The affordable line of Ranger Tugs has come along at a propitious time. The first wave of baby boomers is ready to launch a life-long dream and go cruising, yet economic circumstances has in many cases severely constricted income or assets. The response many boaters have is simply to down-size, trimming back their sundown boat to something that meets their new circumstances both in terms of initial outlay and for annual operating expenses. As a result of all of this, Ranger Tugs seems to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right concept, and right price-point.
Since 1958? Where Have We Been?
The last couple of years the name Ranger Tug has seemed to emerged from nowhere. The company acts as if it has been around forever, yet somehow it has not yet made it to the Pantheon of venerated names. We had never heard of it until a few years ago. So what gives?The answer is that that Ranger Tug of Kent, Washington, has been around for 20 years, but with only a 21' (6.46 m) model for most of that time and, with little advertising, it was pretty much under most peoples' radar. Then in 2001 the company was bought by John Livingston and things began to change.
The Back Story
It just so happens that John Livingston's father is David Livingston; he is a living legend in the boating business, although someone who the general boating public is not particularly acquainted with. Long story short, David has probably designed, re-designed, patched-up or fixed designs of more powerboats than any single person on the planet. Over the years he has created or modified boats for Reinell, Bayliner, Wellcraft, Regal and others which have accounted for hundreds of thousands of units in the field.
On the U.S. West Coast David is probably best known for a boat that he designed early in his career -- the 12' (3.69 m) Livingston dinghy, which is still built in versions from 8‘ to 13‘ with its catamaran-like bottom that gives it great stability. American powerboats today, indeed those all over the world, owe many of their best features to David. For example, he was the person to conceive the mid-cabin berth in express cruisers which is now standard in virtually every one of these boats. This single concept, in our opinion, is more responsible than any other for making the express cruiser the popular type that it has become over the last 30 years.
But wait, there's more!
Livingston was the third member of one of the most talented teams that ever ran a boat company. In the 1980s Bayliner was propelled to sales of 56,000 units per year built in 23 plants around the U.S. by president Orin Edson, VP of Sales and Marketing Slim Summerville, and Chief Designer David Livingston. Together, the genius, energy, and vision of these three men created sales the likes of which may never again be seen in the industry. Livingston became the president of Bayliner in 1988 and '89 and resigned shortly after it was bought by Brunswick and retired.
Little wonder, then, that when John and David Livingston put their heads together to design the 25' Ranger Tug, one important characteristic was that it had to be affordable. And that meant trailerable, meaning a beam of 8' 6" (2.59 m), the maximum width that can be trailered in all U.S. states without a special permit.And being trailerable also dictated the second most important parameter of the new "tug" which is that it could not be any heavier than what a quarter-ton truck or large SUV could haul. The designers settled on a boat just under 6,000 lbs.
Why A Tug Style?
John Livingston actually bought Ranger Tugs not because he wanted to build tugs, but rather because he wanted the manufacturing facility to build his own sportboat design called the Solara. Once there, he got to know the owners of the Ranger Tug 21 and they asked him to build a larger version, something more like the Nordic Tug 26, which had been discontinued 10 years previously as that company took off in the bigger and more profitable sizes. John and Dave came up the Ranger 25.Within six months of the Ranger 25's introduction at the Seattle Boat Show in January of 2006, John knew he had a winner on his hands because he had 50 orders. The tug's success was so overwhelming that John had to put his Solara on the shelf and just build Ranger Tug 25s.
The New Ranger Tug 27
The next model to be introduced was the Ranger Tug 29 at the Seattle Boat Show in January 2009. But at $230,000 it was definitely targeted to a different buyer, positioned just under the popular Nordic Tug 34, and for many folks, a quarter of a million dollars is real money.In the summer of 2010 the new Ranger Tug 27 was introduced to the boating press. It had exactly the same beam as the 25 but was 2' 5" (.74 m) longer. Also there were numerous other changes which improved on the older model. At just under $160,000, the new model with its upgrades is about $30,000 more than the 25. Boaters considering these two models should look closely at the differences, as not all are readily apparent.
The Major Changes and Upgrades in the 27
The notable changes, upgrades and improvements in the new Ranger Tug 27 from the 25SC as we see them are as follows:1. 16" (.41 m) was added to the cabin length.2. 13" (.33 m) was added to the cockpit length.3. A Yanmar 4BY2 180-hp diesel is standard, up from a 150-hp Yanmar.4. Access to the engine and fluid checks was moved from the cabin to the cockpit.5. By having the engine completely under the cockpit the cabin is quieter while under way.6. There is a fiberglass water-lift engine muffler instead of a plastic one.7. The cabin roof has been raised to 6'6" (2.0 m) headroom.8. The dinette table support system has been improved.9. An LPG Princess gas stove is now standard with an oven.10. An electric head with deck pump out is now standard.11. There are six overhead hatches instead of five.12. An inverter/battery charger is standard.13. There is better access to midships sleeping area.14. A “mini-office” with fold-down table and fold-away chair has been created and has both 110V and 12V outlets.15. A 19" flat screen TV with DVD is now standard.16. Tank capacity has been increased 20% for fuel to 100 gallons (380 L) and 33% for water to 40 gallons (152 L).17. Finally, the R-27 is 6,200 lbs. (2,818 kgs.) compared to 5,700 lbs. (2,590 kgs.) for the R-25. That extra 500 pounds gives the R-27 a more solid feel, something you notice right away when stepping on the 27 because the boat heels less. She should also ride proportionately better also.
