There were whispers of surprise when Beneteau Group acquired Wellcraft back in 2014. Of course, the French giant always had a plan and in the Wellcraft 355 we have a glimpse of how Wellcraft is going to compete as a modern brand.
With a trio of star architects and designers on board and a trio of thumping great outboards on its transom, the Wellcraft 355 is entering battle armed to the teeth with the tools to do the job. Competition is fierce in this sector, though, and the Wellcraft arrives late to the party with a hefty price tag. Read on to see if it has what it takes to beat the competition.
Wellcraft 355 Key Facts
- LOA 35.761ft
- Model Year 2021
- Cabins 1
- Max Speed 45 knots
- Status In Production
- Yacht Type Walkaround
- Use Type Weekending
Test & Review Video
The Wellcraft 355 is only available with triple outboards but within that, you can choose between the triple 300hp Yamahas that our test boat had or 300hp/350hp Mercury motors. The 300s from both brands will top out at around 45 knots but the 350hp Mercurys should ease the boat over the 50-knot threshold. Not that outright performance is the most important aspect of the way the Wellcraft 355 covers ground.
Our Test Speed & Range Data
258 nm @ 22.5 knotseco
200 nm @ 31.0 knotscruise
148 nm @ 45.8 knotsmax
Wellcraft 355 version 2021. *Data collected by Yacht Buyer during testing.
View Full Test Results
Around the Marina
The ferocious performance of these 4.2-litre Yamaha V8s may grab the headlines but the suite of electronics and software that they come with are just as appealing, especially if you are relatively new to boat ownership. Joystick control for outboards is nothing new but given there are three of them clamped to the transom knowing that you only have to handle a single control and the boat will move in the direction you want, takes any potential stress out of the situation. A bow thruster is part of the £13,000 Premiere trim level and it's a useful addition for some extra control over what is quite a long bow.
The Yamaha throttles do the usual single-lever trick but they also have a function whereby you can run only on the middle engine and leave the two outer ones idling, which is great for the likes of the River Hamble where you spend a large proportion of the time at 6 knots before getting out to sea.
Coming into a berth is made easier by all of these clever gizmos but there are simpler things like the excellent sight lines from the helm and the simply enormous side door that also make slow speed work a less daunting task. Little things like being able to see the position of the outboards from the helm make keeping track of where the engines are in their travel that bit easier. If it had a boarding gate next to the side door it would be nigh on perfect but generally, this is a very easy boat to handle even if you're on your own.
When burying the stubby little throttles into their stops it's worth giving passengers a heads-up because the way the Wellcraft 355 fires out of the hole is remarkable. The instantaneous power from the 4.2-litre, 6-cylinder outboards is outrageous and with three props digging the power into the water, the boat jumps onto the plane like a startled ferret. By the time you've pulled yourself back out of the helm seat the speed is ticking past 30 knots and you're well on the way to the 45-knot top speed.
Once on the plane, the hull has a lovely natural balance and running attitude. It was a calm day when we tested the boat but despite having an uneven load I didn't have to intervene with the trim tabs once such is the boat's natural demeanour to settle in at 30 knots. This is where it really shines. Yes, topping 45 knots is a thrill but you're not going to be cruising there all day whereas at 30 knots the engines are barely working and the boat will cover 200nm.
The 6-cylinder Yamahas have a distinctive and quite piercing engine note, which could be a bit irritating on an open boat but the fully enclosed wheelhouse does a great job of muffling the din. Don't get me wrong, the howl is welcome in short bursts but for longer passages, the fact they melt into the background and leave you free to chat at normal volume on the move is a real bonus.
It's a very easy space to ventilate, as well, with myriad options depending on how fast the boat is travelling and how splashy the conditions are. If you're taking it easy then it's lovely to travel with the side door wide open, the passenger window ajar and the roof hatches pulled back to get plenty of natural breeze pouring through the interior. There's lots of flexibility, it's just a shame that the helm door on our test boat couldn't be pinned open a few inches to allow fresh air in even if there's a bit of spray around. This is, apparently, something Wellcraft plans to add to future units.
There isn't really much spray to contend with, however. The hull has a decent amount of beam forward and doesn't slice through the crests quite as cleanly as the knife-like Axopar but it feels incredibly solid through waves and there is very little spray off the hull to trouble the windscreen.
