Captain's Report by Capt. Steve
For years Sea Ray has been a master at maximizing accommodations below decks so the Sea Ray 500 had always been powered by V-drives. Replacing them with Zeus pod drives doesn't actually pick up any appreciable room for more living space, but the new drives dramatically increase performance and make the boat more fuel efficient at cruising speed, which naturally increases the boat's range. These two attributes along with the joystick that comes with the package, gives the new 500 Sundadancer a big leg up on the older sister ships.
With a dry weight of 40,291 lbs. (18,275 kg) the 500 is in the lighter side of her class. Her beam was on the narrow side as well, which means that she is intended for coastal cruising with an easily-driven hull. That, together with its diesel engines and pod drives maximizes efficiency and range. All of this translates into lower operating costs. So, as we see it, her mission is to provide as much living and entertaining room as possible in the 50' envelope, be economical to own, and with the joystick as standard she is easy to operate.
We measured a top speed of 34 kts at 3030 rpm. At that speed the twin CMD 550's were burning a combined 59.9 gph (226.7 Lph) for a range of 204 nm. Best cruise came in at 2600 rpm and 26.1 kts. That's a speed that will get you from New York to Newport is just 5.3 hours. We measured a fuel burn of 41.2 gph (156 Lph) for a range of 228 nm, with a 10% fuel reserve.
Handling was another area where the 500 does well. We headed out of Miami's Hillsboro Inlet into a 15-20 mph wind blowing against a fair tide. We made it through the heavy surf of the inlet nicely and stabilized our run in the rolling seas. At first I took it easy on the 500, letting us both get our feel for the conditions.
At speed it was a wet ride, but anytime you throw water into a 20-knot wind it'll get blown back on the windshield. I tried bringing the tabs up to raise the bow, but that only resulted in a performance penalty. Then I went opposite to tradition, and added speed. At 22 kts the 500 seemed to be in her element. We were slicing through the meat of the waves and riding up and down with the swells. This turned out to be the most comfortable speed in the head seas. Then I swung us to the beam.
On the beam seas the 500 was surprisingly comfortable. We stayed on a relatively level keel and my crew could actually walk around while we were travelling at 22 kts. The ride was also considerably drier. I could definitely cruise for the 500's nearly 9-hour endurance in these conditions.
Heading back to the inlet in following seas was even better. Now I was able to advance the throttle to the stops with no fear of stuffing the bow, but when we got to the inlet, the 3-4' rollers gave way to better judgment and I pulled back to best cruise and plunged right on through with no worries.
The "J" shaped cockpit seating of the Sea Ray 500 is one of the largest in class. Here, 6 people can sit comfortably around a standard table, and a couple of deck chairs make 8. The swivel base for the helm and observers seat make 10 and the lounger across holds another three making 13 holding an intimate conversation with no shouting. This lounger also has a slight J-shape that allows one person to sit facing forward.
A Proper Helm
Regular readers know that I'm a proponent of a helm in an express hardtop or coupe where the skipper can stand, see out the windshield, and not have to poke his head through a sunroof. Thankfully, the Sea Ray 500 has impressive 6.5' (1.98 m) of headroom at the helm for a skipper who would like to stand and stretch during a long watch. Also, when it's rough, sometimes it is more comfortable to be standing, to say nothing about when docking and needing to be facing aft. You will appreciate this aspect of the 500.
Sea Ray has put a lot of thought into the helm design on this boat and has taken the rather unusual step of moving the joystick slightly outboard and considerably behind the throttles. The reason for this is because when backing into a slip, or Med mooring, the skipper can stand at the helm facing aft and find the joystick easy at hand -- in front of his body, not behind it.
When seated, the helmsperson is high and has nearly 360-degree visibility. The windshield mullions are as narrow as they can be. When putting the hammer down from a standing start there is a slight bow rise, but we never lost our view of the horizon as the boat got out of the hole onto plane.
