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The Pros and Cons of Cruisers

By: Captain Bill Jennings

Sea Ray Sundancer 350
The Sea Ray Sundancer is one of North America's most popular cruisers

When a person buys a boat today, he or she must first decide the "type" of boat that most interests them. With the many specialized categories of boats currently available this is not as simple as it may seem. The more a boat is designed to fit into a specific category, the less efficiently it will work in a different category. To help boaters navigate through the realities of boat types, I am presenting a series of unsponsored advertisement-free articles that reveal some of the unmarketed characteristics of different boat types. Revealing these facts can help you, the boat buyer, select a boat type that matches your needs. In this article, we look at cruisers.


The first step in discussing cruiser applications is to be clear on the definition of this type of boat. The non-military definition of 'cruiser' is:


A boat capable of being used to both transport and provide comfortable sheltered accommodations for at least two people. A cruiser is larger than a 'walkaround,' but smaller than a full blown 'yacht.' We note that sailors would define 'yacht' as a boat with a sail, but for our discussion, I limit the definition to power-only vessels. Cruisers fall within a length range of 28 to 40 feet.


When you consider that a well equipped cruiser provides safe water transit while offering creature comforts such as weather protection, beds, galley, dining facilities, toilet, shower, television, air conditioning, and a lounge area -- they are a highly versatile boat type. Many couples and small families enjoy 24 hours a day on their cruiser, and travel to interesting destinations.


Only when we look more closely, do we begin to see the weak points that are found in some cruisers. Most of these concerns are related to their size. When designers try to replicate the amenities of a 55 foot yacht into a 30-something floorplan, it is only logical that things are going to get a bit crowded. For example, tall people will notice a shortage of headroom in all but the largest of cruisers. The limited space is also reflected in the seating capacity, which becomes more noticeable as guests arrive. On smaller cruisers, taking a shower can be an elbow thumping experience, and don't drop the soap. Without air conditioning, it can be too stuffy to sleep in the small berth and unless your cruiser is large enough to have a generator, you will need to run your electrical requirements off engine power or the battery. The addition of yacht-like features makes cruisers heavier than other boats of equivalent length, and heavier boats call for more horsepower. This translates to higher fuel consumption. Cruisers are usually kept in the water so you may also incur slip fees. A final critique of some cruiser models is their limited access to the foredeck. Small cruisers may have you climb through the windshield and even larger ones provide the narrowest of gunwales. This means that foredeck access can necessitate some fancy dancing by your crew as you approach a dock.


But this list of concerns can seem like minor speed bumps when you consider the enjoyment of the yachting lifestyle that cruiser boats can provide. But, you need to work through your acquisition process very carefully because small differences in length and amenities added coincide directly with huge differences in price. Yes, the larger the cruiser the more you will enjoy cruiser comforts, but because cruiser prices can jump higher per foot than most other boats your first step in purchasing is to determine a budget. Allow sufficient funds to add some of the cruiser options that you want. This budget process will give you a cruiser length with which to go cruiser shopping.


Cruisers in the 26 to 30 foot range with single engines, can generally be had for between $125k and $175k, but while towable they will still have most of the unloving characteristics noted above.


Your next level of cruisers are those in the 31 to 38 foot range that typically carry price tags over $350k. Cruisers of this size will have twin power to make docking easier. Adults will enjoy a more comfortable night's sleep in full sized double berths, and you will find features like a cockpit grill and opening skylights in the cabin. Full sinks and refrigerators become standard in the galley. Look for the cruisers with asymmetrical catwalks from the stern to the foredeck so at least one side of your boat provides safe passage. Cruisers in this price range are perfect for a weekend getaway.


If you move up to the top of the cruiser category, 38 feet and above, you leave most of the cruiser negatives in your wash. The line between cruisers and yachts becomes blurred, with only the price point being a possible negative --- around $600 to $900k. Cruisers of this size offer the interior space and amenities to satisfy the most particular owners. Retractable sunroofs and walkthrough access to the foredeck are common. You'll find private staterooms and even two private heads. There is open and comfortable space for socializing and often a hydraulic swim platform to carry a dingy or PWC.


No matter what cruiser size you target, in order for your boat to open up more space I would recommend specifying engines that are outside the boat by going with outboard power. This could mean twin 200 HP engines on the smaller cruisers and up to four 400 HP engines on the larger ones. Your dealer will give you horsepower recommendations based upon your speed expectations.


Here is another important cruiser buying tip: there is no shame in buying a used cruiser. Actually, most cruiser purchases are pre-owned so if your budget is short on obtaining the length you want, buying a used cruiser could be your answer.

To add some specifics, here are my 'consideration' ratings on cruisers.


Life Expectancy: Excellent. Generally speaking, a cruiser is used less than a general runabout or large bowrider. With less hours, they tend to remain in good condition longer. Even ones that are used regularly are often kept in a covered boathouse, or on a lift. The major manufacturers of cruiser boats are usually more experienced craftsmen than those for small boats, therefore cruisers are usually well built to begin with.


Storage: Depends. Great for two people, but in the small cruisers there is barely enough for four. There is just not enough square footage to build large cabinets and lockers, but having that cabin to shelter items can be most welcome.


Off-Season Storage: Tricky. For many boaters, their cruiser is their summer cottage. Preparing your boat for winter is more difficult than folding up a family tent. Consideration must be given to the number of cruiser features present and their ability to winter safely.


Ride Comfort: Better than average. A cruiser will weigh more than an average boat of the same length. That added weight delivers a more solid ride that is less impacted by choppy water. Just don't leave breakables on the galley counter.


Capacity: Depends. Both actual seating available and the feeling of spaciousness will totally depend on the size of your cruiser. If you are claustrophobic or tall, you had better be prepared to buy one of the larger cruisers.

Towability: Limited. Thirty feet is considered the largest cruiser you would want to tow.


Cost: Average. There are a good number of cruiser manufacturers in business, so between different lengths and differing qualities/amenities you should be able to find a cruiser to match your budget. The used market is also generally plentiful with cruiser style boats.


Maintenance: Tricky. Maintenance on a cruiser can be a handful. This is because they can have similar amenities to a full sized yacht, but because the workings are contained within smaller spaces it is more difficult to access and repair them.


Bottom Line: A boat in the cruiser category is perfect for an existing boater who is ready to do some exploring. You may want to travel through different waterways, check out some popular boating destinations, or just get away for weekends. I believe that some 'doll house' cruisers can lead to frustrations, so select a size that will provide the transportation and space you need. Once you know what cruiser will work for you, it's just a matter of waiting until the right cruiser shows up for you to purchase. #tips #boattypes #cruisers

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