2013, July; Berowra Waters: One of the keys to ongoing success in any line of business is adaptability, and that often comes down to recognising a market trend and meeting it as early as possible. Sensing that economic conditions have buyers looking for better value and smaller boats, Bayliner has taken a back to basics approach with this Element. It has a simple layout and no extraneous equipment in an easy-to-use bowrider-with-a-difference boat that offers safety, stability and a quite unexpectedly high fun-factor for both skipper and crew.
The last few years have seen the bad old Global Financial Crisis and consequent after-shocks hit boating companies around the world, and the huge US Bayliner organisation was no exception. The market was withdrawing into its shell somewhat with less new boats being purchased, and those that were bought were typically smaller as buyers downsized to keep within more restricted budgets.
Bayliner responded in a number of ways, including re-assessing what first-time new boat buyers were really looking to acquire. That was a good thing to do, regardless of the market situation, and the result was that this very appealing 4.9-metre Element is now available. It hits the target perfectly, and has been receiving a warm welcome.
Whilst the target market might be first time buyers, the Element is going to appeal to many more experienced boaties as well because it is such a ‘just right’ design. Buyers at the Melbourne Boat Show this year, where the Element was launched in Australia, frequently commented that the Element had them re-considering what they really wanted in their next boat after they had been looking at alternatives such as centre consoles and more conventional runabouts.
It’s all very well to go for a larger boat that’s packed with all sorts of features and equipment but, when it comes right down to it, you can have as much fun on the water with a smaller craft that has just the basic gear. There is a lower initial outlay, less to maintain, the boat is easier to trailer, launch, retrieve and store, and it’s quite likely that it will hold its value better when it comes time to upgrade in the future.
The Element’s layout blends ideas previously seen on bowriders and jet boats. The skipper has a neat helm console amidships to starboard with a pair of seats opposite, more seating up forward and a small sunpad aft. The boat has a capacity for six people and it accommodates that number very well for its length of just over four metres.
The seating is all set on integrally-moulded bases that form part of the inner liner of the hull. However, whilst it is a bit limiting for the skipper with no seat or wheel adjustment, the other seats works better than you might expect as most are designed so you can sit facing one of two ways. This gives options for the crew to face forwards, inwards or backwards. It’s rather clever and allows changing around between when running along and when at rest for communal chatting.
Even with all this seating, there is still good floor space for moving about the Element. As well, at the back of the boat are two boarding platforms on either side of the standard 60-hp Mercury four-stroke outboard. The platforms have a good non-skid surface as do matching boarding steps moulded in front of them on top of the transom. These steps are also intended as aft-facing seats for when the Element is moored.
All the seat cushions lift off to provide stowage below, with the skipper’s seat revealing a very spacious locker that runs back under the starboard side of the aft sunpad. The battery is in that locker, whilst under the port side of the sunpad is stored a removable 45 litre fuel tank. The cockpit sole is moulded in a non-skid pattern and the interior of the stowage lockers is finished in brushed-on grey flowcoat, so everything would be easy to clean. The seats are well finished in a dimpled white vinyl with grey accent panels. Again, it’s simple, but it still looks good.
The standard package includes a single-axle trailer, bimini cover and a removable 75-litre Igloo cooler. The Element comes with a good supply of drink holders and grab handles plus quality deck hardware including a combined navigation light at the bow. Options include a stereo system, digital depth gauge, bow filler cushion, mooring cover and a ’Sports Package’ which includes a choice of red for the main hull colour – the standard colour is black with accents in grey and silver - plus a watersports arch across the back of the boat with a board rack.
In profile, the Element looks just like a racy sports car with smoothly flowing lines and a small swept-back wind deflector at the helm. It’s deceptive though, for the cockpit is deep enough to be safe for youngsters and the topsides are high enough to keep out spray in all but very windy and rough conditions.
