Nick Burnham picks out four of the best cuddy cabin boats on the market that manage to defy the stereotype by actually looking really cool…
Have you noticed how everyone is driving SUVs and MPVs instead of traditional family saloon or estate cars these days? Ford has stopped making the Mondeo altogether, a fact that would have been unimaginable two decades ago.
We’re seeing a similar shift in the boat world, with the rise of SUV (sport utility vessels) from the likes of Axopar and Saxdor becoming the default choice for family boats, a market segment once dominated by the likes of Fletcher and Bayliner.
But while they are here to stay, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of more traditional concepts like cuddy cabin boats, because they do such a brilliant job of bridging the gap between fun open boats and full-on sportscruisers.
The priority stays on performance, looks and cockpit space, but that cuddy gives you space to stow gear, get changed, shelter from the weather and even overnight if you can go without a few creature comforts. Here are four great options…
4 of the best cuddy cabin boats
Cranchi E26 Classic
A doyen of cuddy cabin designs from way back when, Cranchi has a rich back catalogue of boats, like the 24 Turchese and 28CSL, so if anyone was primed to tap back into the cuddy cabin market, it was this Italian builder.
Launched in 2019, the Cranchi E26 comes in two forms. The Rider is an open-bow outboard engine version to tap into the modern zeitgeist. But the Classic is a proper old-school cuddy cabin inboard engine sportster.
The whole point of cuddy cabin boats is to have a small cabin beneath the foredeck, so it’s simply a fact rather than a criticism that there isn’t much to be found below decks. All you get is a crawl-in space with seating and infills to create a small double berth.
An optional sea toilet looks rather incongruous sat in the middle of the floor rather than hidden beneath a berth, but it’s a useful option, as is the fridge that reduces internal seating slightly. But it’s probably a worthwhile trade off, given that these interiors are rarely used for sleeping in.
The cockpit layout is very traditional. It has twin pedestal helm seats forward and a bench seat aft with an extended chaise longue section. There’s a sunpad above the engine hatch with a lift-out centre section to create a walk-through to the full-width bathing platform.
But it is beautifully executed. Cranchi has imbued it with a retro vibe that really suits the character of the boat. The upholstery is redolent of a 1960s Lamborghini, there’s striped teak on the floor and the single-spoke steering wheel is cool.
Cranchi offered the E26 with a single Volvo Penta D4-270, which produced about 32 knots when we tested it. There was also the option of Volvo Penta petrols – a 280hp V6 or 350hp V8. This boat is fitted with the V6 variant, which should give a similar 32-knot top end. The V8 would lift that to the high 30s.
We found the E26 to be “poised and alert” at speed, with a “tremendous running attitude and masses of grip”.
LOA: 25ft 9in (7.8m)
Beam: 8ft 2in (2.5m)
Draft: 3ft 3in (1.0m)
Displacement: 2.5 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 270 litres
Engine: Volvo Penta V6 280hp petrol engine
Marex 270 Estremo
Norwegian company, Marex, builds some of the most sensible motor cruisers on the ocean, specialising in hard-top wheelhouse cruisers with manual sliding roofs, big windows and easy-to-deploy canopies.
In fact, there’s even a promotional video for the recent Marex 330 Scandinavia that shows the owner putting a fender out! If you can show me just one Sunseeker video where the owner is handling any deck gear, I’d be amazed!
And then one day, someone in the Marex design team (I’m presuming) woke up full of existential crisis, drove to work, pausing only to trade his Volvo estate for a Harley Davidson, penned the Marex 270 Estremo, threw it at the company bosses and ran off with Ingrid from accounts.
Unsure what to do with this strange apparition that looked a bit like a boat but didn’t have a roof, they built it! It’s a rare beast. There’s only one in the UK and we love it!
This is a proper cuddy cabin boat, so below decks there is just a vee-shaped dinette that converts to a double bed. But of course it is a Marex, so the quality of fit-out is first class and there are lots of practical touches such as a separate heads compartment and plenty of storage.
In the cockpit, there’s a similar sense of Lamborghini by Volvo. The floor is low, dropping the centre of gravity and keeping the lines of the craft sleek, but in the forward port corner is a very useful galley, complete with hob, fridge and sink.
The helm has a pair of bucket seats snuggled up against each other and back aft, a long sunpad over the engine compartment has a backrest that slides forward to create a bench seat or aft to maximise lounging space.
The standard engine is a perfectly adequate Volvo Penta D4-260, but if you really want to impress, opt for the D6-370 fitted to this boat. We described the acceleration on test as “outrageous” on its way to a 40+ knot top end!
