Winter Custom Yachts 53 Express Review

Built for travel and fishing, this one delivers

winter Custom Yachts 53 Express on the ocean at sunset.
Reel Risk is the second-largest express design from Winter Custom Yachts. Courtesy Winter Custom Yachts

Tim Winters’ 53-foot express, Reel Risk, is this builder’s second-largest express to date. She includes all of the creature comforts and features you would expect to find in a custom convertible manifested into a sweet express-style package: the owner’s desire for a larger open model in order to entertain family and friends dockside, accommodate a number of anglers between the cockpit and bridge deck, and to make short, enjoyable trips to the Bahamas.

Of course, Winters delivered on all requests, including gracious mezzanine seating, expected cabin features, and a respectable 40-knot cruise.

Watch: We show you how to rig one of the best baits for blue marlin: the swimming mackerel.

According to Winters, “This is the most complete boat I have built to date.” The hull is plywood, the stringers are fir, and the remaining superstructure—including bulkheads, decks, cabinets and furniture—is constructed using lightweight composites. And from her wispy displacement weight of 44,000 pounds, it shows, with comparable production models averaging 20,000-plus pounds more.

The 53 Express was contracted by an experienced, knowledgeable owner who wanted to move up from a production 42-foot express, and Reel Risk highlights more than a few custom touches. I was able to walk through her with Winters at his facility in Hubert, North Carolina, a couple of weeks before delivery, and then again on a sea trial at the owner’s South Florida home. As I approached this idyllic setting, the 53’s custom Winter Gray hull paint really popped against the green palm-tree backdrop.

The mezzanine seating of the Winter Custom Yachts 53 Express.
Storage abounds in the spacious mezzanine area. Courtesy Winter Custom Yachts

Cockpit and Mezzanine

The cockpit hosts several custom accents that allow Reel Risk to be the essential waterborne sport-utility vehicle. A total of 150 gallons of baitwell space is spread among the transom and in deck, giving ample space for live-bait fishing. Two large, in-deck boxes flank the eight-rod Release Marine Battle Saddle, making it easy to bring a toothy wahoo straight through the transom door into the fish box. And because the owner enjoys scuba diving and freediving, the transom door with a concealed hinge opens to reveal receivers for a removable dive ladder.

Under the gunwales there are 12- and 24-volt outlets for electric reels, along with doors that harbor the shore power and water.

The mezzanine seating is quite comfortable, with air conditioning and convenient cup holders recessed in the armrest. Contained within each bench is plentiful storage. The port side houses custom teak drawers, and to starboard, 12 Plano boxes for ultimate tackle and cockpit-tool organization. A plethora of storage options are found underfoot, including two ice dumps and insulated, chilled drink/bait boxes.

Teak flows throughout the cockpit and bridge deck. The bridge deck, cockpit sole, covering boards, coaming, helm pod and fiddles are all done in authentic teak, leaving the transom and toe rail reserved for the faux option.

Seating on the bridge of the Winter Custom Yachts 53 Express.
The command deck is a comfortable spot to relax in air-conditioned comfort after a day of fishing. Courtesy Winter Custom Yachts

Bridge Deck

As you make your way onto the bridge deck, you’ll find two large L-shaped sofas on each side, along with three Release Marine helm chairs. The center chair is traditionally attached to a pedestal, while the other two are mounted on boxes: the port box reserved for storage drawers and the starboard box to house a refrigerator.

The helm is lean and sleek, with a black acrylic backdrop for three flush-mounted 8622 Garmin multifunctional displays, Bocatech switches, USB chargers, and air-conditioning vents. Just to starboard of the helm pod there is a Twin Disc joystick and an additional storage box to catch small items such as phones and remotes.

Above and slightly behind the helm, storage for 25 light-tackle outfits can be found in the molded hardtop. For teaser duty, a pair of Miya Epoch US-9s are mounted in the hardtop. The helmsman’s electronics are easy to see, and visibility is enhanced by an aft enclosure that can be manipulated to fully enclose the bridge, allowing all 32,000 Btu to keep it cool on a hot day.

