- Both the CC5 and the CC6 are boats I can recommend without qualification.
- I’ve seen them perform admirably in some big, nasty seas that would see the skippers of most 30-footers running for cover.
- They are genuinely impressive (and remarkably versatile) family runabouts in their own right.
- There, with the centre console layout, the Element is becoming the boat it always should have been.
Bayliner: The Element Upgraded
Alex Smith investigates a pair of affordable Centre Console dayboats from Bayliner’s well-established Element line.
Bayliner’s Element has seen a mixed reception over the last few years – and given how many variants we’ve witnessed, that’s hardly a cause for surprise. The original was essentially a cathedral-hulled 16ft runabout with jetboat-style internals, seating for five and an 80hp outboard. It was followed by the XL, an 18ft model offering more of the same. They were then renamed the E5 and E6, before a third craft – the 22ft, 10-man E7 – was added to the fleet.
The bizarre 25ft, pontoon-style XR7 also then entered the fray with a huge beam-forward bow, an open deck and vast reserves of internal space. But for most of us, the really welcome news arrived in the form of a new line of Centre Console (CC) craft. After all, while the original Element achieved some success, most notably in the form of its victory in the UK’s 2014 Motor Boat Awards, it exhibited some pronounced flaws that were in great need of addressing …
For instance, the shallow deck and fixed, moulded seating meant it was very exposed to the wind and spray. The fixed seats also limited the versatility of application, particularly for those who wanted to face forwards rather than inwards. And the skipper was also compromised by a seat that compelled him to crane forwards to reach the wheel. In fact, with a rather feeble wind deflector on top of the dash doing very little to help out, the helm ergonomics were some of the poorest I’ve seen – and the boat’s dynamic behaviour also struggled. With very little forward weight, it would take a long while to climb the hump and get onto the plane, and once you were up and running, the boat would struggle to stay there, routinely losing grip at the prop whenever a turn was required. In short, while it represented a very accessible package, it felt like a boat that needed a bit of an overhaul, and on the face of it, the centre console treatment looks like a great place to start.
The Key Internal Changes
The CC is still an affordable, user-friendly, entry-level Bayliner – and both the ‘M-hull’ underpinnings and the modest outboard options remain unchanged. But gone are the shallow, moulded, sideways-facing jetboat internals and in comes a centre console with an aft bench. Right from the off, that raises the prospect of a loftier, more practical and more protective screen, plus a better helm position with more centralised weight distribution. It also means more deck space than the original boat, alongside far greater flexibility in its use.
It’s a layout with plenty of natural advantages, so as you might expect, there are only subtle differences between these two CC models, the CC5 and CC6. Each revolves around a central console equipped, as standard, with built-in rod holders, grab rails and storage space. Behind the helm of both boats, the aft bench is divided into three distinct sections – namely, a pair of folding jump seats on either side of an elevated central storage box. This set-up provides the regular trio of seating positions but adds better access to the extended swim platforms, plus a usefully flat, grippy casting platform for fishing fans.
However, the extra length means that, while the CC5’s helm seat inhabits the middle of these three sections, on the CC6, the skipper and co-pilot get a dedicated two-man leaning post further forward, creating no fewer than five forward-facing positions aft of the console.
The use of the centre console also generates a great deal of extra deck space, enabling you to make your way from the aft swim platforms to the bow with much greater ease and security. And at the helm station itself, the benefits on both these boats are even more stark. The fact that the helm is located in the centre of the deck means much better weight distribution, particularly when operating single-handedly. You also get a more commanding driving position plus a much more elevated and protective screen, complete with a useful wrap-around grab rail. The helm seats are still positioned too far aft to offer proper lumbar support, and the accommodation remains quite shallow, but there’s no doubt that this is far and away the best helm position on any Element craft to date.
In the bow, the good news continues, with a squared-off, beam-forward design that uses a selection of raised compartments to maximise its versatility. It enables both these boats to incorporate an anchor locker, plus some seating that can be converted into a large sun deck and a set of surprisingly spacious storage lockers. The broad lateral walkways make it very easy to reach, the elevated guard rail keeps it usefully secure and the step-through bow is an excellent development on the Element theme – enabling easy beaching and bow-forward berthing. You can also spec a fishing package, which comes with angling seat, trolling motor, rod storage and shortened port rail, but whichever way you choose to configure it, this forward space represents a very valuable addition to the convertible aft platform.
