By Brett Becker
10 Top-Notch Bowriders: Read This Before You Buy!
If you’re considering a new bowrider, chances are one of these top 10 picks will peak your interest.
We spend a lot of time reviewing bowriders and discussing the bowrider design (see Bowriders: 10 Key Considerations Before You Buy, and Choosing the Perfect Runabout, to learn more), because as a boater you have choices. Lots of them. Maybe too many. The editors at boats.com recognized that and asked me to come up with a Top 10 list that might help you focus in on some prime picks. So, what follows is a wild stab at 10 of the best bowriders on the market today. I’m sure someone will point out something I missed, or object to one of my choices, and that’s fine. At least you’ll be thinking and talking about it—and what’s better than talking about boats, right?
First, some insight into the selection process. Top notch doesn’t have to mean top dollar. In fact, it shouldn’t, which is why I chose some entry-level boats that are genuinely affordable and provide new boaters a way to get into the hobby with the comfort of warranties on the boat and engine. I also chose some top-of-the line stuff, representing the best of the best. As you might expect, I filled in the middle of the market, too. Remember that the pricing varies somewhat depending on where you are and when you buy, prices shown are as of the publication date, and those seen here should be thought of only as guidelines. I also tried to include some nuggets of wisdom and some boats and brands you might not have considered. They are presented in no particular order other than to vary the mix for your reading pleasure. Enjoy.
1. Formula 270 Bowrider
The 270 is not the biggest bowrider Formula makes, but it’s not the smallest, either. It falls right in the middle of its bowrider lineup and is at the upper edge of where heavy-duty tow vehicles are required. Towable with a half-ton pickup or SUV, the Formula 270 Bowrider rides on a sharp 22-degree deadrise hull, making it suitable for larger bodies of water. It has room for lots of people, a spacious and innovative cockpit seating arrangement, bountiful bow lounges, and a large, usable head compartment. And come resale time, you get benefit of selling something a lot of people want. MSRP starts at about $129,000 with a 350 Mag and Bravo Three drive.
Read about Formula’s gigantic 350 bowrider, in Formula 350 CBR: Best of All Worlds.
2. Cobalt 200
The Cobalt 200 is part of Cobalt’s 10 series of runabouts. The idea behind the 10 series was simple. The nomenclature was something akin to 3-series BMW or a C-class Mercedes, which applied to a product line in the Cobalt family would be affordable, but still deliver the performance, handling, and quality people expect in a Cobalt. Job done.
The Cobalt 200 was the first in the 10 series line, and it’s every ounce a Cobalt. Even at its modest size, it’s made more to feel more spacious due to the way its windshield is designed. Cobalt calls it free space reclamation. We call it smart. We’d also love to call one our own. With prices starting at just under $37,000, it might be easier to call one your own than you think.
Read about the fast-selling 22-footer in the 10 Series, in Cobalt 220: Upward Mobility.
3. Bryant 210W
There are still people who are not familiar with Bryant boats, but once they set foot on board one, they won’t forget them. They are built with no wood whatsoever in their construction, which appeals to a lot of people, but that’s not something you notice. What you do notice is exceptional build quality and attention to detail.
The W in 210W is for walkabout, which describes its interior layout. It has a spacious lounge that spans from the observer seat to the rear bench and forward to just behind the driver’s bucket. Layout aside, we like to peek under seats and hatches to see what a boat looks like where buyers don’t normally look. On some boats, it’s frightening. On a Bryant, it’s always a treat because of the craftsmanship that goes into it—and the 210W is certainly no exception. MSRP is $47,453 with a 220-hp 4.3 V6 and a Shoreland’r trailer.
Read the full review, Bryant 210 Bowrider: Dark Horse Runabout.
4. Sea Ray 205 Sport
Sea Ray is an aspirational product, one you come to own after working your way up from less expensive — or just plain lesser — models. The 205 Sport is a good way to get into a Sea Ray that’s more than just a runabout. With its optional towing tower, it’s a water-sports-oriented bowrider. Without the tower, it’s a spry little boat that’s small enough to be convenient to own, yet large enough to keep you from wanting something larger. Weighing in at just 3,150 pounds, the 205 Sport has some spunk with the standard 220-horsepower 4.3-liter MerCruiser V6 — and it’s even more fun with the 260-horse 5.0-liter V8. Prices start in the low to mid $50,000 range.
Read about Sea Ray’s newest bowrider in Sea Ray 21 Jet, Bowrider of the Future.
5. Bayliner Element
Bayliner has always led the industry in building affordable boats, and it continues to make boating more affordable today with the Element, a radically simple little runabout that will meet the needs of lots of buyers with a used-boat budget, but new-boat expectations.
