An accommodating layout, sporty performance and efficient propulsion make the Prestige 550S a serious contender for the cruising family.
By Dag Pike.
I am always amazed at what modern powerboat designers can accommodate in a relatively compact hull. French builder Jeanneau has excelled in creating a four-berth layout within its Prestige 550S. She sports a sophisticated design, offering that desired combination of good performance, great styling and innovation. French builders have often been noted for their idiosyncratic approach to boat design — not unlike the French approach to car design — so in the 550S you’ll also find some interesting new features that combine innovation and mainstream design to create a boat with a character all her own.
The Prestige range was developed as a premium line that could remain competitive against those of other major European builders. Jeanneau previously focused on using Volvo Penta’s IPS drives for the Prestige, but for the 550S it switched to the Zeus drive. And as we know, pod drives enable a huge amount of accommodation space in the hull. In fact, more than 75 percent of the 550S’s interior is effectively and efficiently dedicated to comfort.
The full-beam master suite is aft, down its own stairway from the salon. Large hull-side windows enhance the space. On my test boat, an en suite head and walk-in closet extended across the width of the hull forward of the bedroom so the owner would be well insulated from his guests. Next to the portside window, there are seats on each side of a small table that doubles as a vanity unit and makes this suite an oasis of peace and calm.
The forward cabins are also comfortable and cozy. Scissor-style berths in the forepeak VIP can be swung together to make a double berth. Both closets here are deep enough at the top for hangers but taper dramatically at the bottom, so clothes may not hang evenly. The twin-berth guest space abaft and to port of the VIP can have an en suite head, but it requires that the owner give up the master’s walk-in closet.
There is a single-berth cabin against the transom, which is accessed via ladder under the sun-bed cushions. Wide transom windows offer great light in this compact space that is comfortable enough to serve as a crew space or as an isolated guest cabin.
At main-deck level, the salon behind the helm is inviting, with comfortable seats and settees that have a great outside view. A vast retractable sunroof can be opened above the helm, converting the 550S into a virtual open-air cruiser. The windows in this roof gave good natural light even in the gloomy weather of our test day. A TV that hinges up from the dash on the port side replaces the conventional type that rises from behind the settees.
Abaft the lounge is the well-equipped galley, which easily services both the cockpit table and the salon’s portside table. The galley is one step down from the salon deck level, but watch your step because it’s not clearly marked on the dark wood floor. While we are on the subject of security, I would also like to have seen some more handholds to make moving around the boat extra secure when under way.
The Zeus drives, coupled to a pair of 600 hp Cummins diesels, add a whole new dimension to boat control, and Jeanneau has fully exploited their capabilities. You can drive the boat from the throttles and the wheel, and with the press of a button the 550S goes into automatic trim mode. When these automatically adjusting tabs are fully down, you can add another 2 or 3 knots to the top speed. The designers also added a hook into the stern lines of the hull. Instead of a clean run aft along the hull, where the bottom is in a straight line, a hook introduces a slight downturn close to the transom that forces water under the hull to turn downward and generates lift at the stern. Jeanneau claims this setup allows a good combination of both low- and high-speed performance with just minute adjustments in trim angle throughout the speed range. Check her performance numbers — it works.
Press another button to engage the Skyhook (dynamic positioning) feature, and the boat’s drives automatically adjust thrust to maintain a GPS position in open sea. This can be useful if you want to stop in a harbor to put the fenders out, and it could be an alternative to anchoring for lunch, but don’t go swimming with the Skyhook engaged because the propellers will still be turning. Press another button and the autopilot can be set to follow a series of previously set waypoints. There is also a joystick control that combines propeller, steering and bow thruster to give fine maneuvering control for docking or close-quarters steering.
You almost wonder what is left for the helmsman to do once that feature is set up, and my feeling is that this is perhaps a step too far in computer control. I would have preferred a more user-friendly installation of the throttle levers, which get in the way of the joystick/autopilot control mounted just forward of them. I also thought the control buttons were small and hard to see and use. Overall though, I liked the dash, with its twin Raymarine displays on either side of the wheel and the low-key engine instrumentation. The real bonus of this design comes in the brilliant helm visibility: Jeanneau uses narrow metal mullions to support the glass instead of the heavy composite moldings used by other builders, and it makes such a difference with no worries about blind spots.
Outside, the optional teak decking on my test boat added a luxe touch, and the side decks were easy to negotiate. The 550S has the same hull as the 550, which is the flybridge version. On the 550S, there is a sun bed where an upper helm station would be found on the 550.
This yacht’s cockpit is spacious, and the sun bed that sits across the transom has a section that can be raised to form a settee back, handy when dining alfresco. A tender could be stowed on the high-low swim platform, which would make for easy launch and recovery.
The 550S is based on a a proven deep-V hull form, and Jeanneau managed to find a good balance in her sporty style. Inside, the styling is smart and clean, and owner-inspired additions can easily personalize it.
As far as the handling and performance go, her Cummins diesels offer good acceleration while arming the 550S with an admirable top speed of 32.2 knots. The handling is taut and precise and the boat heels reassuringly into turns. We had lively seas up to three feet during my test run off Cannes, France, and the 550S took them well, with little slamming. Her fine entry slices waves, and I found her a satisfying boat to drive.
There is so much that is good about the 550S, from her design and layout to technology and performance, that I feel she represents a significant step forward in power cruiser design. Top-notch style, peppy performance and accommodations that would happily grace a 65-footer may leave you asking, “What more could I possibly need?”
How She’s Made
Jeanneau switched from traditional hand layups to advanced construction techniques for its Prestige range. Vacuum-injection molding of the hull is standard, optimizing the fiberglass-to-resin ratio and reducing the chances of creating the voids that can exist in hand-laid work. The hull is also fitted with an internal liner that adds stiffness and much of the internal partitioning. The result is a minimum number of frames and stringers, which not only reduces weight but adds considerable internal volume as well. The streamlined process also expedites the assembly and launch of each 550S.