Take a 16' outboard powered, family bowrider, ad a stable hull, and design it around the popular open room concept found in many newer homes and you have the new Bayliner Element.
The Element is a boat that represents different thinking in the small boat space, and a lot of ingenuity aimed at keeping costs down, the fun quotient high, and the maintenance simple.
The 2013 Element is, at its core, a 16 foot deckboat/bowrider/sportboat, exclusively powered by a 60 hp EFI 4 Stroke, Mercury Bigfoot Outboard. There are limited individual options because it's well featured and available in two colors for 2013. It has an entirely new hull based on an M shape, intended to provide extremely stable, (darn near) idiot-proof handling with low bow ride and surprisingly nimble handling. Interior wise, it has a one-piece, full fiberglass liner (unheard of for an entry level boat), molded seats, and a portable 12 gallon fuel tank. It is aimed directly at younger families who have never owned a boat before, people who used to own a boat but have been priced out of the sport due to running costs, folks using it as a tender for their larger boat, lakefront property owners and folks wanting the fun of the smaller jet boats with better fuel economy. To see if Bayliner hit the mark, we spent some quality time with the Element out on Sarasota Bay.
This boat has a very innovative interior, unlike any other 16 - 17 foot boat on the market. It's divided into three zones - bow, central seating, and rear sundeck.
For one, the entire liner and deck is one molded piece, resulting in a very solid ride, a quality feel, and excellent long term durability. That also makes it easy to clean the interior with a hose, boat soap and a brush or sponge. The front of the boat is standard deckboat bowrider, with a removable center section. In typical Bayliner fashion, there is storage everywhere. All of the central seating is molded into the liner, with plenty of room to stand up at the helm. With a 7 and a half foot beam, this is a very roomy boat for the size - we were able to comfortably fit 7 people on this thing. The area under the back of the sundeck houses an optional cooler. To the right of the cooler is where the fuel tank lives, along with storage. There is also storage behind the cooler, and in front of the motor well under the seat cushion. To the left of the cooler, under the seat, is an absolutely HUGE storage locker big enough for water toys, life vests, and safety equipment. Bayliner put a lot of innovative "inexpensive" thinking in this boat, for example, the handles of the cooler also secures it. There is only one gauge on the instrument panel - a speedometer/voltometer gauge combo, and a handful of simple toggle switches.
The Jensen 2 speaker stereo sounded pretty good to my ears, and it's a far cry better than what passed for base stereo systems even a few years ago. You can even get an iPod adapter. Bottom line, this is the largest, best equipped 16 foot boat you are likely to step foot on, and very easy to maintain. The exterior...well, scope the pics. The lines are simple, and the Sport model includes a custom watersports tower for pulling tubes, wakeboarders and skiers. There are two swim steps on the back with an integrated swim ladder. Overall, we thought the boat was attractive and sporty.
On The Water:
We tested with various loads, full fuel, with a decent breeze and some whitecaps forming. Firewalling the throttle once we cleared the No Wake zone, it became obvious why there is no windshield: Six seconds after ramming the throttle forward, she planed off into an easy cruise at around 18 mph. Keep your hand on it and trim the boat out, and it tops out at 30+ mph. The 60hp Mercury Bigfoot (included with the Sport package for better hole shot and toy towing) shaves a mph or two off the top end in favor of more out-of-the-hole punch. In short, performance is good for a 16' open boat. It's quick enough to put a breeze through your hair and it's got enough power to keep you from wanting to get out and push. The surprise, however, was the handling. Stability and car-like handling were part of the design brief, and Bayliner really delivered here. Standing on the gunwales at rest resulted in near RIB levels of stability. Once underway, yaw in corners is much less than even larger boats, and the boat will absolutely NOT slide in a hard corner. Ride is also excellent by 16 foot boat standards. I was watching for the "slappy", filling loosening nature of a tri-hull but it never came. Overall, the boat is highly seaworthy in waves up to 2 feet. Even though it has a lot of freeboard, let's be honest - this is pretty much an inland waterway boat. You are not going to run this boat in the open ocean, Lake Michigan, or any other open water, though you certainly could on a good day. Overall, despite the perceived power deficit, we enjoyed the boat quite a bit. (we heard the boat was tested with a 90hp outboard but considered to be a little to exciting)
So what is the price? Bayliner is targeting entry level buyers, and they are pricing the boat around $14,000 with a trailer. The boat weighs 2100 lbs dressed on a trailer...which means it's towable by a number of small, 4 cylinder CUVs like a Honda CR-V or a Toyota RAV-4. This is where the Element stands apart and could be an interesting experiment in entry level boats. There are no fiberglass boats that approach the passenger room or equipment of the Element. Most of the 16 foot boats in this price class are made of aluminum and have rod holders.
Squawks, We Have a Few...
Lest you think this is a love fest, we do have some constructive criticisms of the boats:
- Having one power option keeps the price down, but it could really use more ponies. I'd happily spend $1,500 to upgrade the motor to a 90 hp. Especially on the Sport, which is intended for water sports. (if the 90 is too exciting, how about a 75?)
- The dash console is pretty roomy for adding gauges, because it only has one multi-instrument gauge - that's it. We'd like to see more, but again, that adds cost.
- More fuel capacity would be nice, since 12 gallons will barely give you more than 5 hours of running time. Thankfully, with the portable tank and massive storage capacity, Bayliner made it easy to do so if you buy more fuel tanks to have on shore.
We'll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, go try one.
Matt Train is a lifelong boating enthusiast now living near Chicago, with 10 years of boating experience on the waters of the Thousand Islands of Upstate New York. He is an active participant of the Bayliner Owners Club. Bayliner Owners Club is a not for profit group of Bayliner boat owners and enthusiasts, and is not affiliated with Bayliner or Brunswick Corporation in any way. (Editor: this article is dedicated to our longtime BOC and iboats Forums friend Steve Stevens who we lost to cancer this past fall).