Construction and Design
The construction materials and basic structures used in the Ranger Tug 27 conform to industry standards -- with foam coring on the deck and superstructure. The hull, stringers and bulkheads are all chemically bonded together. Screws are also placed through the shoebox-style deck to hull joint. Deck hardware is said to be backed by aluminum plates or marine plywood. Sound absorbing material with a silver foil is used in the engine room. We're told that lead ingots are molded into the engine bed stringers to help absorb vibration. This is something we haven’t heard of before.
The Bottom Design
The bottom design is what you might expect in a semi-displacement vessel of this type, which is more trawler than planing boat. The boat has a keel that starts about 1/3rd of the way back from the bow, and then bulges slightly in the bottom to allow the Yanmar 4BY2 to be placed lower in the hull which makes the shaft angle only 6-degrees. This is one of the lowest shaft angles we have ever seen on an inboard-powered boat and it goes a long way to overcome the inherent inefficient down angle of conventional inboards which are typically 11-degrees to 14-degrees.Putting the engine low, of course, lowers the boat’s CG and makes it more stable. Also, because the prop shaft comes out of the aft end of the keel which acts as a skeg, it is protected to some degree from grounding. The boat has a relatively large bronze rudder with a shoe which also helps protects the running gear.We are told that the boat has fairly flat sections midships and we imagine it to have a shallow deadrise angle. These shapes will give this narrow boat more stability and help it plane with its small diesel. The boat has a reverse chine which should help keep it dry and give a small bit of added stability. The draft of both the R-27 and the R-25 SC is 26” (66 cm), which is about as shoal draft as you will find in any boat this size.
Power and Performance
The Ranger 27 is powered by a single Yanmar 4BY2 diesel. Remember the name of the game is reliability, range and economical operation. To that end there is nothing better than a single diesel engine. The Yanmar diesel is a 4-cylinder common rail engine with a displacement of 2 liters. It weighs 644 lbs. (292 kgs.) with marine gear and is rated at 180-hp at 4000 rpm. Yanmar gives the turbocharged, intercooled engine a continuous rating of 137 mhp at 3600 rpm. We have seen performance numbers published for this boat that are at some variance, so we would like to holdoff making any performance claims until we have a chance to test the boat ourselves. Suffice it to say that speed is not this boat's strong point, nor was it intended to be. While it will go in the high teens at WOT, that is not where this boat should be operated, in our opinion. We would run this boat at about 7.5 knots and take in all of the sights and delights around us as we cruise. If that is too slow, try 13 to 15 knots where you should get a range of something on the order of 200 miles and be able to travel two 8-hour days between fuel stops. If you want to cruise a lot faster, then you are looking at the wrong type of boat.
As far as a single diesel engine goes, we have great confidence in them. Keeping them running is a matter of keeping your fuel clean. We would consider adding a second Racor filter to the standard filter provided if you are going to do any serious cruising.
Accommodations and Interior
You must remember that despite the rugged look of this boat, it is still only 6,200 lbs. (2,218 kgs.) which means when you step on her side deck your weight will incline the vessel. Her beam is only 8' 6" (2.61 m) so don't expect the Queen Mary here. We often say that you must get aboard any boat you are thinking about buying before you get too far down the primrose path because you need to make sure that the ergonomics of boat match yours. In no boat is this truer than in the Ranger Tugs 27. The builder is trying to get a lot of cruising boat -- read big boat amenities and functionality -- in a trailerable boat. That is not easy. Clearly, if there is any designer who is up to the task it is David Livingston, but even he must deal with the laws of physics.
We would say that most of these boats are going to be cruised by a couple, and for them the boat will be most comfortable. The forward cabin has standard dimensions and two people can comfortably sleep there. The aft berth is best for kids or unexpected guests. The mattress is only 3" (7.62 cm) thick and people have to crawl into the space. On the other hand, it is a great place for storage.We particularly like the mini office that the Livingstons have managed to squeeze into the 27. This is a great place to work on a laptop or plan the next day's run. The galley area has been made bigger and now you can have a propane stove top and oven, which we like for several reasons: first, it may keep you from having to buy a generator, and second we like instant, controllable gas heat.
