Sea Ray 290 SundancerBy Jack Hornor
Revised by BoatUS editors in October 2012
The price of used Sea Ray 290s may be 15% or more than other manufacturer's models offering similar size and accommodations but price alone may not be a fair comparison. Most Sea Ray 290 owners are likely to tell you that solid construction, well above average fit and finish and excellent resale value more than justify the added cost.
The first Sea Ray Sundancer 290 model was introduced in 1992. It was completely redesigned in 1994, again in 1998 and, in 2001, after 10 years in production, it remains one of Sea Ray&s most popular models. The redesigns in 1994 and 1998 resulted in considerable changes to both dimensions and arrangements and it would be difficult to consider all models in one review. So, to avoid confusion, I am going to limit my comments to the model which has been in production since 1998.
The Sundancer 290 is what is commonly referred to as a mid-cabin sport cruiser, which describes a general style that is popular among boat buyers due to its sporty look and efficient use of space. The 290's stylish design results from a collaboration of Sea Ray&s impressive research and development team of more than 250 naval architects, engineers, interior designers and technicians.
Since their beginning in 1959, Sea Ray Boats has enjoyed a reputation for high quality construction and the 290 Sundancer is no exception. Hull and deck construction begins with an outer layer of gelcoat that is robotically applied to a precisely controlled thickness. This is followed by alternating layers fiberglass materials of different types and weights depending on the strength requirements. Vinylester resins are used in the outer laminates to help prevent osmotic blistering.
Four strong longitudinal stringers support the hull bottom and end-grain balsa wood is used in highly loaded areas of the hull and deck for strength and stiffness. All bulkheads are bonded to the hull sides and decks where they abut. The deck and hull are joined in a shoebox-fashion with silicone sealant and stainless steel screws every six inches along the joint.
Sea Ray offers a five-year warranty. For some repairs such as osmotic blisters the warranty is prorated over the five years. In the fifth year, Sea Ray would only reimburse 25% of the repair cost, so it pays to make the company aware of any problems early.
On most boats of this size and type it is difficult to reach the foredeck from the cockpit by way of the side decks. The Sundancer 290 is no different and side decks are only seven inches wide. There are handrails on each side of the radar arch and on the side of the windshield but moving from the cockpit to the foredeck requires sure-footedness and shouldn&t be attempted while under way. A safer approach is through the foredeck hatch from the main cabin. There is a self-draining anchor locker at the forepeak for convenient storage of anchor and rode.
The helm is forward to starboard and there is a small lounge seat to port. Behind the helm there is a double seat facing aft and a small wet bar behind the port side lounge. At the transom there is a removable bench seat to starboard and a transom door to port that opens onto an eight-foot-wide, 24& deep swim platform.
The 290 Sundancer comfortably accommodates four adults overnight or six for day cruises. In 1998, the first year of production, two interior arrangements were offered. Plan "A" had an elliptical dinette forward followed by a starboard settee, port galley again followed by a starboard head and mid cabin. Plan "B" was the same arrangement with a double berth replacing the forward dinette.
Beginning with the 1999 model year, only one interior arrangement was offered. The layout features a half oval seating area forward that can be converted to a double berth. This is followed by a small dinette along the port side which will accommodate two adults or four children comfortably but is not large enough for four adults. This dinette also converts to a berth but the berth is only 63 inches long and not large enough for an adult.
Aft of the galley is a head with an integral shower with sump to discharge shower water overboard. Opposite the head is the entrance to the mid-cabin and double berth. The berth is tucked under the cockpit but there is nearly three feet of clearance over the berth to the underside of the cockpit.
At 10,500 lbs. the 290 Sundancer is a heavy boat for her size and performance is a bit on the sluggish side if you are only considering the basic 7.4 Liter, 310 hp, MerCruiser® inboard engine and Bravo Three® outdrive. Cruising speed is about 22 mph and top speed 27 to 30 mph depending on the load. Of the boats recently offered for sale, 85% were powered by twin gasoline engines, 10% were powered by twin diesel engines and a mere 5% were powered by the standard single gasoline engine.
Six additional power options were offered ranging from a single 270 hp diesel to twin 260 hp gasoline engines. All are MerCruiser engines and outdrives. As you would expect with this many power combinations available, the range of performance is considerable. With the twin 240 hp gas engines, a popular choice, the 290 Sundancer cruises at 25 mph at 3,500 rpm and tops out at 43 mph at 4,600 rpm. Trim tabs are standard equipment and make it easy to adjust for crew weight, speed and sea conditions. All twin-engine installations have counter rotating outdrives for more precise maneuvering at slow speed and the 21 degree angle of deadrise seems to be just right for speed performance and a soft ride.
There is no denying the 290 Sundancer is at the upper end of the price range for a production boat of this size but she offers first-rate construction, accommodations and performance, and a reputation for quality and customer satisfaction that keeps Sea Ray owners loyal and resale priced high.
Naval architect Jack Hornor was the principal surveyor and designer for Marine Survey & Design, Co., based in Annapolis, MD. He was on the boards of the American Boat and Yacht Council, the National Association of Marine Surveyors, and the Society of Boat and Yacht Designers. He and his wife sailed their Catalina 42, Legacy, based on Maryland's Eastern Shore.