By: David Lockwood

Pitched at the boating masses, Bayliner’s appealing 185 bowrider is packaged with plenty of comforts for fun on the water, writes David Lockwood

If there was to be just one boat for the world, it would have to look something like this. And be keenly priced, like this. It would also need an instantly recognisable badge like, well, this. Because it subscribes to these prerequisites, Bayliner's 185 might just be the most popular boat in the world.
I have no evidence to support this assumption, mind you, but I do recognise mass appeal when I see it. From bow to stern, on its Karavan trailer and in the showroom, this all-American bowrider is attractive to consumers. Drive through, place your order, sign the cheque, hitch her up, and go boating.
There’s nothing more to it. It’s a ‘just-add-water’ craft pitched squarely at the boating populous – a real boat to go. Not that Bayliner just happened upon the formula. The company perfected it home-baked bowrider recipe after decades of making powerboats in the fashionable 17 to 30ft range.
The relatively recent advent of CAD design and factory robotics has led to better space utilisation, more efficient building methods, and a much-improved integration of features and amenities. But essentially the recipe remains constant year after year.
Occasionally there are moulding changes and new fittings, but usually the alterations are limited to styling changes such as different graphics and a change of upholstery colour. The new 2006 185 model is a case in point, with more blue trim, more textured vinyl, and grey carpet instead of the common beige seen on previous models.
Engine options range from a 135hp three-litre MerCruiser on the basic American package, to a 220hp 4.3lt MPI MerCruiser on the demo boat used for this test. But for that engine upgrade, the boat was a standard rig bundled on single-axle American-made Karavan trailer and price to go at $39,990 – which is good buying in the competitive bowrider market.
Also, with importers Avante Marine expanding and opening new outlets in the eastern states, the boat is backed by some pretty handy drive-through service. Meanwhile, on the water, I found nothing untoward or unexpected in this bowrider, which is designed as a conduit to fun times afloat. In many ways it’s more about what you do with the boat and where you go than the item itself.

While it doesn't break any new ground, Bayliner's 185 is packaged with plenty of comforts to allow you to spend a long day aboard. The hull is foam filled, with GRP stringers and vinylester resin. There is a half-length interior fibreglass liner, with the options of a full liner and/or carpet runners.
Although the full-beam-forward hull employed by Bayliner mightn't be the smoothest across bumpy water, especially when it’s lightly laden and bundled with the biggest possible motor, the upside of all that volume is that it’s among the roomiest. The 185 has an eight-person carrying capacity and the most generous storage capacity in its class. And, in a boat like this, storage is a key consideration.
With the required watertoys, swimming gear, lunch, and refreshments stowed away, the 185 can easily carry six adults. But, with seating for eight, it’s a great summer boat for two young families.
The standard seating layout, which we had on the demo boat, includes back-to-back seats and aft quarter seats. The upholstered base of these seats can be relocated to create a bigger aft sunpad. There is the option of sports seating – helm bucket seats and a full-width aft lounge – but I'm a fan of the old back-to-back numbers in a boat like this. Not only do they boost passenger-carrying capacity from six to eight, but you can convert them to daybeds or sun lounges under the supplied canopy. What’s more, you get additional storage in their bases.
Coveted by the kiddies most of all, the bowrider’s bow seating is more generous than you’ll find on a lot of 18 to 19-footers. Not only will the tykes riding up front in their dashing yellow lifejackets welcome this, but mums and dads can take comfort in the fact that the boat can traverse boat wake and wind waves without shipping water.
After driving across some pretty wild water on a rainy day without taking on water, I concluded that the full-beam forward hull design also had excellent freeboard. It feels nice and stable when stationary, too. And, after casting an eye over the boat’s finish, it doesn’t disappoint at this price point. Not as luxurious as some, but better than some others.

