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Sea Ray 180

Sea Ray 180 Bowrider (October 2001)

The Kiwi-built Sea Ray 180 is the quintessential American beauty. But, given ceteris paribus (other things being equal), this bowrider ironically beats the Yanks at their own game

Sea Ray says not all boats are built equal. Yet its American-made beauties, which it considers a cut above the rest, are no longer built solely in the States. This begs the question: can the new Kiwi Sea Ray factory make a boat that honours and obeys the Sea Ray marque of distinction?

With moulds, deck gear and fittings imported from America, the new Kiwi connection doesn’t so much build as assemble boats. That said, the mouldings on this 2001-edition 180 Bowrider were as fair as you will find on any Sea Ray. Which is saying something.

Sea Rays are coveted for their curvaceous hulls and decks which show a bit more design effort and emphasis on ergonomics than some of their peers. From the gelcoat to the graphics, upholstery and wiring, this Sea Ray 180 looked every bit an American-made bowrider.

Yet despite its design heritage, the 180 Bowrider is suited to the Australian way of life. Around Sydney, for example, you will find these bowriders skipping about waterways from Port Hacking to Pittwater, carrying families of fun seekers on weekend adventures, always looking loved and, tellingly, well-preserved.

For the present summer in America, Sea Ray has made a concerted effort at selling the lifestyle sizzle of its boats. While its 180 Bowrider is by virtue of its handy size both an introductory craft and one that may be all your family ever needs, it promises action.

In the 180 Bowrider you can do a little bit of everything from cruising to soaking up the sun at anchor, lunching aboard and wetting a line, waterskiing and commuting to that new waterfront eatery somewhere.

This is not a boat that requires planning and forethought before being taken out but one in which you say let’s go, then hitch it up, tow it to the ramp, turn the key and take off for the day. This means it’s a boat that will be used more often, even in winter.

WINTER CRUISING

It was with such wantonness that we launched the Sea Ray 180 on the Georges River one odd winter’s morning. There was nigh a breath of wind, Botany Bay resembled a giant ice-skating rink, with a thick silvery fog hanging overhead.

I’m not sure what the air temperature was, but it wasn’t summer. But people who believe that the open bowriders are fine-weather boats should think again. Behind the high windscreen, through which the view is perfectly clear when seated, I barely noticed the breeze.

What I did notice looking around the 180 Bowrider was a number of design and building improvements. The one-piece moulded deck has new cutaways for extra shoulder room and armrests around the seating, there are integrated grabrails, sculptured upholstery, a new simplified dash, less timber and more rot-free synthetic materials, such as a fibreglass floor stringer system.

The hull and deck have been designed in America using three-dimensional computer programs, a five-axis milling machine for tolerances within .001cm, robotically-applied gelcoat and hole-cutting for deck fittings, and something called cell-assembly which facilitates easier upgrading of future models.

I got down on my hands and knees and took a good look at those areas of the boat that are not so conspicuous but perhaps even more reliable indicators of quality or otherwise. Among other things, the good finish on the 180 Bowrider extends to the engine bay, a colour-coded fuse panel under the helm, and the fittings on the windscreen.

TAKE A SEAT

While there are other bowriders with deeper forefoots, the Sea Ray 180 strikes the balance between sporty-spice lines and having the freeboard to carry adults up front in choppy water. The cutting edge of the boat is pronounced, with the flared topsides and chines a little less conspicuous than some full-bow bowriders.

I gauged the bow seating to be more comfortable than you will find on many bowriders. The cutaways in the deck and ergonomically-designed cushions and backrests with plush upholstery seem to contour nicely to your back and behind.

At rest, there is enough length to kick back with your feet up, drinkholders are never far away, and there is storage in the three lockers under the seat bases. There is no dedicated anchor locker, but a tough little bowroller and bollard, split nav light and through-bolted deck cleats. We also had an optional canvas bow cover.

I found the walk-through windscreen wide enough to pass through untroubled. The windscreen can be kept open using a press-stud tab and held that way when underway. Unlike the American-made 180s, this Kiwi version comes with back-to-back helm seats. Extended, they make comfortable sunlounges on which to catnap.

