BOAT REVIEW Sargo 31 Explorer

May 2024 Launch Reviews
Words by Sarah Ell. Photography & video by Roger Mills.
Build Quality
MODEL Sargo 31 Explorer
DESIGNER Sargo Boats
BUILDER Sargo Baots
LOA 9.96M
ENGINE 1 x Volvo Penta D5 400hp with sterndrive
Maximum Speed 40 knots
Cruise Speed 25-30 knots
  • Immacuate build quality
  • Excellent utilisation of space
  • Fast and comfortable in all weathers
  • Surprisingly generous accommodation with good facilities for overnight stays and longer

The word ‘shipshape’ literally means clean and neat, with everything in its place, trim and tidy. It’s also the perfect word to describe the Sargo 31 Explorer, a Finnish-designed and built compact cruiser which combines Scandi style and clever storage solutions with practicality and seaworthiness, all in a smart little package.

The Sargo 31 Explorer has a distinctive look that is unlike other powerboats its size, with a trawler-style cabin with reverse-sheer windscreen, a moderate beam with walkaround decks. This makes the interior accommodation snug for a boat of its size, but its innovative planning, including a ‘hidden’ cabin beneath the saloon, mean it has a distinctly Tardis-like feel.


Back in January Boating profiled the 31s big sister, the Sargo 36 Explorer, and this smaller boat shares many of the same features, in a more compact package. Sargo is a family-owned boatbuilding business with a history stretching back more than 50 years, producing a range of well-built, tough yet stylish launches which are designed to allow comfortable boating in all seasons – which for the Finns means breaking ice cruising down frozen canals as well as long summer evenings sitting in the cockpit.

The Sargo 31’s exterior looks like it means business – in a cool way. Practically, a thick rubber rubbing strip runs around the boarding platform and forward along the lower topsides, and right around the boat at coaming level, to prevent bumps and scratches. The stainless work on this Explorer model is finished in matt black and the hull and cabin-top roof edging is navy, providing a smart and eye-catching contrast to the white cabin and decks. The topsides are high but not excessively so, and the whole package gives off the air of a designer workboat on holiday.
Access from the dock is onto a very large boarding platform, protected by a black stainless rail, and with a large hatch in the centre through which to check on the sternleg. There’s also a very tidy rack in which to store the branded fenders.

A gated walkthrough leads to the sunny cockpit. True to its Nordic design roots, this area features several clever design tricks to maximise the space: the cockpit tabletop is stored on the underside of the lid of the large engine-access hatch (basically the whole floor of the cockpit), and the legs under one of the cockpit seats. Screw it all together and it’s ready to go. There’s plenty of storage under the timber-topped seats, including a chiller.
From the cockpit, which like the boarding platform is finished in a tough yet good-looking pale-grey non-skid, it’s an easy walk around either side up to the bow, where there’s plenty of room to hang out, and to operate the anchor, which is set off-centre to allow for a walk-through in the very bow – designed for stepping straight off using a ladder when the boat is moored bow-on close to shore in a deep fiord or against a rocky Nordic island.

The cabin can be accessed either from the cockpit, or through sliding doors on either side of the cabin, which can be secured part-open using a simple but effective notched timber latch. There’s a door to starboard right by the helm and one opposite, in front of the large, elevated ‘passenger seat’ which can either face forward, or the back can be flipped to create a u-shaped seating area around the table. The galley is ranged to starboard, the three-burner gas hob and twin sinks tucked away when not in use under an attractive timber countertop. This is lined stainless steel to create a practical splashback when the benchtop is lifted up.
The whole saloon is very light and bright, thanks to glazing all around and three skylight panels in the roof and, when the weather permits, a huge sunroof which slides back to let the sunshine in even when it’s windy. The finish is immaculate, with grey macrosuede upholstery, a suitable nautical sisal-style carpet and warm walnutty wood accents throughout making it cosy but also sophisticated. (The Webasto diesel heater will make short work of keeping the space warm in winter weather, too.)

The boat comes with everything you could want to get out on the water, including cutlery, crockery and branded glassware, all of it stored away in nifty drawers and cupboards in the cabinetry.
The helmstation has a comfortable, armchair-style seat and a timber footrest, and the steering wheel position can adjusted for maximum comfort. There are two large nav screens right in front of the wheel, and instruments on a heads-up display on the bulkhead above the windscreen. The push-start and throttle controls for the D6 400hp Volvo are at hand to starboard, and the bow thruster and auto trim-tab controls right by the wheel to port. The wheel itself is worthy of mention, with its swooshy, brushed stainless finish, leather cover and handy knob for more precise steering and rapid cornering without having to drive hand-over-hand.

A panel in the dashboard lifts up on a strut and a door folds back to reveal the steps down to the bow cabin, and a head and shower compartment to port. There’s plenty of headroom and room to manoeuvre down here, with a stylish curved bulkhead and hatch above to let in light and air, and dinky little hooks that flick out of the bulkhead at the press of a finger to create hanging space.

But where is the second cabin, you might ask? Is this just a boat for two? Well, no – here comes the really clever part. Back up in the saloon, the rear cushion of the settee lifts up and voilà, here are steps down to another cabin with the berth running athwartships under the raised saloon. A decent amount of headroom is provided by the void created by the seating above, and through-hull windows lets in light, creating a super-cool space which the kids might find themselves fighting the adults for ownership of.

So much for style, then: how does this thing go? Very fast, is the short answer to that. If you’ve got somewhere to be, the Volvo D6 will hurtle you there at a top speed of 40 knots. Otherwise, we found around 22 knots to be a comfortable cruising speed, even in a good chop.
On the day of our shoot, persistent autumn southerlies were throwing up a considerable wind-against-tide chop on our way out to Motuihe Island, but the determined little boat took them on with aplomb, with no slamming or banging, and very little spray reaching the windscreen. The ride is also quiet, with the cockpit door closed.

The steering is very light and responsive, and she corners well, feeling very safe and seaworthy while retaining a sense of nimbleness. The Humphree electronic trim tabs seemed to do a better job of adjusting themselves than we could do manually, so we let them do the work to maintain a stable and steady ride. A bow thruster seems a luxury in the boat this size, but we’ll take it; it certainly makes easy work of getting in and out of the marina berth.

The Sargo certainly has a distinctive look, and offers something different to many launches on the market here in New Zealand. Its high quality of finish, thoughtful design features and distinctive style set it apart from many production boats, and while the interior is compact, the designers have certainly made the most of the available space, with neat tricks like the hidden cabin. We might not need the stainless-steel ice-breaker that runs down the stem, but the Sargo certainly has an appeal as an all-weather boat which would get just as much use in the winter months as over the summer – and, let’s be honest, when the summer weather isn’t great either. The Sargo slogan runs ‘rain or shine, it’s just fine’, and we couldn’t agree more.


Elite 15.8m Sport Sedan

The pride and joy of a multi-generational family, Bliss resides on a pier that’s home to a couple of other Elite motor launches – Sandspit Marina is a hot-spot for the Bill Upfold-designed vessels, with several calling this small marina home.


Privacy Preference Center