REVIEW: BAYLINER 217 DECK BOAT

By: David Lockwood


I swung the wheel around, leant on the throttle, and flashed past Cottage Rock beside the sandstone precipices ranging to Castle Lagoon, skipping along a deep bend of Cowan Creek, the boating Mecca on Sydney’s outskirts. But there, as if walking straight into a minefield, were more giant brown jellyfish than I have seen per cubic metre of saltwater in my entire life.
What’s with the jellyfish? Who knows for sure, but let’s jump on the bandwagon and put it down to global warming. And, while we’re at it, that’s probably the reason for the arrival of the new 217 Deck Boat that I was using to make jellyfish chop suey. Long hot summer days are here to stay.
Marking a whole new direction for Bayliner, the world’s biggest boatbuilder, deckboats are all about more fun (that word will crop up a lot in this story) in the sun. According to the local agents, Bayliner’s new 2007 range of three deckboats — four if you include both inboard and outboard versions of this 217 — has set Middle America on fire.
Of course, deckboats aren’t new and, in fact, there are American boatbuilders that specialise in them and nothing more. However, we haven’t seen too many deckboats make it Down Under due, in part I suppose, to their often overtly American flavour.
Now that mainstream boatbuilder Bayliner is launching an assault on local markets, the fortune of deckboats here is bound to change. You also get a lot of boat for your buck and, well, way more amenities and comforts than you’ll find in your average bowrider.
Offering some sportiness as well, the 217 Deck Boat imported here boasts a bigger 260hp 5.0lt MPI MerCruiser than the 190hp 4.3lt that comes standard in America. But if towing is your gig there’s also a 5.7lt V8 engine option that might have more torque down low but perhaps not the same top end speed.

THE BIG BUILDER
Besides being the world’s biggest boatbuilder, Bayliner has always offered one of the better-value trailerboats about town. At $64,990 as tested with an Avante Marine accessory pack, the 217 Deck Boat costs a premium over a similar-length Bayliner bowrider but you look at all that deck space.
There are no surprises on the construction front, with all handlaid GRP or fibreglass in a hull backed by a transferable limited lifetime warranty, with a five-year warranty on the deck. A fibreglass stringer system and glassed-in bulkheads provide rigidity to the hull, while there’s so-called KidClean protected vinyl upholstery, and details like a waterproof radio with MP3/ipod jack to placate teens.
On the layout front, there are three different zones dubbed Pilot, Lounge and Transom by Bayliner, each with its own features. I prefer to think of them as bow, cockpit and transom. And it’s from the bow, the not-so-pointy end of a deckboat, that this bluff-fronted craft immediately distinguishes itself.
Looking down on it, there’s a lot of boat here with a 2.59m beam taken a long way forward almost to the bow. But look below the waterline and you soon realise much of the boat’s volume is in the flare. This way, there’s still a sharp forefoot for cutting the swell.
Having said that, a deckboat will never be as smooth riding as a bowrider. But unlike them, this boat is self-draining, with optional clip-out carpets, so no need to worry about putting water or sand aboard during a big day of family fun.

LAYED OUT FOR FUN
The bluff bow includes a ladder and large section of non-skid deck to assist with boarding from a beach or, for that matter, the water. There are separate port and starboard nav. lights and stainless steel side grabrails tracing the forward seating — in the so-called Lounge area up front —for four around a removable table where you and the kids can do lunch.
A lift-out centre cushion provides walkthrough access for unloading passengers without trashing your upholstery, but with infill in place the bow converts to one huge sunpad for two couples to catch some rays.
Meanwhile, under the seat bases are dedicated storage holds, a spot for storing the anchor in rattle-free rubber grommets, and an icebox with hinged lid and liner. There are also marine speakers so you can drown out the rabble.
Mid-cockpit is the usual oversized underfloor ski or wakeboard locker with a gas strut on its lid. Though there is no tow tower, the boat has the usual ski tow eye on the transom.
Now for the split console or so-called Pilot area. To port, opposite the offset starboard-side helm, is a trendy moulded amenities unit with deep moulded sink, drinkholders, freshwater tap for washing the plates, garbage bin and 36-can portable Igloo icebox for keeping lunch and refreshments cold
The chic blue Plexiglass lid over the sink matches the blue windshield at the helm and the drinkholders on the transom. The helm also has a full spread of Faria gauges, trick toggle switches for lights and pumps and so on, a 12V accessory plug, the waterproof Sirus stereo, drinkholders and storage for personal effects.
Last but not least, the aft lifestyle area, with surround seating for five on an L-shaped lounge with storage below and the boat’s rather public Portaloo, which you could carry ashore.
Release a locking mechanism and a section of the lounge pulls out for walkthrough access to the transom, where you’ll find a cold-only deck shower, ladder and extended boarding platform (standard).
But the best feature is the sunpad. With flip-up backrests you can create transom lounges for sitting up and watching the watersports action when on the anchor. There are six drinkholders, dedicated storage for wet gear, as well as storage nets in the engine bay beside the small-block V8.
I noted good access to the battery and, thanks to sound insulation from the sunpad above, a pleasantly quiet ride. All the primary servicing items from water pump and the fuel sender on the generous 208lt tank, to belts, oil dipstick and bilge are accessible. And there’s dedicated storage under the engine-room lid for the lunch table, plus a canopy for shade should you need it in summer.

