement is good, but there is no arm rest. There are three panels on which to mount electronic screens and a hatch under the wheel which makes it handy to get at the breaker panel. This is where the breaker panel should be located since when something doesn’t work, most likely the skipper is at the helm.
The two most noteworthy aspects of the bridge deck, in our opinion, is the forward facing bucket seat to port and the extra-wide steps on the companionway hatch for access to the bow.
A Proper Port-Side Seat
Many express cruisers of this size and larger have a fore and aft bench seat on the port side that faces inboard. There is no way for a person to sit looking forward in that kind of design. Frankly, we don’t like it, but the reason builders make it that way is because the molded-in bench seat provides increased headroom for access to the mid cabin below. Sea Ray has solved this problem simply by making access to the mid cabin on the starboard side of the boat under the helm, and while it does not have full standing headroom, it is accessible. The benefit is that the person sitting to port on the bridge can be comfortably seated facing forward.
Virtually all express cruisers built the last five or so years have access to the bow through the center of the windscreen. What is notable about the Sea Ray 330 is that the four steps molded into the companionway hatch are very wide, among the widest we have ever seen, in fact. By putting the steps in the fiberglass companionway hatch, space is not taken from the area for the instrument panel. The top half of the center windshield panel slides down so you can get breeze into the bridge when you are buttoned up with canvas. And finally, the 330 comes standard with windshield wipers.
Perhaps the most annoying aspect of boats this size and smaller are the lack of vertical adjustability of the helm seat. On the Sea Ray 330 the helm seat is adjustable fore and aft, but not up and down. This is not unusual and most boats this size are built that way. To make this large, heavy seat vertically adjustable is difficult and expensive. However, having a seat that is not the right height for one’s body is too bothersome for words. And sitting on the flipped bolster for long periods is not the solution. No matter what boat you are considering, make sure the helm seat fits your body.
To use optional appliances such as the electric grill and icemaker, as well as the AC on the hook, you are going to have to have the optional generator. Sea Ray offers a 5kw, Kohler, CO-Safe gen set for the U.S. and a 4kw Kohler unit for 50-cycle areas of the world. If you are planning to simply hang out at a marinas, then shore power is all you need.
The mid cabin is called a “conversation pit” by Sea Ray. Note simulated teak and holly sole. This area makes into a double berth.
Below the Sea Ray 330 is rather straight forward, and there is nothing earthshaking here except, perhaps, for a superb job of using all space available for storage. Forward is a large double bed with a privacy curtain, and aft is the mid cabin with sitting headroom. The cushion fabric is Ultraleather, and this “conversation pit” as Sea Ray calls it, can be converted into a double sleeper. In-between the two cabins, is the head with integral shower, galley with stovetop (no sea rails or fiddles), refer, refer drawer, microwave and large, round sink. Opposite is a very straight and rather stiff-looking sofa (covered in Ultraleather) that pulls out to make into a single berth.
The mouse on the bed controls the electric rise and recline of the bed for comfortable sitting up and reading. Salon table stows under the mattress. Note port and starboard hanging lockers.
Once again, the mission an owner chooses for his/her boat is all-important. If this 330 is to be used strictly as a day cruiser, either for entertainment on the hook, or just cruising around, or even going from marina to marina when shore side accommodations will be used, then you must consider if that big bed in the bow is going to provide much utility. (It may.) The refer drawer in the galley is unusual for this size boat, but if the boat is only going to be used for day trips, perhaps an icemaker there would be more useful.
Bauhaus design on a yacht might be considered an oxymoron. Note maple hardwood sole in salon. Cabinets above and below the portlights are a good use of space.
When comparing the Sea Ray 330 with other boats in her class what is most interesting is that the sweeping curves that are so evident in her exterior styling -- with her drooping bow, her plunging sheer, and her rounded stern quarters -- are not carried on below deck. There the designer seems to have relied heavily on his strait edge, rather than utilize his tool box of French curves. Perhaps Sea Ray is picking up on the interior design theme that we have been seeing in very large motoryachts the last couple of years built in Europe, many of which have stark, angular, austere interiors that hark back to the days of Bauhaus design.
In fact, of all the boat interiors we looked at in class, the Sea Ray 330 has among the most simplified forms and unadorned functionalism. Look closely and you will see its uncomplicated approach, with little space wasted by design flourishes. Different strokes for different folks.
