Sea Ray is going surfing with its new SLX-W 230.
Anyone who’s been to a lake in the last five years knows wakesurfing is the current king of the hill, and it seems like every boat manufacturer wants in on the action. Many companies that have traditionally built sterndrive-powered boats found a soluton in Volvo Penta’s Forward Drive system, which turns the twin-propped outdrive 180-degrees and safely tucks it beneath the hull. Sea Ray wanted to join the surfing party, but it’s part of the Brunswick family, which owns MerCruiser, so going Scandinavian wasn’t an option.
The elegantly simple solution was a V-drive. Most tournament-style boats, such as MasterCraft and Malibu, have them, and MerCruiser has plenty of experience with them on its 30-something-and-up models and with TowSport Inboard engines it uses on other ski boats, so its designers didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. But rather than be just another one of the old-school inboard gang, Sea Ray developed a new wrinkle that drivers will appreciate: Joystick Piloting for Inboards.
To create waves, Sea Ray employs a system it calls WakeTech, and at the heart of this technology are two surf tabs unlike any I’ve seen. Not only are there two wide plates, but each contains two vertical fins, and they work in concert with Sea Ray’s patented Dynamic Running Surface (DRS) system. Picture two really long, triangular trim tabs (Sea Ray won’t like that characterization) that conform to the shape of the hull and tuck into pockets when they are not deployed. Most tabs are, in effect, appendages attached to the back of the hull, but with DRS the operator can change the shape of the hull itself, allowing him to get the boat on plane quickly with reduced bowrise and to fine-tune the wake, whether in wakeboard or surf mode. DRS also helps the SLX-W 230 stay on plane at a slower speed while giving the driver control of its running attitude, which can be controlled automatically.
A unique component of Sea Ray’s Next Wave system is its Quiet Ride Technology, which is a multipronged attack on noise and vibration. In addition to the usual sound-mitigating tricks such as heavy engine-box insulation and industrial-strength hatch seals to reduce rattling, the boat’s hull laminate includes a paper-like material that converts vibration and noise energy into heat that’s harmlessly absorbed into the water. It works. At wide-open throttle, noise measured just 90 decibels, which is about five fewer than typical V-drive boats.
While this was Sea Ray’s first attempt to build a wakesports boat with a V-drive, MerCruiser already had the drivetrain to power it: the 6.2L ECT TowSport V-8, which produces 370 hp. It features a scroll intake manifold, which improves its performance in the low and mid-range rpm, where wakesports engines spend most of their time. Despite the fact this stout boat weighs 5,525 pounds before adding up to 1,920 pounds of ballast, it got on plane in four seconds. One of the best attributes of the 6.2L TowSport engine is its very linear power curve, which facilitates smooth skier extractions, and it pushed the SLX-W 230 to 25 mph in 7.2 seconds.
The V-drive configuration allowed designers to move the 862-pound 6.2L ECT engine far aft instead of placing it amidships in the “doghouse enclosure” where regular direct-drive inboards are usually placed on slalom boats. While the engine setup is ideal for wakesports, since it keeps the prop tucked under the hull for safety, it’s not particularly efficient. Part of the problem is the drag caused by the running gear under the hull. The other issue is the downward prop shaft angle, which vectors away power, unlike sterndrives and outboards that have their thrust more or less parallel with the hull bottom. And while the surf tabs allow the driver to control the running attitude of the boat, he can’t trim up to reduce wetted surface. The bottom line is that with its top speed of 41 mph, it’s at least 10 mph slower than its sterndrive counterpart that has less horsepower.
Because inboard boats employ a rudder, which depends on water flowing over it to work, they are more difficult to dock than boats with other types of propulsion. Maneuvers such as docking on the port side or backing in a straight line are difficult. The biggest wow factor moment for the SLX-W 230 is the availability of Joystick Piloting for Inboards. It allows the driver to maneuver the boat in any direction — even sideways — by tilting or twisting the fat controller knob that has a lighted ring around it to let one know when it’s in gear. Joystick docking has previously been reserved for twin-engine applications, but this system — also great for maneuvering around downed skiers — employs a bow and stern thruster that are controlled by a computer to do the driver’s bidding. At $10,000 it’s not a cheap option, but for owners who aren’t inboard driving experts, it’s crucial. Given the boat’s starting price of $109,850, JPI adds less than 10 percent to the cost.
Like many other V-drive ski boats, the Sea Ray has a pair of tracking fins that allowed it to carve turns with alacrity and zero sliding during our test. There was a fairly pronounced amount of lean-in during cornering, because of its 21 degrees of deadrise at the stern, but that angle helped it slice through choppy water easily, which came in handy during our sea trial in the open waters of Lake Michigan in the shadows of Chicago’s skyline.
This boat is designed for buyers who want a purpose-built wakesurf/wakeboard machine but who want to stay in the Sea Ray family. Sea Ray could have taken the easy way for ballast and provided abovedecks bags without changing the SLX 230 model much, but that would have raised its center of gravity, made it less seaworthy and eaten up valuable storage space. Instead, it has three ballast tanks capable of holding 1,920 pounds of wave-shaping liquid set within the liner and belowdecks. The result is a chunky wave with lots of push and a nicely symmetrical wakeboard wake.
Most of the boat’s systems and MerCruiser’s SmartTow are controlled via a 12.3-inch diagonal touchscreen Dynamic Display. Not only can the driver control the speed but also the rate of acceleration, which helps deliver the perfect tow. Just set the desired terminal speed and the amount of ramp, then jam the throttle all the way to its stops. Thanks to the responsive surf tabs, experienced surfers can change sides in three seconds.
The stern is perfectly designed for watersports. A locker under the sunpad can accommodate a couple of boards or other gear, and the swim platform is padded with quilted-pattern SeaDek and slopes down like a waterfall at the back, to allow wakeboarders to slide right into the water.
I find it strange that some wakeboard/wakesurf boat builders offer towers as an option, but not Sea Ray. The clamping board racks are a pricey $4,000 option, as are the tower-mounted coffee-can speakers, which cost $1,462 for a pair or $2,538 for quads. The Premium stereo upgrade is a Rockford Fosgate Bluetooth system and subwoofer that costs $2,538 and is well worth it.
The 23-foot, 10-inch SLX-W 230 is rated for 13 people — human ballast to help build the wave. The layout has a cockpit-forward design that creates an incredible amount of seating behind the crew chairs. To port, a doublewide bucket seat has a flip-flop seatback that allows its occupants to go from observers to cruisers in one second. The additional square footage in back limits the bow section space a bit, but a six-footer can still stretch out, and there’s room for at least two people to face aft. For $423, the filler option can turn the bow into a playpen. And for entertaining, two large tables, fore and aft, cost $423 and $538, respectively. For flooring, Infinity woven vinyl is a $692 upgrade.