Grady-White Express 360 Boat Test

This versatile gamefisher from the highly respected US manufacturer Grady-White is a standard-bearer for outboard-powered fishing boats everywhere. As Warren Steptoe describes, with fuel efficiency and high-speed performance blended with comfort and practicality, the Express 360 opens many possibilities for serious offshore fishing or weekends away.

Grady-White Express 360 Boat Test

Boat Test Grady-White Express 360: RAISING THE BENCHMARK
Author and photography: Warren Steptoe

This boat test ran in ISSUE 99 of BlueWater magazine – SEPT-OCT 2013

For the complete feature, including all photos and information captions, you can purchase back-issues here

For so long that few of us give it a thought, the generally accepted view of a bluewater sportfishing boat would be one powered by twin-diesel inboard engines delivering thrust through shaft-mounted propellers. However, for some years now that view has been challenged from two different directions: the advent of pod drives and the fuel efficiency and outright performance of modern outboard motors. These motors are now available with enough power for boats getting on towards 12m long (40ft).

Which of the three options is ‘best’ is one of those tricky questions only answered by individual taste. What’s the best option for one person varies dramatically depending on the differing circumstances they fish – and of course on the pros and cons of inboard engines with shafts and rudders, inboard engines with pods, and outboards mounted on the transom.

Outboard Excellence

This boat, a 36-foot Express from iconic American boat-builder Grady-White, presents a strong case for the outboard-powered option. A beautifully engineered boat with no compromise to absolute-quality throughout (a result that I believe only top-shelf US boat-builders can deliver), it’s fast, very easy to learn to operate, and fuel-efficient enough to give the staunchest advocate of diesel-power pause to reconsider.

It’s also remarkably comfortable, especially so when compared to equivalent 36-footers in terms of its cabin layout and fishing-oriented cockpit. Not to mention especially comfortable at sea, where it was far from outshone during a photo shoot off the Gold Coast by the Cabo 40 HTX.

This is all the more remarkable considering that Cabo 40s are well-known among professional crews as notable sea-boats. And while there’s no way even the best 36-footer is going to match a good 40-footer when conditions aren’t nice, the Grady-White Express 360’s handling offshore left nothing to be desired. Which is due in no small part to a patented hull design that Grady-White call ‘SeaV2’.

The hull bottom is essentially a variable deadrise configuration where the deadrise angle continuously steepens from 20 degrees at the transom to around 30 degrees amidships, and keeps on into a very fine entry point at the bows. Some so-called deep-vee hull designs are scarcely 30 degrees at the stem and are much flatter than the SeaV2 design amidships, so it’s no wonder that this boat noticeably lacks bangs and bumps at speed offshore.

Design Adds Lift

Hydraulic trim tabs are fitted standard, but on the day of the tests they didn’t have to be used. The outboard motors’ power trim was sufficient to adjust the hull’s attitude at different speeds and approach angles towards oncoming swells and a slight surface chop. Our test boat was fitted with one of Yamaha’s excellent twin-binnacle engine controls, which allow the outboard legs to be trimmed simultaneously or separately. There’s also a bow thruster for low-speed manoeuvring.

I expect a beam wind, a bigger swell or a more substantial surface chop would bring the tabs into use to maintain lateral trim, or to adjust the hull’s fore and aft attitude when travelling up or down swell.

Wide chines and full-length strakes along the SeaV2 hull’s bottom add lift at speed and stability at rest, and at lower (trolling) speed, do a good job of deflecting spray. You can gain a sense of how well this hull handles at sea with a close inspection of our photo spread –check how it’s deflecting spray; although, as always, there’s no substitute for a sea trial to get a proper understanding.

One point worth making is that despite the Grady-White Express 360 being no trailerboat, this four-metre beam, nearly nine-ton boat certainly handles like one, in many respects. At any speed it can be tossed around like a boat half its size, but thanks to hydraulic power-steering and those already-mentioned throttle and gear controls, it requires less input at the controls than many trailerboats.

I guess this boat is easy to see as a logical progression for someone well-versed in trailerboat-thinking, while from a traditional ‘gameboat’ perspective it demands a (somewhat confronting) rethink. My point being that there’s no substitute for a sea trial – which seems highly likely to provide plenty of food for thought.

Power Options

As for the aforementioned performance and fuel efficiency of modern outboards, with a pair of Yamaha 350hp V8 outboards on its transom-spinning, factory-fitted 15-inch pitch Yamaha Saltwater Series propellers, Grady-White claim a top speed over 38.5kt at 5900rpm. Respect for its brand-spanking-new motors prevented us from running the test boat wide-open, but the GPS was showing 32.5kt at 4900rpm, so Yamaha’s figures are quite believable.

