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Sea Ray Sundancer 290 Update

Sea Ray Sundancer 290

Its not often that we get the chance to see two of the same model boat nearly back-to-back, but in this case we did. We last did a 1993 290 Sundancer last month, one that showed up quite a few problems. This latest is a 1996 model, which has some improvements, so its only fair to SeaRay that we update our last review.

Once again we have good news and bad news, but we'll go to the good stuff first. With the 1993 model we complained about all the rotting upholstery in the cockpit. Well, there have been some changes, like most of the upholstered side panels have been eliminated, replaced with a 'glass liner. In addition, the fixed rear seat cushion is now removable so you can stow it inside. Even so, that silly, nearly useless fold out rear seat remains, but at least the cheap plastic hardware is now replaced with metal parts.

The shallow gutter around the engine hatch has been made deeper, thus eliminating most of the potential for stuff in the engine room getting wet. And then they moved most of the electrical stuff AWAY from the edge of the hatch, so it won't get damaged even it does leak. Why didn't they do this from day one? Why correct these problems for a boat that has been discontinued? Better late than never?

You may recall that the radar arch was bolted onto the side of the cockpit coaming where the bolts would go loose and channel water leaks into the aft cabin. This, too, has been corrected: the arch is now bolted onto a horizontal surface with plenty of caulking beneath. You might also notice that there are no longer those 8 foot long windows in the sides of the deck either. We tested this one with a water hose and didn't find any leaks.

The weak foredeck? We can't see what they've done to strengthen it, but the deck is notably less weak than on the '93 model. And the weak swim platform is also more solid.   Plus the plastic inspection port in the foredeck has been replaced with a triangular hatch so that you can stow the anchor in the rope locker. Once again, there are no gutters on the hatch and the water runs into the locker with small holes in the bow to let water drain out. At least the deck core is not exposed, but there will be terrible mold and mildew problems with this arrangement. The anchor and rope remain permanently sopping wet. And one can only hope that water doesn't get into the plywood bulkhead which is only partly glassed at the bottom and  heavily gel coated all over. We've seen lots of boats like this were the bulkhead rots, causing water to leak through it, onto the forward berth platform and causing even more damage there.

The weak swim platform deck has been strengthened, and they've added a much needed hand railing back there. Plus the transom door has been improved and works better. But the positioning of the stern cleats on the side of the hull (deck, actually) over a foot forward of the transom means that you can't cross your moorling lines without the lines sawing against the deck and causing abrasions in the gel coat. This is yet another example of how trendy styling foils sensible design.

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This is a fiberglass alley counter module, which is  held in place at on end with just one screw, has  dropped down, leaving this large gap. Water splashed onto the counter is damaging the plywood paneling.

The interior layout has been reversed, with the head and galley now to port, although we don't see any real improvement by this change. But the fiberglass galley unit was pulling away from the bulkhead and there was a 1/4" gap, as shown above. When we looked under it to see what the problem was, we found that there was no ledger board, and one end of it was being held up with just ONE SCREW on the very edge of the fiberglass. The screw had pulled loose and now the counter top was dropping down.  What kind of design is this?

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The hull stringer under the port side berth. Here the staple heads can clearly be seen. Red arrow shows level to which the stringer is glassed with mat. Blue arrow shows once again that water is getting to the plywood; the brown spot is fungus.

There is, however, more access to the interior hull where we can see that the finish work, at least in the exposed areas is much better. They have used a LOT of gelcoat on the inner hull, and the surfaces are quite smooth and look well-finished. We still found the stapled plywood stringers which are not fully 'glassed, even down low, and that stringer that is cut 75% through back in the aft cabin is still there, repleat with the likelihood that water will get into the stringers and cause rot. But they did change the fresh water pump mounting from the bottom of the hull where it gets wet, up to the side of the stringer. Hey, some real great thinking here! Wow, whoda ever thunk it that you shouldn't install electric motors in the bilge. Gee. Might as well clean your computer with a hose.

The systems installation in the engine compartment has been cleaned up quite a bit. We didn't have to stand on hoses and electrical apparatus when we did a compression test on the engines. They proved the validity of our comments that there were better places to mount things like battery chargers and pumps so that they won't get damaged. Plus, they somehow managed to get an Onan generator in there to boot!

The real buggaboo with this boat are the Mercruiser engines.  This is the third set of 4.3 LX engines in little over a month on which we found the exhaust riser gaskets leaking torrents of water when the engines were running. We did a compression test which turned up readings as low as 118 psi on an engine where the compression should be 180 psi. You can figure the rest of the story yourself, and why we are not big fans of Mercruiser products. Mercruiser has been in business a long time and there is no excuse for this kind of amateur design error. Two years old and these engines need a rebuild. And, of course, the warranty has run out. Not a happy camper, this owner. And this boat has been dry stored under cover all of its young two-year life.

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All four risers were pouring out a steady stream of water when engines were running, as this photo cleanly shows by the rusty water trails.

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This is the culprit for why the risers leak so badly. With gasket webs this thin, they can't possibly seal for long. The width of that web is not even 1/8"!!!

Most of the other criticisms we had of the 1993 model remain in this one, in addition to which we'll add one more.  When we returned to the dock, the boat lightly bumped up against a piling. I was standing right there when it happened and I was appalled to see the gunwale (rubrail) bend inward by as much as one inch! And this was a light bump. How's that for strength. If you ever wondered why the rub rails and toe rails on SeaRay boats are almost always busted up, now you know why. Take a look at the top photo. See the rub rail? Well, there's virtually no strength members behind it whatever! When it hits against the dock, the whole side caves in, a design fault that is prevalent in tens, if not hundreds of thousands of small boats.

Even so, its nice to see that Sea Ray is at least paying some attention to their problems and making corrections.  However, being one of the most widely sold boats in the U.S., we get a lot of e-mail asking, "Why do you pick on SeaRay?" This is typical of the sort of "shoot the messenger" syndrome that surveyors know all too well.  As if we're at fault for pointing the nature of the product.

When it comes to a rating, maybe we should let you decide. Is this what you'd expect for a 29'  boat that carries a list price of $125,000?  Things put together with staples? Galley held up with one screw? Engines good for 2 years? How would you feel about buying a new Lexus, which costs less than half the price, with defects like this? As we've said before, we don't offer this criticism to assuage our own egos; we know that boat building is a tough business, and that its hard to survive from recession to recession. But SeaRay happens to be the largest boat builder in the world, so a lack of resources and engineering can't be an excuse. We've seen their facilities and its a big time, big money operation. So why not do it right?

Note: prior to posting this, the owner filed a complaint with SeaRay who offered to repair the engine problems under warranty.

Related Article: Sundancer 290

Rating:  You Decide.
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