Bayliner 185XT and 205XT Review

Issue: July 2003

Put a group of boaties in a room, then pose the question what are the ingredients of a top family all-round day boat”

And opinions will vary as much as if you asked them ‘who do you think would make the best Prime Minister” It’s a bit like asking that perennial question what boat should I buy” Obviously, the decision boils down to individual wants and needs, the tasks you will be asking of the boat, where are you going to use the vessel most and what compromises are you prepared to make to end up with a boat that best suits your boating style But to lay claim to the title of a ‘good family all-rounder there are a few musts any vessel should have.

These include the need for the boat’s gunwales to be high enough to ensure all passengers feel secure inboard. There should be enough seating so the kids can invite a few friends along for a day on the water. Extra storage space will be needed for the volumes of gear that tends to end up onboard for a day out A built-in drinks cooler would be nice, as would a CD stereo for a bit of music to sooth the savage beasts ‘ sorry kids. In a perfect world a loo is a handy inclusion, if the boat is big enough, to reduce the need for frequent trips back to shore after the kids consume too much fizzy drinks. Power, handling and stylish good looks; well, they speak for themselves.

But the kids will want to ride on inflatable watersport toys, or have a crack at skiing, so a suitable tow pole or ski ring will be required. But these days there’s another craze that’s sweeping the world at a tremendous rate, wakeboarding and it seems wakeboarding has been added to the list of prerequisites for the title of a top family all-round. If you don’t believe me, just ask the kids. Unlike skiing, where constant speed and flat wakes are the go, wakeboarders are after those bulky wakes that they can launch off to perform aerial tricks before coming hopefully not crashing back down on the water.

Sure you can tow a kid on a wakeboard behind any boat, especially when they are learning, but once they get the bug they’ll need plenty of air if they are to progress to the next level. And the only way of getting air apart from the bake beans kind is by having a tow point high enough above the water to give the rider room to spin in the air after launching off the boat’s trenched-up wake. You’ll need a wakeboarding tower. These days there are quite a few specialist or tournament wakeboard boats on the market that utilise towers for tow point height and flooding chambers or portable water containers to add weight around the transom to increase the height and shape of the boat’s wake.

Now, while these boats are excellent for full-on wakeboarders, those who only dabble in the sport, but still want the ability to have a crack at more involved tricks, my find the price of these boats doesn’t equate to good value for money.

So, it was with increased interest that the Modern Boating team headed for Berowra Waters, north of Sydney, after a call from the guys at Bayliner inviting us to come up and test the latest 185 and 205XT Capris Bayliner’s new wakeboarding editions. On arrival we were a little disappointed to discover that the two boats were basically the 185 and 205 Bowriders we had tested previously.

But now they sported boarding towers and the 205 had a three-quarter width fibreglass boarding platforms extending from the original swim platform. Don’t get me wrong, both these two vessels were already excellent family bowriders, it’s just that we had never considered them as full-on wakeboarding boats, we were wrong. The Bayliner 205XT is 6.12m, or 20′ 1′ in the old scale, long, while the smaller 185XT has an LOA of 5.51m (18′ 1″). The 205 was powered by a MerCruiser 5lt V8 260hp MPI MerCruiser, driving through an Alpha I leg that rocketed the hull to a top speed of 49 knots at 5200rpm (WOT).

The lighter 185 was equally spritely, even with the smaller 4.3lt V6 220hp MPI MerCruiser engine. It had a top-end speed of 45 knots at 4600rpm. Surprisingly, comparing the performance of the boats put them both on an even par. Bayliner has obviously got the power-toweight ratio near on perfect for optimum performance. But because both boats were brand new, they will rev out a bit further once they are properly run in. For a stock standard 6m family boat weighting 1406kg, before you add fuel and passengers, to be able to cruise along at just under 60mph isn’t a bad indication of the vessel’s performance.

