It’s always ideal to trial a boat in the environment that it is most likely to live in. And the most ideal spot to test a Bayliner 285 Cruiser – at least from my point of view – is the Hawkesbury River north of Sydney. Each weekend sees scores of boats exploring the river and its tributaries, making the most of the great Aussie boating lifestyle.
So it was here a little while ago that we were invited by Bayliner importers, Berowra Waters Wholesale (BWW) to sample its new American-built cruiser. The tranquil waters of the area provided a perfect backdrop to run the 285 through its paces and get a taste of life aboard the medium-sized family craft.
Bayliner has been manufacturing family-friendly cruisers for over half a century and has earned a reputation for affordable, quality craft. The 285 we sampled is actually an update of a model that’s been around for over a decade and, according to Bayliner, it has recently undergone a complete makeover, from bow to stern.
BWW’s Todd Kay said the previous 285 was a big seller and very popular with Australian buyers and was confident that the new version would hold equal appeal. Certainly, based on first impressions, I’d be inclined to agree, especially when its pricing is taken into account. At just under $160,000 as tested, this 8.7m craft has got to be one of the best buys on the market in its class.
A classic family cruiser, the 285 has sleeping capacity for six and plenty of open spaces to enjoy quality time on the water. It’s a beamy boat, too, which adds to the spacious feel, above and below decks. Features like the swim platform extension, large and airy cockpit, roomy internal spaces and well-laid-out helm make the 285 a welcoming boat for day and weekend cruisers.
The cockpit, in particular, is where families are going to be spending the bulk of their time and on the 285 there is plenty of room for dining or just lounging around. Entered via the port quarter transom door, immediately to starboard is a U-shaped lounge serviced by a moulding in the coaming with three inset drinks holders. There is also a removable table, cleverly housed in the lid of the engine cover, to allow for al fresco dining and entertaining.
Handholds thought fully placed throughout the cockpit enhance safety and give confidence when moving around while underway. The transom houses a good-sized central locker for stowing lines, fenders and power cords. It’s also where you’ll find the battery switches and fuses.
On the opposite side of the cockpit is a built in fridge and sink, completing the social amenities. Importantly for young families – or when hosting messy friends – all the upholstery has been treated with a ‘KidsClean’ protective coating.
Further forward to port is another lounge facing the adjustable dual skipper and passenger’s pedestal. The skipper’s chair is bolstered for easy stand-up running and all-round visibility and comfort is good.
The dash on our test craft had large blank surfaces where the usual sophisticated large-screen electronics would, no doubt, eventually be fitted, but an upper curved console housed all the gauges needed to keep track of the engine and other vital functions. Everything was within easy line of sight of the skipper. Throttle control was Mercury’s ‘fly by wire’ DTS, providing smooth and easy movement.
Bow access is via the folding screen, accessed by a couple of easy steps from the skipper’s perch. The large bow area is another family-friendly enhancement, with a pair of sunpads provided for lounging on lazy summer days. A well proportioned bowrail adds security when moving around the foredeck.
A central companionway leads into the accommodation. Take three steps down into the saloon and you’re reminded why the 285 Cruiser is a lot of boat for the buck.
Immediately to starboard is a fully-moulded head/shower with enough room for most adults to move around without too much difficulty. Opposite is the galley, which is compact and well laid out, with enough bench-top space for food preparation. The chief cook will appreciate the inbuilt microwave, counter-top stove, fridge and sink, all within easy reach. There is also plenty of storage, with all below-counter drawers featuring positive-lock latches.
Opposite is a convertible dinette claimed to offer additional sleeping for two. I’d suggest you’d only offer this spot to your more compact companions as it would be a touch squeezy for most.
One feature of this boat that will be particularly appreciated by those with rowdy youngsters is the lockable athwartships cabin. The kids will love this ‘cubby house’ space, which boasts plenty of horizontal sleeping space, but also has a stand-up entrance incorporating a hanging locker.
Forward is the main double berth running diagonally along the port side from the galley to the bow. There is additional stowage underneath and a curtain provides a degree of privacy.
Cabin windows and the ceiling hatch provide plenty of natural lighting. The overall feel is of an open, airy cabin area, featuring elegant styling, without the sometimes glitzy approach taken by other builders.
With the Targa top as an anchor point, Bayliner offers full clears for the 285 and I’d think most buyers would take up the option. When fitted they create a very large protected area if the weather turns nasty.
One aspect of the 285 Cruiser that sets it apart from many other craft of similar size is a solitary V8 engine throbbing away in the rear engine compartment. Other manufacturers, particularly in the US, tend towards twin engine configurations, but Bayliner has opted for a solitary engine, offering either a MerCruiser 5.7lt 350 300hp MAG or upgraded 6.2lt 377 320hp version. Our boat was fitted with the larger powerplant, which provided more than enough oomph to get it on the plane with barely a hint of effort.
Performance was as good as you’d want with this style of boat, with a healthy cruising speed of 27mph (50km/h) and a WOT of 40mph (65km/h).
While having one engine offers obvious benefits in terms of initial pricing and on-going running costs, another aspect of the single engine arrangement worth thinking about is close quarters manoeuvrability. With the single Bravo III stern drive providing steerage, a skipper needs to be fairly adept at moving into tight spaces, particularly with a running tide or the occasional inconvenient gust of wind working on her broad flanks. I’d suggest taking up the bow thruster option just in case.
Engine access was via the cockpit sole, which lifts on pneumatic rams to reveal plenty of room around the big Merc for maintenance work. I’d think it’s a welcoming space for mechanics when it comes to getting into those especially tight spots.
On the day, conditions on Berowra Creek proved almost perfect for cruising, but perhaps not quite so ideal for a thorough boat test. ‘Smooth as a baby’s behind’ pretty much summed it up. Nevertheless, we were able to run the boat through its paces and based on our own impressions, and from other US reports I’ve since read, there is no reason to think the 17-degree hull will not deliver a smooth ride and good handling in most conditions. Bow rise was negligible and once on the plane the solitary Merc seemed more than up to the task, with good throttle response throughout the rev range.
When viewed from the perspective of a normal family with a couple of kids, or even ‘empty nesters’ with plenty of spare time on their hands, the 285 Cruiser is one very attractive proposition. Standard it has pretty much everything you’d need to hit the water from scratch, while there are plenty of factory options, like the bimini top, air-conditioning, TV/DVD, gas-powered genset, swim platform extension, stainless trim upgrade, transom shower and electric windlass on offer to enhance the experience.
But what really sold me on this boat was the price. As tested, you’d hand over $159,990, which, in any currency, is not bad given what you get for your hard-earned. It’s obviously a consequence of the current exchange rate, but an added consideration is the overall quality of finish, amenity and practicality built into this boat.
As we cruised lazily back towards the marina on the camera boat, with the sleek and stylish Bayliner 285 Cruiser in my lens sight, it occurred to me that this would make the perfect family boating picture. Place yourself in the frame by contacting Berowra Waters Wholesale on 1800 802 444.
SPECIFICATIONS: BAYLINER 285 CRUISER
Length overall: 8.7m
Deadrise: 17 degrees
Fuel capacity: 337lt
Water capacity: 106lt
Price as tested: $159,990
Base price: $156,590