The interior salon of the Winter Custom Yachts 53 Express.
The interior is surprisingly spacious. Courtesy Winter Custom Yachts


Walking through the custom teak JR Beers door, the interior layout is spacious, with horizontal teak grain throughout and teak pillars on the corners of the walls to add a homespun touch. For an express boat, Reel Risk packs a lot of interior-headroom punch because of the generous opening below. And as you navigate your way throughout the interior, you can’t help but notice the warm and cozy environment.
The teak steps leading downstairs raise up to reveal storage; immediately to port is a day head/shower combo that is finished in a classy blend of white and gray tile with onyx countertops. On the port side, an L-shaped sofa is paired with a removable teak table so the sofa can be converted into a bunk; a Pullman bed folds out above the sofa, providing room for two more; and a 12-bottle wine cooler tucks neatly within the armrest of the sofa. The owner requested that all artwork and the 42-inch television be flush-mounted, making the living areas feel cleaner and larger—a small detail that proves Winters is down to make use of every inch of space within.

Starboard of the companionway steps, the galley boasts Sub-Zero refrigeration drawers, Miele appliances and quartz countertops. Located just forward of the galley, a full-height teak-and-glass corner liquor cabinet highlights your taste in the finer things. And adjacent to the galley, the guest stateroom has bunks with a hanging locker and nightstand.

Moving forward to the master, the queen berth sits among a host of teak cabinets and lockers, with storage below. A 28-inch TV and valuables safe round out the master stateroom’s appointments. The master head employs a large step-down shower and plenty of headroom; my 6-foot-2-inch frame had no problem entering it. The master vanity comes with onyx countertops and custom tile to highlight the owner’s preferred finishes.

The interior engine room of the Winter Custom Yachts 53 Express
Power is supplied by a pair of MAN 1550s, good for a 36-knot cruise at 70 percent load. Courtesy Winter Custom Yachts

Engine Room and Performance

Through the mezzanine hatch, you step just ahead of the Seakeeper 9 and down between the twin 1,550 hp MAN engines that are paired with Twin Disc’s QuickShift gears. This engine room has everything you would expect in a custom boat, including a 20 kW Northern Lights generator, a Dometic XZII Spot Zero watermaker, an Electrosea Clearline system, a Newmar battery charger, and an ice chipper. The owner requested that WCY install the tube for the Furuno Omni sonar to be added at a later date. To keep engine-room noise down, Winters opted not to create a shiny painted ceiling, utilizing opaque noise-reducing panels instead.

As we ran out into Miami’s Biscayne Bay on a blustery late-winter day, cruising 36 knots at 70 percent load, not a drop of spray landed on the enclosure. Reel Risk is nimble, handling much like a smaller-class convertible sportboat. She was designed to make trips to the Bahamas, so Winters propped her to run in the 39-to-40-knot range at an 80 percent load. The MANs are responsive in acceleration and, as expected, fuel-efficient. They are as quiet at the dock as they are running with the assistance of underwater exhaust ports.

Read Next: We take a look at how the North Carolina custom style first took shape.

Reel Risk was built as an owner-operator vessel to take advantage of its express layout and ease of handling to enjoy fishing trips, sandbar hopping, or just a simple dinner cruise. She would be the perfect choice for an owner who’d like to move up from a large center-console, or even one who wants to simplify his current crewed convertible. Either way, this 53-footer is no risk at all for anyone who seeks a fast, efficient and ­gorgeous custom North Carolina build.

Winter Custom Yachts 53 Express Specs

  • LOA: 53′
  • Beam: 16’5″
  • Draft: 3’8″
  • Displ: 44,000 lb.
  • Fuel: 1,200 gal.
  • Water: 200 gal.
  • Power: V-12 MAN 1550
  • Gear/Ratio: Twin Disc/2:1
  • Propellers: CJR, 5-blade
  • Hull Paint: Alexseal Winter Gray
  • Climate Control: Dometic
A Winter Custom Yachts 53 Express cruising on the ocean at sunset.
Winter yachts are known to perform well in virtually any sea condition. Courtesy Winter Custom Yachts
Interior stateroom of the Winter Custom Yachts 53 Express.
The island master stateroom forward has ample storage. Courtesy Winter Custom Yachts
The interior galley and salon of the Winter Custom Yachts 53 Express
A look at the layout belowdecks. Courtesy Winter Custom Yachts
The console helm and wheel of the Winter Custom Yachts 53 Express
All electronics are within easy reach of the helm. Courtesy Winter Custom Yachts

More Boats