Mainship 400 Trawler Review

New Generation Of Mainship Begins With The 400

WHEN I GO TO A BOAT SHOW THESE DAYS THE ASSORTMENT OF CRUISING BOAT choices is staggering. From heavy displacement battlewagons to speedy custom cruisers, the options are endless. Most of the offerings come from smaller yards that produce a couple of yachts a year. Even the revered names in the business create boats one at a time, with annual production numbers that often seriously lag behind customer demand. For the majority of people interested in cruising motorboats, the cost of entry into the trawler lifestyle represents a significant financial investment, and one that requires planning and managed priorities. Despite the gleaming brightwork on custom and high-end yachts that draw crowds and bring smiles, having the boat of one’s dreams is ultimately less important than simply having a good boat. It is foolish pleasure indeed to hold off boating enjoyment because one hasn’t quite got the budget for the ultimate.

Just how much boat does one really need to go cruising? We often talk about custom boat building, and its joys and satisfaction. However, and thankfully so, it is not the only option out there. For a huge portion of the trawler community, production builders satisfy our needs by manufacturing boats in quantities that offer good value. Boats that do everything we need them to do.

As we pass the milestone of seven years, I thought it appropriate to give you an update on the company that builds more boats in our niche than any other. And now with their newest trawler, the Mainship 400, they raise the bar on their next generation of cruising powerboats.

Mainship, the trawler-building company of employee-owned Luhrs Marine Group, has supplied some 3,000 cruising powerboats to the North American market since 1978. The boats are everywhere, and even older boats remain popular for owners who take this lifestyle seriously. With four active owners groups in the U.S., Mainship is justly proud of its reputation for value and owner satisfaction—major reasons for continued success.

Luhrs Lesson 101

A brief history puts it in perspective. The most popular model in Mainship history was the Mainship 34, often referred to as the Nantucket. (The Nantucket was actually only the doublecabin model, but the romantic-sounding name has become synonymous with all of the 34-foot Mainships.) Over 900 boats were built on the 34 hull during 1978–1988, with a total of 1,400 boats in 30-, 34-, 36- and 40-foot models.

In 1988, the company branched out with a European-looking boat line called the Mediterranean. It was a huge departure from more classic lines, but fast motoryachts were the name of the game in 1988. Unfortunately, things soon fell apart, with concurrent luxury tax, rising fuel prices and a generally sluggish economy.

Luhrs Marine Group closed the Marlboro, New Jersey, facility where the gas-guzzling Mediterraneans were built in May 1991, and later reopened the Mainship name and company at the same St. Augustine yard that builds the Luhrs sportfishing boats. Initially, the Florida facility created just three production boats (36 Express, 39 Express, 35 Sedan). In 1993, the company added the Mainship 47 motoryacht to its lineup, although in many ways the Mainship line was competing with its sister company, Silverton, with similar designs and pricing. Seems the folks at Luhrs Marine Group weren’t entirely sure what direction to go with the Mainship line.

Back On Track

Lucky for us, Luhrs Mainship decided it was time to get back into the trawler business about the same time PMM was launched in 1996. With the graying of America, and a huge sailboat business that included older couples turning to the growing popularity of trawlering, it was time. Given its previous great success in producing cruising boats at good price and value, Luhrs management saw a clear course to follow.

The first trawler-style boat of the new era was the 35-foot Mainship 350 Trawler. It stayed in production for two years (launched at the rate of one per week), before it was upgraded into the Mainship 390, with some interior and hardware changes resulting from owner feedback and production improvements.

Buyers of these boats still mostly come out of other powerboat lines, but include a fair number of sailors from the large production sailboat manufacturers, one of which is Luhrs’ own Hunter sailboats. A strategic move of enormous proportions, Luhrs Mainship chose to stand by as high-end Hinckley, Alden and other premiersailboat owners moved into Grand Banks or Eastbays, while it willingly ushered the larger universe of production boat-oriented owners into Mainship territory. It is manufacturing brilliance if one’s interest is in bottom-line opportunity instead of yacht-club sizzle.

“I want pizza shop owners and gas station owners,” Chip Shea, marketing director for Luhrs Marine Group, told me, “normal guys who just want to go for a boat ride and go off cruising.

“Most of our owners are unpretentious,” he explained, “guys who own a business. They are fairly astute on how they spend their money and understand value. We find they run the daylights out of their boats, really cruise them, and don’t need all the fancy stuff. That’s who we’re building these boats for.”

