Sea Ray 540 Sundancer Review

Issue: March 2001
Manufacturer: Sea Ray 

Sea Ray builds everything from 5 metre runabouts to 20 metre flybridge models, but it is through its sleek sportscruisers that the company has become internationally renowned. The latest model shows just why. At 16.7 metres, this is not the largest sportscruiser manufactured by Sea Ray (that honour going to the 610) but it’s every bit as luxurious and awe-inspiring.

Everything about the 540 is big, though it remains extremely well proportioned. The length, beam and hull depth ratios marry together blissfully, whereas some sportscruisers tend to look awkwardly bulky as designers try to cram too much below deck. The long, sleek and elegant lines identify a true sportscruiser.

On the water, this graceful vessel treats its passengers to a smooth and effortless ride at speeds that are extremely deceptive. Pushed by twin 800hp Caterpillar diesels it is a thoroughbred raring to gallop. At idle you have some indication of the power of the beast, for there is a need to constantly slip in and out of gear to keep boat speed down in the marina and in 8 knot zones.

While it takes a little while to reach top speed, for a hull of this size and weight it gets planing without too much effort. And at the recommended cruise of 1800 to 1900rpm, the 540 glides along at a nonchalant 24 to 27 knots. Top speed is a very brisk 35 knots, but given the rate at which these big engines burn fuel at maximum revs, that top speed is really only there if you need to beat an unexpected weather change back to port.

The ride quality is an absolute delight, concealing the true speed at which this boat can run in most sea conditions. The engines are smooth and quiet and with so much space around you in the cockpit it is easy to let the world go by at a much faster rate than you realise.

It’s not afraid of the rough either, handling the 1-2 metre swell on the test day at around the 1800 to 2000 rpm range, keeping dry and sitting nice and clean over the top of the swells.

Belying its sheer size, the 540 is very manoeuvrable at speed with a nice tight turning circle. In the marina, meanwhile, the minimal windage makes it a far easier boat to berth than similar length flybridge or sedan cruisers.

To say that the layout is fairly conventional for a big sports cruiser may not do the Sea Ray justice, because that’s about where any similarities end. The 510 Sundancer we tested some months ago gave us an insight into what to expect, but for sheer spaciousness and comfort the 540 takes things to a higher plane. Viewed from afar, the people on board looked so tiny.

The cockpit has a raised helm station and lounge, with the aft (lower) cockpit dedicated solely to lounging and relaxation. It comprises a complete wrap-round lounge, extendable sunlounge, table and all the accessories that make the cockpit a completely self-contained entertaining centre.

Because of its size, the helm station appears light on in electronics and instrumentation, but everything is there and well positioned for skipper operation and monitoring.

The separate helm chair is great and suits the helm station perfectly. There is a separate two- to three-seat lounge alongside for passengers wanting to sit up at the command centre. There aren’t any grab rails immediately adjacent to these seats – they’re simply not needed.

The cockpit is ideal for entertaining a dozen guests, or just kicking back and taking things easy. It has a complete wet bar including refrigerator and icemaker, while the rear lounge, with the push of a button to operate the electric hydraulic rams, slides out to form an enormous sun lounge.

Similarly, the electric hydraulic operation of the swim platform enables it to be raised or lowered. It can sit up level with the short moulded aft platform, providing plenty of space for divers and their gear, or to carry a PWC or inflatable.

With the platform fully lowered launching and retrieving the PWC or inflatable is an effortless exercise, while situated at water level it makes a great space to sit and cool off.

Beneath the low-slung foredeck, this boat is all luxury. The two staterooms are just that – stately – and are better than you would find on many sedan and flybridge cruisers. Both incorporate oversize double berths, plenty of storage/hanging space and ample headroom.

They ooze class and luxury, thanks to the extensive use of ‘ultraleather’ and vinyl linings, along with quality bed covers, and an extensive use of rich, deep and highly polished rose timber for the trims and joinery. The extensive use of mirrors is in no way tacky but rather gives each stateroom an elegance and a greater impression of space. I’ve never seen it so successfully achieved.

Two bathrooms serve each of these cabins, the owner’s stateroom bathroom aft being an ensuite while the forward stateroom shares with the rest of the boat.

The saloon separating the two staterooms is vast. Again there’s no skimping on anything here, and the decor is straight from the pages of interiors magazines. The amount of headroom would exceed many large flybridge sedans.

The joinery work simply sparkles under the overhead recessed lighting, adding class and “glitter” to what is an absolutely first class boat.

Behind all that deep, shiny timber is a complete galley that includes three-burner cook top, microwave and convection oven, upright refrigerator, freezer and icemaker, drip coffee maker, along with a heap of storage drawers and cupboards.

The bar facilities, entertainment centre, fully ducted air conditioning etc are all superbly built in. Indeed you really don’t know what this boat holds until you open all the doors, slide out all the panels, or push/pull the buttons and knobs.

The Sea Ray 540 Sundancer elevates sportscruisers to a completely new class and standard. This boat has all the style and quality of the top-shelf flybridge cruisers, with perhaps even better cruising and entertaining facilities.

Now if I could only find $2million …

Words by David Toyer