Grand-Mčre, Que., has a long history of boat manufacturing, having been home to companies such as Thundercraft, Cadorette and Doral. When the recession of the early 1990s hit the industry hard, Cadorette took over Thundercraft and eventually Doral for a brief period. Although the Thundercraft name was retired a few years ago, those in the market for a used boat can readily find one of the models that made the company successful — the Thundercraft Magnum 290.
The 290 is still an attractive cruiser more than two decades after it was built. From the one-piece moulded deck and pulpit to the well proportioned radar arch, this boat’s design has aged well. But even good designs can have a few flaws. This boat’s owner identified the narrow swim platform — an element typical of the day — as an issue, but it’s one that an interested buyer could remedy.
Obviously well taken care of, our test boat showed very nicely with recent upgrades like the new canvas. The two-level cockpit, already quite large for a 29 -foot boat, opens up even further by tucking the transom seat, making room for more comfortable deck chairs. The owner cited the cockpit storage as a real plus with lockers in the aft of the companion seating and in both gunwales. The starboard locker also hides the shower. Up a step and opposite the helm, a comfortable settee provides a spot where guests can enjoy the same view as the captain while underway.
A nice extra on this Magnum 290’s helm is the swivel power seat, which also looks great thanks to some new upholstery. The helm lay- out is traditional 1980s, with full instrumentation, but all electronics (including chart plotters and the VHF) must be surface mounted on top of or below the helm.
Twin hatches in the cockpit floor provide access to the twin MerCruiser 4.3-litre LXs with Alpha One drives — the perfect power for a smaller express cruiser. This package provides an excellent balance between power and efficiency. However, the engine compartment is a bit tight, even with the small V-6s.
Getting to the foredeck is a bit difficult without a walkthrough windshield, but once forward the deck is flat and has solid stainless rails. The narrow chain access to a small and shallow anchor locker was another “dislike” identified by the owner.
If you are shopping for a used 29- or 30-foot boat — or a new boat, for that matter — you really have to consider how you plan to use it. Is it for weekend or extended cruising? Your answer to this question will help narrow down the amazing number of options in layouts and capacities for sleeping and dining in this size category. And it’s that space and capacity in the cabin that was instrumental in making the Thundercraft Magnum 290 quite popular.
Forward, you will find a good-sized V-berth with great ventilation from the overhead hatch and screened ports, along with plenty of storage. The recently upholstered dinette is quite comfortable and adds to the sleeping capacity. The mid-cabin functions as both a lounge and a berth for two with plenty of ventilation from the two ports and sliding window. This is an ideal space for daytime play and for overnights with kids. The head is a good size and all fibreglass for easy cleaning. The 290’s clean and bright galley offers reasonable storage, as well as the standard alcohol electric range, stainless sink, microwave and under-counter refrigerator.
Underway, the Thundercraft demonstrated no hidden bad habits. The Magnum 290 accelerates well and sets up into the turns without trim adjustments at cruising speeds. The ride feels solid even in wakes and chop.
It goes without saying that a buyer should do an on water test before signing on the dotted line for any used boat. This not only allows you to check the mechanics of the boat, but also to see if the characteristics and handling are what you’re looking for. A Thundercraft Magnum 290 is a good option with a well-performing hull and plenty of space on board - and lots available on the used market.
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