BOAT REVIEW Sea Ray Sundancer 265

November 2023 Power Boat Reviews
Words by Norman Holtzhausen. Photography & video by Chris Cameron.
Build Quality
MODEL Sea Ray Sundancer 265
BUILDER Sea Ray Boats
LOA 8.07M
BEAM 2.56M
ENGINE Mercruiser 300hp V8, Bravo 3
  • Clears and canvas add versatility
  • Stylish and extremely well-built with everything finished off to perfection
  • Sporty handling
  • The spacious main cabin is the star of the show
  • Large volume boat, but still trailerable with the right setup

Sea Ray Boats are an iconic American brand, founded in 1959 in Detroit, Michigan. Now owned by the huge Brunswick Corporation, they are part of a group that is the largest pleasure boat manufacturer in the world.

As part of that history, Sea Ray claim to have been the first recreational boat manufacturer to build fibreglass boats, and also one of the first to incorporate automobile-style upholstery into their boats. Sea Ray also emulated the distributor model that made General Motors so successful, and by the 1980s was building 28,000 boats a year.


The advantages gained by this huge production capacity is obvious when you look at the craftsmanship that is visible in every boat. Sea Ray is able to mandate the use of top-quality materials and pay meticulous attention to detail, including testing, safety and final fit and finish. The brand has been ably supported in New Zealand by Sports Marine since 1985, when the company acquired the distribution rights. Sports Marine have grown from humble beginnings and now has branches in Auckland, Christchurch and Sydney.

One of the hallmarks of a successful company is not changing what is not broken, which is why Sea Ray models tend to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. And this is the case with the Sundancer 265, the model that Sport Marine made available for review on a fine spring day in Auckland. After a couple of days of wind and rain that pushed out our initial date, it was a sunny and almost windless day when we headed out from Tamaki Marine Park to have a ‘play’.

The Sundancer 265 could not be mistaken for anything other than a luxury American cruiser. An airy open cabin makes this a perfect sunny-day boat, although clears can be fitted to fully enclose the cabin. The plush seating, beautifully upholstered in fully weatherproof, tan-coloured vinyl offsets the white gelcoat and teak flooring. And this is real teak, not a synthetic look-alike.

A huge teak-covered boarding platform off the stern attests to the Sun Dancer being a water-lover’s type of boat, and a neat inset swim system folds out to provide steps up from the water back into the boat. A couple of steps up to the cockpit through a closable transom door ensures that water does not get any further even when things get rough. The sun lounge has a few tricks of its own. A two-part folding teak table on a stainless pedestal is almost a work of art, and the stern settee hides a large locker area. The back of the settee folds down to become a double sun lounger, ideal for lazy summer days out on the water.

Almost the entire lounge area is a stayed hatch that lifts to reveal the 300hp Mercruiser 6.2-litre petrol engine. Mechanics will love this boat because the engine compartment is huge, with easy access to all the engine’s service points. The usual tanks and pumps are each neatly installed in their own sections on the sides of the engine bay. This boat came with just the basic specs but there are options (and plenty of space) for the new owner to install air conditioning, cabin heating, an air compressor or an inverter.

Moving forward through the lounge area takes you to the helm area where a beautifully upholstered double bench seat continues the luxury theme. There is an impressive array of technology to make the skipper’s job easier. Twin 9-inch Simrad Evo touch-screen displays are fully customisable with the usual chart plotter and fish finder options, but also integrated engine displays thanks to the Mercury Vesselview link system. Steering is power assisted, and a digital throttle and shift requires only minimal effort from the skipper. A Fusion audio system, electronic smart switching (including engine controls), trims tabs and a bow thruster make the Sundancer 265 a breeze to drive.

The entrance to the enclosed cabin in the forward part of the boat is interesting. The sliding door contains a set of very robust moulded steps, which together with a folding section of the windscreen provides access to the front deck area. What was not initially obvious when we got on board is that the interior of the boat occupies the full beam, so there is no space to walk around the outside of the cabin. This clever compromise provides a dry and secure way to get to the forward deck which optional squabs turn into a functional sun lounging area.

