Please come back tomorrow and vote again
The new Bayliner Element is a radical boat with a radical price point: $11,999 for the base boat, engine and a trailer.
When I stepped aboard on test day, I noted the boat shift slightly to my added weight — no small boat is entirely immune — but to a far lesser degree than you’d expect aboard a V-hull runabout. Our test boat’s 60 hp Mercury EFI four-stroke (the water-sports package offers a 60 Bigfoot upgrade) sipped fuel. With two aboard we recorded a top speed of 31 mph. We did notice that where we sat affected the boat’s running attitude — it performed best with a passenger in the bow — but in production boats Bayliner plans to mount the engine lower to increase negative trim, and to make where people sit a non-factor. Handling proved predictable and smooth in calm waters, validating the "M" hull.
Rather than build in a fuel tank, Bayliner opted to use a portable 12-gallon tank, which makes filling up a matter of toting it to the local gas station. The diminutive tank would seem problematic if not for the excellent fuel economy of the 60 hp Mercury, which consumes just 5 gph at wide-open throttle. Throttle back to 3,500 rpm and this boat has a range of more than 90 miles — good for more than a few hours of kicking around or tubing.
The helm is simple, with just a large analog speedometer to monitor. We’d trade in the speedo for an engine tach, something that’s not offered. The helm seat is a molded-in part of the deck liner, so it’s not adjustable. It proved perfectly comfortable for me — I’m 5-foot-11, the average male height — but a 5-foot-8 co-worker had to lean forward to work the wheel and couldn’t enjoy the backrest. Still, no movable parts minimizes maintenance, making for hassle-free boating.
As for the rest of the seating, Bayliner carried the boat’s beam forward enough to make the bow cockpit actually usable by a crowd — it’s often cramped forward on a typical runabout. At the dock, we comfortably fit four people into the U-shape bow area, and two could easily stretch out in lounge mode. The main cockpit consists of the helm with two molded-in bench seats to port. The seats are meant to create a conversation pit. Aft there are two jump seats; a fill-in cushion creates a 5-foot by 2-foot-4-inch sun pad with space for a small Igloo cooler underneath. Two extended swim platforms bracket the outboard, with the boarding ladder to starboard. I found all the seating comfortable, and every area has at least one grab handle for passenger safety.
The Element has a stylish black gelcoat and a minimalist interior that is appealing even to experienced boaters, since they realize more amenities equal more things to break. The list of options — beyond the water-sports package that includes the Bigfoot and a tow arch — is pared to a Bimini top, mooring cover, 20-gallon Igloo cooler, bow filler cushion, digital depth gauge and stereo with MP3 jack. All you need for a fun day. Plus it’s a boat light enough to trailer behind a small crossover vehicle.
The Element’s open cockpit begs comparison to those of jet boats. But Sea-Doo isn’t producing the 150 Speedster anymore, and Yamaha’s jet boats are larger and more expensive. Even an entry-level runabout like the Starcraft 172 OB starts at $24,389 with a 90 hp outboard. That’s what Bayliner is banking on, that you can get an honest-to-goodness family boat without depleting all your family funds.