Holes In The Water: 1977 Bayliner vs 1970 Bayliner

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Good morning, and happy Friday to you all! On today’s edition, we’re leaving the wheels behind and taking to the high seas (or at least the lakes and rivers) with a pair of cheap old runabout motorboats. Or, as they’re often called, “holes in the water that you pour money into.” Before we dive into those, let’s see which Caddy you’d rather set sail in:

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Yep, that would be my choice too. Looking at that ’91 makes me miss my ’89 Coupe DeVille. That was just too damn big, but this Eldorado looks just right. And I prefer that earlier square-jawed style. It’s going to make somebody a nice cheap ride, that one.

So… Boats. I’ll come right out and say it, I’m a little out of my depth [Editor’s Note: I GET IT! – JT] here. Most of these columns I can sail through without a whole lot of research, but this time I can’t just float along. [Editor’s Note: Oh there’s more – JT]  I need to navigate some unknown waters today, and I hope those who know better what they’re talking about will show me a little patience as I learn the ropes. [Editor’s Note: Oh god – JT] With that said, let’s get our feet wet – possibly literally.

Both of these boats are made by Bayliner, who, as I understand it, had a reputation for some pretty cheap shoddy materials and workmanship early on. But like any “cheap” product, they have their devoted followers, willing to put in the work to turn them into something respectable. But because of the bad reputation, they often sell cheap, even the nice ones. Basically, they’re the shitboxes of the boat world, which makes them perfect for us.

1977 Bayliner Mosquito – $1,600

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Engine: 85 hp Mercury 4 cylinder 2 stroke outboard

Location: Portland, OR

Length: 17 ft

Condition: Good, no leaks, engine runs but has a miss

This would appear to be it: the least amount you can spend for a pleasure boat that is intact and has a hope of being seaworthy. It has a fiberglass hull and an 85 horsepower outboard motor. As is common for outboard boat engines, this is a 2 stroke engine. The reasons for this are that boats don’t need a lot of  torque, but top-end horsepower is useful. (Snowmobiles are usually 2 strokes for the same reason.) 2 stroke engines are also smaller and lighter than 4 stroke engines, which is important when you have to swing the whole engine back and forth to steer, and pick it up out of the water when you’re done.

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This particular Mercury outboard is having some issues; the seller says it runs, but “something is just off.” There aren’t a lot of moving parts in a 2-stroke motor, no valves or camshafts, so the list of potential trouble spots is few. But finding parts for a 45-year-old boat motor might not be the easiest thing, and replacement outboards aren’t cheap.

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Apart from the engine issues, it doesn’t look too bad for a $1600 boat. The seller lists a lot of recent work done, including work on the included trailer. It sounds like it might have been in storage for a while, and if the engine wasn’t put into storage properly, that could account for its problems now.

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Boats are not a cheap hobby, but if the price of entry is this low, this could be a good way to dabble without having to commit to too much expense. And chances are, if the engine isn’t fixable, you can move it on to another owner for the same price.


1970 Bayliner Runabout – $2,700

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Engine: 105 hp Chrysler 4 cylinder 2 stroke outboard

Location: Portland, OR

Length: 17 ft

Condition: Great! Ready to go

Raise your hand if you knew that Chrysler Coropration was once a giant in the boating industry.

That’s what I figured. Chrysler Marine fell victim to the corporation’s money troubles in the late 1970s, and was sold off piecemeal to other companies in the early ’80s. But in the 1960s and ’70s, Chrysler boats and boat engines were huge.

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This 1970 Bayliner would have been a competitor to Chrysler’s speedboats, but it shares the same 2 stroke outboard motor. Chrysler boat motors were highly regarded and very reliable, and this one has been gone over carefully, and according to the seller, runs like a top.

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The rest of this boat has been well cared-for as well, and it shows. A long list of recent repairs and maintenance is listed in the ad, and it comes with a whole assortment of extras, including the all-important cover. These old Bayliner boats have fiberglass hulls, but wooden decks and structure, so it’s important to keep them out of the elements when they’re not supposed to get wet.