I noted stainless steel deck fittings from the navigation light to fixed mooring cleats, grabrails in the bow, two dry storage holds under the bow seat bases – one of which will need to be used to house the anchor – and dry storage lockers back inside the helm. The bow, a high-wear area, had a non-skid liner and non-skid on the gunwales to help passengers disembark.
There is a lockable glovebox ahead of the co-pilot. It has a plastic insert to separate the ice from the stereo, which comes with an MP3 jack for your iPod. There is also 12V outlet nearby for a mobile phone or camcorder. Flanking the cockpit are full-length side pockets, which aren’t always a given on an 18ft bowrider, allowing you to carry skis, fishing rods, and perhaps wakeboards.
There’s also an underfloor ski locker with a loose lid that might be easy to handle if it were hinged, a couple of drinkholders at the helm and at the aft quarter seats. Water lovers will welcome the integrated boarding platform, swim ladder and ski hook, as well as the added pulling power of the upgraded multipoint injected 220hp V6 MerCruiser petrol engine.

I used the word ‘smooth’ a few times in my notes, penning ‘efficient and smooth’ at 19800rpm, where the MerCruiser returned a 17.5 to 18kt low-speed cruise and handy wakeboarding speed. And I used ‘smooth’ for the family cruise at 2100rpm and 23kts. ‘Fast’ was more appropriate at 2900rpm and 34.5 to 35.5kts, where engine noise became more noticeable up to and including WOT of 4600rpm and 46.7kts. Very fast.
I also noted that this motor usually pulls 5100rpm and that we had a 23-inch alloy propeller fitted to the Alpha One leg instead of the usual 21-inch. This explains why the boat had such impressive top-end speed. Stick with the 21-inch if you intend on doing a lot towing and carrying a full complement aboard. This was more of a speed machine.
In the straights, as in sweeping bends, the 185 was a lot of fun to drive. As ever, there were great ergonomics and a car-like dash with easy-to-read engine gauges. Speaking of which, you probably need to think of the 185 as you might a V6 Commodore or Falcon. The boat embraces the term ‘turnkey’ and there are relatively few options but, should you feel so inclined, you could create a sportier ‘Calais’ or ‘Fairlane’ with the addition of the optional wakeboarding tower, sports seating layout, XT graphics, and CD stacker.
As it was, the 185 struck me as a consummate family bowrider with universal appeal, the right amount of creature comforts, some sporty spice, and good brand and agent backing – which has proven to be a recipe for success on the global drive-through bowrider market. Que to the left please.

Instantly recognisable badge
More local Bayliner agents, translating to good service
A high-volume hull with broad bow seating area
Plenty of storage space
Predictable performance

No dedicated anchor locker.
In-dash icebox close to marine stereo
No hinge on the lid and no liner inside the underfloor ski locker
Although mostly cosmetic, annual upgrades limit the new-boat life of your Bayliner
Generally, the consumable bowrider market isn’t known for its resale value – people prefer to buy new


Specifications: Bayliner 185

Price as tested: $39,990 w/ MerCruiser 220hp 4.3lt MPI petrol inboard, single-axle braked Karavan trailer, safety gear and registrations
Options fitted: Upgraded motor (std in USA w/ 135hp three-litre MerCruiser)

Material: GRP with foam-filled sub-floor chambers and stringers
Length overall: 5.54m or 6.12m on trailer, towing tongue swung to the side
Beam: 2.36m
Deadrise: n/a
Weight: Approx 963kg (dry w/base motor), 1318kg on road

Berths: n/a
Fuel capacity: 106lt
Passengers: 8
Water capacity: n/a
Rec/max HP: 220
Rec/min hp: 135

Make/model: MerCruiser 4.3lt MPI
Type: Multipoint injected V6 petrol inboard motor
Weight: 393kg
Rated HP: 220
Displacement: 4.3lt
Drive: Alpha One sterndrive
Propeller: 23in alloy

Avante Marine,
210 Silverwater Road,
Silverwater, NSW.
Phone: (02) 9737 0727

OriginallY published in TrailerBoat #205


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