Bayliner Element

The Bayliner Element is an affordable entertainment platform that's fun for the whole family.

Bayliner Element

The new Bayliner Element is a radical boat with a radical price point: $11,999 for the base boat, engine and a trailer.Bayliner

Bayliner Element

Bayliner is offering financing for zero down and $150 a month for 120 months.Bayliner

Bayliner Element

The optional tow sports package includes a mini board tower and a 60-hp Mercury Bigfoot outboard.Bayliner

Bayliner Element

The Element has a stylish black gel coat and a sleek profile.Bayliner

Bayliner Element

Rare for a 16-foot boat: usable bow seating.Bayliner

Bayliner Element

The M-hull design makes for safe and predictable handling.Bayliner

Bayliner Element

The whole family can enjoy the ride.Bayliner

Bayliner Element

Great for beaching, cruising the lake or hanging out.Bayliner

Bayliner Element

The new Element looks good in the water.Bayliner

Bayliner Element

A better look at the Element's stable M-Hull design.Bayliner

Bayliner Element

The optional filler cushion turns the bow area into a sun lounge.Bayliner

Bayliner Element

There's space to stow your gear beneath the seats.Bayliner

Bayliner Element

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Bayliner Element

Bayliner

Bayliner Element

Add a depth gauge as an option.Bayliner

Bayliner Element

The molded-in helm seat is comfortable but not adjustable.Bayliner

Bayliner Element

More storage exists under the seats.Bayliner

Bayliner Element

Check out the space for the Igloo cooler aft.Bayliner

Bayliner Element

Add the insert over the cooler to create a mini sunpad.Bayliner

Bayliner Element

Bayliner

Bayliner Element

Bayliner

Bayliner Element

The swim ladder angles away from the propeller of the 60-hp Mercury outboard.Bayliner

Bayliner Element

Wakeboarding and tubing are part of the Element's entertainment program.Bayliner

Bayliner Element

The overall layout is surprisingly spacious for a 16-foot boat.Bayliner

Bayliner Element

Bayliner

Bayliner Element

Bayliner

Bayliner Element

Bayliner

Bayliner Element

Bayliner

Bayliner Element

Bayliner

Bayliner Element

Bayliner

Bayliner Element

Bayliner

Bayliner Element

Bayliner

Bayliner Element

Bayliner

Bayliner Element

Bayliner

Bayliner Element

The boat is light enough to tow with a small crossover SUV.Bayliner

Bayliner Element

The 60-hp Mercury outboard burns just 5 gph at wide-open throttle.Bayliner

Bayliner Element

Bayliner

Bayliner Element

Bayliner

Bayliner Element

Bayliner

Bayliner is the undisputed king of “gateway” boats; for decades the company has built entry-level runabouts that see duty as the first boat a family buys, loves and uses before presumably moving on to bigger and better. But as sales of the once ubiquitous 16- to 19-foot family bowrider have fallen, the question plaguing most builders has been: How do we get new people interested in boating? With a radical new boat called the Element, Bayliner may have the answer.

Pulling no punches, the 16-foot Element is a simple boat designed to take the sticker shock out of buying a new fiberglass model — so that a family interested in (literally) testing the waters can do so without blowing the bank. Normally, I’d start a review talking about design, comfort and ride and deal with pricing later, but in this case the pricing is the driver — Bayliner is offering a boat, engine and trailer package with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of around $12,000. For financing, Bayliner offers potential buyers a plan that requires zero money down and monthly payments of $150 (based on a 120-month loan at 5.4 percent interest), on par with a cable or cell phone bill. These price points could almost make the Element an impulse buy.

So beyond affordability, what, exactly, are you getting from an Element? Bayliner pressed its engineers to move beyond the traditional bowrider sensibilities and provide an entertainment platform that would allow a family of four to spend a few fun hours together on the water, focusing on seating over storage, simplicity over gadgetry, and comfort over top speed.

The comfort idea starts below the waterline. Bayliner eschewed the traditional bowrider's moderate-V hull for an "M" design, which resembles at first glance the cathedral-style hulls made famous by **Boston Whaler**. But it is more like a trimaran, with the V running down the centerline and two V-shape sponsons outboard with hard chines. Instead of tapering flat aft, as on many cathedral hulls, the sponsons maintain their V all the way to the stern. Bayliner claims this improves stability at rest and minimizes lean in turns — traits its research shows intimidate first-time boaters.

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.