With the bulkhead door slid open, a couple of steps lead down into the cabin, and Sea Ray have managed to fit four berths, a galley and a shower/toilet into the space. A double berth is tucked back under the helm position, with limited head height at the foot end but plenty on the port side. Midships, the compact galley sits on the port side, with an oven, cooktop and a round sink with running water.

On the starboard side is the combined shower and toilet unit, with a hand basin. The star of the show, however, is the main cabin area, with a convertible V-berth that also serves as a dinette. The walnut finish of the cabin table (and indeed all the cupboards in the cabin area) is offset by the white upholstery. Large windows and a hatch which acts as a sunroof provide plenty of light. The table lowers down and, with the infills, provides a king-sized bed area luxurious for overnight stays in a secluded bay somewhere.

Enough of the stunning good looks – it was time to see if the performance matched the appearance. We fired up the normally-aspirated 6.2 litre V8, which sounded just like a V8 should – a satisfyingly throaty roar on start-up! Having said that, it was almost silent at idle and thanks to the engine compartment soundproofing, it was not overly obtrusive even at full roar.  We used the bow thruster to effortlessly push us away from the dock and we were soon on our way up the Tamaki River towards open water.

Once we were out of the restricted area of the river, we were able to put the Sundancer through her paces. She accelerates rapidly, thanks to the Bravo 3 stern leg turning that horsepower into plenty of speed. At 4600rpm we were skimming along at over 30 knots, and with the engine red lining at 5400rpm she should easily get to 35 knots. We had four adults on board and about a third of a tank of fuel, so this was by no means a light load. The narrow hull with a very deep 19-degree deadrise cut through wakes and chop with ease.

We had taken down all the clears to enjoy the sunshine and despite the open cabin we remained perfectly sheltered from the wind. That windscreen does a good job of deflecting the slipstream upwards, and we were high enough off the water to ensure that sea spray was a complete non-event. Occupants in the sun lounger out the back similarly remained protected from wind and spray and could just enjoy the ride.


When we stopped the boat to launch the drone for the video the hull proved stable and comfortable at rest. The hull settles down into the water, which contributes to this stability, and the boarding platform remains high enough off the water surface to remain dry. Folding down the swim steps provides easy access to the water for swimmers, and the steps are easy to stow again afterwards.

Once the drone was in the air, we did some rapid runs and high-speed turns. They say that every hull is a compromise, and the Sundancer 265 is no exception. Despite its just over eight metres overall length, the beam is just 2.56 metres. This makes trailering the Sundancer an option, although at around 3.2 tonnes dry weight, it would be a serious towing proposition. However, that relatively narrow hull which gives it such blistering speed comes with some tenderness underway.

This was not evident at rest, where we found she settled nicely. But push the helm over with the throttle wide open and she certainly leans into the turn. This took a bit of getting used to – a bit like driving a sports car compared to a family sedan. Of course, a gentle hand at the helm could mitigate this, but in boy racer mode she can be made to drift from side to side if that is your thing. Trim tabs are an absolute necessity on a boat like this, and judicious use of the fitted hydraulic tabs did a good job of keeping the hull level and straight.

Photography over, we headed back in. At the marina the bow thruster again made it a simple job to squeeze into a tight gap up against the wharf. The boat is wired for shore power and can be fitted with an optional inverter or possibly even a genset.

The Sea Ray Sundancer 265 is an impressive example of all that is good about American production boat building: stylish, extremely well built and everything finished off to perfection. The performance is astonishing. The open cockpit style will not suit everyone, but enclosing the cockpit with Sea Ray’s canvas sides and clears helps it cope with our often-changeable weather.

This is a boat that any owner would be proud of. It is in stock at Sports Marine for immediate delivery. Contact them at or 09-274-9918



Ryck 280

At first glance the boat appears to be a large centre console, although hidden beneath the console and forward area is a sizeable overnight cabin.