State-of-the-art boating for a new decade
Technology in the recreational marine industry has been moving forward in fits and starts, via both via trickle down and ground-up innovation. It has touched on many fronts – joystick piloting, digital switching, dynamic positioning and even gyro-stabilization that is now available on center console fishing boats under 30 feet. Not everyone (especially outside of the marine industry) has kept abreast of all these advances so Sea Ray brought them together in one sleek package, which they showcased at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in the form of their SLX-R 400e. The model drew crowds as would-be boaters checked out dozens of state-of-the-art features packed into one sexy mashup of the industry’s latest whizbang details. One boating neophyte was so impressed that he reportedly bought the boat on the spot.
Aesthetics & Ergonomics
Before we dive into the technology, we must give a nod to the styling, ergonomics and general appeal of the SLX 400, the base model which was introduced at the Dusseldorf boat show in Germany in 2018. The boat already sported good looks but it took a bit longer to get the design souped-up to the 400e version that we’ll discuss below.
Boarding the boat is easy via a swim platform that wraps around the triple outboard engines. Ahead of the platform is a large sunbed that also doubles as seating when the backrest is swiveled in various directions so guests can face aft, forward or to the side. Why the side? That comes in handy when the starboard aft quarter of the hull is lowered outward to extend the cockpit when at anchor. Sitting there on the “swim terrace” just above the waterline, this will be the place to put on snorkel gear or just splash your feet in the waves.
Stepping into the main part of the cockpit, you’ll notice an L-shaped settee that wraps around a teak table in the port corner. Additional seating is to starboard and also just ahead with a swiveling double companion seat that can face forward or aft. To starboard is an optional outdoor galley with a drawer refrigerator, sink and even a bottle fridge.
The walkthrough to the open bow is offset to port. If you want to keep a brisk breeze or spray out of the cockpit, you can increase your comfort by closing off the bow with the fold-over windshield and the accompanying gate below. Now, many bow riders offer nice seating forward but the SLX 400 takes it to another level. Here you’ll find room for eight to sit comfortably on seats and extended lounges finished off in an upmarket diamond pattern upholstery with contrasting stitching. A small cocktail table can be added and there are numerous self-draining cupholders and stereo speakers so it’s a tossup whether the party will be in the cockpit or up here.
There is a through-stem anchor system so any mud that comes up with the hook won’t get on deck. In fact, the electric windlass and chain are tucked neatly into a locker that has cupholders integrated into the lid so every inch of deck space is leveraged.
Spacious Interior For Weekend Boat Trips
Although the SLX 400 falls in the day boat category, there’s no reason a couple or a family couldn’t spend a weekend or longer aboard. Interior accommodations include a stand-up cabin with a hi/lo folding table set inside a U-shaped settee. With the table down and a filler cushion added, this area forms one bed with another berth aft below the cockpit. An enclosed wet head (one with a sink, electric toilet, and an integrated shower) is to starboard while an additional refrigerator and a microwave are to port. Most couples could spend a week aboard and away from the dock without a problem and since the boat is rated for a 22-person capacity, they could still have a heck of an afternoon party with their friends.
There are a lot of options you can add to this model and some of them are where the enhanced 400e version got special treatment. The composite hardtop on the deluxe edition was painted Sea Ray’s “shadow metallic grey” as were parts of the hull, the radar array, and the TV antenna. The “stone” colored upholstery has red piping that matches the red indirect accent lighting throughout the boat from top to bottom including below the waterline via underwater lights. Speakers and switches are also backlit to add to the ambience.
The hardtop also comes with an optional integrated sunroof and an electrically actuated extending shade reaches back over the cockpit table for when it’s raining or you just need to hide from the sun. The cockpit was designed without level changes so it’s easy to get around and the optional teak sole is made of real wood. You can even opt for real carbon accent panels at the dash, flatscreen TVs in the cockpit and below, and an electric grill in the summer kitchen. At the helm, a double seat with twin bolsters provides a comfortable spot for the driver and her companion and you can drive sitting down or standing up.
