Monday, March 18, 2013

Bayliner’s 195 bowrider

USCG Bayliner Trophy Patrol boat
Bayliner’s new 195 bowrider gets families in the water for maximum fun with a minimum budget.
As the fog lifts over the Tennessee River, you’re one of the first few brave souls to make it from the warm confines of the marina log cabin to the wind-nipped docks. Curiosity has overridden the lower temperatures, and you’re rewarded with a spot at the front of the line to test a new 2005 Bayliner.

As a supposedly seasoned boat tester, this is the part where you clear your throat, puff up your chest, and belt out all of the features you like or dislike on the boat in one single breath to inform the rest of the crowd on the dock of your boating prowess and expertise. But today that would be silly for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the boat you’re about to hop on isn't tailored to the seasoned boating aficionado crowd. It’s suited for families just dipping their feet into the boating lifestyle, and as such, you treat the upcoming expedition on the Bayliner 195 accordingly. You jump into the cockpit and start asking a lot of questions.

You've officially put yourself in the shoes of a prospective new boater looking at his or her very first boat purchase. Kind of ironic, considering that the folks at US Marine used the same technique before producing the 195, similar to a lot of other models in the Bayliner lineup. According to the company, the 19-foot range of boats offer the second largest boating market, and US Marine has gone all out to blanket that market with affordable boats. At one end of the spectrum, you've got the compact Bayliner 175 — a bargain of a boat at under $10,000. Walking back up the price scale, Bayliner adds on features with the size of the boats to produce a well-rounded model range.

That philosophy is apparent in the 195’s design. The cockpit is noticeably different than most runabouts of its size. It’s bigger, for starters. The official term is a “cockpit forward design,” which opens up space in the cockpit so a family of four can actually sit in comfort and not have to squeeze into some kind of cramped wraparound seating that inevitably leaves squished toes and overlapping legs. Once you’re idling or at an anchoring point out on the water, the 195’s layout opens up even more for you. The aft jump seats fold out into two sun lounges. Tack on another large convertible sunpad aft (two fold-up sections at the transom complete the setup), and you've got three prime tanning stations. That’s not counting the open bow, which has room for two folks to kick back, although it’s not recommended that you lounge up there while going full throttle.

The seating is fun and all, but if you bring along kids, they’ll want to do a little more than sit in the jump seats and admire Mom or Dad’s driving. Nope, they’re into things that involve action off of the boat, which means mucho family interaction will be at the swim or transom platform. On the 195, getting on and off the boat won’t be a slippery situation with the non-skid fiberglass hull. That’s good because kids are rarely anything but wiggly once they spot the first chance for a dive into open water (PFDs on, of course). The optional extended platform has enough space to sit down and put on your watersports gear. A foldout ladder is provided for easier access in and out of the water too.

The obvious follow-up question to watersports capability is — where the heck are you going to store all of that gear? Usually, when it comes to runabouts this size, the math doesn’t add up for storage space. It’s normally reserved for cramming wraparound seating or more bow space instead of accommodating the logistical side of boating. Not so on the 195. Right in the middle of the cockpit is a center-floor storage area that can hold a wakeboard, towlines and PFDs. More storage is available in the bow and stern under snap-off upholstery.

So, at this point, you've pretty much exhausted every conceivable question in your conversation with the Bayliner rep, which leaves only one more thing.

Before the rest of the boat-testing crowd can blink, you and your crew of four are out the slip and on your way to open water ... and fog. Unfortunately, once out of the no-wake zone you encounter a blanket of fog over the water, making visibility pretty poor. But considering you've got what’s visible to yourself (most of the testers are back at the dock getting ready to go out), you crank up the throttle and see what the 195 can do. Because it’s a small runabout, you've got to factor in the time it takes to plane once you've decided to go for the full rpm, and it takes the 195 three seconds to get from nose high to just right. Traveling back and forth in your square block of visible waterway, you clock 51 mph as the 195’s top speed, and it takes about 10 seconds to get from 0 to 30 mph. Had the conditions been more favorable, you might have been able to crank out a little more on the 195, but with the current conditions that would have involved speeding into a big blur, not suitable for a crew already fearful of your driving.

What you do come across in that little water space of yours is a few of the 195’s limitations. As a 19-footer, you’re going to be at the mercy of wakes and waves more than say a 25-foot cuddy or 30-foot cruiser. That’s expected. This isn't a boat to go offshore fishing or overnighting — it’s a day boat centered on simple family activities. Similar to the use you would use with a pontoon boat from Manitou. And with a trailerable frame, you can take the 195 along for family vacations instead of centering your boating time on one body of water.

With a base price of under $20,000, you may have a little extra spending money to invest in some of the options — including a Bimini top or extended transom platform. But what the 195 gives you right off the bat is a viable way to test the waters without blowing your budget. And that’s a lot to talk about.

The Bayliner 195 succeeds in its primary goal — to get you in the water at a reasonable price. The open cockpit, storage space and little features make this a well-rounded runabout; just expect to feel the waves a bit more than larger boats.

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