The Element measures just 16’ 2” and weighs a mere 1,570 pounds. Pushed by 60-horse Mercury four-stroke outboard, the Element has the zip it needs to pull skiers and tubers, which is made easier and better with the optional Sports Package. That package includes a water sports arch with a board rack, special graphics, optional gelcoat colors, a cooler, and a bow filler cushion. With prices starting at $11,999, the Element will show a lot of buyers that a new boat is well within reach. And you know what? It looks great.
Read the full review, Bayliner Element: Need an Inexpensive Runabout, Deckboat, Bowrider?
6. Chris Craft Carina 21
Chris Craft looked to its past, and found its future. Since focusing on classic architecture and designs, Chris Craft has undergone something of a renaissance and the Carina 21 has played a role in it. But that rebirth would not be possible if it were based on looks alone. These boats benefit from modern running surface designs, state-of-the-art materials, and contemporary propulsion packages that make them a no-sacrifice nod to what is arguably a very retrospective product. Look at it this way: we all love old mahogany Chris Crafts, right? Sure, but do you really want to own one? Of course not. The good news is that you can have the look and feel without the maintenance and sacrifice of, well, what amounts to nothing more than an old boat. The Carina 21 starts at about $69,000, which includes a standard Bimini top and fuel injected V8 power.
Read the full review, Chris Craft Carina 21, Don’t Call it a Bowrider.
7. Ebbtide 2240 Extreme Bow Rider
Ebbtide’s 2240 Extreme Bow Rider does a number of things well. One, it’s a well-built family runabout with all the features you look for in a bow rider. Two, it uses that bowrider runabout pedigree to disguise itself as a performance boat. How? Well, for starters you can’t get it with a four cylinder or a V6. It starts with V8 power, in the form of a 270-horse 5.0-liter SX package from Volvo Penta. The better bet is the 350 Mag MPI from MerCruiser, which includes a Bravo One drive. Add $435 to upgrade to the stainless propeller and you’ve got a real sleeper on your hands. It weighs less than 3,500 pounds and carries 45 gallons of fuel with seating for your whole family and some guests. Riding on Ebbtide’s Dyna-Plane hull, the 2240 Extreme Bow Rider rings in at $55,470 with the 270-horse Volvo Penta engine package.
Read the full review, 2240 Extreme Bow Rider Does Double Duty.
8. Monterey 184FS
Monterey builds a number of luxury cruisers and larger runabouts. The 184FS is arguably an entry-level product for this builder, but for the buyer, it’s a good way to get the benefits of lessons learned on those larger, more expensive offerings. For example, the gelcoat colors, vinyls, and materials used in its construction all are suitable for more expensive larger models. The means you get an entry-level product that doesn’t feel like one. It feels like something greater than the sum of its parts, and for entry level buyers, that will be important long after the price is forgotten. MSRP for the 184FS starts around $30,000.
Read the full review, Monterey 184FS: All in the Details.
9. Stingray 225LR
Stingray’s top performance model is the 225SX, a snazzy cuddy cabin model that goes as fast as it looks. But not everyone wants a bright red boat or can use a cuddy cabin. More buyers want bowriders, which is why they’re so popular, so here’s a speed secret, if you will. The Stingray 225LR rides on the same hull as the 225SX, and comes with the same propulsion packages. But because it’s a bowrider, you get the usability and family-friendly features you don’t get in a cuddy. MSRP on the 225LR is $44,295 with 5.0-liter V8 and Bravo Three drive.
Read the full review of the slightly smaller Stingray 215LR: Sport Deck Bowrider, Abridged Version.
10. Chaparral H2O 18 Ski & Fish
Leave it to a mass-production builder to use its economies of scale to build affordable and versatile boats. The 18 Ski & Fish from Chaparral is part of its H2O line that debuted in 2012. The idea behind the line is as simple as the boats themselves. Build an affordable product, sell it for a no-haggle price, and let more people enjoy the benefits of a new boat. The Ski & Fish comes with a 3.0-liter four-cylinder engine with an Alpha One drive, a trolling motor, and a pair of jump seats at the rear that pull out and mount high up in the bow and at the stern to create a fishing platform in just minutes. When not in use for fishing, the seats mount to either side of the engine and the pedestals clamp neatly under the hatches beneath the bow seats. It also comes with a 70-quart livewell with an aerator. The hard-to-believe MSRP starts at $23,485.
- Brett Becker is a freelance writer and photographer who has covered the marine industry for 15 years. In addition to covering the ski boat and runabout markets for Boats.com, he regularly writes and shoots for BoatTrader.com. Based in Ventura, Calif., Becker holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s in mass communication from the University of Central Florida in Orlando.