I did have an issue with the placement of the throttles. They were right next to the steering wheel with no arm or hand rest nearby. When I was piloting in the snot, I found small corrections in power to be quite difficult with the bouncing. I resorted to placing my hand on the control head for stability and stretching my fingers out to grab both sticks. I just like the idea of having the controls at the front of an armrest for better controllability, but a Sea Ray spokesperson told me that this location is a direct response to customer feedback, so what do I know?
The space below in the 500 is huge. Not only is the salon one of the largest I have seen in class, but the galley probably has more counter space than other boats in class. I like the "J"-shaped counter that comes aft from the forward bulkhead to provide more work space as well as more much-needed cabinet space below. There is also a large upright refrigerator/freezer which a boat of this size should have. There is a two-burner stove top with a microwave below. About the only thing I would change in this galley, would be to move the microwave up into one of the over-counter cabinets for ease of use.
Long ago Sea Ray discovered the secret of turning a salon lounge seat into a comfortable fold-out bed for two -- the keyword here is "comfortable" both for sitting and sleeping. Not all hide-a-beds are the same. The new model 500 continues the Sea Ray tradition of this versatile standard feature. The sofa-bed allows the 500 to comfortably sleep six people. When dining, fold-up chairs can be placed at the table to comfortably accommodate six.
The master stateroom is forward. Sea Ray has made the sides of the island bed straight rather than creating a diamond shape as many builders do. This design has the advantage of allowing more space on the side of the bed to make it far easier to get into and out of -- and makes it easier to change the sheets. Also, standard-size sheets will fit it.
The guest cabin is abaft the salon. It is the typical layout and design of most express boats in the 40 to 50-foot range. Typically they have standing headroom to port and in the head because this area is under the bench seat on the bridge deck. The wet head is enclosed and is a bit larger than the ones we have seen on other boats in class. The sink is in the cabin itself which is typical.
It is necessary to bend over to get into the beds, but one quickly gets used to it. Once ensconced in the bed, there is plenty of overhead room in which to sit up and read. The most important aspect of this cabin is the privacy created by the bulkhead and door, and, of course, the private head.
Some of the standard equipment that caught our eye included the Zeus pod drives and joystick, the twin retractable sunroof, Smart Craft and Vessel View instrumentation, electric windshield vents, windshield washers and speed control, anchor windlass, icemaker in the cockpit wet bar, innerspring mattresses, Cablemaster shore power cable system with 75' of cable, shore power isolation transformer, automatic and manual engine room fire suppression system, oil changing system, 9kW Onan generator, and a 32,000 BTU zone-controlled air conditioning system.
Items of optional equipment that we would add to the Sea Ray 500 Sundancer are: a gray water system ($1500), a grill in the cockpit ($3058), macerator with seacock interlock system ($1667), and cockpit refrigerator ($167). While the hydraulic swim platform would be nice, it's a significant expense at $46,667. While it is nice to have, cruising types can carry a tender on its side attached to the aft lip of the swim platform for a lot less money. Those owners who will not be using a dinghy, can simply save their money.As you can see, that is not a particularly long or expensive option list. Depending on how the boat is used, an owner may want to swap out the optional gray water system for a washer/dryer as the boat can't carry both.
It's hard not to like being on a boat like the 500 Sundancer. As we discovered, she handles well in windy conditions and gets good fuel economy. Being able to take her out in some more challenging seas was a great experience and it often brings out the worst in a boat. That said, the worst of the 500 was a genuine pleasure. Base price… $1,304,510.
Test Result Highlights
- Top speed for the Sea Ray 500 Sundancer (2012-) is 39.1 mph (62.9 kph), burning 59.9 gallons per hour (gph) or 226.72 liters per hour (lph).
- Best cruise for the Sea Ray 500 Sundancer (2012-) is 30.1 mph (48.4 kph), and the boat gets 0.73 miles per gallon (mpg) or 0.31 kilometers per liter (kpl), giving the boat a cruising range of 263 miles (423.26 kilometers).
- Tested power is 2 x 525-hp Cummins QSC8.3.
Standard and Optional Features
|Washdown: Fresh Water||Standard|
|Washdown: Raw Water||Optional|
|Outlet: 12-Volt Acc||Standard|
Boats More Than 30 Feet
|Oil Change System||Standard|