There have been plenty of fiscal cycles over the last 20 years – some soaring with the good times and others crashing with bad. Thriving through them all, though, has been Avante Marine, which is now celebrating its 20th anniversary as the Aussie distributor for Bayliner – one of America’s largest boat companies. This must be something of a record, as those decades have seen plenty of overseas brands wax and wane and even more local importers and distributors fall by the wayside.
As part of its anniversary celebrations, Avante has released the impressive 185SE bowrider. The 185 stands for 18ft (5.49m) and the SE for Special Edition, with customised Australian-market-only anniversary graphics in the black topsides. Also included is a Family Fun Pack, comprising bimini top, steering wheel upgrade and waterproof stereo with MP3 input, plus a galvanised trailer with disc brakes. There’s a smaller 175 version, too, and both have unique serial numbers to individualise each boat.
It’s not hard to understand the popularity of bowriders as the layout caters for just about all aspects of water-borne fun. Whilst there are many specialised designs readily available for enthusiasts with serious dedication to go fishing, water skiing or wakeboarding, a good bowrider can be used quite effectively for all these pursuits and still be great for cruising and lazy days with family and friends.
The dual cockpits allow separation of onboard groups so kids can play up front, while the oldies relax more quietly aft (or vice versa). Anglers can have their lines over the side in one part of the boat, while those who don’t like baiting hooks can do their own thing elsewhere. The big boarding platform across the transom can even be a separate third activity area – on warm, sunny days, at least.
There’s yet another dimension to better bowriders like the 185SE, and that’s the ‘sportsboat’ enjoyment of driving a responsive vessel. Why get a sportscar these days, with all the safety implications and speed restrictions on roads, when you can have a sportsboat instead and revel in the freedom of the sea – used, of course, with adequate doses of aquatic common sense.
In keeping with the sporty theme is the quite superb instrument panel and driving position. A full set of smart Faria gauges shows voltage, water temperature, drive trim, oil pressure and fuel level as well as revs and speed. There’s even a spare spot that would be ideal for a digital depth gauge. All the dials were in perfect line of sight for the skipper. The tilt-adjustable Dino steering wheel is impressive, too, with brushed aluminium spokes and silver rim highlights. Three turns lock to lock is all it takes for swift directional changes, with no trace (using our sportscar analogy) of either under-or over-steer.
Other controls such as switch panels and the throttle/shift lever, are positioned for easy use, and I found an angled under-dash panel just right for a foot brace as we sped through tight turns.
The helm seat is part of a back-to-back arrangement that unclips and lays down to form a full-length sunlounge for stretching out at anchor. The port-side seat set-up is the same. Such back-to-back seats in the past were not known for comfort or support, but Bayliner has overcome that as the cushioning shape and density delivered both a firm grip and a soft rebound as the Bayliner sliced through the waves.
We had calm waters for our test run so we used the adequate wake of our camera cruiser to show how the 185SE could cope with rougher conditions, which it sailed through in fine style. The design has plenty of forward buoyancy (especially important for bowriders when some of the crew are riding upfront) and good freeboard, too, whilst a medium vee shape underneath, with a 19-degree deadrise, gave a smooth ride.
Our test boat had the base level power of a MerCruiser 4.3lt V6, which is a carburetted engine rated at 142kW/190hp fitted to an Alpha drive unit. That gave plenty of get up and go, with a 75.7km/h top speed. A 164kW/220hp engine is an option. More power is always welcome, but it sure isn’t needed to achieve a spirited ride, as our test 185SE willingly demonstrated.
The 185SE is more fun than a barrel of monkeys to drive and does it all from quiet idling through gentle cruising to exhilarating speeds and turns. There is smart response to the drive trim, although only the first quarter or so of the range (on the dial) is needed and it’s not critical. The usual practice works best to trim right in to get on plane, trim up slightly for cruising, up a bit more for top speed, then down a little for turning. But if you’re a driver who prefers not to worry about trim, just leave it slightly up and don’t accelerate too hard from rest – you’ll be fine, and so will the boat.
There’s modest bow rise as the hull lifts on to plane from rest, but from there the ride angle is ideal. The boat holds course easily and banks neatly into turns that can be tightened as much as you like – most crews will give up on turn angles before the boat does. Control inputs on wheel and throttle provoke fast responses and are quite driver-rewarding. It’d be a rare skipper who doesn’t enjoy time at this helm.
We were on plane at 2600rpm, with the GPS recording 31.5km/h, while 3500 revs delivered a very pleasant cruise speed of just on 50km/h. The MerCruiser V6 still had loads in reserve and was quietly energetic, producing strong acceleration through to high cruise speeds around 68km/h at 4500rpm, before happily spinning to 5000rpm for a top velocity of 75.7km/h. It’s a well-engineered package and at no stage did either the engine or boat feel stretched or strained.
The layout of the 185SE is typical bowrider, but Bayliner’s long experience in the field shows with attention to detail and clever touches. This is a new model for 2009, with a fresh dash layout and new materials used for a smarter look and longer life. All the upholstery is beautifully done in off-white and silvery-platinum colours, and the fit and finish aboard was as good as you’ll find anywhere in this class of craft. Basic amenities, such as grab handles, drink holders and stowage lockers, are everywhere they’re needed or where space permits.
The aft quarter seats are removable if you want the extra room – say to allow fishing right up to the transom or to facilitate re-boarding when skiing or wakeboarding. These seats can also be re-positioned at the same height as the padded top of the engine box to make a full beam sunpad.
The forward cockpit has comfy seats either side, with a non-skid platform in the centre at the bow for safe stepping on and off at docks or the beach. There’s a combined port/starboard navigation light at the tip of the bow, with recessed cleats nearby. This part of the boat has a non-skid floor, with carpeting starting at the back of the passageway through the opening centre panel of the screen – a good balance of practicality and comfort.
Behind the port section of the screen is a lockable glovebox, whilst between the main seating is a large under-floor locker that can hide full-size wakeboards, water skis or bulky fenders. There is also a bimini top for shade on hotter days.
Summing up, this Bayliner is a beaut bowrider that’s well worth a close look. As the Bayliner tag line rightly says, it’s: “where fun lives”.
SPECIFICATIONS: BAYLINER 185SE BOWRIDER
Overall Length: 5.49m
Deadrise: 19 degrees
Weight (dry): 1036kg
Power: MerCruiser 4.3 litre V6 (142kw/190hp)
Drive: MerCruiser Alpha
Price as tested: Around $48,430 (inc. trailer)
More information: global.bayliner.com