Meanwhile, engine telemetry showed we were burning 148lt/h. At 4300rpm we were still progressing at 27kt and burning fuel at 112lt/h, close to the factory-supplied optimum cruise at 4400rpm, doing 27.4kt, consuming 136.3lt/h, with a range of 1965 nautical miles (3640km). These figures are substantially better than factory-provided performance and fuel consumption figures, which admittedly were recorded with a laden boat. Somewhere in there is mightily impressive real-life (fishing) fuel-consumption for a 36-foot sportfisher carrying 1400lt of fuel!

What interested me most about the speeds and fuel consumption showing up on the pair of (Furuno) display screens in front of the steering wheel, was that on a good day offshore we could cruise along effortlessly at 25kt-plus while holding a normal conversation in the helm area. Those big Yamahas are unbelievably quiet!

Before moving on from performance and fuel consumption, there are several factory power-options to consider. These include the twin 5.3lt 350hp Yamaha V8s on our test boat, and either triple Yamaha 4.2lt V6 300s or triple V8 350s. Another 350hp? Wow, that’d be fun! Our test boat was pretty quick with twin V8s; the mind boggles at the prospect of three of them.

Trustworthy Buy

Because Grady-White boats are imported into Australia with Yamaha 4-stroke outboards factory-fitted they are covered by Yamaha’s international warranty. BlueWater’s test boat came from the Gold Coast’s bluewater sportfisher emporium Game & Leisure Boats, who as a matter of policy ensure every boat they sell complies with all Australian standards. This is well worth keeping in mind before getting involved with these ‘grey imports’ boats which typically don’t comply and usually come with all manner of hassle to operate legally – and to insure and register!

I understand that Grady-Whites with either V8 or 4.2lt V6 Yamahas can be fitted with Yamaha’s new ‘Helm Master’ electronic controls. Helm Master provides a joystick in addition to a new digital twin-binnacle control. I haven’t tried it myself, but reports from overseas about the tight confine manoeuvring capabilities of Helm Master are eyebrow-raising. They are another potential big-plus in favour of outboard motors on bluewater sportfishers to consider – and possibly another nail in the coffin of traditional stick-and-cable controls, and the berthing skills that went with them.

The enclosed hardtop seen on our test boat is a factory option much appreciated on a Gold Coast winter morning. It really kept some chilly breezes out of the helm area. Outriggers and a set of underwater lights were the only other options fitted, and the rest of the boat’s quite comprehensive inventory were all standard fittings.

One of the very few negative points about the Grady-White Express 360, maybe the only negative point, is that as a fishing boat there’s no avoiding the way those massive 700hp-containing engine cowls separate the cockpit from the water at the stern. Without doubt this is the major sticking point when comparing this boat with inboard alternatives.

Of course, there are ways to work around it, as people accustomed to fishing with outboards (myself included), who habitually play and handle fish from the side of a boat will tell you.

It’s simply not a problem. But there’s no avoiding that if you’re used to backing down on fish, and being separated from the water by only a covering board at the transom, it seems an awfully long reach out over those engine cowls from where your legs come to rest.

For people Who Fish

Apart from this, it’s very, very obvious that the Grady-White Express 360’s cockpit has been designed by people who fish for people who fish. There are two fridge/freezer fish/bait wells: a 275lt unit set into the transom bulkhead (which doesn’t help reaching over the engine cowls); and a 55lt unit portside against the bridge deck, which has an upholstered lid providing a great aft-facing perch to watch the trolling pattern.

Opposite to starboard there’s a 180lt raw water livewell beside a sink – with the lids serving as a rigging station – and a built-in tackle locker underneath that.

An upholstered bolster runs around the entire cockpit periphery, providing good support for your legs while fishing, which isn’t interfered with in any way by a small lounge situated centrally on the transom once the lounge is folded down against the bulkhead.

Secure footing in the (self-bailing) cockpit comes from a moulded, non-slip deck reinforced to mount a fighting chair in its centre. Racks for rods/gaffs/tag poles/boat hook/etc run along each side of the cockpit. Holders for another six rods are mounted on the back of the hardtop for immediate access, while racks above the bunk underneath the bridge-deck stow rods that aren’t needed immediately. A fresh water wash down hose in the cockpit is standard.

Moving up onto the bridge, the deck is considerably lower than a fly bridge, although the helm is well-above deck height. I suspect quite a few of these boats will be fitted with a low tower that, surprisingly, isn’t on the factory options list.

A tower could certainly be retrofitted here in Australia, and if so, Yamaha’s fly-by-wire controls will once again be blessed, because the extra wiring involved in another helm station presents nowhere near the drama involved in dual station set-ups using cable-operated gear and throttle controls.

Captain's Comfort

The helm seat is a work of art in itself. A super-comfortable ‘armchair’ ordinarily, in seconds it converts to a bum-rest ideally situated to brace yourself against when at the wheel. A darn good idea given the over-water speeds the Express 360 hull thrives on.