The hull configuration is interesting, and fresh, with Bayliner having a patent pending on its new ‘M-Hull’ design. This has a moderate vee centre section flanked by catamaran-like mini sponsons. In some respects, it’s similar to a cathedral tri-hull, and in other respects it’s like a tunnel hull. Yet it’s none of these and it suits its purpose very well with increased lateral stability, excellent buoyancy up front, quite a soft ride and less-than-usual banking in tighter turns. Especially for new boaties, it’s instantly confidence building.
The 60-hp Mercury four-stroke is another pleasing aspect of the Element package. It starts instantly, runs quietly and smoothly, and has plenty of power for cruising around with enough in reserve for casual watersports. It might struggle to haul out larger skiers or riders, but for youngsters it would be perfect.
This is a very open boat though, with no windscreen to protect occupants from the slipstream. We had our test run on a very cool and mostly overcast mid-winter day; I was concerned whether our crew of two teenage girls would be alright in the resulting rather low wind-factor temperatures, but they loved every minute of the run. Suitably rugged up, any family with even a trace of adventure in their blood would react in the same manner. On warmer days, the rush of air along the boat would be refreshing, and the bimini is there for shade from the summer sun.
The best bit is driving the Element. It is a beautifully responsive hull and is reminiscent of driving an older sports car like an early Mazda MX5 or an even earlier Austin Healy Sprite ‘Frog Eye’; those cars didn’t have a lot of power, but they had character and charm and excellent handling that made them great fun to own and drive.
The steering on the Element is pleasantly weighted and requires just a light touch with 3.5 turns lock-to-lock. That’s fairly direct and helps the wheel give useful feedback on how the hull is handling the conditions. We had calm waters and so resorted to swooshing through our own wake to check the ride; the hull proved family-friendly by avoiding any hard bumps and the forward hull sections worked effectively to push the wash and spray out and away from the boat.
The Mercury was spinning a 13inch pitch three-blade alloy prop which proved fine for typical driving; when accelerated into really tight turns, the prop ventilated a bit, especially if the Merc was trimmed up at all, but that would not be an issue in normal driving.
There was very little bowrise coming up on plane, and the design of the Element gives perfect 360-degree visibility. Cruising along, the running angle is quite level (as it should be) and the M-Hull and the four-stroke Mercury combine for very low levels of noise and vibration – it’s a smooth and comfortable ride.
The dash panel is ultra simple with a single, large dial for a speedo and an inset volts gauge. There’s room on the panel to add an after-market tacho and trim gauge if you want, and to fit a fish finder. Without a tacho we couldn’t check revs, but the Element was happily planing and low-speed cruising at 35 kph with mid-range cruising around 41 kph and a top speed of 49 kph.
However, it really feels a lot faster at all those settings with the breeze in your face and the water so close – it’s genuinely exhilarating! This is a great boat to take out even for a short run to blow away the cobwebs of the everyday world. The trailer is one that self-guides the boat when it’s being driven back on, and single-handed operation is easy when required.
The simplicity of the helm position is one of the compromises Bayliner has used to reach the top-value price point of the Element. With neither seat nor wheel adjustable, the comfort level of the skipper will depend on his height and reach; equally though, the vast majority of skippers will find the driving position totally acceptable, with maybe the help of an extra cushion behind the back of shorter-reach skippers. There’s a good angled foot rest under the wheel, and the throttle shift is well positioned.
All three drivers on our test run had no problems, and a common characteristic was the huge grin on their faces as they sped the Element through its paces and cruised back to the ramp afterwards. The only times that any of the crew were not grinning and smiling was when they were laughing at the fun of it all, especially at the times when the Element ran joyously through wakes.
All in all, this is a bonzer boat. It’s what real family and fun boating is all about. It’s fine for cruising and relaxed watersports and would be just as great for fishing; it has stacks of stowage space and versatile seating, is very easy to handle and tow, needs little space to store, and it’s less expensive than many alternatives. Go and have a look for yourself!
Length (overall): 4.93 metres
Beam: 2.13 metres
Draft: 1.10 metres
Weight: 712 kgs
Capacity: 6 persons
Fuel capacity: 45 litres
Power: Mercury Four-Stroke Outboard (45 kw, 60 hp)
Top Speed: 49.1 kph