Taking It Easy: New 18-foot Bayliner keeps things simple for novices yet offers any type of boater ample performance, space, value

Jim Duncan of Duncan's Boats in North Charleston displays the host of storage compartments in the new 18-foot Bayliner Element XL. Leroy Burnell/Staff 1/16/2015

Think about opening your car door, sliding in and driving away.

Many thousands of Charleston motorists, from teenagers to young adults, middle aged and seniors, get behind the wheel on a semi-regular basis.

For most, the procedure of cranking the engine, shifting into gear and controlling the wheel on streets and highways in and out of traffic is second nature.

Now imagine steering a boat on the Lowcountry’s abundance of waterways — a half dozen rivers, dozens of creeks, Lake Moultrie or Charleston Harbor.

Again, many experienced boaters guide their watercraft with supreme confidence, avoiding shallows, buoys and other vessels.

But the skills differ from driving a car, requiring balance to climb on and off the boat, powering a throttle instead of a gas pedal, perhaps keeping tabs on a slew of gauges — all the while negotiating waves and making sure not to knock yourself, or anyone else, out of the boat.

Reducing those differences between car and watercraft is where the new Bayliner Element XL comes in.

“For those just getting into boating, research has shown that they are expecting a vessel with the handling characteristics more in line with the vehicle they are all used to … a car. Cars don’t lean into turns, cars don’t pop-up in the front end when accelerating,” said BoatTest.com, an online guide in a recent review of the new 18-foot model.

In other words, designers were looking to create a boat that doesn’t ride like a boat, according to BoatTest.com. “Bayliner accomplished this with the design of the “M-hull.”

Flanking the standard V-shaped hull are two protrusions called “sponsons” that provide extra buoyancy. They also work to limit the bow from rising as the boat speeds up, and they keep the watercraft from “leaning” too much on turns.

“The boat is very stable,” said Jim Duncan, owner of Duncan’s Boats in North Charleston and a Bayliner dealer.

He said the new Element XL incorporates features that are attractive to newcomers without losing its edge among boating regulars. Customers, he said, would include “beginners and cost-conscious (boaters).”

The new Element XL is two feet longer than the original, “hugely popular” 16-foot Element. The extra length allowed Bayliner designers to convert a single sun pad into dual aft-facing chaise lounges, according to BoatTest.com. The Element XL offers lots of storage compartments as well as a cooler with its optional $1,571 sports package.

“There’s nice deep storage under every seat,” Duncan said.

The XL seats nine people; and its 90-horsepower Mercury engine can generate speeds of 50 mph or more. A 115-hp engine is optional, Duncan said.

By comparison, the 16-footer logs 60 hp and has trouble besting 32-34 mph, which is cruising speed in the new model, he said.

Moreover, the Element XL is a good deal. “You can have an 18-foot center console with Bimini top” as well as engine and trailer for no more than $20,000, Duncan said.

Bayliner, he said, engaged in “focus group testing” on the Element XL and found that potential buyers wanted a boat without much maintenance.

According to BoatTest.com, the 18-foot Element XL offers these “distinguishing features”:

- A basic helm devoid of clutter. “There’s only one gauge in the panel. It’s a speedometer with a voltmeter embedded in the bottom. That’s it. There’s nothing else needed. Even the fuel gauge is mounted to the top of the fuel tank.”

- Molded seats rather than chairs mounted into position.

- Midships cleats, so that “a single driver can pull up to the dock and tie up that cleat without ever leaving the helm.”

- A fishing package for $2,143 that includes a casting deck with pedestal seat, trolling motor, a “livewell” to keep catches in water and a fishfinder mounted to the helm.

- A depth gauge, for an extra $307.

In a 10-minute spin at the helm on the Ashley River, this unabashed novice could appreciate the boat’s car-like handling and lack of bowrise or lean. An adjustable seat permits the driver to get comfortable at the controls. The throttle slid easily to pick up or reduce speed. The wheel was harder to turn than expected but responsive once realizing it’s not the same as a car’s power steering.

Best of all, the Bayliner stripped away any anxiety experienced by the pilot from guiding something that wasn’t rolling along on terra firma.

For more information and photos, visit www.postandcourier.com.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542or jparker@postandcourier.com.