Sailboat Review: Beneteau Oceanis 37.1

The Beneteau 37.1, a top performance cruiser from French builders and designers, is a pleasure to sail.
Oceanis 37.1
The Oceanis 37.1 delivers a cracking-great sail. In about 10 to 12 knots of breeze with the code zero, the knotmeter registered 7s and 8s on a recent test sail. Courtesy Beneteau

The French do it differently. I was reminded of this during a recent trip to the Caribbean to cover a regatta. On one of the race days, I hopped aboard a yacht competing with an all-French team. There was just a wonderful aura of joie de vivre engulfing the entire ­exercise. They loved sailing, it seemed like second nature to them, and their shared enjoyment of it all was infectious. It was a terrific experience. 

So what, exactly, does that have to do with this boat review?

Well, especially in recent years, in the boats delivered from the upper echelon of French boatbuilders (in both the monohull and multihull realms), this drive and spirit—this pure love of voyaging under sail—is more than apparent. It seems ingrained. French naval architects have become some of the most creative, innovative designers in the field. The hulls they produce are, almost without exception, slippery and fast, but they’re also voluminous. Abovedecks and below, there is so much going on. If you compare a midsize French performance-cruising boat of 2024 with any model from anyone from 1994, they are altogether different in nearly every way.

Cutting-edge production-­boat building was once the modus operandi of US manufacturers and designers, but that train left the station decades ago. Thankfully, filling this vacuum is a force committed to advancing the sport and pastime: the French. And during our Boat of the Year trials in Annapolis, Maryland, this past fall, our judging panel was presented with an excellent example of what I’m describing: the Beneteau Oceanis 37.1.

iroko-slatted cockpit floor
The Beneteau Oceanis 37.1 has all of the Oceanis line’s hallmarks and offers eco-friendly solutions such as an optional electric motor or iroko-slatted cockpit floor. Courtesy Beneteau

We’ll get right to the sailing, because that’s what made this such a standout vessel. In our Boat of the Year contests, oftentimes we get a far different impression of a nominee between our dockside inspection and our sea trial, which was certainly the case here. Thankfully, we had ideal conditions for such a performance-oriented yacht: 14 to 16 knots of solid breeze. And the Oceanis reveled in it.

Next Marine Spotlight
In addition to their ­forward-­thinking approach to design, French builders are embracing electric options for auxiliary engines. The Oceanis 37.1 is available with a 12 kW pod and 10 kWh lithium batteries.

Designed by yet another French naval architect with a sparkling offshore racing résumé, Marc Lombard (who, sadly, died this past fall), the boat featured a code zero headsail mounted on a permanent sprit. It actually increases the length overall to more than 39 feet, and we put it to very good use. On a deep reach, we slipped along at a tidy 6.7 knots, but when we eased onto the breeze in a tight reach, the boat lit up, easily making nearly 9 knots. With twin wheels and twin rudders, the steering was tight and accurate, with as balanced a helm as anything introduced in 2024. 

Closehauled, we swapped the reaching sail for the 105 percent jib with adjustable sheet leads (you can also get a smaller self-tacking jib on a track) and still registered a respectable 6.5 knots hard on the breeze. Slightly cracked off a bit, the speedo bounced up a full knot. I was rather astounded at the numbers, considering our test boat was equipped with an in-mast furling main. A traditional main with full battens and a square top is also available, and I can only imagine what sort of pep that setup would deliver. 

Oceanis 37.1 cockpit
The Beneteau 37.1 is a viable option for a cruising couple or family in search of a manageable new boat at a relatively affordable price. Courtesy Beneteau

Likewise, there are two keel options available: a shoal draft of just over 5 feet, and a deep fin of nearly 7 feet, which is certainly the way to go if you wish to truly optimize performance. 

Next Marine Spotlight
All of Beneteau’s new ­models are also available with a mobile app called Seanapps, which lets owners monitor systems and plan routes with their smartphones.

Make no mistake, however: This is not a flat-out race boat by any means. I could imagine it doing some serious damage as a club racer, though. There’s no traveler, and the mainsail trim and angles are adjusted by the so-called German style of twin mainsheets and a solid boom vang. All the running rigging leads aft to a set of handy winches near the helmsman, making it a fairly easy boat to sail solo. The double-spreader rig has deeply swept-aft spreaders. (These will have a definite say in how far you can ease the main on a reach or run, which usually means sailing hotter angles.)