Having three props digging into the water has obvious acceleration benefits but they also provide outstanding grip in hard turns. The steering is beautifully weighted and manages to easily whip all three motors from lock to lock without ever feeling artificially light or detached. The grip provided by the triple rig and no steps in the hull means the potential for any cavitation is reduced so the boat gives you real confidence to lean hard into fast turns without the concern that the back end may let go. It's an enormously rewarding boat to drive both in a straight line and in twists and turns. Any concerns that this new style would water down Wellcraft's performance heritage can be left on the pontoon.
Wellcraft is an American brand owned by the French since 2014 and the Wellcraft 355 is built in Poland despite looking like it has been designed by a bunch of Scandinavians for fast commuting purposes. It was in fact designed by the trio of Michael Peters (naval architecture and hull), Pawel Denert (exteriors) and long-time Prestige collaborator Camillo Garoni (interiors).
In the flesh, this three-pronged approach comes together brilliantly. The Wellcraft 355 will naturally be compared to the Axopar 37 but though they are similar in length the Wellcraft sits much higher in the water with a greater freeboard than its Finnish rival. It's a really good-looking boat with a clean sweep of glazing peeling down both topsides and a purposefully raked windscreen.
The Michael Peters hull isn't stepped like many of this boat's rivals and it carries its beam quite a long way forward to deliver both greater volume inside the cabin and a more spacious living area on the comfortable foredeck.
There is a variety of deck arrangements on boats in this sector from symmetrical walkaround to full-width wheelhouse but the Wellcraft strikes a neat balance by opting for asymmetric decks that are biased to starboard. The raised port side deck is still usable but the one to starboard is sunken, wide and connected to the wheelhouse by a double-length sliding door so it's very easy to get onto the deck. The door is clever because it opens so wide that guests can access the decks from behind the helm seat rather than having to squeeze past whoever is driving.
In terms of quality, it feels like a typical Beneteau Group product; not overly flashy but built to last. There are some nice touches, particularly inside the cabin, but there were a few squeaks and rattles emanating from the wheelhouse when we were on the move that let the side down a little. There's no faulting the hull, though, which feels as solid as granite.
There are only two access points into the Wellcraft 355's wheelhouse, the wide sliding door to starboard and through the aft door. The single door opens out on a powerful gas ram to port and a top-hinged window pings up on the starboard side to open the aft end of the salon to the cockpit. It would be worth keeping an eye on small children if they're trying to open/close the door as it fires open and slams shut at quite a rate.
The wheelhouse is an incredibly bright space thanks to the combination of all-around glass, the full-height door aft and fixed and sliding panels in the roof. It's spacious but all of that natural light and the excellent views do noticeably boost the perception of space.
To starboard, there is an L-shaped run of seating with a hi-lo table at its centre. The table drops down and connects with the moveable stools arranged behind the helm seats to create a double berth that supplements the fixed double forward on the lower deck. If you genuinely want easy sleeping space for four then something like the Nimbus C11 or Nord-Star 36 would be better options but this arrangement is fine for the odd night with four on board.
The galley opposite doesn't have a huge amount of space to play with but the sink, single burner induction hob (gas is an option) and under-counter fridge provide enough to knock up breakfast or a quick snack. Storage is a little limited in the galley but there is plenty beneath the dinette seating and a very handy locker beneath the window in the cockpit with a tower of fiddled shelves.
Forward, the three handsome helm seats dominate the area, two of which are arranged in front of the dashboard with a single seat tucked over to port. All three are comfortably shaped and have armrests and grab handles within easy reach and a lift bolster so that their occupants can stand or sit.
Down To Bed
The companionway hatch is offset to port and opens in two parts. The top section pops open on gas rams and the bottom parts slides to grant access down a shallow run of steps to the lower deck. There is standing headroom of over 6ft (1.83m) at the bottom of the steps, inside the head compartment and at the end of the bed. The bed is set low so it's easy to clamber in and out and the berth extends thanks to a sliding section and in-fill cushion so you can choose between floor space and room to stretch out when lying down.
Natural light is good down here thanks to strips of glazing down both sides of the cabin and a large skylight which draws natural light into the area from the windscreen above. The storage levels are pretty good, there's a large cupboard just inside the companionway door plus some eye-level lockers and some voids set into the cabinets on either side of the bed. The end of the bed lifts up to reveal a large void, perfect for chucking bags and other bulkier items. For weekends on board, it's more than good enough.
The doorway into the head compartment drops down a touch before headroom rockets back up again inside the space and it's a well-designed bathroom. There's enough space to mount the toilet outside the shower cubicle so everything doesn't get soaked when you have a wash and it has a useful amount of storage for toiletries and towels. Again, it's a bright space and the eye-level opening port means it can be naturally ventilated to clear steam after a shower. A usable bathroom means greater autonomy on a boat of this size and the Wellcraft 355's is a good one.