We like to see fiddles on galley counters but virtually no powerboat builder installs them. At least there is a hand-hold by the stovetop, which is hidden under the glasses.
With 10 engine options using two different gas engine blocks and one diesel, Sea Ray has done a good job of steering buyers to the right horsepower, then letting them pick the best set-up for their skill level, intended use, geography, and operating budget.
People intending to use the Sea Ray 330 in saltwater will probably want to go with the inboard gas or diesel options, or the Sea Core stern drive options. Those in freshwater will probably choose a stern drive without Sea Core. Skippers with lots of experience and boat-docking confidence may choose to forgo the extra cost of the Axius joystick system. Europeans and people using their boat in countries where diesel is significantly less than gasoline, or who like the extra measure of safety afforded by diesel fuel, will go for the Yanmar diesel option. So take your pick.
What Will Performance Be?
As regular readers of BoatTEST.com know, we haven’t been asked to test a Sea Ray in four years. The last one tested was in 2005. But prior to that we had tested over 65 Sea Ray models in five years, so BoatTEST.com probably has the largest database of independent 3rd party Sea Ray tests done this decade.
Looking over our past Sea Ray tests of boats in the 330 class powered by engines similar in horsepower to those being offered today we can get a pretty good idea of how the Sea Ray 330 will perform with the gas engines. Based on that, with the standard twin 320-hp 6.2L with Bravo III stern drive MerCruisers, we would expect that her WOT will be in the high 30s in mph, and have a best cruise in the high 20s.
With the twin optional twin 496 Mag 375-hp Bravo-III stern drives WOT should be about 44 mph with best cruise in the low 30s, getting about one mile per gallon. With the V-drive inboard option using the twin 8.1L MerCruiser Horizon engines, you should get a WOT of about 40 mph, depending on how loaded the boat is. Best cruise should be in the mid 30s, mph, getting about 1 mpg.
While we have not tested any Sea Rays in the mid 30-foot range with the Yanmar 6LPA diesels, we have tested other boats with similar specs using those engines. In looking over our database of Yanmar engine performance we would guess the twin 307-hp in-line 6 Yanmars will drive the Sea Ray 330 at about 30 to 33 mph WOT, and have a best cruise of around 22 mph getting about 1.5 mpg. So, the diesel option should give the boat a 50% improvement in fuel efficiency, or possibly even more, depending on which gas engine is compared.
This cruising canvas is standard. It extends the season and provides a cozy place to hang out when it is raining.
When comparing the Sea Ray 330 to about a dozen other boats in her class we find that her length and beam are pretty much the same as the others, but where she differs in basic specs is her deadrise and her weight. Weighing in at 15,400 lbs. (dry), the Sea Ray 330 is one of the heaviest boats in her class. Most express cruisers of this size weigh from 12,500 to 14,000 lbs. dry. The Sea Ray 330 has a 21-degree deadrise, compared to 18 to 19 degrees for most of the other boats in her class.
What does this mean as far as performance goes? Basically, a heavier boat and one with a deeper deadrise is going to be harder to push. On the other hand, her deeper deadrise and added weight means she is going to provide a better ride in the rough stuff. It seems clear that Sea Ray has chosen to make its 330 more comfortable offshore.
When the Sea Ray 330 is at rest the bow appears to be “droopy.” This photo illustrates the advantage of this design when the boat is on plane. Note that the fore deck is nearly horizontal and the helmsman has visibility forward.
We like the optional navy blue hull that is pictured above, but you also can get the boat in black, soft yellow, and pewter in addition to the standard white. The lighter colors will be less likely to show salt and will be easier to maintain, but there is nothing quite as arresting as black and navy blue.
Because of the bed in the bow and the standard features, we would say that the Sea Ray 330 is aimed at the boater who will be using the boat for overnight cruising, possible going from marina to marina, with an occasional evening on the hook. Further, because of her weight and deadrise she should be among the most comfortable boats in a chop in her class. In checking around at several dealerships, it looks as if the Sea Ray 330 retails for an MSRP of from about $325,000 to $365,000, depending on the of options already installed by stocking dealers. There appear to be boats in stock around the country, and as we all know, there is no better time to buy a new boat than the present.