Express Style Boats: A Guide To Fast Cruisers

Express style cruisers, aka “Express Boats”, come in many different shapes and sizes, and some can be specialized enough for specific activities that they may also qualify as saltwater fishing boats, high performance boats, or even as full blown motoryachts. Others may be designed to serve well at various purposes, and it’s not unusual to find an express boat that can be used equally well for multiple activities, like both fishing and overnight cruising. But all express boats do share a few common features.

What is an Express Boat?

While there may not be a “dictionary” definition of an express boat and this descriptive term can cover a lot of varied territory, all express boats have a steering station that’s on a relatively low bridgedeck which is at least partially open, as opposed to having the helm up on a flying bridge. The boat may have an upper station on a tower (which is very common on large express sportfishing boats) but it will be supported by a pipework structure as opposed to being constructed as part of the boat itself, in which case it would usually be called a convertible or a flybridge boat. The bridgedeck may be protected by a hard top, front and side enclosures, and/or clear canvass curtains, but it’s almost always left open or is openable at least at the aft end. Express style boats are generally fast cruising boats between 25-45 feet long with accommodations below including a full head, galley and berth(s).

Another commonality between different expresses is that they tend to have an open aft cockpit. In the case of models designed for fishing this cockpit will usually be left as uncluttered and spacious as possible to maximize deck space. But on expresses intended for luxury cruising the cockpit will often be packed with comfy seating and perks like outdoor grills and refrigerators.

Finally, all expresses also have a cabin belowdecks, forward of and sometimes also beneath the helm-deck. Again, the exact nature of the cabin can vary quite a bit depending on the boat’s intended uses. But as a general rule. expresses are large enough that the cabin will include sleeping quarters, a galley, an enclosed head, and often a saloon or sitting area as well.

What Makes An Express Boat Great

Many pleasure boaters like expresses for their sleek, low-slung looks. But beyond mere eye appeal expresses hold several advantages over other designs. One of the biggest is that the captain gets to be part of the party. On boats with flybridges or enclosed wheelhouses, the captain is often separated from the crew when running the boat or, in the case of fishing boats, when trolling. But on an express he or she is always close to the action and can join in the fun.

The physical nature of expresses also gives them an advantage in weight distribution since there’s no bridge up high, rocking back and forth and raising the boat’s center of gravity. The absence of an elevated bridge is, however, an even bigger deal for people who live in areas with lots of low bridges. In some cases bridges and bridge clearance will restrict just how tall a boat someone can own, and in others, it can mean the difference between cruising under a drawbridge or waiting for an operator to raise it up every time you need to pass through.

Of course, no one boat design is perfect, and there are some downsides to express boats that go hand in hand with their advantages. Most notable is the difference in cabin space, because expresses don’t have the large saloon that’s usually designed in beneath a flying bridge. Expresses that are powered by inboards also tend to be louder at the helm than some other designs because the helm-deck is often located directly above the engineroom and its rumbling diesels. Finally, some expresses suffer from poor visibility, especially when coming onto plane, since the steering station is relatively low and bowrise may obscure a clear view of the horizon. Anglers will also see a downside with expresses that don’t have an elevated steering station on a tower since they don’t get as good a view when looking for working birds, flotsam, and other signs of fish.

3 Examples Of Express Boats

As to whether or not an express boat is the ideal design for you, it all depends on your personal priorities and that’s a call only you can make. If it is, however, one or more of these three favorites may be just the sort of boat you’re looking for.

Beneteau Gran Turismo 45

2022 Beneteau Gran Turismo 45 - Denison Yachting in Fort Lauderdale FL

Above: A 2022 Beneteau Gran Turismo 45 for sale on Boat Trader by Denison Yachting in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Photo via Denison Yachting.

The newest member of Beneteau’s Gran Turismo family, the 45 is also the flagship of their express boat fleet. It’s a sleek, sporty boat that also qualifies as a cruiser and to most boaters, as a motoryacht. While the bridgedeck can be closed off it also opens up in a rather magnificent fashion, with swing-out doors aft, opening side windows, and most impressively a huge electric sunroof that opens up 48 square feet in the hard top. Belowdecks the Gran Turismo 45 has two separate staterooms and two heads, a lower settee, and a galley-down arrangement. If an owner so chooses, the settee area can be enclosed to become a third smaller stateroom.

This express boat enjoys the benefits of Beneteau’s “Air Step” hull design, which ducts air to under the lowest point of the hull. This reduces drag and gives the boat a boost in efficiency and speed; with a pair of Volvo Penta D6 IPS 600 pod drives, Beneteau says the Gran Turismo commonly breaks 30 knots at top-end.

See Beneteau Gran Turismo 45 boats for sale.

Sea Ray 320 Sundancer OB

2022 Sea Ray 320 Sundancer OB - Sun Country Coastal in Newport Beach CA

Above: A 2022 Sea Ray 320 Sundancer OB for sale on Boat Trader by Sun Country Coastal in Newport Beach, CA. Photo via Sun Country Coastal.

The Sea Ray 320 Sundancer OB is a unique boat that fits not only into the express and cruiser categories, but also into the bowrider genre. Rather than full enclosing the bow, Sea Ray designed in a bow cockpit with a triple-wide lounger. While this does cut into cabin space a bit, it also adds a completely new social area to the boat which few expresses can match. Besides, when you walk into the cabin you’ll hardly notice any sacrifice. It’s still quite roomy, with a V-berth/dinette forward, an enclosed stand-up head compartment, and a mid-cabin aft with a pair of berths.

The Sea Ray 320 OB is also unusual for an express boat in that it has outboards at the transom, rather than depending on stern drives, inboards, or pod drives for propulsion. That gives it some sporty performance with the stock power (a pair of Mercury 350-hp Verados), including a cruise around 30 mph and wide-open speeds in the mid-40s. And remember, that’s stock power — the 320 OB is rated to take yet another 350 horses on the transom.

See Sea Ray Sundancer 320 OB boats for sale.

Viking 38 Open Billfish

2022 Viking 38 Open Billfish Express Style Cruiser Sportfishing Yacht - Galati Yacht Sales Anna Maria FL

Above: A 2022 Viking 38 Open Billfish Express Style Cruiser Sportfishing Yacht for sale on Boat Trader by Galati Yacht Sales in Anna Maria, FL. Photo via Galati Yacht Sales.

Viking Yachts builds a wide range of express fishing boats designed purely for offshore angling, and the newest and smallest in the fleet is the 38 Open Billfish. Commonly outfitted with a hard top, tower, and upper controls, the 38 Open Billfish has a wide-open 109-square-foot cockpit aft that’s ideal for fishing. It has a backing plate laminated into the sole for a fighting chair or battle station, a bait freezer, a transom livewell, in-deck insulated fishboxes, fishing rod holders, fresh and raw water washdowns, and integrated tackle stowage.

With a wide 14-foot beam, the 380 Open also has more room in the cabin than one might expect. There’s a forward stateroom which has a double berth plus an upper single berth, an enclosed head, a full galley, and a settee which can convert into another berth. It’s detailed in the fine fashion that earned Viking it’s reputation as a top-end builder, with touches like glossy varnished teak and heavy-duty stainless-steel hardware.

See Viking 38 Open Billfish boats for sale.

Written by: Lenny Rudow

With over two decades of experience in marine journalism, Lenny Rudow has contributed to publications including YachtWorld,, Boating Magazine, Marlin Magazine, Boating World, Saltwater Sportsman, Texas Fish & Game, and many others. Lenny is a graduate of the Westlawn School of Yacht Design, and he has won numerous BWI and OWAA writing awards.


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