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Hatteras 53

Convertible, Motor Yacht & Extended Deckhouse

Without doubt, the 53 Hatteras Motor Yacht is the most successful medium sized motor yacht ever built, with over 600 of them between their various incarnations. The main flavors are the standard motor yacht, cockpit motor yacht, the extended deckhouse (ED) version of the early 1980's, and the 53 Convertible which is the same hull. They were in production from 1971 to 1989, a full nineteen years.

My view of why this yacht was so popular is a combination of excellent quality, good design, and a fair price. It certainly didn't have anything to do with performance because it is a relatively poor performer. Coming in at a whopping 55,000 lbs. in its original version, you need 1600 HP or more to move this yacht at the kind of speeds people like to have today. Instead, you're only going to get 850 from a pair of 8V71's or 924 from the 6V92's found only in the 1983-84 models of the motor yacht. In all the years of its production, the weight never changed much.

Click for full size image.

The hulls and superstructure are built like a tank with the bottoms about an inch thick with balsa cored sides and decks. The coring is rarely a problem unless someone has drilled the decks full of holes and improperly attached equipment. Quite often you'll find that the pedestal seats on the sport fish bridge have let water into the core, and this will be notable from water dripping out of the aft housetop overhand in the outboard corners. Or you'll see green mold, water stains or cracks here. Shown nearby is a photo of one that survived Andrew after taking out a dock and mangling a concrete sea wall with little damage to the boat.

And, of course, you'll probably find the famous Hatteras blisters on the bottom, but with laminates this thick, who really cares? Hatteras probably should have taken out a patent on the blistering process.

Speed wise, you could only describe these boats as just plain doggy, if you're a speed freak. If you want to cruise at 20 knots or better, these boats aren't for you. They're just too heavy to make them go any faster. People have managed to squeeze another two knots out of the 53 convertible by adding 3-4" chine extensions, and a lot of them have them.

All things considered, these are first rate production motor yachts, although you'll find the electrical systems in the North American Rockwell boats from the second half of the 1970's leave a bit to be desired. Other than that, these boats have no major problems. Nor should they after Hatteras had 19 years to work out the bugs. That's the advantage of long-term production.

The primary weak point is the 8V71TI engines which have a poor turbocharger/intercooler system. The two part AirResearch turbos are held together with acorn clamps that frequently crack and leak. And the intercoolers are notorious for getting clogged up with sludge and causing high engine temperatures. Plus the venerable 8V71 was never intended to put out this much power, so its being run on the edge  of her power range. The Allison M20 gearboxes were another weak point. They had trouble with getting adequate lube oil to the upper shaft bearings, which was a design defect. Many of these got a fixit kit installed after the boxes went bang.

Most of these boats through the early 80's had upsweep, water jacketed risers. Which means that if the riser leaks, as it eventually will, the water runs into the engine. Many of these systems were revised, others were not. Best to look for one that has insulated risers.

Leaking windows in these boats were not much of a problem except for the Convertible front windshields, many of which have been removed and filled in. The anodized frames don't last forever and a lot of them will have holes in them which can be repaired in most cases by just welding up the pitted holes. This happens because nobody ever bothers to clean out the salt and debris from  the bottom of the slide tracks.

All models have dual control stations, so you don't have to look around for this feature. Another good point for folks in bad weather climates is that visibility from the lower station is quite good.

With her 15'10" beam this is a big 53 footer and the layout takes maximum advantage of that space. Most people love the galley down layout with the dinette opposite which is great for informal meals.  And the galley is big enough, and well enough equipped with a full sized Moderm Maid range top, oven and dishwasher for the serious chef, while still having adequate counter space as well as plenty of storage space.  The owner's stateroom is adequate but the guest stateroom is cramped and many prefer to use the forward crew or guest stateroom instead, despite the upper and lower berths. Heads and shower size is more than adequate.

Seaworthiness? I hear a lot of captains complaining that this isn't a good sea boat. To which I respond, "compared to what?" A lot of these guys get off multimillion dollar custom yachts and complain how these boats handle. Apples and oranges. These are not designed as passage makers, nor do they have the fuel range. If you want the accommodations that a full bow gives, this is what you get. In my view, it handles okay, and does especially good in a short 3' chop where most folks in this size boat have trouble. The deep entry hull design is one of the reasons she doesn't go so fast. Being built like a tank means that it doesn't bob like a cork. She's a slow roller and she'll throw water like a busted fire hydrant.

The style of the earlier models is definitely pass, so the prices have come way down and a lot of people who can't afford a boat this size have purchased them. That means that they can't afford to maintain them either. Which means that you can find them at very good prices, but the older ones are essentially restoration projects. The ED models are still very popular and command good prices. Also, they changed the hull shape a bit so you'll get a little better speed out the 1980's models. If you want to know the specifics, call Hatteras.

Taken altogether, the popularity of this yacht is well deserved.