A performance machine like this deserves a good helm station and the Wellcraft 355's doesn't disappoint. It's a classy dashboard slathered in dark materials with the major controls all falling to hand really comfortably. The sliding, bolstering helm seat allows the skipper to get comfortable when standing or seated and the thin windscreen mullions and huge glass area in the wheelhouse make for an excellent 360-degree view.
The stubby Yamaha throttles feel nicer in the hand than their Mercury counterparts and the leather-trimmed wheel is the perfect gauge and thickness to grip with ease. It is slightly offset to port, however, which means you have to twist your torso a bit to get comfortable.
Two Garmin MFDs occupy the upper dash and they can be tuned to show a huge array of different information from navigation pages and charting to radar and detailed engine data via the dedicated Yamaha app that is built into the Garmin software. There is also a smaller Yamaha screen on the lower dash that permanently displays engine readings, which is useful for quick glances.
There is a good array of storage for loose items, too, from the deep cup holders in the dash to the moulded trays opposite the single navigator's seat and the wallet at knee level.
There are three cockpit arrangements available on the Wellcraft 355. As standard the aft deck is open, leaving as much free space as possible for fishing or preparing for watersports. Alternatively, there is the option to have a wet bar and bait well mounted along the transom or a transom bench with a flip-up base that stows away to boost floor space.
Our test boat had the latter and, unless you're really into your fishing and need the extra bait storage, we would go for the seating. Most of the time the extra seating will be more useful than the wet bar and you can always buy a portable BBQ to mount on one of the railings. If bait storage is a concern then the drained lockers on either side of the deck that are fitted with pumps to flush them out should take care of that.
The starboard bias of the deck arrangement means you'll always try to moor starboard-to to make use of the wider, better-protected side deck. Wellcraft has also added boarding gates on both sides of the cockpit so it's equally easy to get on and off from either side. There are also mounts for a bathing ladder with both gates so you don't have to rely on the aft platforms for access in and out of the water. The only thing the starboard side deck is lacking is a boarding gate adjacent to the helm, which would make it much easier for the skipper to make the journey from helm to quayside without having to clamber over the side of the boat.
On the foredeck, there is a focus on comfort. You can mount a small table at the bow but the three reclined loungers are such a good use of this space and far more comfortable than the usual slab of sun pad that you usually find. Granted, none of the layout options includes an outdoor dinette but the cockpit is large enough for free-standing furniture, though it would have to fold down small enough to fit into the deck lockers.
As an option, there are roof racks available for the wheelhouse where you can stow SUPs, kayaks or even mountain bikes without having to gobble up space inside the boat.
The Wellcraft 355 sits somewhere between the likes of the Axopar 37 and Saxdor 320 and the pricier Nimbus C11. Does that feel about right? It's a heavier and more robust feeling boat than its cheaper rivals and it has one more engine than all of them but these are award-winning craft that do a lot of the same stuff as the Wellcraft for less money.
How about efficiency, is there a penalty for running three engines? At 28 knots the Wellcraft 355 is using around 4 l/nm, which is almost double that of an Axopar 37 with twin 300hp outboards and more on par with the Axopar 45 XC, which - like the Wellcraft - runs on triple 300hp outboards. You also have one more outboard to service and winterise.
Our Options & Pick
UK dealer Sea Ventures reckons you can get new a turn-key Wellcraft 355 with all the important bells and whistles for around £475,000 inc VAT (price correct at time of publishing). The options list is extensive but there are must-haves, such as the £14,000 Premiere trim, which is a no-brainer as it includes things like the bow thruster, twin electric sunroofs, a windlass with helm remote, Lenco trim tabs and a cockpit shower.
The £10,000 electronics upgrade includes the largest Garmin MFDs, which make a huge difference to the functionality of the helm station and includes a display for the Yamaha engines. The Garmin Fantom 54 open array radar fitted to our test boat is a £10,000 option and probably overkill on a boat like this, so there's a useful saving to be had there.
For £2,800 the transom bench adds some useful extra seating on deck, though if you're big on cooking on board the wet bar with its grill, sink and fridge will be an attractive option. The GRP table for the bow and roof racks are around £500 each and worth adding for a bit more flexibility on deck and, if you plan to be on anchor for any length of time, the £5,300 4Kw generator is worth adding to the list.
