by Graham Lloyd

There have been plenty of fiscal cycles over the last 20 years – some soaring with good times and others crashing with bad. Thriving through them all 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.

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As part of the anniversary celebrations, Avante has released this impressive 185SE bowrider. The 185 stands for 18 feet (5.49 metres) and the SE for Special Edition with customised Australian-market-only anniversary graphics in the black topsides. Also included are 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 for owners to show with pride.

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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 upfront while the oldies relax more quietly aft (or vice versa), or anglers can have their lines over the side in one part of the boat whilst those who don’t like baiting hooks can do their own thing in the other part. The big boarding platform across the transom can even be a third area of independent activities – on warm, sunny days anyway.

 

There’s yet another dimension to better bowriders like this 185SE, and that’s the “sportsboat” enjoyment of driving a responsive vessel. Why get a sports car 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.

Boosting the feel of a sports car is the quite superb instrument panel and driving position. A full set of smart Faria gauges shows volts, 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 just right for gaining fast reactions by the hull to directional changes with no trace (using our sports car analogy) of either under- or over-steer!

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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 sunlounger 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 creamed through waves.

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We had calm waters for our test run so we used the healthy wake of our camera-cruiser to show how the 185SE could cope with rougher conditions, and it sailed through the wash 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 19 degrees deadrise helped present a smooth ride.

Our test boat had the “base level” power of a MerCruiser 4.3 litre 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 75.7kph 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.

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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 plane from rest, but then 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 that doesn’t enjoy time at the helm.

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We were on plane at 2,600 rpm with the GPS recording 31.5kph, then 3,500 revs delivered a very pleasant cruise speed of just on 50kph. The MerCruiser V6 still had loads in reserve and was quietly energetic for strong acceleration through to high cruise speeds around 68kph at 4,500rpm before happily spinning to 5,000rpm for a top velocity of 75.7kph. It’s a well-engineered package and at no stage did either the engine or boat feel stretched or strained.

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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, drinkholders 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.

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At the front of the boat, 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 right at the stem 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 – that’s a good balance of practicality and comfort.

Behind the port section of the screen is a lockable glove box whilst between the main seating is a large under-floor locker that can hide full size wakeboards, water skis or bulky fenders. Above the cockpit a bimini top can be set up for shade on hotter days.

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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

Beam: 2.31m

Draft: 0.94m

Deadrise: 19 degrees

Weight (dry): 1,036kg

Fuel: 106l

Power: MerCruiser 4.3 litre V6 (142kw/190hp)

Drive: MerCruiser Alpha

Price as tested: Around $48,430 (including trailer)

Performance:

RPM                        KM/H

2,600                        31.5

3,000                        41.2

3,500                        49.6

4,000                        59.7

4,500                        67.7

5,000                        75.7