53 Convertible was discontinued in 1983 with the introduction of the more efficiently designed hulls of the 52 and 55 Convertibles. You'd think the convertible, being the same hull would weigh less than the motor yacht without a superstructure. But it doesn't; it weighs more at around 61,000 lbs. Part of the additional weight comes from the usual 12V71TI's and Twin Disc or Allision M20 gear boxes. Where the rest of it comes from I haven't the slightest idea.

Hatteras 53 Convertible survived hurricane Andrew with virtually no structural damage.

This is one of the ways we get to find out just how well built a boat really is. In the 160 MPH winds of hurricane Andrew, this 53 Convertible  took out several 12" dock pilings and the bottom battered against the concrete seawall  with virtually no structural damage resulting to the hull. Nor did the windows blow out or suffer from any major leaks.

Shown above is a photo of a late model 53 that survived hurricane Andrew after taking out some 12" pilings and battering the hell out of a concrete seawall without much damaging the boat. When it comes to talking hull strength, I often draw my conclusions on situations like this, not just tapping around a bit with a hammer.

The standard 650 HP engines are just barely adequate for this boat, and generally give good service. But a lot of folks have souped them up, sometimes correctly, often not, so you find engines going "bang" a little more frequently than they should. At least you don't have to tear the boat apart to get at them as there are plenty of hatches above so they can be lifted right up.

Undoubtedly the most popular large sport fish ever built, its still a neat boat in my view. With much of the weight further aft, her performance is quite a bit better than the motor yacht, and I love to watch one these thing plowing through the tide rip heading out Port Everglades with a halo of rainbows glittering in the sun. She does throw a bit of water. On the later models they added propeller pockets which lowered the shaft angle and supposedly gave a little better speed.

For a long time I thought they were terribly squatty until one day I realized that that is partly an illusion presented by the unusually low cockpit, magnified by a very high freeboard forward. My view is that these are all-around neat boats, just that they don't perform by today's standard. The strong suit of the layout is a huge cockpit, salon and bridge, with the forward accommodations being sacrificed for these spaces, as is appropriate for a real sport fisherman. Not quite as macho as a Bertram of the same genre, this is still a muscle boat with interiors that are hardly plush.

The main flavors were galley up and galley down, with more of the former in later years, and more of the later in early years. All had transom doors that never worked so good. Plus the optional tackle centers had too much wood in them. Later models come with a built in bow pulpit, and all have transom doors. Earlier models have a bridge layout that's not nearly as nice as the 1980's models. Nor are they known as leakers, despite the forward windshields which needed infrequent rebedding.  The window frames do support the bridge, and boats that have been abused will often have cracked window glass. Otherwise, its not much of a problem.

Aside from forward windshields, there are few faults to be found with these boats. The age old problem of broken forward cabin soles appears in many, particularly when there is a built in washer/dryer combo up forward, but this is no big deal. A little more serious, and frequently overlooked, is the fact that the engine room vents pull a lot of salt spray in that can really wreck equipment and engines. If you buy one, you need to install filters on the vents.

The hull/deck joint back aft is a bit weak and you'll often find a lot stress cracks in this area. At least it doesn't have those horrible aluminum rub rails like Bertram used. Rather have cracks than that unsightly stuff. Even in the early years the cockpits were full Fiberglas liners, and although the hatches were kind of crummy, at least it isn't wood like a Bertram. The bait wells aren't too swift either, being narrow and deep. With fuel tanks on center line, there isn't much storage under this large deck which is very low to the water, which definitely is nice. Nor does that fact have the tendency to sink these boats.

For some strange reason, Hatteras never did a very good engine room layout in these boats, and this never changed throughout all the years of production. The engine room is big enough, but also feels cramped with accessibility not as good as you'd expect in a boat this size. Perhaps that's why E.R. maintenance in these boats tends to be substandard compared to others. Things are hard to get to, and a bit disorganized to boot. At least the generator isn't under the cockpit deck. Its shoved back against the aft bulkhead where you can only reach one side of it.  And whereas the wiring in the 53 Motor Yacht is nice and neat, for some strange reason in the convertible it is messy.

During the early 1990's quite a few people poured a lot of money into some of these boats. That wasn't a particularly good investment. While a lot of them thought they'd get their money out, they didn't. That means that there were (or are) a lot of good deals to be had on 53's that are all dolled up, including some weird paint jobs like blue or yellow hulls.

If you want a big, serious sport fisherman, but find a new one way out of reach, the 53 Convertible is still worthy of consideration.

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David Pascoe is a second generation marine surveyor in his family who began his surveying career at age 16 as an apprentice in 1965 as the era of wooden boats was drawing to a close.

Certified by the National Association of Marine Surveyors in 1972, he has conducted over 5,000 pre purchase surveys in addition to having conducted hundreds of boating accident investigations, including fires, sinkings, hull failures and machinery failure analysis.

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In 2012, David Pascoe has retired from marine surveying business at age 65.

On November 23rd, 2018, David Pascoe has passed away at age 71.

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