With twin diesels, top speed for the 540 Cockpit Motor Yacht is approximately 31 mph.

With twin diesels, top speed for the 540 Cockpit Motor Yacht is approximately 31 mph.

For many successful companies, there are defining moments — turning points, so to speak, that change their direction and set them on a different course. For Sea Ray, arguably the world's largest boat builder, the new 540 Cockpit Motor Yacht could be a product that signals just such a new direction.

Sea Ray, of course, has built much of its reputation around its line of sporty Sundancer and Sun Sport express cruisers, and the company certainly gets most of the credit for reviving the express cruiser and returning it to its present popularity. But to keep its position as the world's largest builder requires constant attention because there are many other companies coming up the mountain, and the footing at the top can be treacherous.

So Sea Ray spends a considerable amount of effort, not to mention money, to listen carefully to what owners, dealers, and potential buyers are saying. Over the past few years, they have been hearing the faint beat of a distant drum.

An express cruiser provides a spacious cockpit, which is great when the weather is fair and the seas are smooth. With the addition of convertible tops and side curtains, an express cruiser can even be buttoned up for protection against the elements. But there are buyers new to Sea Ray and also present owners of Sea Ray express cruisers who want to step up to a yacht with true all-weather capabilities. They want a spacious salon with a view rather than one that is tucked deep into the hull to make room for the cockpit, and they want an inside helm to use when it's too hot or too cold or too wet outside.

The result of this growing demand is Sea Ray's response: the 540 Cockpit Motor Yacht. For the first time, this puts Sea Ray in direct competition with companies like Carver, Cruisers, Ocean Alexander and many other motoryacht builders, and to be competitive, they've carefully designed the new 540 to give it everything a buyer wants.

Solid foundation

The starting point for the 540 is the well-proven hull for the 510 Sundancer, one of the most popular boats in the line. From there, however, the Sea Ray design team changed (and lowered) the sheer line and created a motoryacht deckhouse with flybridge and aft cockpit. Inside, the three-stateroom layout is surprisingly spacious in spite of not having a true aft cabin arrangement. The salon is designed for comfortable lounging, and the flybridge is likely to be popular when underway in good weather.

The result is a yacht that is aimed directly at the target market: buyers who want space, comfort, luxury and all-weather flexibility. Sea Ray is gearing up to build one 540 a week, and judging by the initial response, it may have to increase production to meet the demand.

The cockpit has waist-high coaming pads and a closing door from the transom platform, which is 4 feet wide as standard and 5 feet with the optional platform for carrying a tender or watercraft. The cockpit also has a gas-assisted hatch for engine-room access and sliding (and screened) doors into the salon. To reach the bridge, a molded staircase to starboard has an easy slant to make it safe and secure even when you're carrying a plate of snacks.

Pure luxury

The comfortable salon area blends into the well-equipped galley.

The comfortable salon area blends into the well-equipped galley.

The salon is a haven of cool luxury, with an L-shaped Ultraleather settee to port with a triangular high-low dining/coffee table and a loveseat to starboard. Completing this area is the galley, which is tucked in the forward corner of the salon so the chef doesn't feel left out of the salon conversation.

With decked-out wooden flooring, the galley has all the appliances you'd expect in a weekend getaway vessel: undercounter Sub Zero refrigerator and freezer, three-burner electric cooktop, microwave/convection oven and coffeemaker.

Just forward of the galley and two steps up is the pilothouse area with a wrap-around lounge to starboard and a recessed ceiling treatment with hidden lighting overhead. The skipper gets a Star Wars-like electrically operated six-way helm seat (including lumbar support) amidships behind the adjustable wood sport wheel, and a portside door leads to the side deck.

The wrap-around dash has full engine instrumentation and more than enough blank panels to flush-mount a complete selection of electronics. A crawl space under the dash leads to a spacious area that has full sitting headroom and complete access to the back of the dash as well as the air conditioning for the staterooms below. It could, one wag suggested, be perfect as a cabin for the mother-in-law.

The master stateroom features a queen-size bed and wood cabinetry.

The master stateroom features a queen-size bed and wood cabinetry.

Unbroken from cockpit to windshield, the salon and pilothouse blend into a feeling of light from the surrounding windows and space, since there are none of the usual bulkheads to diminish the space. The television/VCR mounts on a lazy Susan between the galley and the pilothouse lounge, so it can rotate to face guests in either area. While the prototype that I saw had a light maple interior, buyers can also opt for the warmer cherrywood as a no-cost option.

Curving stairs from the pilothouse lead down to a small foyer on the lower deck, with access to the day head, which is shared with the small guest cabin with upper/lower single berths to starboard.

The master suite spans the entire 15-foot-by-6-inch beam of the yacht to take full advantage of the reduced motion amidships. The queen-sized berth is angled to increase the usable floor space, and Sea Ray has created a very clever head arrangement as well. One step above the stateroom and running along the starboard side, the head is divided into two compartments with the shower aft and the enclosed head forward with the sink and vanity between them. When needed, a pair of pocket sliding doors closes the entire area off for use as a dressing room.

Forward, the VIP stateroom is bright and airy, with a raised queen berth, a private head with circular acrylic stall shower and cedar-lined hanging locker. The entire berth hinges upward on gas lifts to reveal a cavernous storage space.

In addition to a stand-up shower, the forward head has private access to the master stateroom.

In addition to a stand-up shower, the forward head has private access to the master stateroom.

The flybridge, which is accessible by the previously mentioned cockpit stairs or via stylish stainless-steel stairs from the pilothouse (through a watertight hatch with four locking dogs), has a standard fiberglass hardtop that can be fitted with a complete enclosure. To complete the effect, Sea Ray offers optional air conditioning/heating to
turn the flybridge into a comfortable all-weather skylounge.

Cooks won't lack for cabinet space in the galley.

Cooks won't lack for cabinet space in the galley.

A double-width helm seat behind a large dash essentially duplicates the lower station, and immediately behind the helm bench is a wet bar complete with cooler, sink and storage. To port is a dinette with twin settees and an aft facing bench seat folds at the touch of an electrical switch into a large sunpad. To provide even more bridge space, a fiberglass cover folds down over the aft stairs.

Built to last

Construction on the 540 is to Sea Ray's usual high standards, with 3/4-inch balsa coring in the topsides down to the waterline, after which the solid fiberglass hull uses vinylester resin for blister protection.

Several systems are of particular note, including the superlative freshwater manifolding that color codes all piping in red or blue (for hot and cold, of course) and eliminates any "tees" in the pipes. Each waterline is separate, making it easy to trace and repair any leaks. Another nice touch is the central drain system for ancillary systems such as air-conditioning, which reduces the number of hull openings.

Standard power is a pair of 660-horesepower Caterpillar 3196TA diesels, which gave us a top speed of just a hair under 31 mph with 15 passengers aboard as well as full loads of fuel and water. A pair of Volvo TAMD 122P EDC diesels of 584 horsepower or Cat 3406TEs (776hp) are optional. The standard Westerbeke 15-kW generator is installed in a sound shield, and one popular item is likely to be the optional bow thruster.

Judging the 540 CMY by the initial reactions from current Sea Ray owners and potential buyers, Sea Ray's foray into the world of motoryachts is likely to be not just a new direction for the company, but a successful one as well.

Boat specifications

Length w/std. platform54'
Length w/opt. platform55'
Dry weight49,000 pounds
Fuel800 gallons
Water200 gallons

For more information

Sea Ray Boats
2600 Sea Ray Blvd.
Knoxville, TN 37914
(865) 522-4181