Sea Ray 185 Outboard Sport: Performance Test

Sea ray 185 Outboard Sport: Inexpensive bow rider provides is solid value.

3rd October 2003.
By Keith Burton

The 185 Outboard Sport clearly benefits from Sea Ray's leading-edge manufacturing.

The 185 Outboard Sport clearly benefits from Sea Ray's leading-edge manufacturing.

When a major boat builder such as Sea Ray introduces a new model, you know that serious time was spent making sure the company has the right boat for the right market. That is the case with Sea Ray’s new 185 Outboard Sport, a slick, well-built 18-foot bowrider coming soon to Sea Ray dealers around the country.

We had the opportunity to put the 185 Outboard Sport through its paces at Sea Ray’s Tellico Lake facility in Vonore, Tennessee. What we found was what we have come to expect from Sea Ray in its new products: a well-designed boat that should provide years of fun for its owners.

A big part of Sea Ray’s boat-building expertise is directly due to high-technology design and manufacturing. Computer-assisted designing, along with computer-controlled cutting lasers, and robotic assembly and gelcoat spraying means you get a consistent level of quality control that smaller boat builders cannot duplicate.

Robotic gelcoat spraying itself is rather unique to the boat-building industry. Not only does it speed up the manufacturing process, but combined with laser measuring devices, it also ensures a uniformity from boat to boat that is not possible with the traditional hand-spraying process.

The 185 Outboard Sport clearly benefits from Sea Ray’s leading-edge manufacturing. From crisp graphics embedded in the glass-like gelcoat to the finished smoothness of the fiberglass in places you don’t see, there is evidence of quality in the 185 Outboard Sport. This is in a boat targeted for first-time boat buyers and young families.

On the Deck

Climbing aboard the 185 Outboard Sport, you are greeted with a roomy cabin with a full-width stern bench seat, and comfortable bucket seats for the captain and port passenger. These are not the small bucket seats you see in some boats; these are the type of seats you see in upscale boats. The captain’s seat also adjusts forward and back and swivels.

Another seating option is available that replaces the passenger bucket seat with a back-to-back lounger, and a fish-and-ski version of the 185 Outboard Sport is also available. The fish-and-ski version includes pedestal seats fore and aft.

Certified for as many as eight passengers, the roomy 185 Outboard Sport would best accommodate a family of four to five, to keep from feeling crowded.

A tinted glass wrap-around window keeps the wind level low while under way and adds to the 185 Sport’s sleek look. Comfortable, well-padded lounges fill out the bow area, and Sea Ray uses stainless steel fittings throughout the boat, as you might expect.

The 185 Sport is constructed entirely from fiberglass composites. There is no wood in the stringers or deck. This means you get a tough, durable boat with no worries about wood rot in the years ahead.

While the lack of wood in the hull is truly a benefit in durability and ease of maintenance, we have noted a characteristic about woodless, all-fiberglass constructed boats and the Sea Ray 185 Outboard Sport is no exception.

Wood is an excellent damper of sound and vibration. In some water conditions and engine rpm levels, the very stiff body structure of a woodless boat resonates. That is, you may hear the sound of the water slapping against the hull, or hear and feel the vibrations of the engine more than you would in a boat with some wood in its hull. It is not distracting considering that riding in a boat is a noisy environment, but it is something we experienced in the 185 Outboard Sport.

The sport name in this boat suggests that it is fun to drive and use. And so it is. The 185 Outboard Sport slices and dices through the water like a porpoise leading Calypso to yet another ocean adventure. The helm answers all inputs smoothly, which means this is an easy boat to steer.

We did feel that the steering wheel should be placed a bit higher or tilted upward more as it interfered with getting in and out of the captain’s seat, but then, some of us are not as svelte as we were in our younger days, so you might not want to hold that observation against the boat. A tilt wheel option would be welcome nevertheless.