A comfortable helm is one of those rarely mentioned yet critically important things in any boat, and this one certainly achieves that; with a tilt adjustable steering wheel just in case it doesn’t quite suit. Vision forward from the helm, and for that matter all around the boat, is excellent through big tempered-glass windows in the enclosing hardtop. Each of the windscreen’s three segments has a massive wiper, and the centre one opens to let air through in warm weather.

Each side of the helm there’s passenger seating, the starboard one big enough to call a (small) lounge, complete with a hideaway slide-out table. Space atop the cabin includes a chart locker and a circular skylight for the interior. An instrument panel rises at the touch of a switch to reveal the electronics display.

Pleasant Surprise

One aspect not immediately apparent about the bridge deck is that it’s air-conditioned. An 8kW diesel generator hides away below-decks to run the galley and provide 16,000 British thermal units (BTU) of air-conditioning to both the living area and helm area. Obviously, for this to be effective the aft end of the hardtop behind the helm would have to be enclosed.

Stepping downstairs into the cabin provides yet another pleasant surprise. The cabin is compact, as a 36-footer must be, but is far from cramped. I know of a family who spent a month aboard one of these boats, and that’s surely indicative of just how liveable its cabin space is. It’s marvellous what interior designers can do with the space available when the hull isn’t filled with a pair of whopping great diesel engines, isn’t it!

The galley runs along the portside right beside the cabin door, so heat from cooking has an easy escape route. The benchtop is Corian and there’s a Kenyon twin-ring ceramic cooktop and sinks. A 120lt convection grill/microwave oven sits above a twin-drawer Isotherm fridge/freezer, with the usual Fusion sound system mounted above the oven. What did we do before Fusion sound systems entertained us?

Comfortable Living

In the bows a double-vee-style berth looks big enough for a couple, although it’s an irregular shape. Back beneath the bridge deck, a second double-berth is also surprisingly roomy. Two couples could sleep aboard in comfort with extra bedding available by converting a U-shaped dinette/lounge set to starboard.

Tasteful use of gloss-finished cherry timberwork with teak and holly flooring gives the cabin interior a pleasant ambience. I didn’t think the Express 360’s cabin was gloomy as Express cabins sometimes can be, due, I think, to light coming down through that circular skylight in the cabin top; and a pair of translucent hatches above the forward bunk. Of course, the doorway pours another good helping of light downstairs when open.

In a neat touch, an etched glass panel provides a visual division (if not much of a physical one) between the bow berth and dinette. There are never enough cupboards in any boat, but this one provides quite a few. As you’d perhaps expect from a boat-builder like Grady-White, the wardrobes are cedar-lined and there’s stowage space everywhere there can be –and in quite a few unexpected places as well.

Lastly, the (ventilated) bathroom is once again surprisingly roomy for a boat this size. It includes a separate shower cubicle (with a lovely teak grate to stand on), separated from the (VacuFlush) toilet by a curtain and a sizeable vanity.

At the time of BlueWater’s test of the Grady-White Express 360, a boat with the options fitted to this one would cost around $600,000, sitting at the dock, compliant with Australian electrical standards, etc. Who knows where the Aussie dollar will be compared to the greenback by the time this issue is on the stands, but there would have to be some dramatic changes indeed to place the Grady-White Express 360 anywhere but on the top shelf for consideration among boats in its class.

Highlights

  • Generous amount of cabin space afforded by outboard engines.
  • Superb ride and handling at speed offshore.
  • Top-quality fittings throughout.
  • Designed by people who fish, for people who fish.

Capacities

  • Maximum Rated Power: 1050 hp
  • Fuel: 1400 litres
  • Fresh Water: 205 litres
  • Holding Tank: 68 litres

General

  • Material: GRP laminates Hull
  • Type: variable deadrise mono-hull, express configuration
  • Length: 11.15 metres (11.96 metres LOA)
  • Beam: 4.01 metres
  • Draft: 0.74 metres
  • Deadrise: 20 degrees (at transom)
  • Weight: 6767kg (hull only)

Engines

  • Make/model: 2 x Yamaha F350A
  • Type: 4-stroke outboard motor
  • Rated hp: 350
  • Displacement: 5.33 litres
  • No of Cylinders: 8
  • Weight: 370kg
  • Gearbox ratio: 1.73:1
  • Propeller/s used for test: Yamaha Saltwater Series, 16.25-inch diameter x 15-inch pitch
  • Gen Set: Diesel 8kW, (87 litre fuel capacity)

SPECIFICATIONS: Grady-White Express 360
Options fitted: Enclosed hardtop, outriggers, underwater lights. Inventory is otherwise standard.

Grady-White Express 360 Boat Test

Boat Test Grady-White Express 360: RAISING THE BENCHMARK
Author and photography: Warren Steptoe
Supplied by: Game & Leisure Boats

This boat test ran in ISSUE 99 of BlueWater magazine – SEPT-OCT 2013

For the complete feature, including all photos and information captions, you can purchase back-issues here