Princess Yachts is the oldest of Britain’s big three motor boat builders with a history that stretches back 55 years.
To select the 10 most iconic Princess models from its past line-up we turned to a couple of the yard’s longest-serving sales managers. Between them Bill Barrow, international sales manager for Northern Europe, and Adam Essex, general manager for Asia Pacific, have almost 50 years of experience at Princess Yachts.
Being customer-facing means they don’t just know every inch of every boat but also the feedback their owners give them. If anybody has the authority to pick the best of the best, it’s these two. The only rule was not to select any of the current range.
This is where the Princess story started and as such every subsequent model can trace its roots back to this. Founder David King bought in a moulded hull to fit out as a charter boat and launch his new business.
The boat proved so popular with charter guests that he found there was a market for selling them and soon started to build them on demand for private owners.
For its day it was a big boat (Sunseeker and Fairline both started with sub-20-footers) and it helped set the tone for everything that followed.
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The first boat to carry the Princess name (previous ones were sold under the Project or Pilgrim names) and a game-changer for the yard. With a planing hull designed by John Bennet and the option of single or twin petrol or diesel engines it was well suited for both river and sea use.
A long cockpit with a well protected helm and a large airy interior with masses of eye-level windows made it feel far more spacious than rivals of its era. You only have to see how many are still in use today to appreciate the timeless appeal of this model.
The 30DS marked another step change in the development of the brand thanks to the visionary foresight of the then relatively unknown naval architect Bernard Olesinski. His sharp lines and variable vee-hull design not only catapulted the yard to the font of the style queue but saw a similar leap in both performance and seakeeping.
The option of twin Volvo 200hp diesels on slippery new sterndrives gave the DS a top speed of over 30 knots and the rough weather sea-keeping which its predecessors could only dream of. The original Deck Saloon boat was followed by both a flybridge (pictured here) and an open-backed Sports model.
At its launch in 1982 this was said to be the largest production yacht in the UK with an LOA of just over 47ft – how things have changed! For such a big boat it sold in large numbers, clocking up over 400 sales during its nine-year build cycle.
Its unusual reverse-angled transom changed direction at the waterline to create a v-shape that extended its underwater aft section for improved performance and efficiency.
It worked a treat delivering legendary sea-keeping, a long unrefuelled range and effortless all-day cruising at 25 knots. A stylish saloon with the galley on the lower deck, two good cabins and either a lower dinette or a third cabin made it as comfortable to live on as it was to helm, so many ended up being used as floating holiday homes in the Med – a true taste of things to come.
Princess 286 Riviera
The first of Princess’s iconic open sportscruisers and the forerunner of the V-boats. By the standards of the day it was quite a beamy boat with a large cockpit and two decent cabins down below giving it the edge on accommodation and value for money over Sunseeker’s more driver-oriented designs.
Nevertheless, with a pair of 270hp Volvo AQ271s pumping out 270hp per side it had no trouble scooting past 30 knots and could hold its own in a choppy sea. True Princess aficionados still rate the smaller, nimbler 266 Riviera as the better driver’s boat but it was the 286 that clocked up the majority of sales.
This would surely merit a spot on the all-time Top 10 list of sportscruisers of any brand, not just Princesses. As well as being the first true V-boat, the hull survived through countless iterations and stretches (V39, V40, V42) notching up what must be the highest number of sales of any Princess hull ever.
Everything about the V39 hit the mark from its sleek exterior lines to its peerless ergonomics, sociable cockpit and surprisingly voluminous cabins. It also represented exceptional value for money, encouraging owners of smaller mainstream American sportsboats to make the leap up into a ‘proper’ British sportscruiser. Its enduring influence can still be seen in the yard’s current entry-level model, the Princess V40.
Built at a time when seakeeping still held sway over accommodation, the V65 can lay claim to having one of the finest hulls of any Princess ever made. A low centre of gravity combined with a deeper vee than most and a pair of thumping great MAN diesels pumping out up to 1,300hp per side meant it performed every bit as well as its looks suggested.
Speak to any delivery skipper of the era and they all have a story to tell of powering through big seas at 40 knots in one of these. A sleek hard top with an electric sliding sunroof was also ahead of its time as was a twin garage with room for an Avon jet-RIB and one of those newfangled jet-ski things!
Not the first of the Metre-class boats but certainly one of the most memorable, not least because of its spectacular cherry and burr maple interior that was all the rage at the time. A vast full-length flybridge helped secure its status as a quasi-superyacht, although not even the real deal could live with the 23M’s eye-popping performance.
Bill Barrow recalls leaving the Southampton Boat Show in convoy with a host of other smaller sportier craft only to leave them all trailing in its wake as the 23M disappeared over the horizon at an undiminished 38 knots. A large full-beam master suite and the introduction of those iconic vertical portholes sealed its enduring reputation.
Perhaps the most telling indication of this flybridge’s enduring appeal is that early models still sell for much the same as the original owners paid for them 15 years ago. That speaks volumes about the Princess 42’s timeless looks and clever layout but also its value for money when new.
This was the first model to be built on a rolling production line, enabling the factory to pop out one a week and sell over 400 of these iconic family flybridges. With two cabins, two bathrooms and a sunken galley that enabled the chef to feel part of the action, it seemed to distill all of Princess’s flybridge learning into the ideal 42ft package.
Still the biggest boat Princess has ever made and its first full tri-deck model, it helped transform the brand from being a builder of high-quality production boats into a yard with genuine superyacht credentials. The investment in tooling alone topped £1million and necessitated the purchase of the South Yard site just to build it.
The gamble paid off allowing Princess to claim at the time that the 40M’s hull was the largest resin-infused moulding in the world. As a result it boasted exceptional volume for its length and an interior that could have come from a superyacht twice its price, setting the scene for the next stage of Princess’s development.
First published in the October 2020 issue of Motor Boat & Yachting. Don’t agree with our list? Get involved in the conversation by letting us know which models would be in your Top 10 and why. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or comment on the MBY Facebook page.