Most builders call boats like the four featured in this roundup "flybridges," but the correct term, rapidly going the way of the passenger pigeon, is "flying bridge cruisers," or sedans. A sedan is a cruiser with a flying bridge but with a cockpit that is not appropriate for game fishing. (Convertibles also carry flying bridges, but they have large, low cockpits designed for big game sportfishing.)
The flying bridge changes the way folks enjoy their boats: A flying bridge lets the crew escape the confines of the deckhouse, to bask in the sun and feel the wind ruffling their hair (we advise using sunscreen). Engine noise is less on the flying bridge, and there's a bit more privacy for sunbathing vs. lying on a foredeck sun pad or aft lounge. Most builders fill their flying bridges with al fresco creature comforts, too -- refrigerator, wet bar, maybe even a grill.
There are also practical reasons for a flying bridge: At sea, the higher one's eye level, the better, and farther, one can see, so the flying bridge improves the skipper's sightlines by placing him/her higher above the water. (The first flying bridges were added to sportfishing boats to improve the chances of spotting, and then landing, one's prey.)
Easier Docking. Increased elevation is also advantageous for close-quarters maneuvering: It's easier to back into a slip when looking down at the stern from the flying bridge vs. looking out from a lower helm station.
And, at night or in poor weather, many skippers prefer piloting from the flying bridge rather than the lower helm, preferring the unobstructed view from the bridge to peering through the windshield at the lower helm which can easily become fogged or reflect internal light.
Here's more information on each of this week's roundup boats.
Sea Ray's Fly 460 shares a hull with the company's Sundancer 460, and other than the flying bridge the two boats are very similar. The Fly's bridge changes the whole dynamic, though: Rather than just a place to catch rays, it's a bona fide living area, one that can be made even more so with an optional hardtop (with a sunroof) and an enclosure. Add both, and reverse-cycle A/C, too, and the bridge becomes a three, maybe four-season space.
The U-shaped lounge and double-leaved table are big enough for formal dining, or just having a quick lunch in the sun. A small galley with grill is also available.
It wasn't so long ago that many flying-bridge cruisers didn't have lower helms; all piloting was from the bridge. (Few convertibles carry lower helms even today.) The Fly 460 has two fully equipped helm stations, with Mercury Marine SmartCraft VesselView screens at both. VesselView is the digital interface with Mercury's SmartCraft technology, which monitors numerous engine and vessel functions, everything from GPS data to the waste level in the holding tank. Both stations also have a Raymarine widescreen display with GPS/plotter/radar functions. A 4-kW HD scanner is also standard.
The Fly 460 is a heavy boat (which means she will ride better in the rough stuff and be more stable), and needs plenty of horses to push her. Standard power is a pair of 550-hp Cummins QSB 6.7 diesels and V-drives; Zeus pods are optional, linked to twin 473-hp versions of the same diesels. Pods are more efficient, so burn less fuel at best cruise. Our test boat hit 27.0 kts. wide open throttle with standard power, best cruise was around 20 kts.
We like the fact that Sea Ray is offering consumers a choice between pod drives and conventional V-drives. For most people, the savings in fuel economy at best cruise will never make up for the increase cost of pod drives, and with the addition of a bow thruster and joystick, maneuvering at the dock is almost as easy as with pods with a joystick.
The Prestige Yachts 460 was introduced at the 2017 Miami Boat Show as the newest model in the company's Flybridge line. She's a natural evolution of the company's 450 Flybridge, but with improvements and refinements in almost every area.
She has a bigger swim platform -- big enough for an outdoor BBQ -- a lazarette than can be converted to crew's quarters, and a longer cockpit with a new seating arrangement. Like Prestige's larger yachts, the 460 is from Garroni Design and JP Concepts Engineering.
The flying bridge has a fully equipped helm to port, with a wide helm seat. Wide enough for two folks? Maybe in a squeeze -- but there's lots of other seating and lounging options, including a big sun pad that wraps around the helm: Sunbathers can sprawl, and still chat easily with the skipper. There's an L-lounge aft, too. A mini-galley with grill and refrigerator is optional, as is a Bimini top.