The profile of the segment coming from sail also is remarkably consistent. Approaching the age of 60 or so, most couples don’t want to get out of boating, but no longer want the maintenance or work of sailing. The Mainship dealer network is there to help in the transition. “Whether it is the wife pressuring the husband for more comfort,” Chip continued, “or the man becoming concerned about his capabilities, that’s when they roll over and get a trawler.

“They quickly find out it’s so easy and economical— they’re not spending a fortune on fuel—and they can still gunkhole and drop the hook. They get a propane stove and dual-voltage refrigerator with an inverter. And when they go to sleep at night, it’s just like their sailboat except now they are on this big double berth with an inner spring mattress. They have a real shower and a hot-water heater that works, and TV and stereo.

“Life is great. And it didn’t cost them a whole bunch of money.”

What Do You Think?

Mainship currently follows two parallel paths in their boat lines: the downeast express cruiser (the Pilot series) and the trawler line. Eventually both lines will cover the middle range of motorboats from 30 to 50 feet.

The Mainship 350/390 is the most customer-involved boat to come out of the company. Producing hundreds of the model is an opportunity to get a wealth of customer feedback if a builder is listening. And Mainship listens intently.

Luhrs Marine Group is big on rendezvous events, where it regularly conducts focus groups and company managers walk the docks and go aboard owners’ boats. There is no better way to obtain detailed opinions and experience from its customers. “Owners are not shy,” Chip Shea explained. “They’ll tell you they love this, they hate that, and we can start building a consensus about what the next boat has to be to make the satisfaction levels of these consumers go up.”

It is precisely this information that led to the development of the new Mainship 400. The Mainship 350/390 had gone as far as it could go without major retooling, so it made sense to get things sorted out before making drastic changes.

While the new boat is a stand-alone model, it can be argued that it is so different, yet so similar that it is both a replacement and sistership to the current generation Mainship 390.

“The things that really work well on the older design are still there,” Chip told me as we walked around the new 400. “Things that make this boat safer, easier to handle and more comfortable, are the things you can see and can wrap your arms around. The construction is still the same, the hull is basically the same, although longer.”

According to Mainship, the new boat is actually easier to build. And it was designed from the outset to be easier to maintain, with changes in items such as polished aluminum windows instead of powder-coated window frames.

The Issues Of Quality And Value

Single-engine boats represent over 70 percent of Mainship 390 production, so it’s likely to be the same with the new 400. With a base price of about $275,000 with a single Yanmar 370hp diesel, the new Mainship 400 is a lot of boat for the money. And this is precisely the key to understanding this boat—and this company.

Many people directly equate the level of quality to how much something costs. A simple perception, but one that’s not always true…or at least it isn’t true in this case.

Compared to a custom one-off boat, the Mainship 400 is a steal. But let’s look closer. A custom builder creates his own flooring, and crafts each cabin sole one piece at a time. The craftsman shaves a little here, a little there, tries it for size, then shaves some more. You know the routine: measure twice, cut once.

At Mainship, and any volume builder for that matter, a CNC router cuts flooring (pieces or entire sections) accurately and in quantity, over and over, controlled by a computer. It takes a fraction of the time that craftsman needs to complete the same task. Which is “better”?

Chip Shea says the Mainship formula is entirely about process. “The whole key is the process and it’s driven by volume. If you can’t get the volume, you can’t do the process.”

“Take stringers for example. When a custom builder puts in stringers, he has to go in and put the stringers in the boat and then he’ll cut and shave and make sure they sit flush and everything’s perfect before he’ll start glassing them in.

“Our stringers are already pre-glassed before they see the boat. They are done in another building on a computer-controlled cutter. They are put in a jig and entirely pre-glassed before they get bonded into the boat. The time it takes to assemble the full stringer system in a boat is probably one-eighth the time a custom builder takes to do the same thing. The end result is the same, although I would contend the CAD system and CNC machine might produce a better part, certainly more consistently, than any craftsman.”

Instead of men wiring one boat at a time, Mainship uses wiring harnesses that are made out of the boat and fully labeled. It is much more efficient.

There are endless examples of such comparisons to the custom boatbuilding process. Visualize the construction of bow rails. Most yards build one boat at a time, so at the appropriate time, workers fit rails and do spot welds right on the boat. Mainship uses CAD systemcreated jigs to allow all bow rails and handrails to be done in a weld shop under ideal conditions rather than workers fitting pieces while hanging off ladders. Such stainless steel work provides a consistency that is simply not possible in the custom process. Custom construction is certainly more expensive, but it is another example where it isn’t necessarily better.

