Ranger Tugs R-31 & Cutwater 24

Expand your cruising landscape with new, trailerable models from Ranger Tugs and Cutwater Boats.

In just the past few years, Fluid Motion, LLC has become one of the most successful boat builders in the United States, if not the world. Fluid Motion is the brainchild of the father-son team of David and John Livingston, who have decades of experience building boats. In 1999, John created Fluid Motion and bought Ranger Tugs, a company that has been in business since 1958 but by the end of the 20th century was building only a 21-foot character tug. “It was just me, my wife, Jenn, my dad, and six employees in a World War II Quonset hut,” says John Livingston. Today, Fluid Motion has about 200 employees in six factories across Washington State. They still build the Ranger 21, plus a 23, 25, 27, 29, and 31. And in 2011, Fluid Motion started the Cutwater line for people who want to go faster in a more conventional-looking boat. Cutwater now makes a 24, 26, 28, and 30.

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have firsthand experience cruising on Rangers and Cutwaters both in the San Juan and Canadian Gulf Islands in the Pacific Northwest as well as from Manhattan to Quebec City in the Northeast, and I’ve always come away impressed. Both brands manage to pack a lot of boating innovations, features and ease of operation into whatever size I’ve tried. And now the company, known for making single-diesel pocket cruisers, is pushing the envelope with a new 24-foot outboard Cutwater at the lower end and a new 31-foot Ranger Tug with a flybridge at the upper.

The Fluid Motion story begins with David Livingston, who sold his first boat, an 8-foot fiberglass dinghy, at the Seattle Boat Show in 1968. Livingston then went on to design and build boats for Reinell, Wellcraft, Regal, and Fountain, among others. He was the president of Bayliner in 1988 and 1989 when the company was making 56,000 boats per year in 23 different plants. “He’s designed more boats than anyone in the industry,” John Livingston says of his father. Last year, the Northwest Marine Trade Association gave David their Legend Award. Officially, David is Fluid Motion’s Lead Designer and Head of Engineering. When I visited the company’s offices just south of Seattle a few years ago, David kept interrupting his sandwich lunch at his desk to run out back where workers were lifting a new hull out of its mold. “And I thought this was going to be a retirement job,” he says, laughing.

The original Ranger 21 looked like a mini tugboat with a single Volvo diesel that pushed it to about 6.5 knots. It was the only boat Ranger Tugs made until 2007 when Fluid Motion introduced the 25, also an affordable single-diesel. The company sold 53 of them in the first six months. One secret to Fluid Motion’s success is that its boats are trailerable. They’re easy to buy, easy to run and easy to keep since trailering enables owners to avoid slip and winter storage fees and also to cruise anywhere their SUV or pickup can access a boat ramp. Another secret is that both Ranger and Cutwater pack a lot of usable space into all of their boats, which appeals to both first-time buyers and those downsizing from larger yachts.

A creative use of space and innovative engineering are certainly keys to Fluid Motion’s success. But so is the company’s ability to form an owner community around its brands with active rendezvous, alumni cruises, raft-ups, weekend parties, and factory visits. At least 250 people showed up at last year’s annual rendezvous at Roche Harbor in the San Juans. The Tugnuts website (tugnuts.com) promotes all of these activities as well as troubleshooting and maintenance—their forums go on for 681 pages. As a result of all this involvement, owners tend to be happy. Todd Banks, president of Kenmore Air in Seattle, started out with a Ranger 27 and is now a partner in a Ranger 31. Regarding an annual 10-day cruise to Canada’s Desolation Sound with his wife and three teenagers, he says, “[it’s] definitely the highlight of the summer. Everybody looks forward to it.” And there’s plenty of room for the family. The two boys sleep in the aft cabin, the daughter on the convertible dinette, and Banks with his wife, Jane, in the master forward. “We cruise and then drop the hook in different spots, fishing, swimming, exploring. It’s all a great family outing,” he says. “And Ranger is a first-class operation with first-class people.”

After my cruises on a Ranger 29 and then a 27 in the Pacific Northwest, photographer George Sass, Sr. and I spent five days travelling 495 nm from New York Harbor to Quebec City on a Cutwater 28, the two of us living on board 24 hours a day. Cruising up the Hudson and Lake Champlain and then down the St. Lawrence at 16-18 knots, the ride was easy, visibility excellent, and the cockpit is a perfect spot for morning coffee or evening libations. When we finally left the Cutwater in Quebec, Sass revealed, “I’m going to miss this boat.” I agreed.

Cutwater’s newest boat, a 24, breaks out of the single-diesel mold by offering a 300-hp Yamaha outboard (though you can order it with a Volvo diesel if you prefer). Designed to get more people into boating, the 24 has a private stateroom in the bow, mid-berth with a mattress, salon that seats four with a dinette that converts to a berth, a private head with shower, an electric/alcohol stove and a fridge/freezer—everything you need to go cruising. The 8′ 6″ beam makes it trailerable, and the outboard performance is head snapping with a top speed of 43.7 mph. The base model includes a Garmin 7610 GPS plotter with a depth sounder and fishfinder.

At the top of the line, the new Ranger 31 CB is the first with a flybridge. To make the boat trailerable, the flybridge folds down on hinges to reduce the air draft on a trailer to 13′ 2″. Just unhook the canvas that serves as a cowling, drop the inner supports and fold it flat. The flybridge itself seats four and is reached from the cockpit via stairs rather than a ladder. For living space, the R-31 has two staterooms and a convertible dinette. It’s easy to dock with bow and stern thrusters, and the semi-displacement hull, driven by a 300-hp Volvo diesel, tops out at over 20 knots. To make extra social room in the cockpit (an owner request), David designed a reversible settee across the transom allowing cruisers to sit facing forward while underway or face aft for watersports, plus custom gull-wing seats that fold out of the hull on both sides.

Every R-31 is water tested before delivery and comes ready for cruising; Garmin GPS units at the upper and lower stations, a safety kit, lines, and fenders are included. It’s no surprise that this flagship is proving as popular as Fluid Motion’s earlier models.

By Peter A. Janssen, Southern Boating Magazine August 2016


Cutwater 24 Outboard
LOA: 28′ 10″
Beam: 8′ 6″
Draft: 2′ 6″ (motor down)
Weight: 4,900 lbs.
Fuel/Water: 125/30 U.S. gals.
Power: 1x Yamaha 300-hp outboard
Cruise/Top speed: 27/43 mph
Range: 249 nm at cruise
Price: $109,937
Cutwater Boats
17341 Tye Street SE
Monroe, WA 98272
(800) 349-7198

Ranger Tugs R-31 CB
LOA: 31′ 2″
Beam: 10′
Draft: 2′ 4″
Weight: 11,500 lbs.
Fuel/Water: 180/80 U.S. gals.
Power: 1x Volvo 300-hp D4 diesel engine
Cruise/Top speed: 15/20 knots
Range: 324 nm at cruise
Price: $309,937

Ranger Tugs
25802 Pacific Highway South
Kent, WA 98032
(253) 839-5213

By Peter A. Janssen, Southern Boating Magazine August 2016