Visibility from the helm is very good because of the large windows, except in back where the head compartment obscures the view. You probably will not be able to reach the wheel when sitting at the helm, but don't worry about that as you will be on (optional) autopilot most of the time. When standing, the wheel rim is a perfect height. The Ranger 27 has one of the most clever companion seating arrangements that we have ever seen. Already other builders have told us that they are planning to copy it. Essentially it is a bi-fold seat that allows two people to sit facing forward to watch the action and help the skipper dodge lobster pots. Then, when it is dinner time, the seat folds the other way and it becomes part of the dinette.
Bow and Stern Thrusters
The Ranger Tug 27 is one of the few boats we can think of that has both bow and stern thrusters as standard equipment, and certainly there is no boat this size that has them as standard. These two, small electric thrusters eliminate the concern an owner may have about docking the boat. It is good to remember that in the old days boaters used single inboard-powered boats almost exclusively and managed to dock them without calamity. Indeed, even today many thousands of single-engine inboard-powered skiboats are sold annually and all of them are docked or trailered without major incident. By adding the bow and stern thrusters the builder has eliminated any reason for angst that might exist about docking, particularly for beginning boaters.
The very nature of this boat with its relatively narrow beam means that the side decks are going to be very narrow. Access is only from the cockpit, port and starboard. We watched a 245-lb. (111.3 kgs) man easily negotiate the starboard side deck until he got to the bow rail just forward of the wheel house. Because this rail is so close to the house, he could not squeeze by. An easy fix to this problem for large people is simply to have the rail flare out for a foot or so in this area. Ranger Tugs has made the cockpit 13" larger fore and aft than is the R-25 SC. As a result engine access has been improved in the 27. Now four fold-up chairs can fit into the cockpit for guests to enjoy sundown at anchor. There are five hatches in the cockpit sole which makes getting to the equipment and systems easy. The down side of having so many hatches over the equipment is that they are bound to get wet in sloppy conditions.
We like the swim platform because it is big and clever. It measures 78" (198 cm) wide and 36" (99 cm) fore and aft. The clever part is on the aft edge where the builder has installed three permanent fenders. In this way you can tie up your Livingston dinghy and not have to worry about scratches. The platform has a 4-step swim ladder off to one side and is made so that water can drain off of it in all four directions. Our only qualm about a large solid-surface swim platform is that in following seas or sloppy conditions the weight of water falling on it can stress the bolts in the hull holding the brackets which hold the platform.
Many people, who at one time might have been considering a 45’ boat, have now scaled back their expectations because of the Great Recession. The annual costs of a summer slip and winter storage can easily be the most expensive line items on an owner’s annual boat operating budget. By being able to trailer a boat, one’s cruising range not only is amplified thanks to the good highways of North America, but boat storage can be free or nearly so. The owners of Ranger Tugs all live in the Seattle area, which means they do their boating in Puget Sound, the Georgia Straits and along the west coast of British Columbia. These are some of the best cruising grounds in the world, and they can also be some of the most challenging. Just because the Ranger line is relatively low-cost compared to bigger cruising boats, don’t make the mistake of thinking they can’t take lumpy conditions. The boats can likely take more than their owners, we suspect.
Finally, potential buyers must keep in mind that the Ranger Tug for all of its virtues is still a small boat, weighing about the same as a 27’ sportboat and costing far more than all but a few of them. Yet these small express cruisers do not have the large main deck cabin, diesel engine and overall cruising utility as does the Ranger Tug 27. Nor do they look like a salty cruiser.
In looking over the options list we’d say about $15,000 should be added to the purchase price for necessities such as anchor, safety gear, autopilot, and a nav package with radar. Beyond that, your mission will dictate whether you will need to add a generator, cruising canvas around the cockpit, heater, A/C or solar panels for trickle charging.
Such is the magnetism of the Ranger Tug look and the relative cost compared with larger vessels that, while at the Miami Boat Show, we spoke to a retired gentleman who said he had driven 500 miles just to see the boat. He had done the right thing by taking the time to see the R-27 and spend an hour or so on the boat to see how it fit his body and his cruising dreams. We don’t know if he bought the boat, but frankly we didn’t see anything like it in this price range.
By its very nature the Ranger Tug 27 is what used to be called a “character” boat. By making the boat look like a seagoing tug a large main deck cabin can be fitted to the hull and the boat looks fine. Something like that on a conventional Euro-styled boat would make it look like a very pregnant guppy. But remember, as neat as this boat is, its style is in the minority and when you go to sell it you will have to find someone who has a similarly refined nautical eye and a sophisticated sense of what makes a good, affordable cruising boat. Which boat, the R-25 SC or the new R-27, is for you? Do you think the 17 items listed above are worth an extra 23% -- or $30k? It probably all depends on your purse and how you intend to use the boat. If you are just going to putt-putt around home on day trips with friends, then save your money. But for anything more, we’d go for the new R-27.Maybe the most important thing about the Ranger Tug designs is that no matter where they go, they turn heads and bring a gentle smile to face of nearly everyone who sees them. And that is the Livingston design magic.
Standard and Optional Features
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Boats More Than 30 Feet
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