Bayliner’s Element E21 keeps it simple … and fun
Back in 2013, we got our first look at Bayliner’s Element, which, true to its name, was a boat reduced to its simplest form. It was designed to be incredibly stable for its 16-foot length, thanks to its revolutionary M-hull, and inexpensive enough to attract new boaters. The original Element started at roughly $12,000, including a Mercury Bigfoot 60 and a trailer, and is still available as the E16, which now starts at $14,449. Since then, the concept has expanded to include seven Element models, including the E21, which I tested in Miami. The new models haven’t changed the basic mission: keep it simple, fun and affordable.
Video: Bayliner’s Element E21 – Boat Test
It would be an understatement to say the Element E21 goes its own way, because just about everything about it is different. For one thing, it’s a nearly 21-foot deckboat with a starting price of $25,599, including a trailer and a Mercury 115 FourStroke. The interior has a totally different vibe than most deckboats. For example, everything is fixed into position. There are no flip-flop seatbacks, and instead of twin captain’s chairs, the crew seat bases are fixed parts of the deck cap, like club seats. Drivers of average height will find it to be comfortable, but shorter and taller skippers will miss having an adjustable helm chair. Bayliner does include a booster seatback pad that snaps in place and gives shorter drivers a backrest they can reach. A potentially better solution than its one-size-fits-all seat would be a bucket seat on a slider that allows the driver to fine-tune his position, but that would be a moving part.
On the dash, the original Element had just one giant gauge that housed a speedometer, a fuel gauge and an “idiot” light that indicated if the outboard was overheating. The E21 has a slightly more elaborate dash: a multigauge speedo, temperature and voltage monitors, a separate tach and a trim gauge. Our test boat also had the optional digital depth display ($315) set into its carbon fiber–like dash panel.
The stern lounges feature recliners with a decent amount of backrest. They are comfortable for loungers facing forward or backward, and backrest pads in the middle support folks sitting upright. A centerline walkthrough goes from the swim platform into the cockpit, and the stern bench’s seat bottom is removable, so boarding guests don’t trod on the upholstery, which comes in two-tone desert sand or graphite. What’s cool is the entire cockpit behind the crew seats can become a giant sunpad with the filler cushion option ($365).
Because this is a deckboat, most of its relatively narrow 7-foot, 9-inch beam is carried forward to create room up front. The bowrider section is set up for reclining only, and Bayliner designed the curved backrest pad in such a way that taller riders can sit in the corner and let their long legs stretch toward the centerline. This section can be turned into a playpen with optional filler cushions ($215).
Bayliner is part of the Brunswick Group, which manufactures Mercury engines, so Mercury outboards are buyers’ only options. And to make it even simpler, there are only two choices: the 115 FourStroke and the 150 FourStroke. Our test boat was equipped with the latter. After testing it, I can say going with the max is the only choice. Buyers who choose the 115 can, and should, get hydraulic steering ($1,050). With the 150, hydraulic steering is standard, and the entire upgrade costs $4,215, which is money well spent.
The M-hull is shaped like it’s named and is sort of like a cathedral hull. Instead of being rounded, however, its angular design creates flattish areas between the outer catamaran-like sponsons that generate lots of lift, as do the outer hard chines. The Mercury 150 gave it plenty of push, getting the E21 on plane with practically zero bowrise in 3.3 seconds. Time to 30 mph was a quick 7.5 seconds, and top speed was a respectable 41.7 mph, despite Biscayne Bay’s choppy conditions.
The M-hull’s most unusual feature is its pronounced keel, which sticks down six inches farther than the sponsons at the bow and tapers to four inches deeper at the stern. The keel helps it track in a straight line and also gives it some bite when cornering. And because the outer sponsons provide lots of lift, cornering is very flat compared to a traditional V-hull. It handled the chop really well but exhibited some wave slap in the hull’s tunnels.
At rest and at slower speeds, the M-hull’s superior side-to-side stability really shines. Drivers probably won’t use the trim switch a lot, because the boat likes to run pretty level. After takeoff, bumping the trim up until the hull drag is released slightly will probably be enough in all conditions — even when turning.
The Element E21 is pretty much a blank slate that can be that can be customized to fit most any boating lifestyle. For watersports, a good start is the ski tow pylon option, for $295, which includes a removable tow point that’s high enough to rise above the outboard. The M-hull puts out a pretty flat wake, which is a good thing for slaloming. Towing small kids on a tube is easy thanks to the boat’s slow planing speed of 16 mph, and there’s even a bi-directional compressor option ($180), so a pre-inflated tube doesn’t have to take up the entire cockpit. To raise the tow point even higher and boost the rad-factor, add the Xtreme Tower with an integrated top, for $2,710. The rear deck is extra roomy for watersports staging and boarding, and the outboard is flanked on both sides by lower-to-the-water platformettes.
The E21 is well suited for fishing, with a wide and roomy deckboat bow section. An optional Starboard filler section creates a casting platform that comes with a comfortable pedestal fishing chair, and all the seat bottoms on the boat are removable. To complete the fishing package, there’s a MotorGuide trolling motor ($1,090), a fishfinder ($430) and a livewell ($725). Bayliner also offers the F21, which is a center console version of the Element that’s more dedicated to fishing.
To keep the price low and allow buyers to add only the features they want, many typically included features are options, such as a full windshield ($680) that has an optional walkthrough filler ($180) for cool days, a Bimini top ($690), a cockpit table ($180) and a Jensen MP3-ready stereo ($515). A painted dual-axle trailer is standard; optional is a saltwater-friendly galvanized model. Both have a swing-away tongue to help them fit in garages. Another standard is the choice of one of four hull colors.
One beef I had with the E21 is the lack of a bow cleat for proper anchoring. Its side cleats sit pretty far back. There’s no dedicated anchor locker either, though the bow storage bin is large enough for an anchor, but it will probably scratch the finished gelcoat. There are easy fixes. To stow the anchor, put a plastic clothes basket or a plastic storage tub in the storage bin. A Prostock cleat ($70) that uses two industrial-strength suction cups to securely position it at the bow can solve the anchoring situation. Remember to pass the bitter end of the anchor line through the center of the Prostock cleat before tying it off and then tying it to a side cleat — in case the suction cups pop off (they won’t).