37.1 staterooms
There are a few possible layouts, but the one we saw on our test boat, with two staterooms and a single head, was quite practical. Courtesy Beneteau

The profile is clean and contemporary, with a low coachroof and a pair of hull windows to port and starboard. There’s easy egress through the set of steering wheels to the drop-down swim platform, which is controlled manually with a block-and-tackle. It’s a modern-looking craft in every way. 

The Oceanis 37.1 replaces the 38.1, which was one of the more-popular Beneteau models, with a production run of more than 900 units. So that’s a tough act to follow. But with ample beam of nearly 13 feet, much of which is carried well forward, it’s one very roomy boat.

Next Marine Spotlight
Two sail plans are available: a standard version with a self-tacking jib and furling main, and the “First Line” package with a traditional square-topped mainsail and overlapping genoa. 

The interior layouts are from Nauta Design. Furniture and fittings are rendered in iroko—a light, sustainable African hardwood that ­accentuates the airy, open ­nature of the accommodations plan. All three of the available layouts have the same central salon, with a dedicated ­navigation station and dining area to port, opposed by a straight-line galley to starboard. The differences come in the ends of the boat: The three-­stateroom, two-head layout has an offset double berth forward to accommodate an en suite toilet and shower arrangement, with a pair of double-berth staterooms aft. The other two optional floor plans have a single head and a more traditional double-berth stateroom forward; the choices here are the aforementioned pair of aft staterooms, or a single aft stateroom to port and a stowage room (that can also be accessed through a cockpit locker) to starboard.

Personally, I would choose the last of the three options. You can never have enough stowage for sails, tools and toys, especially in a boat smaller than 40 feet.

Beneteau 37.1 stateroom, galley and deck.
The forward stateroom is roomy, and a large stowage area that’s accessed through the shower or the starboard cockpit locker provides lots of space for gear and toys. Courtesy Beneteau

I’m currently living on a boat of similar length: a mid-1970s Pearson 365 that was a state-of-the-art cruiser in its day. In fact, I’m writing this review aboard it. The differences in space, form, and function between my boat and this new French design are astounding.

Someone once said that when it comes to boat design, there’s nothing new under the sun. That someone never sailed the Beneteau Oceanis 37.1.

Enduring Brand, Rich Legacy

Founded by a fisherman named Benjamin Beneteau in the coastal commune of Croix-de-Vie, France, in 1884, the Beneteau brand represents one of the oldest and most enduring boatbuilders still in operation. Today, Groupe Beneteau is a global marine conglomerate that includes not only a host of sailboat manufacturers (Jeanneau, Lagoon, Excess and Delphia), but also a full stable of powerboat brands (including Four Winns, Wellcraft and Scarab). 

But for most of its long history, it was a family-run business. Benjamin’s first boats—luggers and smacks—were of course powered by sail, but in 1909, he introduced the first engine-driven fishing boat to the region. The company went through fits and starts through both of the World Wars, and by the early 1960s, it was once again a going concern, run largely by Benjamin’s granddaughter, Annette, who was better known as Madame Roux. Starting in 1965, when Beneteau introduced its first fiberglass recreational fishing boat at the Paris Boat Show—an instant success—she became the face of the company.

Beneteau pivoted into manufacturing production sailboats in 1976 with the introduction of the First 30, a racer/cruiser that was selected as the boat for the Tour de France à la Voile from 1979 to 1981. This national regatta series put the boat and its builder on the map. Six years later, the First 345 was launched, followed in rather rapid succession by another five models that established the First line as a leading force in performance cruising boats.

In 1986, Beneteau opened a new chapter in the company’s history with the first model in its new Oceanis line, the Oceanis 350, which was expressly aimed at cruising sailors and the ever-growing bareboat charter fleets. During the next few years, several more vessels were added to the line, including the 320, 390 and 370.

The Oceanis 400/411 represented the second generation in the Oceanis range, and more than 1,000 units were built in a production run that lasted from 1992 to 2004. Overlapping this same period of solid growth, Beneteau launched what was arguably its most successful model in the First lineup: the First 40.7. It was offered from 1997 to 2005. Designed by prolific New Zealand naval architect Bruce Farr, it was a popular inshore and offshore racer in one-design contests and handicapped events, and it notched a victory in the grueling Sydney Hobart race.

Now the Oceanis 37.1 is the concluding model in Beneteau’s seventh generation of Oceanis yachts, a collection of dedicated cruising boats that includes a half-dozen yachts ranging from 31 to 51 feet. All come with numerous options in interior layouts and sail plans, but they share a common goal in delivering comfort and performance. Beneteau has certainly come a long way since Benjamin’s modest fishing craft. —HM