The Driving Experience
With the top-rated 80hp engine on the transom (a necessity if you enjoy water sports), the CC5 lifts onto the plane in a very reasonable five seconds. It helps if you shift a bit of weight forward to get over the hump, but once you’re up and running, while the resolutely flat (and peculiarly trim-resistant) attitude of the boat feels very familiar, there’s no doubt that the handling tenacity is subtly better than the original. Even at the 30-knot top end, you can execute modest and measured turns without falling off the plane – and while the flat ride and shallow internals do mean it’s quite a wet boat, you do at least have the chance to shelter behind the console to avoid getting damp. It certainly still has its limitations, but as a driver’s boat it’s a measured and welcome improvement on the original Element in every regard.
However, if the improvements on the CC5 are low-key, those on the CC6 are very pronounced. With the most powerful engine option on the transom (Mercury’s Pro XS 115), a longer waterline length and a console position further forward, the CC6 lifts onto the plane much faster and flatter than the CC5, pushing on to a top end of around 38 knots and enabling the keen driver to really involve themself in the experience. A greater degree of trim response enables you to lift that bow and improve the dryness of the ride, and while the alterations in attitude aren’t seismic, the boat’s reactions in response to wheel and throttle are far better. In fact, when you push on through a few modest lumps, the CC6’s ability to retain traction at the prop enables you to go way beyond the handling limits of any other boat in the Element range. The extra distance from the outboard, allied to the additional fold-up seatback at the centre of the aft bench, also makes this a more refined boat than the CC5, with less engine noise and a useful reduction in fumes at idle.
The patent-pending M-Hull is essentially a shallow, trihedral-shaped platform, designed to plane easily, run flat, corner without too much heel, track steadily in displacement mode and remain stable when people shift their weight around on board. Its purpose is to offer the novice a thoroughly accessible and unintimidating experience – and while it really didn’t perform very well on the original models, the improved balance of the CC craft seems to have helped mitigate some of the M-Hull’s most critical quirks.
The Element line was originally designed to be Bayliner’s means of eradicating the expense, the difficulty and the complication from boating and enabling new boaters to enjoy their seasonal recreation without fear or doubt. For my money, despite their accessible prices, stable hulls and pretty aesthetics, the first incarnations missed the mark, but here, with the centre console layout, the Element is becoming the boat it always should have been.
The CC5 is a very game little platform, with credible handling, good looks and the ability to provide a broad palette of fun on a very modest budget. As for the CC6, it might use the same hull as the 18ft E6 but it is also better in a great many ways. True, its extra deck space and flexibility of application come at the expense of outright seating capacity (down from eight to six), but that seating is much more versatile. And the modest fuel capacity has also been substantially uprated, which means that if the nature of your recreation demands it, even the top-end 115hp outboard now makes genuine sense.
Both the CC5 and the CC6 are boats I can recommend without qualification. I’ve seen them perform admirably in some big, nasty seas that would see the skippers of most 30-footers running for cover; and with their clever convertible sections fore and aft, I’ve also seen how much more flexible they are than their fixed-seat forbears. In short, these are not just far better boats than the original Elements, they are genuinely impressive (and remarkably versatile) family runabouts in their own right. The only problem with either of them is the fact that a larger CC7 model is also now available – and with its deeper central hull section to help further soften that ride and augment its dynamic abilities, the largest CC model is all but guaranteed to be another major step forward.
LOA: 4.93m 6.01m
Beam: 2.13m 2.22m
Weight: 712kg 907kg
Fuel capacity: 68 litres 114 litres
Max. power: 60–80 hp 80–125 hp
Max. people: 5 6
Base engine: Mercury F60 Mercury F80
Test engine: Mercury F80 Mercury Pro XS 115
CC5: From £19,950
CC6: From £24,950
Bates Wharf Marine Sales