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I have to be honest: I really dig this boat. I have no idea if it’s actually a good deal or not, but it sure seems to be. I can see myself putting on a Hawaiian shirt and my straw trilby, playing a little Herb Alpert on the sound system, and puttering up to the marina bar at happy hour. (I don’t know why it has to be Herb Alpert, but it does.)

And that’s the problem with looking at cheap boats; they put all kinds of bad ideas in your head. Everybody knows you don’t really want a boat anyway – you want a friend with a boat. But for these prices, you could probably learn that lesson first-hand and not lose too much in the process. So if you’re going to make this particular mistake, which one is it going to be?



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63 Responses

  1. Retired powersports/marine service guy here. If you had dragged either one of these old tubs into our parking lot, we would have politely requested you leave forthwith. Old boats are like a puppy—a heartbreak waiting to happen. Usually when you are out in the middle of the lake with a lightning storm approaching. I got stories, but you don’t want to hear them all.
    The dealership I worked for found that working on old boats was a no-win situation. You can’t get parts for motors this old and no repair you do is going to make the customer happy. You might as well perform CPR on a rotting corpse. Practically speaking, if someone buys a boat this cheap, they seldom have the funds to pay for someone else to work on it. Be aware that you will be faced with car dealership levels of labor and parts costs if you can’t fix it yourself.
    If you’re a good wrench and understand two-strokes, you might make out on one of these but you’re still going to spend lots of money and time.
    Personally, I have had all of boats and boat owners I want and then some. Don’t care if I ever get on one again. Incidentally I did own an ’86 Bayliner 1850 with Chrysler 125, among other holes in the water over the years. That proved the adage that the two best days in a boat owner’s life are the day he buys it and the day he sells it. And yes, the commenters who pointed the questionable reliability of Chrysler motors are not kidding. Not to mention that 85hp Merc will run away and hide from the 105hp Chrysler if on similar size boats.
    Boats can be fun if you have a lot of disposable income. I got to play with the dealership owner’s new 24′ Manitou pontoon equipped with TWO 400HP Evinrudes. Acceleration was unbelievable. Ever go 75mph on a pontoon boat? Fun for a while, but really kind of pointless, unless you’re the guy who has to have the fastest pontoon boat on the lake and has a couple hundred grand to in fun money to blow.

  2. As a guy who has FOUR 2-stroke jet skis in various states of repair, buy the one that’s ready to go. (yes that many, click my profile and see the cover photo). I’m probably selling 2 very soon, but yeah, buy the working one for not much more money and enjoy the rest of the summer!

  3. I’d rather buy a used U-Haul. Fortunately you can rent either, hourly or daily, with or without a crew. When I rent a boat I get it already in the desired body of water and return it without loading it onto a trailer. I was in the USN for ten years, that’s more than enough working on water vessels. I’ll play on a recreational water vessel, but someone else is going to have to fix it. Done with that.

  4. “gone through by my ace mechanic brother” translates to:
    My brother told me to get rid of this before it empties my pockets, so he helped me prep it for sale.

    In reality, whichever one doesn’t have rotten flooring or other wood parts would be the one to choose, and you have to do an on-site inspection for that.

  5. Boatopians: No and No. This is not how you want to be introduced to boat ownership. This is not how you want to introduce your spouse to boat ownership.

    Currently have two sailboats, only one with a motor, and they take enough money to maintain, run, and store. The one without a motor was inherited and I’ve still spent over $1500 refitting the trailer, epoxy repairs, and replacing worn items. “Free boat with a history and connection, you should take it” she said 3 years and a cross-country trip ago. “That boat is just sitting there costing us money” she now says. These old boats and motors would suck so much more time to get and keep them ready for the water than you’ll ever spend actually on the water.