The regular SLX 400 comes standard with twin MerCruiser 380-hp inboard engines. In this configuration, there is a larger swim platform, part of which can be made submersible which will help kids and the family pet scramble aboard after a swim. As mentioned above, you can also choose triple outboards ranging all the way up to Mercury’s new Racing 450-hp power machines, which are featured on the 400e version. With this power package, expect to get speeds of 65 mph. That will get you everywhere in a hurry and with 250 gallons of onboard fuel, you’ll have some range as well.
The 400e Technology Package
Now it’s time to get to why the tricked-out 400e got everyone talking at CES. We’ve already mentioned the propulsion package so we need to add that the 400e brings joystick piloting to your fingertips. This provides easy maneuvering in close quarters and precise docking like a pro even against wind and current. An additional optional feature is Mercury’s Skyhook dynamic positioning capability, which is like a virtual anchor that holds the boat steady in a specific GPS position without the driver’s input. This comes in handy when you’re waiting for a bridge to open or for a spot at the fuel dock to clear.
The helm also features the Dual Digital Dash with two Simrad NSO evo3 16-inch multifunction displays (MFDs). These deliver information via the touchscreen including electronic charting, radar, and the digital switching interface that lets you operate various onboard systems such as the Fusion Apollo RA770 marine audio system, lighting, climate control, pumps and even the Seakeeper gyrostabilizer located below the cockpit sole. For critical systems, there are also manual override switches on the dash below the MFDs.
This base system also integrates the most differentiating feature aboard, the Fathom e-Power system. This is the reason for the “e” in the name and it stands for “electrification”. Due to its myriad electrical features, the boat is fairly power hungry. However, instead of packing on a separate combustion engine generator, Sea Ray opted to add a massive bank of Mastervolt lithium batteries that can keep everything running for up to six hours and that makes for a long (and quiet) day on the water. Without a genset, there’s no vibration and no hum so you can enjoy peace and quiet or focus only on the tunes coming from the DSP-enabled stereo.
The four-pack of marinized batteries (the equivalent of 10 Tesla batteries) is the heart of the system that lives below the cockpit. If the bank is depleted, it can be recharged via the alternator on the engines or in 5-6 hours to full capacity via shore power at the dock. Development of the smart boat system with its power management and intuitive interface on the Simrad displays was cooperation between Sea Ray, Mastervolt, Naviop and Navico so you can interact with the technology framework seamlessly and control key functions easily.
The boat also comes standard with Sea Ray Connect, a remote monitoring system powered by NAUTIC-ON. You can check on your boat’s location and vital systems via a smartphone app. You can receive alerts or share diagnostics with service providers without needing to be on the boat.
The SLX Series
Sea Ray has six lengths in its SLX series starting with a 23-footer and continuing on up to the 40-foot flagship. Advanced construction techniques on these models are also noteworthy. A few years ago, Sea Ray developed their “Quiet Ride” that reduces noise and vibration to enhance the boater experience and minimize sound-generated fatigue. Some aspects of this are positive-locking hatches and routed-in gaskets so there’s no rattle from the cabinetry. Generous use of acoustic insulation like foam sprayed into voids also helps as do sound-dampening additives to the fiberglass layup, full-beam bulkheads, and sealed engine compartments. Another innovation from the Tennessee company is their Dynamic Running Surface that optimizes the ride for the best running angle, acceleration, reduced bow rise and even wake shape.
Sea Ray has been building sport boats and yachts for six decades so it’s no wonder they’ve dialed in so many comfort, aesthetic and technology features. The company hopes to bring this latest combination of advanced features to all their models in the future as well as to continue their forays into electrification and more efficient boating overall.
With their flagship SLX-R 400e, they’ve tied in their technology with that of their numerous partners and the result is a head-turning boat that for some, may seem like a bit of black magic. It’s no magic however, it’s just hi-tech solutions that are introducing boating to a new segment of the population and for that, we can all rejoice.