Discounts Speak Volumes

Another issue is sheer volume. Combined, the Luhrs Marine Group (Hunter sailboats, Mainship, Silverton and Luhrs sportfishing boats) operates six manufacturing facilities with over a million square feet of real estate. Collectively, these facilities produce several thousand boats a year.

So when it buys hatches, for instance, it chooses units that will fit several boats, and purchases a thousand of them per year. That’s real buying power, especially when compared to a builder who buys one or two hatches at a time. There is no right or wrong in this, but it does explain some of the value associated with Mainship’s products.

Luhrs also is the largest Yanmar engine user in the country, so one can imagine the customer service and engineering support that comes with such clout. The same is true for fuel tanks and resin. Discounting just 3 cents a pound in resin can save a million dollars over the course of a year.

“Compare that to a builder who buys resin one drum at a time,” Shea laughed. “We get it in tank loads every three days.

Stay Within Reach

Efficiency in manufacturing: it’s the way to succeed. Most boatbuilding involves one boat, painstakingly constructed over many months. Such passion and art is a cornerstone of the pride of boat ownership. But it’s no secret that the hefty price of such construction puts it beyond the reach of most people.

“Also, and perhaps more importantly,” Shea commented, “one might argue that custom boatbuilding is gross inefficiency when compared to a manufacturer that produces a boat at a rate of one per week, a boat that is perhaps 80 percent as good as the custom yacht, and has the same engine, washer/dryer, fiberglass/resin, toilet and other equipment—all bought at significant volume savings. That is value, especially for those who buy a boat to use, not to show off.”

Mainship products are built to NMMA yacht certification and CE standards. What this means is that all federal requirements and pertinent ABYC standards, particularly those that deal with electrical systems, diesel and fuel systems, ventilation and navigation lighting, are followed. And the Mainship staff includes a resident naval architect and electrical and mechanical engineers to make it all work.

To meet the demands of a growing waterway lifestyle, we absolutely need volume production, and Mainship is the big player in our world. And now that you understand some of the aspects of the manufacturing equation that differ from other builders, you can better understand a production boat like a Mainship when you see it among those custom trawler yachts at shows. You also see a company building the best boat it can in an environment that allows it to manufacture lots of them, efficiently. That is the key to good value.

Go Aboard

The first of the second generation of Mainship trawlers, the Mainship 400 is the flagship of the builder’s manufacturing approach and philosophy. As Jim Krueger, director of sales and marketing at Mainship, walked me through the first boat, he spoke of this new example of experienced evolution.

“We’ve come a long way from a company that just made a powerboat that goes slow.”

Among other significant changes, the new boat takes full advantage of the latest resin infusion technology, and is stronger, lighter and cheaper to produce than all previous boats. What worked stayed, what did not was changed.

The standard model is a two-stateroom affair, with inside helm station, flybridge, wide side decks and covered aft cockpit. Several engine options exist, from the single Caterpillar 385hp diesel in the prototype to single or twin Yanmars. Top speed of the prototype is 14 knots.

The first Mainship 400 was done with a flagblue hull and antique white topsides. It looks like other Mainship trawlers, except when one really looks at its many refinements. It is a very different boat and demands close inspection. I found it quite helpful to step aboard this new boat directly after being aboard a 350/390 trawler—the changes are more obvious, the improvements noteworthy.

Because of this evolution, I have an interesting idea to better help you appreciate this boat. Rather than simply touring the new vessel, it’s perhaps more useful to explain it in terms of the differences from the latest Mainship 390. The details of this comparison make for an interesting walk-through, especially if one can get aboard a new boat with list in hand.

So, in a departure from previous boat tours, we’ve designed a special insert as a handy aid to assist you when you go to the next boat show. Bring this aid along when you step aboard the 400 and see this boat from the perspective of what is new and why.

A Sure Path

The new Mainship 400 is a nice boat that will make a lot of people happy. Its many features highlight comfort and livability, and the overall package is priced right. My complaints are hard to dwell on, as the first boat is a prototype built solely to explore the design.

For doing the Great Circle around the East Coast, exploring the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, or wintering in the Caribbean or Mexico, this boat will do the job admirably. The fact that it carries on a tradition of manufacturing efficiency brings it within range of many more people, and that is a very good thing. For a couple interested in trawlering, it may be all the boat they need.

If you’re in the market for a cruising boat, I suggest you check out the newest Mainship. The money you save could go a long way in paradise. It’s all about value…and priorities.

Unless, of course, you’d rather stay at home, dreaming of a magic carpet ride that is forever beyond your reach. Your choice.