    You also don’t use it nearly as often as you think you will, especially not after the first year or two when the honeymoon period wears off.

    Grew up on a lake and we had an old Chrysler outboard of this era for a while that was the least reliable we ever had, and my dad scrounged up some pretty unreliable crap. New motor for either boat will set you back more than double the initial cost, and that’s for something under 30hp just to get you around the lake and maybe pull a smaller kid tubing.

    The only way you’d want to pick up either of these is if you have a David Tracy level of commitment to old Bayliners. Wait, has Torchinsky repaid DT’s truck gift yet?

  6. As someone who moonlighted down at a local marina for a couple years, I don’t want either: I’ll stick with a canoe! Now, boats are great when they’re running and right, but it takes a LOT of maintenance to keep them up once you gotten them there. There’s always >something < needing attention. And, I’m talking freshwater: I don’t even want to think about the work when you’re around the salt.

    I’ll paddle, thank you!

  7. err, not sure where the Chrysler reliability notion came from, but growing up on the mississippi river, I can recall them all breaking down often. the Mercury and Evinrudes ruled. Johnson’s were only on little boats and were reliable I am told. the 77 is visually in better shap and indicate the sun deck is properly bolstered to hold a bather or two. I would rather take the merc over the chrysler all day long. neither will last long though most likely. but the 77 probably has the ability to hold a larger Merc.

  8. Solid no on both of those without a first-hand inspection of the structure on them, especially the transom.

    I know SO MANY local gearheads that picked up boats from that era who thought it was an easy way into a fun summer on the water only to end up scrapping or spending WAY more than it was worth because the wood under the fiberglass was rotted out making it a noodly mess or the ‘glass was delaminated from UV damage.

    Boats are money pits when they’re in good shape; old tubs doubly so.

  9. Bayliners were always known as the cheapest boat you could buy. They were owned by AMF, the company that made Bowling Balls. I abstained from this choice, as the best choice here, is no choice. Bayliner did sell some passable boats from 1985 to 1994, and they were still the cheapest. In 1985 you could get a new 17.5 ft bow-rider with a 130HP inboard-outboard, and with a trailer package, for $5995. That was only 2 to 3 times what these old Tuna Barges are asking.

  10. Take the cheap newer hill and buy a new(er) outboard. The old boat with the “good” engine will inevitably need to be replaced at some point, so save a grand now cos you’ll be forking out either way

  11. Buy the one that’s ready to go, play with it until something breaks, sell it to some other fool for the same amount that you paid for it. Not worth getting into a long-term relationship with either one of these, but they’re cheap enough for a summer of fun… if they last that long.

  12. The Mosquito is much nicer looking. They’re probably both going to need some structural work, so you’d better like what you end up with, at least a little.

    Fiberglass and wood aren’t really all that hard to work with; it’s just time consuming, messy and unfamiliar to most people, so they just don’t try. That’s why you can find so many cheap boats around.

    Also, the Merc is a much better motor to have. Parts shouldn’t be too hard to find, even for one this old. The Chrysler should be just fine, as long as you don’t go over 90% throttle very often. But the thing is, almost every boater runs wide open throttle pretty often.

  13. Either or, plan for a repower. Those old Mercury’s require special tools and all the old guys that have them are retiring. And that Chrysler outboard is just a boat anchor so either one you choose knock on the transom and the deck and make sure they aren’t soft and plan on throwing a more modern 50 horse on the back and you’ll be fine.

  14. Anything other than a Mercury is a mistake. Finding parts and support for the Merc would be easy, as almost ANY marine has a Merc Dealer and any marine repair shop is going to be familiar with these engines. The Chrysler? Yeah good luck finding even basic parts.

  15. I got my first wrenching job in a marina on Cape Cod in 1973. We wouldn’t work on Chrysler engines then and I wouldn’t work on one now. I’d take the Skeeter, make an attempt to fix the Merc and if not an easy fix, go find a decent used motor. The styling on the Skeeter is timeless.

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