By: Rick Huckstepp, Photography by: Rick Huckstepp

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Yes you can buy a boat on a budget and still get a top quality product. Rick Huckstepp explains how

Bayliner 185 Bowrider

The Bayliner 185 is a tidy, well-specified bowrider with a list of standard features you'd expect to pay extra for on many other vessels. Plus, she comes in a compact size with a towing weight of only 1336kg, which means the 185BR can be towed by big six-cylinder family cars - for those on a budget this is a vital requirement.

Step onboard and the first feature that catches the eye are all of her neat mouldings. Their finish is excellent and this can be directly attributed to Bayliner's vacuum-moulding process, which creates strong, ultra-smooth gelcoat finishes for all moulded surfaces.




The bowrider cockpit has a deep leg well and the heavily-upholstered seating features removable cushions that hide the cavernous storage hiding beneath. There are strategically-placed grab handles around this cockpit, so those sitting here can brace when the driver goes into a hard turn with little warning. This cockpit also has enough freeboard, so that passengers feel secure when underway, which is especially important for family boating.

The cockpit cushions stop short of meeting at the bow, which creates a firm under foot area, so alighting over the bow onto the beach is a lot easier. Plus, over time, heavy traffic won't damage your upholstery, which will add dollars to the boat's resale value when it's time to sell further down the track.

The stylish wrap-around windscreen sweeps well back and the opening in the centre is wide enough for a large person to fit through easily. The centre piece swings well out of the way and has a rubber grommet supporting it if it's left open while underway. So, again there's no damage and no rattles to annoy all and sundry.

Moving aft from the bowrider cockpit, there's a hatch in the deck of the companionway between the helm and passenger's seats. This lifts to reveal a semi-dry compartment where your safety gear can be stowed and kept within easily reach if required quickly. This locker can also be used as a wet storage area, because it's "bunged" and drains into the bilge, where an automatic bilge pump, mounted in front of the engine, pumps any water overboard.




To aid driver comfort, so the reflective finish of the mouldings will not generate glare on a sunny day, Bayliner has made the instrument dash "non glare". And it certainly looks the part with multiple brows shading all of the instruments. The dash is complemented by an adjustable steering wheel, which will certainly be appreciated by people who have difficulty getting in and out of the driver's seat.

Both the skipper and passenger's seat are a back-to-back arrangement, so each feature rear-facing observer seats. The seat bases are mounted on a long track and can be adjusted both forward and aft, but they also fully extended into sun lounges for those who wish to soak up a few rays.




The engine box protrudes slightly into the main cockpit and while it does encroach on available cockpit space, it also creates a usable sunlounge when the transom quarter-seat cushion are slotted into their high position - it's almost the size of a double bed. The padded backrests of these aft-quarter seats lift out to give access to the battery and power-steering pump. And, as with other areas on the boat, there are plenty of grab rails for those in the white knuckle brigade.

The wide swim platform stretches the boat's entire beam and is finished with a dimpled, non-slip texture. It has a hinged, flush-mounted hatch on the starboard side that conceals a drop-down telescopic stainless steel ladder. Four engine-box blower vents are rebated into the transom bulkhead and there's a single ski-rope attachment mounted centrally.




So much for the guided tour… how well does she go? The standard engine on this model is a 3lt MerCruiser 135hp petrol engine driving through an Alpha I leg. Access to the top, front and sides of the engine, so the dipstick, pulleys and belts are fully exposed for easy maintenance, is as easy as opening the engine-box cover on its gas-assisted rams. A nylon 106lt fuel tank is installed under the floor and its aft end, and the attached plumbing, are accessible at the front of the engine compartment.

It was a little disappointing to see the gelcoat in the bilge beneath the engine was stained with rust spots. It appears these were caused by metal filings created when work was done during her initial fit-out. If you are fastidious about cleanliness you'll find them difficult to remove.

Under power the four-cylinder had ample punch and shot out of the hole easily. I found cruising at 27 knots the most comfortable and at "WOT" she managed about 40 knots according to the speedo. This bowrider manoeuvred well at speed and lay over hard in tight turns, which should give those riding out the back on the end of a rope a quick thrill.

The Bayliner 185 Bowrider offers those on a budget, but still in the market for a top all-round family boat, excellent value for money. And the good news is you won't have to sell your soul to the bank manager to own one.




Good finish
Practical layout
Light to tow




Test boat engine vibration
Unsightly rust stains in bilge




Specifications - Bayliner 185 Bowrider




Price as tested:  $43,850
Options fitted:     Nil




Type:    Bowrider
Material:   Armourflex gelcoat, wooden stringer
Length:   6.38m
Beam:   2.31m
Draft:    0.94m   
Weight on trailer:  1336kg




People:   8
Fuel:    106lt




Make/model:  MerCruiser 3lt
Type: Four-cyl carburetted four-stroke 
Rated hp:   135hp
Displacement:  3lt
Weight:   288kg
Drive:    Alpha I
Propeller:   21in alloy



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