In some ways this is the story of three boats – the winning Jeanneau 54 Deck Saloon that was introduced in 2003, and the two designs that are now being offered as its replacements. The 54DS, with its swoopy cat-eye ports and immense interior, proved to be a very popular model, with over 400 hulls built. When it came time to refresh the design, the big-in-all-respects Jeanneau 57 came on the scene in 2010. Now the smaller but very similar 53-foot sister, designed by Phillipe Briand, has been launched -- to high expectations.
Successful designs have a way of morphing into their future selves, and with the continuous improvement of the Beneteau/Jeanneau production building techniques, these new boats are not only stylish bluewater sailing machines, they are also well built and affordable. The 53 and 57 share much of their interior design and furniture, and Jeanneau leveraged their economies of scale across models to reduce material, labor, and design costs. This allows them to build highly customizable boats on a more affordable production basis. With the 53 and 57 (they even share a glossy high-end brochure), Jeanneau has formed a Jeanneau Yachts line of premium boats over 50 feet. Yes, they’re production boats, but in the hands of pro French builders, “production” has taken on a whole new meaning in the past decade.
The 53 looks good, sails fast, and offers a choice of interiors that rivals most custom boatbuilders. The construction quality places these boats into the serious bluewater cruiser realm. The 53 is built in a two-part mold with a fiberglass structural grid tabbed to the hull and a reinforcing aluminum grid below the saloon sole for additional strength and stiffness. A full-length liner is then placed in the hull and is topped by a balsa-cored deck. Below the waterline is a cast iron keel with a bulb, available with a draft of 7’5” or 5’10” for the shoal version. She displaces 33,000 pounds and sports a beam of 15’7”, which makes her moderately light and not too beamy – read “fast.”
The 19/20ths fractional rig by Z-Spar is deck-stepped, with two sets of swept-back spreaders. In-mast furling or a fully battened traditional mainsail are offered. The total standard sail area is 1,420 square feet with a 135-percent genoa. The mast is just over 70 feet, which might be a challenge with some fixed bridges along the East Coast. Unlike the high, bulbous look of the 54, the 53 has a low, more angular deck that is nearly flush. So it’s easy to get around and affords good visibility forward, while still providing ample headroom below. And there’s still plenty of light in the saloon via hull ports and the three large overhead hatches.
The cockpit is about the same size as the one on the 57. It’s well-arranged, with the forward section designed for lounging. The aft section includes twin wheels with a central pod for electronics and two primary winches that can and probably should be ordered as electric, given the size of the headsail. Two more winches and a set of rope clutches on the cabintop manage the rest of the lines, all of which are led aft. The molded-in sheet and halyard boxes situated between the winches and clutches will keep the cockpit uncluttered. A dedicated compartment aft allows the liferaft to be launched without leaving the cockpit. The biggest difference between the 53 and 57 here is that there is no dinghy garage in the transom; the 57 has one that will hold a full-sized dinghy tucked below the deck sideways.
The Jeanneau 53 offers layouts of three to six cabins. The master suite, with a centerline queen, is available forward or aft, but large families can add two cabins on either end for whatever combination fits best. A crew cabin with deck access may be added in the bow, but I think this space will be used most often for storage. The saloon and galley stay the same in all the designs, and the full-sized, forward-facing nav station is to starboard in all but one configuration, where it and a head are replaced by a cabin with over-and-under bunks.
The L-shaped galley to port is well-appointed, with lots of countertop space, a microwave, and a top- and side-loading reefer/freezer. Two or four heads are available depending on the layout option. The straight settee to port in the saloon has a fold-down back/arm rest that forms a small game or cocktail table with hidden wine glass storage behind. A U-shaped dinette to starboard will seat eight when using the two additional chairs inboard. The interior uses Alpi teak veneer, stainless handholds, intimate LED lighting, and plenty of leather accents. It’s just as sleek in design as the exterior, with lots of clean lines and minimal décor.
The options list includes a bow thruster and a genset that sits below the cabin sole along with the tankage to keep the weight low. With such significant sail area, electric winches should definitely be added. I’d increase the house battery bank from the standard 220 Ah 12V and add an inverter. Another useful option might be a second windlass control at the port helm, with a chain counter. Raymarine electronics and a Bose entertainment center are also available.
What it Does Best
The Jeanneau 53 is a good-looking, well-built boat that can go offshore at a fraction of the price of many custom cruisers. It looks sleek and slippery but it definitely gives off a tough vibe too. The shape of the deck and the plumb bow provide an aggressive element that suggests speed. The great cockpit will seat six for dinner, but will also allow a couple to manage sails with little effort. This is a comfortable boat that provides so many interior options that no matter the size or makeup of the family, there will be a good configuration for anything from weekend getaways to far more extended adventures.
There’s very little to dislike about a boat of this quality that comes in under a half million dollars when new and loaded. If I had complaints, I’d focus on the lifelines, tankage, and storage. First, in order to maintain the visual effect of that sleek styling, Jeanneau kept the stanchions and lifelines at minimal height. Passagemakers and safety-conscious buyers should consider upgrading to a 30” height for this system. Second, 63 gallons of fuel is not enough for bluewater cruising. The 53 actually has five gallons more water tank capacity than the 57, but the fuel is about half. A discussion with a dealer when the boat is built might help that. Finally, there’s plenty of storage, but I’d like to see an option of one of the aft cabins being turned into either a walk-in utility room, workshop, or storage space.
Due to its relatively low displacement, the Jeanneau 53 picks up and goes even in light winds. At about 50 degrees of apparent wind angle in eight to ten knots, she’ll do six knots in flat water. Off the wind at about 150 degrees, five to six knots can be expected, and the boat tacks well within 90 degrees. Under power, the big 100-hp Yanmar will push the boat at eight to nine knots at 2500 rpm with little noise or vibration.
Similar Boats to Consider
The base price of the Jeanneau 53 is $360,000, but a bluewater cruising couple would add another $130,000 in options, many of which should be considered by anyone sailing shorthanded. Still, that’s a lot of boat for the money. Other boats to consider in this category would be the Hanse 545 (almost 10,000 pounds heavier) and the Dufour 525, which offers more dramatic ultra-modern styling.
Where To Learn More
For more information on the 53 or other Jeanneau designs, visit Jeanneau America.
Zuzana Prochazka is the President of Boating Writers International (BWI) and the Technical Editor for Latitudes and Attitudes magazine. She contributes regularly to Boats.com, Yachtworld, Lakeland Boating, Sea Magazine and Boating World . She hosts Latitudes & Attitudes Television and launched her boat and gear review website, Talk of the Dock, in 2010. She is the Chair of the BWI New Products Committee and has repeatedly judged NMMA Innovation Awards and NMEA New Product Awards. She is a USCG 100 Ton Master and serves as a judging chair for the BWI Annual Writing Contest.