Standard power is twin 435-hp Volvo Penta IPS 600s, connected to the pods through jackshafts. This setup allows the designer to move the pods aft while positioning the engines optimally vs. the boat's center of gravity. Engines connected directly to pods have to be mounted farther aft in the hull, or the pods have to be farther forward -- neither choice is always best for weight distribution. (Trivia: Fuel tanks, not engines, should be located over the C.G., so the hull's trim doesn't change due to the changing weight of fuel onboard.)
We haven't tested the 460 yet, but plan to in the near future.
The Galeon 430 Skydeck carries a modified flying bridge that is geared more for sunning and piloting and less for having a crowd above for entertaining and sightseeing – thus the term “Skydeck.” It is a creative variation on the flying bridge theme that we will probably be seeing more of in the future.
The Skydeck also has a sunroof over the main saloon. How does that work? Rather than filling the entire cabin roof with the flying bridge, Galeon opted to place a smaller bridge on the after part of the roof, leaving the forward half available for an opening sunroof. Even though the bridge is small-ish, it has forward-facing seating for three, two lounges and a fully equipped helm station. The flying-bridge ladder is on the centerline, and automatically flips up and nests in the cabin overhead, completely out of the way when not in use.
The flying bridge isn't the only innovative feature of the 430 Skydeck: Her cockpit has an unusual seating arrangement, face-to-face lounge seats on either side, with a centerline console incorporating a scissor-legged table. The seats slide on tracks toward the table for dining, away from it for lounging and to open access to the large stern platform. When the table is fully retracted, it's at cocktail height; when raised, it's just right for dinner. Whether the table's up or down, two leaves fold out to increase its size. Finally, the seats and table can be pushed completely together to form a big sun pad.
Finally, the Galeon has a different belowdecks arrangement than the other boats in this group, and one that's unusual in boats in this class: Three staterooms, the master forward with a centerline double berth and a private head, and two twin-berth cabins amidships. Each can be converted to a double with a filler cushion. These staterooms use the second head, which is also the day head.
Galeon lists twin 260-hp Volvo Penta diesels as standard power for the 430 Skydeck, not a lot of gumption for a boat this size. Maximum power is a pair of 435-hp Volvo Penta D6s, which should be the power anyone chooses unless they really don't need to get anywhere right away. The diesels can be matched to V-drives, sterndrives, or IPS. (We checked the market: Every 430 Skydeck we found for sale in the U.S., new or used, had the 435s and V-drives.)
The Aquila 44 catamaran has 21' 6" of beam, half again as much as the other boats in this group. That translates to a lot of living space, including three en suite staterooms (the master, forward, is full-beam, and has a cozy L-lounge); an open-plan saloon/galley with windows all around; and an aft deck with a U-shaped settee that's shaded by the flying-bridge overhang. Transom steps port and starboard lead to the swim platforms.
The centerline helm occupies the forward half of the flying bridge; it's the only helm -- no lower station on this boat. Steering, instruments and electronics (including a multifunction display with radar) live in a freestanding pod with seating on three sides (the helm seat is one end of an L-lounge), so there's ample room for backseat drivers. (Some skippers might say too much room.) Steps lead from the helm onto the foredeck. Aft of the helm there's a U-shaped lounge, table and mini-galley with wet bar. The Aquila 44 was designed for chartering, so she has plenty of comfort both topsides and below decks.
Catamarans ride on narrow hulls that require less power than monohulls the same size and weight, but Aquila added another feature to improve efficiency: bulbous bows. Bulbous bows are used on ships to reduce hydrodynamic drag by minimizing turbulence around the bow; they work best on hulls that operate in a narrow speed range -- ships typically run at the same speed all the time -- so have been less effective when added to yachts. But Aquila designers got them right on this yacht: Bulbs, and corresponding hull extensions aft to maintain trim, not only boosted top and cruising speeds, but also improved the Aquila 44's seakeeping, according to the builder.
We have not tested the boat. But the builder tells us that the top speed with standard power, twin 225-hp Volvo Penta D4 diesels, is 21.2 knots, cruising speed 17.1 kts. Optional power is available, up to twin 300-hp Volvo D4s that add about 3 kts to top and cruise speeds, says Aquila.
Don't hesitate to contact us at BoatTEST.com if you have questions about any of the boats in this roundup.