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Review - 2017 F18 with T Top (or ramblings about my new boat)

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    Review - 2017 F18 with T Top (or ramblings about my new boat)

    So here's my review on my 2017 F18 T Top w/115 Merc

    After a season with Bayliner's F16 Element, I decided that it was grossly under-powered with its 60HP Merc. I wanted something a littler bigger, smoother ride in chop, and something that didn't kill itself to get on plane. I saw the F18 at my local boat show, and decided what the heck, trade in the 16, grab the 18, and go have some fun. While the F18 is lacking in storage and comfort compared to the Element 16, it's really just me and the wife and sometimes a couple of grandkids, so didn't really matter. I test drove the boat, and decided that I should probably add the hydraulic steering option, since the kids do drive the boat sometimes - and at higher speeds, steering may be an issue for little hands.

    Price: About $24K powered with the 115 Merc, add $1080 for hydraulic steering

    T Top The T Top option is made by Fishmaster. While I'm not sure who installed it (factory or dealer), whomever did it, used no fewer than 475 tubes of 5200 around each hold-down screw. Apparently they didn't want it to leak. The canvas on the T Top is Sunbrella, but, was wound somewhat loosely. It can be tightened up, but will take some time and effort. An interesting feature is the T Top's ability to be removed and/or folded down for storage. The bolts used to hold everything together are metric hex-drive, and I don't remember the size, but I just keep one in the toolbox, etc. You can go up to fishmaster's website and order knobs to replace the bolts, making it easier to take everything down. Also, there's a bunch of different accessories for the top, i.e., antenna and light mounts, boxes, lights, etc. I think Bayliner was right to farm this particular option out.

    Fit and Finish: Other than the added weight of the 475 tubes of 5200 to seal the T Top to the deck, everything looks and fits nicely. Seats: The two rear seats function nicely and actually stay kind of dry when folded down. All the hatches slam shut as loudly and annoyingly as you'd expect. I used some stick-on weather stripping and it quiets them down quite a bit. I have the cooler/seat and not the leaning post, as some of the models do. I don't use the cooler as a cooler, but rather store all my stuff in there. Keeps everything dry, and out of the way. Since I don't use the boat for fishing, I use the live well as the cooler. As the ice melts, I just drains right out and I don't have to worry about it. As far as the hull goes, I have the gray hull, and it looks very nice. I have the boat hauled out once a month, have it all detailed, etc., then put back in. She cleans up very nicely.

    Accessories, and stuff I just had to tear apart: I had to remove the starboard side rod holder panel to access the wiring (more on that in a bit), and everything was routed nicely, zip tied together, etc. There are two races that wires, steering/throttle cables, etc., run thru, from under the center console, to the starboard side. I wanted my own power source up under the center console, so I could run my amp, stereo, and any accessories. I ran two, 2 gauge cables from the battery, up thru the races, and underneath the center console. Those connected to a small "power board" I made, with its own power lugs, fuse box, etc. I didn't want to hook into the existing fuse box, as it was crammed way up inside, not very accessible, and I sure as heck couldn't read the little labels that were on the fuse panel. So I just said the heck with it, and for 30 bucks and a piece of scrap starboard, made my own. As for other accessories, I mounted an anchor/running light on the t top, and added a vhf antenna as well. Both mounts were available from fishmaster, and bolted right on. While you could take the time to drill all the necessary holes in the t top frame to run wires/cables down thru, I just routed them down neatly, and zip tied them to the t top rail. You can't really even tell, unless you're looking for them. I also added the smallest vhf radio I could find, from standard horizon, and, because I had an empty space on the helm, I went with a Garmin chart plotter. A word about transducers: Some transducers are long, and narrow, and look like a torpedo that's screwed to your transom. I made the mistake of mounting mine too close to the engine, and it caused cavitation (or whatever that word is), and the engine apparently was sucking air and caused the impeller to break down. The dealer installed a new impeller, took the boat out for a ride, and noticed a rooster tail that was caused by that transducer. And even with the new impeller installed, it threw the engine into limp mode with a run-hot beep on the helm. They removed the transducer, tried again, no cavitation, and no beep! It was all on me, for mounting it too close to the engine, so be careful. Next: Smart Tabs. You gotta have 'em. At 2/3 throttle, she'll start to porpoise, which creates a horrible ride. I used Bennett's SLT10 smart tabs, which got rid of porpoising, and stabilizes the ride, etc. Last, I have some fold-down cleats I want to install on the inside, along the bottom of the side-walls. They'll help during raft-offs, as they'll hold the fender lines better than that cleats that sit atop/outisde the gunwall.

    Cover/Canvas: Since there's no cover available specifically for this boat (if there is, somebody please tell me), I had two custom covers made, and 1 t top cover purchased from ttopcovers.com The custom canvases go over the bow, and stern, to keep the seats and storage areas dry in the event of rain. This also keeps water out of the bilge and sponsons. I did leave them off for two weeks, and there was a ton of water in the bilge. So yes, having the covers does help. As far as the t top cover goes, I do like the helm cover, although I'm constantly getting ribbed that it looks like a shower curtain! It works, keeps everything dry, so I suppose that's all that counts.

    Performance: I would never buy a boat that has the minimum rated HP for an engine again. As I mentioned earlier with my Element 16, it had the 60HP, which was sickly at best. As for the 115, it's pretty good. Jumps up on plane, and with two people, gear, full tank of gas, I can get 37mph in 2 foot chop. As for the 37mph ride in 2 foot chop, all I can say, is hang on. Since the M hull is made for stability, and not ride comfort, you will need to have your spine replaced. In calm waters, it rides and handles like a dream. I do think that Bayliner shouldn't have wimped out, and made the boat capable of handling a 150. I noted other boats in the 17'-18' range have 150's. And speaking of stability, I've beaten the living daylights out of this boat, and have yet to stuff the bow, or take on any water other than splash from hitting waves, etc.

    Dislikes: Don't really have any dislikes, per se. I bought this boat to bang around the river in, take the grandkids out on the water, or just take a quiet canal ride (we boat on the Niagara river and Erie canal in buffalo, ny). I understand that Bayliners are entry level boats, but I think they did a great job with the Elements/F series. If I had to choose ONE thing to complain about, it would be the seats/upholstery. OK, that's two. The vinyl seems a bit cheap, along with the foam. Not very comfortable. Again, it's an entry level boat. When the foam/upholstery finally breaks down, I'll replace it with nicer stuff.

    All in all, this is a pretty decent boat.







    '17 F18 - 115 Merc
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