Great way to get started

By Mike Rose

The versatile Bayliner 170 OB can be set up with "ski-and-fish" or "wakeboard" packages and costs less that $40,000.

The first time I encountered a Bayliner was in an American powerboat magazine in about 1984. Surprisingly, the ad didn't show a family enjoying itself out on the water, or even (as was common at the time) a single bloke blasting along in a boat full of buxom, bikini-clad women.

Instead, it featured a young family man in the driveway of a modest, "middle America" house, hose in hand, washing down a 5m bow rider. The text read something like: "Your new Bayliner - just $9990 deposit and $99 a month".

I remember the ad so vividly because it was in such stark contrast to those we saw in our boating media at the time. Kiwi ads generally showed boats being used, and stressed features such as ruggedness and durability. They never mentioned price.

They idea that one could buy such a good-looking boat for so little was also something of a shock, as was the idea one could pay it off at $100 a month.

Fast-forward to today, and a lot of things have changed. Kiwi boats are no longer the rough diamonds they were 25 years or so ago. They, too, now have stereos and drink holders, timber insets and superb finishes.

But they are still rarely promoted on price. Ability to handle our testing and quickly changing conditions, suitability for our most popular pursuits (especially fishing), durability and desirability - these are the highlighted features.

As America's (and, it would like us to believe, the world's) entry-level GRP brand, Bayliner has no such reservations. A low entry price and good value for money are what it is all about. As one of the world's largest boat manufacturers (the company used to claim it was the largest, but no longer appears to do so) and a part of the giant Brunswick Corporation, Bayliner has a buying power and economy of scale that could never be matched in New Zealand, even if all our local manufacturers combined. And it uses those advantages unashamedly - the new 170 OB is a good example.

It is a bow rider that comes with either a "ski-and-fish" or a "wakeboard" package, has an LOA of 5.33m and, with a Mercury 115hp four-stroke outboard and a trailer, could be under the Christmas tree for less than $40,000.

That's good value for money in anyone's language. It is also, one imagines, an attractive offer for someone getting into boating for the first time. Not only is its "cost of entry" comparatively low, but the 170 OB also has everything one needs to enjoy a variety of aquatic activities.

One can bundle aboard the family or a few friends and explore a nearby island or bay, try one's hand at fishing, or throw a line out the back and tow a skier or a water toy.

The 170 OB will also look good in the driveway and has a lot of the sort of "bling" one sometimes needs to convince a sceptical partner.

The 170 OB even delivers for those who like the thrill of travelling across the water at a reasonable speed.

With 115hp on the back, it has a top speed of 35 knots (which is pretty exhilarating) and a cruising speed of around 18 knots. This model will also handle a 125hp two-stroke OptiMax for those wanting a wee bit more.

But the Bayliner isn't really about speed. There are lots of faster models, just as there are boats far better-suited to fishing or serious skiing or wakeboarding. The 170 OB's claim to fame is its "affordable versatility".

That versatility begins at the transom, which has handy boarding steps from the port and starboard rear platforms into the boat. This means one can board from either side without having to step on the upholstery.

On board, the entire transom is used for seating, which makes sense given that young families are probably a target market.

There is stowage space under the starboard seat and the middle section comes in two variants - in the ski-and-fish package it houses a 30.3-litre aerated baitwell; in the wakeboard model it is ideal for a large, carry-on icebox.

Although this is a relatively compact boat, there is a reasonable amount of room in the cockpit, thanks to the 170 OB's 2.11 beam. Bayliner's designers have also chosen to fit non-wrap-around bucket seats for the driver and crew. This is a good call, making it easier to get in and out without having to swivel around.

One of the ways Bayliner keeps costs down on this model is by not using an interior fibreglass liner. This means no side pockets, but there is cargo netting (fitted to small tie-down cleats) or optional rod stowage.

The helm is a basic affair, but all the necessary readouts are there and there is space for more if required. The crew seat gives access to the stereo, a glove box and a stylish moulded drink holder.

In normal bow rider fashion, a good-sized underfloor locker is between the two forward-facing seats.

In the US, these Bayliners are popular in many inland states where the boating is on freshwater lakes and the target fish are bass and the like. This explains why the ski-and-fish package includes items like a casting deck, pedestal chair and trolling motor with its own battery.

While these features might appeal to those chasing trout on the Rotorua or Taupo lakes, it's hard to see them as anything but a bit of a nuisance in more northern waters. But they are easily removed - it takes less than five minutes.

For those keen on wakeboarding, Bayliner offers the 170 OB with a Flight Series package.

This proves more than adequate for the task, able to pull a 91kg rider up even before before the prop wash gets to them.

The Bayliner 170 OB is not a boat I would take to the Barrier, nor one in which I would chase marlin. But as an all-round family entry boat, it is hard to fault. It rides well, is easy to trim and handle and, with a 19-degree deadrise, it will get one home in relative comfort if things turn a bit nasty.

And, thanks to a high Kiwi dollar, at $37,995 it gives a lot of boating fun for not very much money.

Bayliner 170 OB

LOA: 5.33m

Beam: 2.11m

Deadrise: 19 degrees

Construction: GRP

Trailerable weight: 1000kg (approx)

Engine capacity: 90-125hp

Maximum speed: 35 knots

Cruising speed: 18 knots

Fuel capacity: 79.5 litres

Priced from: $37,995

Want to know more?
Check out the comprehensive review of the Bayliner 170 OB in the January/February issue of Pacific Powerboat magazine.

- NZ Herald

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