The word ‘Bayliner’ tends to elicit a spontaneous and generally positive response from the average powerboater. It is the world’s most famous entry-level brand and although it plainly operates as a profit-making business, it sometimes seems that the marque provides a vital service to the rest of the industry – firstly by convincing the uninitiated that boating might be worth a go and secondly by enabling them to afford it. It is therefore excellent news to see a genuinely affordable new 16-footer enter the fray in the form of the aptly named ‘Element’…
Based on feedback from targeted discussions with novice boaters, the Bayliner Element aims to provide not just an accessible package but also a very reassuring one. That’s a key issue because what emerged from the Bayliner focus groups was that it isn’t enough simply for a powerboat to be safe. It actually has to feel safe which means minimal bow lift from a standing start, allied to improved lateral stability when on board loads are shifted. It also means reliable directional tracking when off the plane and minimal heel in the turn. To many of us, a wish list like this points towards a catamaran, but for Bayliner, whose boats need to remain affordable, the answer was a tri-hull-style design based on a monohull with a pair of moulded sponsons. Known as the ‘M-Hull’, it is essentially a traditional Cathedral Hull, the likes of which has been used for many years to great effect on a range of small planing craft, so its suitability for the Bayliner Element is not in doubt.
On board simplicity
Rather than go down the route of an open deck with a range of options for the layout and the deck furniture, the Bayliner Element employs an entirely moulded (and therefore immovable) configuration. Reminiscent of a traditional jet boat layout, it incorporates three simple seating sections, one forward, one amidships and one aft. Each is based upon a curved moulding with a lift out cushion and equipped with a small grey plastic grab handle for additional security. The relatively square, almost deck boat style nose helps maximise internal space and while it is unlikely to win any awards for its aesthetic impact, the amount of storage and seating that has been generated on this relatively shallow 16-foot platform is very impressive.
The helm seat station sits on the starboard side of the middle section, where the inherent lateral stability of the M Hull is likely to prove a very useful asset for single-handed helming. Here, you get a simple pod with a foot brace and a single, usefully oversized central speedo, plus uninterrupted 360-degree visibility. In fact, even the miniscule screen stays well out of your way on top of the console and while that leaves your view entirely unhindered it looks unlikely to generate protection for anything above your chest.
However, the main difficulty here is not the exposure to the elements (which tends to be accepted as part of the small open boat experience) but the helm position itself. The driver’s seat is perched quite a long way aft of the dash controls so in order to reach the wheel, you have to sit forward on the seat, well away from the backrest. It makes it difficult to keep your back straight, particularly for small people and on a long trip in some gentle chop that could become tiring.
As for the finish, the bulk of the openly visible stuff is fairly good, but look behind the scenes and there is some evidence of make-do. For instance, the undersides of some of the cushions use rather rudimentary wooden blocks to fix them in place, while others use plastic wedges. And the battery isolation switch is also very rudimentary. It is mounted on what looks like a rough offcut of wood screwed to the inside edge of the starboard locker. That same locker also houses the battery and yet there is no compartmentalisation to protect these items from loose baggage rattling around in the storage space. For a mass-produced craft from a big name, these niggles are rather unexpected, but they are easily remedied so I have no doubt that in time we will see that happen.
Get underway and it becomes plain that, despite the lateral stability and directional tracking that the M Hull provides, the Bayliner Element remains rather bullied by the need for favourable weight distribution. For instance, put the throttle down from a standing start and, with four people on board (two in the mid-section and two aft), the ‘flat lift’ onto the plane requested by Bayliner’s focus groups is not quite there. Instead, we get around ten seconds of bow-up revving before we finally push out of the hole and settle back down.
There is only 60hp on tap from the Mercury four-stroke outboard, so with a bit of weight on board, you need to stay up to pace and be careful to avoid over-trimming in the turn of you want to avoid falling off the plane. Nonetheless, it’s a very easy boat to drive, with precisely the gentle, moderate heel in the turn that the designers required. Though not massively trim sensitive, there is sufficient controllability to elevate the nose a touch and while it’s by no means a fast boat, it does everything well enough to enable you to enjoy your drive without feeling restrained by her dynamic abilities.
What we have here then is essentially a traditional Cathedral Hull with curvy jet-boat-style internals allied to slightly deeper freeboards and a famously attractive mainstream name. It’s by no means revolutionary but if the intention was to produce a boat that was entirely unfrightening, the Element must be considered a success.
When so many mainstream brands appear to be abandoning the bottom end in pursuit of more substantial profit margins, it is great to see Bayliner bucking the trend with a boat that does precisely what the novice boater requires. Of course, it is a touch hard riding and exposed, but if it wasn’t, it would struggle to come in on budget. Instead, this is a simple, effective, efficient little boat, which is very well placed to tempt its share of buyers away from the used market.
Bayliner Element specifications
LOA: 4.93 m
Fuel capacity: 45.4 litres
People capacity: six
Engine: Mercury 60hp BigFoot