Heating and air-con are separate options at £5,700 and £7,500 respectively and you may want them depending on what latitude the boat is living in.
Finally, this is the first Wellcraft 355 I've seen with a dark hull wrap (see our test video above) and I think it looks superb. It's worth every penny of the £2,400 option price and you can always peel it off and replace it if you need to.
If nothing else, our test proved why there has been such a boom in the popularity of this boat type. On a (literally) freezing cold day on the Solent, we could head out to sea in just T-shirts and enjoy a glorious day on the water in near isolation. How does the 355 fit into the sports wheelhouse picture? It's expensive but it does things its own way, that's for sure. In a crowded market, the designers have managed to create something rather unique and give the 355 a look and feel all of its own. The performance is scintillating, too. It's not the fastest boat in the sector but it's the way it gets there, the trio of Yamaha 6-cylinders lending it a truly unique character that is so rewarding when you open the throttles and let those motors sing. If this is the way Wellcraft is going to go, it appears to be in safe hands.
Reasons to Buy
- Searing performance and handling
- Solid hull
- Comfortable cabin
- Clever deck arrangement
Things to Consider
- It's on the expensive side
- A few interior squeaks and rattles
- No outdoor dinette
Rivals to Consider
Sub-40ft SUVs (Sports Utility Vessels) are hot property at the moment and there are some brilliant boats vying for the same customer base as the Wellcraft. Here's what it's up against.
The Axopar 37 almost defines this genre and has been hugely successful for the finish brand. It's available as an open design, with a variety of T-tops or as the Cross-Cabin, which is in direct competition with the 355. All versions come with a convertible double cabin forward with a separate bathroom but there is the option to have a double cabin on the aft deck, which doubles up as a sun pad. Twin engine options all come from Mercury and the twin 400hp motors are good for around 50 knots. The twin-stepped hull is an absolute gem; soft-riding, sure-footed and agile it's one of the best in the sector. If you want something a little more shouty then the Brabus Shadow 900 uses the 37's underpinning and adds layers of Brabus luxury and 450hp Mercury Racing engines.
The Nimbus C11 is a high-quality machine that wears a higher price tag in this sector but it oozes the sort of brilliant detailing that Nimbus is so well known for. Its hull isn't as sharp as the Axopar or Wellcraft's but it's a tonne heavier than the 355 and you feel that in the way it solidly romps through the chop. It has a great selection of engine options including three twin outboard motors of 300hp, 350hp or 400hp from Mercury or twin Volvo Penta D4 320hp diesels; the latter is an option that neither the Axopar nor Wellcraft offer. On board, it has symmetrical decks and a walkaround main deck with access into the wheelhouse via twin side doors of a sliding door, far. It's warm, cosy and beautifully finished with space for four to sleep on the lower deck and an attractive separate bathroom.
The Sargo 36 is a more traditional wheelhouse cruiser than the lifestyle focussed Wellcraft 355 but it offers similar space, excellent performance and attention to practical detailing that needs to be seen to be believed. This is what comes from a boat that is designed to be a commuter tool, not just a lifestyle accessory. Yards like Sargo build boats that will be used as transport as much as they will a place to relax. Outboards aren't on the options list but there's a good array of twin Volvo Penta diesel engine options, the largest of which will fire the Sago 36 to 42 knots. The interior is wonderfully warm and robust and the packaging is brilliant. On the lower deck, there are five berths across two cabins, each of which has its own private bathroom. If you're after year-round go-anywhere ability then the Sargo 36 should be on the list.
The 355 is sandwiched between two Saxdor models, the Saxdor 320GTC and yet to be launched Saxdor 400 GT. Both offer quite stunning value for money and have a unique main deck design in the sector whereby the wheelhouse occupies the full beam of the boat with access forward via a door in the forward end of the cabin. If you like the walkaround design this isn't for you but the use of space is brilliant. Cockpit balconies come as standard and they cleverly link to the wheelhouse so you can get out and around the side of the boat to the cockpit when they are deployed and the boat's at rest. Twin Mercury engines options offer similar performance to the rest of the pack but there are boats with some brilliantly imaginative design for a barely believable starting price.
Specifications & Performance
Wellcraft 355 version 2021. *Data collected by Yacht Buyer during testing.
3 Test Engines Yamaha V6 4.2L 300HP
- Liters Per Hour
- Liters Per Mile
- Range (nm)
Yacht Load: 0 Litres of water 25 Litres of fuel 3 members of crew air temperature of 2 °C
Sea Conditions: F1, Calm