The 60-plus-footers with five outboards received a lot of attention at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, but a trend at the other end of the size spectrum didn’t go unnoticed.
Five builders displayed cruisers smaller than 30 feet powered by a single outboard at Bahia Mar Yachting Center. For U.S. builders Regal, Four Winns and Glastron, the 26 XO, Vista 255 OB and GS 259 OB, respectively, are new or recent additions to their model lines. From Europe, the Antares 23 and Jeanneau NC 795 have been around longer but are gaining popularity. (Four Winns, Glastron, Antares and Jeanneau are Groupe Beneteau brands.)
“Everyone sees the trend with outboards,” says Paul Kuck, director of product development and marketing at Regal. “We saw a gap in the marketplace where no one was building these express cruisers with outboard power. We’re maxed out on those units for the coming year.”
Nick Harvey, president of Jeanneau America, says sales of the Jeanneau NC 795 have been doubling each year since it was introduced. “We don’t think we’ll be selling them in the thousands, but definitely several hundred per year,” Harvey says.
Jeanneau identified the niche for outboard-powered weekenders after commissioning a study in 2014 that focused on how boats smaller than 30 feet were being used. The NC 795, which is 24 feet, 4 inches, has been selling well in coastal areas, such as San Diego and southwest Florida. That model and the NC 895 will be built at the Beneteau factory in Cadillac, Mich., where Glastron, Four Winns, Wellcraft and Scarab boats are built.
Beneteau general manager Gianguido Girotti says outboard cruisers have been popular in Europe and are garnering interest in other areas, including Australia and the United States. “It’s really a start for us, a promising one,” he says. “We saw an interest that was bigger than what we anticipated and so will look at more manufacturing in the U.S.”
Christophe Lavigne, president of U.S. brands for Groupe Beneteau, says the Wellcraft Vista 255 OB and Glastron GS 259 OB are the first generation of this niche. He believes there will be two or three generations in the next 10 years. “We were the first to introduce a pocket cruiser a year ago,” he says. “It’s consumer-driven, but it’s also a trend to start,” he says.
Lavigne says many factors have contributed to the emergence of outboard cruisers, including the economic downturn in 2008, stricter emissions rules for sterndrives and customers switching from runabouts to outboard pontoons in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions.
All the manufacturers say outboard boats are becoming more popular because of their versatility. Removing the sterndrive provides designers more flexibility in terms of cockpit layouts and expands the boat’s stowage capacity. Regal includes air conditioning on the 26 XO, and the unit is installed in this aft area. Convertible lounges and tables allow cockpits to be used for everything from stretching out in the sun to al-fresco dining.
There’s also space on the foredeck to hang out. And if the weather takes a turn, the cabins on the American boats provide a place to ride out the rain. The Antares 23 and the Jeanneau NC 795 have enclosed pilothouses. “With the outboard boats, you get a lot of real estate for the size you get,” Girotti says.
The Regal, Four Winns and Glastron boats have cabins with V-berths. The Jeanneau and Prestige models have a V-berth below and lounges in the pilothouses that convert to berths. All of the boats have a private head compartment and small galley.
Spending weekends on the water means swimming, tubing, snorkeling and other activities that require some type of swim platform. The American boats have full platforms with the outboard mounted on the trailing edge. On the European models, the outboard splits the swim platform in two.
The European boats are only outboard-powered, but Regal, Four Winns and Glastron also offer their boats in sterndrive versions. Regal’s Kuck stresses: “We’re not just hanging an Armstrong bracket off the back of a sterndrive.”
The running surface between the two Regals is different to ensure that the single-prop outboard can plane at slow speeds and deliver solid overall performance. Kuck says the outboard boat is a little faster than the sterndrive version, but adds that because of the stowage and other components that take the place of the inboard, the outboard version is not necessarily lighter. Kuck says Regal sells the same number of sterndrive and outboard models in this same size range.
Lavigne says offering different propulsion systems changes the balance of the boat, so Four Winns and Glastron move such items as the generator to counter it. The sterndrive has more mass positioned lower in the boat, and the outboard places the weight farther aft. Another benefit of outboards is easier access for maintenance.
The American boats all have a beam no wider than 8 feet, 6 inches for trailering without special permits. The Beneteau and Jeanneau beams exceed 9 feet and require wide-load permitting.
Suggested retail prices range from $79,500 for the Antares 23 to $116,460 for the Four Winns Vista 255 OB. Regal powers the 26 XO with a 300-hp Yamaha; Glastron and Four Winns offer up to 300 hp from Mercury, Evinrude and Yamaha. Beneteau partnered with Mercury and packages the Antares 23 with the new 200-hp outboard, and Jeanneau bolts a 200-hp Yamaha to the NC 795.
Groupe Beneteau’s U.S. brands are investing 70 percent of their development funds in new outboard models. “We are pushing outboards because it makes sense,” Lavigne says. “I’m telling the people who are resistant, the outboard is coming.”
This article originally appeared in the December 2018 issue.