Bayliner bowriders are nowhere near as ubiquitous in the UK as they are in the USA – blame the weather, or the relatively exposed coastal waters. But take it as read: Bayliner has been a major player in the world of bowriders for many decades, with huge sellers like the classic Bayliner 175 BR, the 215 BR, and the 235 BR.
But if you’re shopping for a new bowrider, it’s the VR6 that you need to check out. Because the new VR’s from Bayliner are, in my personal opinion, the best bowriders Bayliner has ever built.
Even though I’m a strong believer in the idea that all boats have different attributes that make them better or worse for you or me, I really do believe the VR6 is better than any of Bayliner’s previous bowriders. But before we get down to brass tacks, let’s take a quick overall look at the boat with a short video.
There are several reasons the VR6 is better than any previous bowrider from Bayliner. For one thing, the VR6 is an all-fibreglass boat. Sure, there are plenty of wood-free boats out there, but up until the VRs, they weren’t being built by Bayliner. That’s not intended as a knock on building with wood. When used properly it’s an excellent boatbuilding material. But after a couple of decades it does tend to degrade, if not rot, and can lead to big problems with expensive fixes. Rot will never be a problem on the VR6, which is constructed with a foam-filled fibreglass stringer system.
Another longevity boost comes from the top, though only if you opt for the Xtreme Tower. The tower integrates a Bimini with forward supports on quick-disconnects, which allows the whole affair to be rolled up and boot-covered against the tower arch. Not only is the design smart, it eliminates those racking Bimini arms that sway back and forth in the wind until one fine day when a support bends or a mount breaks.
Now take a quick walkthrough of the boat, and slap an eyeball on the hatches, latches, windshield, and other components. You won’t see anything fancy, but you won’t see a bunch of cheap pieces and parts, either. Take the adjustable aft lounge over the engine box, for example. The backrest lays flat until you swing it up and flip out a Polyboard support, which sits on a fibreglass lip. It’s incredibly low-tech; there are no spring-triggered pins, no electric-actuated struts, and no knobs or gizmos. As a result, there’s also very little to go wrong. Same goes for the seating, which adjusts mostly with removable inserts.
Is the boat built perfectly? Of course not. I’m not in love with the passenger’s side glovebox because it opens from the top instead of from a horizontal surface. In my experience any sort of compartment on a boat that opens from the top eventually suffers from water intrusion, so I wouldn’t feel completely safe dropping my cell phone or other water-sensitive electronics in there. Nor am I in love with the plastic latches used on the head compartment doors. They have a pretty decent life-span, but stainless-steel would last longer. It would, of course, also raise the price, but let's not get ahead of ourselves—more on price, later.
Ride and comfort
Another reason why the VR6 is better than previous Bayliner bowriders is that its ride is superior. It handles wave impacts far better than any of the company's earlier models. True, when I ran the boat it was on a calm Tennessee River. But we did have plenty of boat traffic, including a few 30 foot-ish cruisers which were kicking up nice wakes. And when I saw one coming, I gave it the full-throttle test. The hull flew up off the first wave and I cringed for impact, but the VR6 came down with a solid wave-splitting ker-chunk. No vibrations shuddered through my back, nothing broke, and so yes—I had to turn around and try it again. And again, and again. Someone on one of the other boats later told me that on one of my better launches, nothing above the drive unit’s anti-ventilation plate had remained in the water.
The boat’s relatively steep 20-degree transom deadrise gets some credit, for sure. But a huge part of the improved ride can be traced back to that foam-filled stringer grid. The hull is stiffer and stronger, and the ride reflects that.
You should not, of course, take my word for it. Judging ride is a subjective thing, and you really do need to feel the hull underfoot to make your own assessment. That said, if you have experience on other Bayliner bowriders and you run the VR6, I'm willing to bet that after the sea trial you agree with my assessment.
Another comfort boost comes from the boat’s design. It carries the beam far forward, much more so than on older bowrider designs. From the dock some will think this creates an appearance that’s not quite as sporty. But when talking about comfort and usability, it’s clearly superior. There’s significantly more elbow-room up forward, and noticeably more seating space. And, how about that head compartment in the passenger’s console? With most builders, you have to take another step or two up in the model line before getting this perk.
The price is right
Okay: assuming you don’t have a major problem with what I’ve said thus far, we can agree that we have a better-built, better-running Bayliner. But let’s not mince words: Bayliners have never been known for being the best-built nor the best-running boats on the face of the planet. They’ve been known for offering strong value, due in no small part to a very low price-point. So the big question is, how much did they have to raise their prices, to build this better boat?
Amazingly, the price has gone down. The 215 BR this boat replaces went on the market at $34,728 (£22,780); the new VR6 lists at $33,299 (£21,840).
So how can you build a better boat for less money? Manufacturing efficiency is part of the answer. Many items in the VR line are used on multiple models, so they only have to make one shape and size seat, for example, instead of many different ones. The other reason is to do with the lack of wood in the design. The price of wood is a bit volatile, and while building a boat with lots of wood in its guts might be profitable one month; the next month... not so much. Compounding matters, the inability to accurately predict manufacturing costs can lead to a cover-your-butt mentality that causes an artificially high retail price.
No, there is no such thing as the “perfect” boat. But there is a better one. Bayliner just proved it. And it costs less.
Other Choices: Runabout buyers in the UK will compare the VR6 against models like the Sea Ray 19 SPX, the Yamarin Cross 75 BR, or perhaps the Beneteau Flyer 8.8.
For more information, visit Bayliner. See UK listings for Bayliner bowriders of all ages and sizes.