CRUISING ON THE DOUBLE DECKER
The Springfield base for the helm seat, with flip-up bolster, is adjustable every which way and, with a low windshield, you are assured great vision. The 260hp 5.0lt MerCruiser offers the best power-to-weight ratio of any of the motor options, a detail that revealed itself in the great acceleration.
Up and running with three people and half fuel aboard, the wide-bodied 217 Deck Boat feels fast, flighty and, here’s that word again, fun. It’s also responsive to engine trim which is a good thing considering all the seating, potential crew and gear you can pack aboard.
At 2500rpm there is a good low-speed cruise and tube-towing speed of 18kts.  Comfortable cruise was clocked at 3000rpm and 25kts, where the engine was purring and quiet, while a fast cruise was anywhere from 32kts at 3500rpm to 40.7kts at 4500rpm.
At WOT of 5000rpm and plenty of out-trim, whereupon the rev limiter jumped in, I recorded 41.3kts. So I’m guessing that when the MerCruiser is broken-in, this boat has the potential to crack the 50mph benchmark. Which is impressive for such a big lump of a boat that, on road, tips the scales to about 2100kg.
With a 12-person capacity — as opposed to seven on a similar length Bayliner bowrider — you can share in the fun aboard the 217 with many more people than is otherwise possible. This, in essence, is what deckboats are all about… partying in company and letting nothing including jellyfish get in your way. A great summer boat.

WHAT WE LIKED
Huge amount of stable deck space
Seating for a party of 12
Bow lunch area
Convertible aft sunpad to sun lounges
Fore and aft ladders for beach and water access
Amenities centre with portable cooler, sink, freshwater and garbo
Sporty handling and ride
Big-brand backing and great national dealer network
 
NOT SO MUCH
Lots of upholstery and trim to maintain
Styling is sure to date
Not as much demand for deckboats second-hand
A big lump of a boat to tow
Lack of weather protection
Harder ride than a bowrider 

 

Specifications: Bayliner 217 Deck Boat


HOW MUCH?
Price as tested: $64,990 w/ 5.0lt MerCruiser, tandem trailer and Avante package Options fitted: Engine upgrade and Avante package including freshwater, Portapotti, extended swim platform, canopy, bow filler cushion, cockpit carpet and more Priced from $64,990 w/ above specifications standard on the 217 in Australia

GENERAL
Material: GRP or fibreglass Type: Moderate-vee planing hull Length overall: 6.27m plus swim platform Beam: 2.59m Deadrise: N/a Weight: Approx 1591kg (dry) Towing weight: Approx 2044kg

CAPACITIES
Fuel: 208.2lt Water: Approx. 40lt Berths: Four on sunpads People: 12


ENGINE
Make/Model: MerCruiser 5.0L Type: V8 petrol four-stroke inboard Rated HP: 260 at 5000rpm max   Displacement: 5.0lt Weight: Approx 430kg Gearboxes (Make/ratio): Alpha One sterndrive Props: 21in alloy

SUPPLIED BY
Avante Marine,
Silverwater, NSW, 2128.
Phone: (02) 9737 0727.
Bayliner Australia,
Berowra Waters, NSW, 2080.
Phone: (02) 9456 3200
Website: www.bayliner.com.au   

Originally published in TrailerBoat #218

 


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