In many ways the Beneteau Oceanis 323 set new standards for 32ft cruising yachts when it was first launched in 2004. A combination of higher freeboard, allied to a wide beam that’s carried well aft and a stepped coachroof produced a boat with significantly more volume than earlier designs of this size. At the same time, an efficient deep keel option was offered, which helped to make the boat one that could be expected to take offshore passages in its stride.
One of the most striking aspects of this boat is the headroom in the saloon – it’s only a fraction less than two metres (6ft 6in) – easily among the best in its class and significantly more than most boats of this size. The feeling of space is accentuated by plenty of natural light, from both side windows and large clear overhead panels.
The two-cabin layout offers good space for two couples, with large berths, especially in the quarter cabin, and reasonable stowage space. The saloon offers two 1.95m settees that would make decent sea berths if fitted with lee cloths, plus a small aft-facing chart table and navigation station.
The aft cabin has a huge rectangular berth that measures 2.05m x 1.90m, although it’s partially under the cockpit. There’s also a useful standing area and stowage in a hanging locker and shelf along the side of the hull. Headroom here is a generous 1.83m. The forecabin, while benefitting from more natural light and ventilation, has a smaller floor area and a triangular berth, although this is 2.1m long and a generous 70cm wide at the foot.
The heads compartment is of a decent size and, surprisingly for a boat of this length and era, incorporates a separate shower area. The galley is equipped with all essentials, including a gimballed cooker, fridge and twin sinks, although it would benefit from more fixed worktop space.
On deck and performance
The generous accommodation does not impinge on cockpit space – this is a decent size, with a central table, plus a pivoting wheel and lifting helm seat to give easy access to the walk-through transom and bathing platform. Similarly, wide side decks make going forward at sea a relatively easy affair.
The deck layout is as simple as possible, although some gear is of a minimal size and the mainsheet is taken to a clutch by the companionway, well out of reach of the helm. Stowage on deck is primarily in the large cockpit locker to starboard. There’s also a separate self-draining gas locker.
Designers Groupe Finot drew a long waterline hull that’s capable of giving decent speeds on reaching courses in a good breeze, although it’s not so quick in light airs. In-mast mainsail furling was offered as an option, although most boats have a slab reefing mainsail with a lazy bag system. A 116 per cent headsail with minimal overlap was supplied as standard. This is a size that’s easy to handle and requires little grinding in after each tack. However, the chainplate locations would allow for a larger genoa to be fitted, providing the tracks for the genoa sheet cars are extended aft.
Equipment and options
Although the standard inventory was relatively bare, most boats were sold with a large number of options. Bear in mind, though, that instrumentation, refrigeration and other systems may now benefit from updating. Similarly, the standard sails were not of great quality and, if they have not already been replaced are unlikely to set efficiently, even if they have had relatively little use. Clipper models were originally sold with a higher level of equipment as standard.
What it does best
This is a design that’s small enough to be very easy to handle and have reasonably contained running costs, while offering surprisingly comfortable and spacious accommodation. For many owners there will be no necessity to consider a larger boat for better accommodation, providing the two-cabin layout suits their needs.
The current trend for wide stern twin rudder designs gives more scope to provide twin aft cabins on a boat of this size. At the same time, newer models, with their fold-down bathing platforms, are able to devote more of the hull’s length to interior accommodation without compromising cockpit space. Nevertheless, this is a deservedly popular model with well looked after examples tending to retain good resale values.
Other models in the range
At the time, the Oceanis 323 was the smallest in Beneteau’s six-model range of aft cockpit cruising yachts, which extended up to 52 feet in length. The other models are the 343, 373, 423, 473 and 523. All can be readily identified thanks to the distinctive stepped coachroof that gives additional headroom in the saloon.
In the secondhand market, boats of a similar size and price include the Bavaria 33 (not to be confused with the recent Bavaria Cruiser 33), Elan Impression 344, Dufour 325 Grand Large, and Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 32i. Take a look at the following features on boats.com for some further second-hand ideas: 10 Top Beneteau Yachts; 5 Jeanneaus: Melody, Sunrise, JOD 35, Sun Odyssey and 6 Dufour yachts: from Arpege to Grand Large. Beneteau’s First 31.7 performance cruiser would be a somewhat sportier alternative, although with less accommodation volume, while Jeanneau’s Sun Fast 32i combines the hull of the Sun Odyssey cruiser with an efficient deep keel and larger rig.
Specifications: Beneteau Oceanis 323 review
Hull length: 9.75m
Draught: 1.45m (shoal keel)
Draught: 1.8m (deep keel)
Light displacement: 3,832kg
Mainsail area: 28.3sq m
Headsail area: 22.4sq m
Spinnaker area: 68sq m
Typical engine: 20hp Yanmar diesel
Fuel tankage: 75 litres
Water tankage: 160 litres