Monday, February 25, 2013

The Searay 370 Venture. What you don't see is good.

This is one the winners of the National Marine Manufacturers Association 2013 Innovation Awards, and deservedly so. I wasn't one of the judges, but I think I would have come to the same conclusion as did the BWI judges, but maybe for decidedly different reasons.
   

The Searay 370 Venture by design looks like a traditional express cruiser, but forward of the swim platform, and under the two aft facing padded seats are 300 hp Verado outboards. 

Most of the reviews and articles about the boat extol the virtues of space gained by not having an engine room. This allows for a much larger cockpit, and a more spacious aft cabin.

In earlier versions of this genre of boat the aft cabin was a Hobbit's paradise with no standing room, and the master suite was always a forward V-berth. So eliminating the majority of the engine room allowed the Searay designers to create a very attractive floor plan, and in my opinion the best in its class.

The 370 Venture doesn't pretend to sleep a family of twelve. It sleeps a couple comfortably aft, and two additional guests can sleep in the dinette. The spacious and well lit dining area replaces what would have been the master V-berth in earlier versions.

But I believe what you don't see, creates tremendous value to the vessels owner, and is what makes it worthy of the NMMA Innovation award.

What you no longer see are two huge marine engines jammed into an almost inaccessible compartment. You also don't see two I/O drives, or drive shafts, and their stuffing boxes, transmissions, rudder tables, rudder stuffing boxes, struts, cooling water intake strainers with valves, halon system, propellers, exhaust piping and mufflers, and lots of green bonding wiring trying to keep everything at the same electrical potential to stop corrosion.

All of this now resides in two compact outboard engine systems mounted aft. What you now do see is a small bilge compartment with the VacuFlush system, generator, batteries, and some pumps. As if that wasn't enough, the motors tip up removing the lower units from the water further reducing corrosion potential.

But I think there are even more subtle reasons this is a good idea. As someone who has spent a lot of time working in the dark cramped dirty engine room pit of installer despair trying to fit in a rudder reference, transducer or the ilk, the true cost of maintainability is a factor few boat designers consider.

The typical engine room is built in stages. With the deck off, the factory minions start installing all of the gear. The Bennett trim tab pump is bolted on the transom. The battery charger is screwed onto the bulk head. The VacuFlush system, hot water tank, batteries, AC systems, rudder table are attached, generator is dropped in and then the engine crew places the two huge engines and exhaust system. After inspection, the deck goes on. From that point forward all maintenance has to be done by a skinny professional spelunker, and his crew of spider monkeys.

I have seen many engine rooms so congested that most owners physically can't really inspect, or do any day to day maintenance in them. Batteries are hard to get to so the water levels don't get checked as often as they should. Accessing the AC strainer outboard of the engine stringer and under the V-Drive requires climbing aft over the manifolds and exhausts, and then slithering forward in between the engines to get at it.

The point is that if you can't easily get to it, you often don't to the boats detriment. So if it's hard for the owner to get at things, it's also hard for the installers and mechanics increasing labor and repair costs.

It doesn't have to be this way as you can see with the engine room below, but all to often this is the exception, not the rule.

Now for the argument inboard vs outboard? The Mercury Verado outboard costs around $20,000. It appears at first blush to be much more expensive than the equivalent horse power Mercruiser engine that sells for around $12,000. But when you add the costs of the items "you don't see" above, and the labor to install the gear the numbers get much closer together.

The Searay design team I think made a superior, and clever decision in using the Verado. Fewer holes in the boat, much easier to maintain, less components exposed to salt water corrosion, and did I mention it's quiet? Very very quiet. Excellent job Searay, I won't miss single of those things "you don't see on this boat."

The bottom line is outboard, I/O, and inboard units are all good solutions, if they are accessible, and that's often the rub. The time and effort required to access and do repairs is really a notable long term cost factor.

I'm tired of hose clamp cuts and ripped clothes. The spider monkeys are also eating me out of house and home, and riding the greyhounds.

Thanks to Marine Max Sarasota for letting me take pictures of the boat.
The first photo is from the Searay image library, the balance were taken by the Installer.

6 comments:

  1. Nice piece Bill. The boat mag. articles largely overlooked the mechanical details of the simplified proplusion option - outboards for mid-size express cruisers. Sure to catch on. BTW, I drove a sister ship at Sea Ray's new model event at the factory. Very good performance and handling.

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  2. As someone spending too much time this winter down an engine bay calling out for the long-handled picker-upper, I couldn't agree more. Access is key and boats should be built around things that require access, but it is clearly the other direction. I saw a Jeanneau at the boat show that appeared to require a bunk disassembly if one needed to reach the PSS or the tail of the tranny. Not good.

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  3. Is this boat still getting good reviews? Has anything been negative? Are owners happy with the quality of the boat and engines?

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    1. I own one . . .
      Boat -> Yes; Engines -> NO!
      Great idea, great concept - - but not yet ready for prime time, under powered verados have led to a lot of problems

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  4. Anon, the boat is still in production, and the concept has been used by others such as Pursuit. It was and still is a good idea.

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  5. Bill, agree. It is a good idea. I am just tired fighting it and the other problems on the Venture 370 (bug after bug, recurring problems, just beat me down), so I traded it in on new dependable sufficiently powered diesel cruiser.

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