Sea Ray has done a fine job designing a hull for a small boat that offers a good compromise between ride and handling. Choppy water doesn’t punish the passengers and the boat smoothes out most larger waves and wakes without hard pounding. That is not to say that every wave will be smooth riding, but we have seen many hulls without the performance we experienced in the Sea Ray 185 Outboard Sport.

Instrumentation is complete and easy to see and includes an audible alarm for oil and water. A neat feature included in the tachometer as standard equipment is a digital engine hourmeter to help you keep up with maintenance.

Speaking of maintenance, 185 Outboard Sport owners will find most things easy to access. The battery and oil tank for the outboard are under a starboard rear bench seat cushion.

The fuel primer bulb is behind a piece of fabric just behind and over the rear bench seat. The fabric is held in place by a Velcro hook-and-loop strip. These touches add to the clean appearance of the boat.

Our 185 Outboard Sport was equipped with the optional ski towing tripod and Bimini top, which is the way Sea Ray expects most owners to outfit their boat.

Real Performance

The standard outboard is a nice 125 hp Mercury two-stroke. Optional engines include a 115 hp Mercury four-stroke and a 135 hp Mercury direct-injection OptiMax. Our boat was equipped with the larger-horsepower model, and we can tell you it is the right choice for this boat.

The hull’s light weight of just 1,850 pounds means this boat is extremely quick to plane and offers wonderful performance for pulling skiers and wakeboarders. However, wakeboarders would have to work a bit as the 185 Sport leaves just a modest wake behind at speed.

We found the OptiMax to be both powerful and fuel efficient. Top speed was a brisk 49.2 mph (at 5,000 rpm) with two people on board and a full fuel tank. Since the motor is rated to 5,500 rpm, this suggests that a 1- to 2-inch smaller pitched prop could be used.

The most fuel-efficient cruise speed was 26.4 mph at 3,000 rpm. At that speed, we saw a thrifty 7.3 mpg.

The Mercury OptiMax offers V-6 two-stroke performance with many of the benefits of a four-stroke engine. The OptiMax 135 runs virtually smoke free, and gets close to the same fuel mileage as many four-stroke engines at low and mid rpm levels.

There are plenty of bowriders in the 17- to 19-foot category that a potential buyer can select. That range is among the most competitive segments in the boating industry. As a result, boat builders try to cram in as many features as possible to entice shoppers. Sea Ray ups the ante with the 185 Outboard Sport by offering many of the same features found in other boats of this ilk, but carried out at a higher level. What you end up with is real value in a boat that should provide years of dependable and trouble-free use.

Sea Ray 185 Outboard Sport Specifications

Length 18′
Beam 7’6″
Draft 2’6″
Dry weight 1,850 pounds
Fuel capacity 20 gallons
Maximum power 135 hp
Suggested retail price $181,00

Engine

Model Mercury 135 OptiMax outboard
Propshaft horsepower 135
Cylinders V-6
Displacement 153 c.i.d.
Gear ratio 2.:1
Maximum engine speed 5,500 rpm
Weight 431 pounds

Performance

Cruising speed 26.4 mph at 3,000 rpm
Top speed 49.2 mph at 5,000 rpm
Miles per gallon at 26.4-mph cruising speed 7.3
Gallons per hour at 26.4-mph cruising speed 3.6
Range at 26.4-mph cruising speed 146 miles

Standard Features

Stainless steel fittings, integral swim platform with built-in ladder, Clarion AM/FM/CD player, tempered tinted curved windshield, padded no-feedback steering wheel, full instrumentation, single-axle painted trailer, 125 hp Mercury outboard, power trim and tilt.

Options

Full canvas packages, snap-in carpet liner, depth finder, two-tone gelcoat graphics packages (black, blue, green, red or yellow), premium stereo upgrades, galvanized trailer w/disc brakes, fish and ski package (w/bow casting platform, dual battery trays, live baitwell, ski tow tripod, swivel pedestal seats and trolling motor).

For More Information

Sea Ray Boats Inc.
2600 Sea Ray Blvd.
Knoxville, TN 37914
(800) 772-6287
www.searay.com


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