The Oyster 56 is perhaps best summed up as a quality blue water cruiser that was ahead of its time and combines good sailing characteristics with luxurious accommodation.

Oyster 56: second-hand yacht review

The Oyster 56 is the company's most popular cruising yacht model to date and is still a great ocean crosser.


Key attributes

Built over a 10-year period from the late 1990s onwards, the Oyster 56 is the most popular model in Oyster’s 42-year history, with more than 70 built. There are a number of reasons for this success, but in particular, it’s an optimum size for many people: small enough to be sailed by a couple without paid crew, but large enough to take four or even six guests in comfort as well.

This is a Rob Humphreys design with good performance and up-to-date design thinking, while retaining hallmark Oyster features including a skeg-hung rudder, option for a cutter headed rig with an efficient heavy weather jib on a furler and a spacious deck saloon.

For a slightly smaller range of second-hand cruising yacht reviews, see: Five classic cruisers: Sigma, Rustler, Rival, Oyster, Moody.


Below decks

The 56 was offered with the choice of two interior arrangements – either three guest cabins, or two guest cabins plus a walk-in machinery room alongside the engine. Common to both is a large en-suite owner’s stateroom aft, and a double forecabin, both with island beds.

Oyster 56 interior

The layout below decks: the machinery room to starboard of the engine room was also fitted as a third guest cabin on some examples.


As would be expected in this sector of the market, the saloon is superbly spacious and well lit, There’s also an impressive galley, with a five-burner gimbaled cooker, front opening fridge, a freezer and ample worktop and stowage space. Compared to similar size yachts with more charter-oriented layouts and a larger number of cabins, the 56 offers an impressive amount of stowage that makes living on board for long periods significantly more comfortable and organised.


On deck and performance

Rob Humphreys' design team used knowledge gained from extensive tank testing of its earlier racing designs to create the profile for the 56’s keel, which benefits from a low centre of gravity bulb and 2.52m draught. A shoal draught option was also offered, with a 2.0m draught.

The University of Loughborough’s Department of Ergonomics was engaged to help with the cockpit design, with the aim of setting new standards here and making it work for all the different uses at sea and in harbour. As standard the boat was provided with a good level of deck hardware, including electric primary and mainsheet winches, with key sail controls positioned close to the wheel. The on deck stowage includes a large lazarette and a large sail/bosun’s locker forward.

Oyster 56 sailplan: cutter rigged

An image of the sailplan illustrating the cutter rig and the relative sizes of the cockpit and the deck saloon down below.


Equipment and options

The boat was offered with a comprehensive inventory as standard, including many items that appear on the extras list of other yachts. These include a teak laid deck, sprayhood, dorade vents, folding prop and bow thruster. In addition the engine is equipped with twin alternators – one dedicated to the start batteries, the other (a 3.6kW unit) for charging the 480Ah domestic battery bank. There’s also a 75 amp mains power charger, plus a full set of Raymarine electronics, including pilot, chart plotter and instrumentation. This leaves many of the options down to the choice of shallow or deep keel, slab reefing or furling mainsail, plus additional items such as a diesel generator.


What it does best

There are a number of standout factors for this boat, notably the blend of excellent accommodation and good sailing performance, as well as the build quality and high standard of equipment. In addition, a degree of after-sales support continues long after an Oyster is first delivered – the company keeps files of all the boats it has built, including documentation of all the gear that was originally fitted. For those planning to undertake longer voyages and extended cruising, the generous tankage and stowage, and the design’s excellent load carrying ability will all be advantageous.



There’s no escaping the fact that building a boat to this standard is expensive and the 56 appears to have held its value well – it’s possible to buy some new volume produced models at a similar price to a 12 or 15 year old. It’s also worth remembering that, if they have not been constantly updated through their life, once they reach the age of some Oyster 56s boats of this size and quality may have systems that are becoming dated, plus teak decks that need replacement, and therefore an expensive refit may be needed. The potential for this to have a downward effect on the price at which boats change hands is not to be under estimated. Conversely, one that has been relatively little used, lavished with plenty of recent attention and is bristling with the latest kit will fetch more.


Other models in the range

In all, almost 40 different models have been produced by Oyster, with the Oyster 53/55 models designed by Holman and Pye preceding the 56. The 56 was replaced by the Oyster 53/54, another Rob Humphreys design, in the early 2000s.


Alternative boats

Buyers who are potentially in the market for an Oyster 56 might be tempted to look either at newer boats from less prestige manufacturers, such as the Jeanneau 53 or 57. However, the Discovery 55 (see Discovery Yachts: a British boat builder on the up) and Hylas 54 are designs that were more squarely aimed at the same market as the Oyster. Alternatively, the Hallberg Rassy 53 and Amel 54 are more traditional centre cockpit yachts, built to a similarly high standard and aimed at the market for long-term blue water cruising. While both offer sheltered steering positions, neither has the benefit of the Oyster’s deck saloon.




Oyster 56 Specifications

LOA: 17.47m
LWL: 14.48m
Beam: 4.95m
Draught: 2.52m or 1.99m
Displacement (standard keel): 26,500kg
Typical engine: 160hp Yanmar diesel
Sail area (150% foretriangle) 174.5sq m
Air draught  22.68m
Fuel 950 litres
Water 950 litres


Written by: Rupert Holmes
Rupert Holmes has more than 70,000 miles of offshore cruising and racing experience, in waters ranging from the North Sea to the Southern Ocean and Cape Horn. He writes about all aspects of boat ownership and marine travel, including destinations, seamanship and maintenance, as well as undertaking regular new boat and gear tests. He currently sails around 5,000 miles per year and in the past couple of seasons has cruised from the UK to the Azores, as well as winning his class in the 2014 two-handed Round Britain and Ireland Race. He also owns two yachts, one based in the Mediterranean and the other in the UK.