A very deep vee hull gives great seakeeping, “limpet-like” grip and spectacular high-speed cornering angles.
LOA: 26ft 9in (8.2m)
Beam: 9ft 2in (2.8m)
Draft: 3ft 1in (0.9m)
Displacement: 2.8 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 400 litres
Engine: Volvo Penta D6-370 370hp diesel
Contact: Wessex Marine
Rinker 232 Captiva
Rinker is an American brand that actually dates back to the 1950s, when farmer Lossie L.E Rinker of the Midwest began building fishing boats and then racing boats on the White River.
It was when Rinker’s sons joined the business that Rinkerbuilt was founded in Syracuse, Indiana, becoming one of the first manufacturers to build boats using fibreglass.
More recently, part of the Polaris Group, production halted in 2020 after “considering market dynamics and the continued uncertainty around the sustained impact of the COVID-19 pandemic”. Ironically, the boat market then exploded in popularity shortly afterwards.
It’s a cuddy cabin boat so the usual caveats of limited headroom and facilities apply, but actually this is a pretty nice space. It’s well trimmed with a tiny porthole to each side, as well as an opening hatch in the ceiling. The U-shaped seating area also has a table on a demountable leg and infills to create a double berth.
As ever, the outside is the place to be. This boat has the extended bathing platform, perfect for watersports enthusiasts, and the cockpit extends right to the edges, with an opening windscreen giving easy access onto the foredeck.
There’s a fair bit of seating ahead of the sunpad over the engine space. An L-shaped settee to starboard has a cooler beneath it and there’s a built-in seat to port, as well as twin helm seats that can swivel to join the party.
A colour-coded red camper canopy matches the scarlet topsides and encloses this whole area. Or you can take the sides out and leave the top up as a bimini to provide some shade.
The ubiquitous Mercruiser 350 Magnum V8 petrol engine is de rigueur in an American sportsboat of this size and type. That 350 refers to swept size in cubic inches (it’s 5.7 litres). It actually produces 300hp to give a top speed of about 40 knots.
The whole point of a cuddy cabin boat is its low-slung sporty stance, and the Rinker 232 Captiva takes full advantage of that with fast, confident handling and strong agility through the turns.
LOA: 23ft 6in (7.2m)
Beam: 8ft 3in (2.5m)
Draft: 2ft 9in (0.9m)
Displacement: 2 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 284 litres
Engine: Mercruiser 350 Magnum 300hp petrol engine
Contact: One Marine
Geographically, Finland isn’t actually part of Scandinavia but in boat building terms, boats from Finland fall squarely into the practical, high quality, ultra-capable subset we call Scandinavian boats.
Dating back to 1972, the name Yamarin derives from the fact that its parent company was a Yamaha outboard engine dealer. Rather than having to buy an outboard engine and then find a boat to put it on, it made sense to provide customers with a complete boating package.
And since the boats would all have Yamaha engines, the decision was made to combine Yamaha with Marine, thus creating Yamarin.
There are three model ranges: SC are open boats with a side console, BR are open bow riders and the cuddy cabin boats sail under the DC moniker for Day Cruiser. The number denotes the length, so at 6.8m, this is a 68DC.
That Day Cruiser badge sums up the cuddy cabin boat philosophy rather well. Yes, of course you can sleep on board, but these boats are mostly used for day cruising, with the cabin reserved as a handy place to tuck yourself away or use the facilities.
In this case, when you lift the centre of the forward bed, you will find a plumbed-in sea toilet. That’s a major blessing during the day, but you might not make yourself too popular with whoever you’re sharing the cabin with if you need to use it at night!
In common with most Scandinavian boats, the cockpit is deemed the living space, which is why the compact galley (a fridge and a sink) is up here rather than down below. The double helm is opposite and there’s a swinging backrest allowing this seating area to join the sociable U-shaped settees aft.
The fact that the 68DC is outboard-powered means this area reaches almost all the way to the back of the boat, so a sunpad over the engine space is not required. The canopy stows neatly into the transom area, making it quick and easy to deploy.
Expect Yamaha outboards from 115hp to 250hp. This one has the top-rated 250hp unit for a 40-knot top end.
Back to where we came in, this might not technically be a Scandinavian boat, but it exhibits the superior seakeeping you would expect of a boat from this region.
LOA: 22ft 4in (6.8m)
Beam: 8ft 2in (2.5m)
Draft: 3ft 3in (1m)
Displacement: 1.8 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 190 litres
Engine: Yamaha F250 250hp petrol engine
Contact: One Marine
First published in the December 2023 issue of MBY.