But couple this with her precise handling and true ski-boat turning ability and she gets even more ticks in the allrounder family boat stakes. The same applies to the smaller 185XT. She can pull 49mph and also has excellent handling and turning abilities even though she doesn’t have a Bayliner Advanced Planing System (APS) hull. APS redistributes lifting force with every change in hull speed to minimise bow rise improve handling and increase fuel efficiency. However, because of the 185’s lighter weight she needs a bit more ‘trim in’ when it’s choppy to keep the bow attitude right and stop any tendencies to porpoise across the water.

OK, these boats have proved their highspeed performance capabilities, which are fine if you want to go skiing, but wakeboarding doesn’t require great speeds. Wake is the keyword here. The wake needs to be ‘full’, but speeds need to be kept constant. The wake’s shape dictates how much of a ‘push off’ a rider can get from the wake. This is why most purpose-built wakeboarding boats have flooding chambers at the stern to push the transom of the boat deeper in the water to produce a bigger wake. So how do the 185 and 205XT perform in the wake stakes’ We already know that at higher speeds they produce good flat waterskiing wakes ‘ put frankly, very well.

We have to admit the ‘boarding wakes they generate are not quite as good as some of the tournament wakeboarding boats, but for beginners through to experienced ‘boarders the 185 and 205XT’s chunky wakes are great. And with a few extra people onboard the 205XT’s wake verges on ‘rampie’. So, why is it that these ‘standard’ Bayliner bowriders can generate such good ‘boarding wakes without the addition of flooding chambers, sacks, or hydrofoils’ The answer is not as difficult as many would imagine.

The secret lies in the fact that most purpose-built wakeboarding boats have mid-mount engines, which means the engine’s weight is evenly distributed along the entire length of the hull. In other words, this, coupled with their relatively flat hulls, means that these boats plan instantly and maintain a level attitude at all times. But they need added weight at the rear to push the transom down to generate bigger wakes. On the other hand the Bayliners have rearmounted sterndrive engines, so all the engine and leg weight is at the stern. Then, because wakeboarding is conducted at relatively low speeds ‘ around 20mph ‘ while the Bayliner’s hulls are planing at this speed, they do squat slightly pushing the transom down and thus generating a large wake.

But when the power is applied the APS hull of the 205 and both boat’s deep-vee keels, planing flats and large chines, which combine to give them their ability to turn like a slalom ski boat and keeps the boats level once they’re up and running ‘ it’s the best of both worlds. Of course if you are an experience ‘boarder looking to progress even further, you can always add a couple of water sacks to the aft cockpit and create mountainous is required. The team couldn’t confirm if this ‘squat’ running angle had any noticeable effect of the Bayliner’s fuel consumption, but given the lower speeds wakeboarding is conducted at it would be almost certainly be negligible.

The aluminium tower on each boat is extremely strong and while they give both boats ‘the look’, these are also functional. They also fold down for easy garage storage. Because we have already tested both the Bayliner 185 and 205 bowrider, I won’t go into great lengths about their layouts, suffice to say that both feature full instrumentation; tilt-steering wheel; a curved and racked toughened-glass windscreen. Both the drivers and observer’s back-to-back seats fold down into sun lounges; there’s a huge underfloor ski locker between these seat; a CD stereo is standard, as is the carpet; and there are more than enough drink holders scattered about the boat.

Bow, amidships and transom cleats are standard, as is the aft swim ladder and power-assisted rack and pinion steering. However, there are a couple of things the team would change, like the positioning of the CD player in the glove box/icebox in front of the observer’s seat. Yes, we know it has a splash cover and the icebox is self-draining, but when I went to school electrical equipment and water didn’t mix. And then there’s our old favourite, what about a bowsprit, or at least a line roller, so the anchor rope doesn’t chaff the bow’s gelcoat.

Following this double test, the Modern Boating team agreed that while these boats didn’t have marine toilets fitted, because of their layout and size, they did have all the other ingredients that make a top family all-rounder. Plus, the latest inclusion of stylish wakeboarding towers will awaken the interest of a whole new branch of family boat buyers. At the time of writing the Bayliner 205XT Capri bowrider had an all-inclusive price tag of $55,990, while the smaller 185XT came in a very affordable $42,990.

Words by Ian Macrae and Photos by Stephen Cooney