If you take into account the aft quarter seats, whose base can be removed to form a full-width sunlounge, you can carry eight people on your Sea Ray 180 Bowrider. While six adults is a more comfortable limit, the MerCruiser 4.3lt EFI will shift a full complement onto the plane.

The cockpit floor is fully carpeted, with carpet extending into the various side storage pockets. There is an insulated icebox with a drain under the starboard-side aft seat. Amidships is a waterski or kneeboard locker with vinyl matting. The copilot has storage in a lockable glovebox hiding the marine stereo.

Access to the sterndrive is gained by lifting up the aft sunlounge base and then removing the fibreglass ‘bonnet’. As you go about doing this, you will notice the bimini top tucked neatly under the sunlounge base. On the 180, you can carry your sunshade and have your sportsboat, too.

I noted more soundproofing in the engine bay than I can remember in past Sea Rays. Underway, the 180 Bowrider is certainly a quiet rig. You can maintain a conversation while cruising at a fast clip without raising your voice.

Access to the battery in the starboard corner and polypropylene petrol tank in the port corner, which is linked to a deck filler, is gained by unclipping covers behind the aft seat bases. Reasonable access exists to the automatic bilge pump and power-assisted steering unit.

At the transom you’ll find a central ski tow-eye, folding stainless boarding ladder with grabrail, and a full-width boarding platform. A bulbous moulding which extends from the transom at waterlevel provides additional buoyancy and helps keep the boat dry when backing up. The 180 with 4.3lt EFI sat a little lower in the water than the US version with (90kg lighter) 3.0lt MerCruiser.

INTO THE FRAY FOG

Unlike some back-to-back seats, these ones are as comfortable as a pedestal seat. Couple this with a throttle which falls to hand, a sportswheel with power-assisted steering, and a windscreen whose top edge doesn’t cut across eye level like so many bowrider windscreens, and you have a nice helm.

Compared with some flash sportsboats, the Sea Ray 180 Bowrider’s dash is less frilly. A moulded no-glare beige insert harbours custom Sea Ray engine gauges, with rocker-style backlit switches either side of the wheel, and a small digital sounder.

I drove the 180 into the fray and a pea souper that would be the envy of a special-effects man looking to create a scene in a Sherlock Holmes movie. There was a spot of rain, or perhaps speed-induced condensation, on the windscreen. I thanked it quietly for the protection it also gave from the chill air.

With a bigger engine than the base American-made model, the Sea Ray 180 rates very much as a sportsboat. The hull has big chines which act as planing areas on its outer edges, with two inner strakes that run right to the transom. The underwater configuration seems to generate plenty of lift and hole shot is snappy.

Spinning a 21-inch stainless Vengeance propeller, the Sea Ray 180 Bowrider with 4.3lt EFI MerCruiser and Alpha One leg delivers a top-end that is not to be sneezed at. This is a very capable skiing machine and sportsrunner turning in 80-90kmh at 4400-4800rpm.

A light but stiff boat weighing 953kg (dry) with a sharp 19° of deadrise, the 180 with 210hp V-six needs to be driven authoritatively at top-end. Trim the motor right out and the hull will walk on you. But an easy correction, a little flick of the wheel, is all that’s needed to set it back up again.

Any way you drive it, the 180 is as responsive and manoeuvrable as some dedicated sportsboats, as comfortable as a bowrider can be, and a well-proportioned boat. It’s just the kind of rig to buy the family, with enough thrills to keep you, the experienced driver, happy at the helm.

Sea Ray has always prided itself on building boats that seem to be a bit less assembled than many others. This remains the case with this Kiwi-built Sea Ray 180. In fact, on a locally-made trailer, it rates as a better-quality boating package than the Yankee original.

There is more speed and performance from a bigger motor, more seating, and a better Brooker trailer on which to tow your boat about town than the US boat. And with assembly costs reduced without having to go to Asia or Mexico, Sea Ray has reined in its prices without sacrificing its signature quality.

Sea Ray says not all boats are built equal. Yet its American-made beauties, which it considers a cut above the rest, are no longer built solely in the States. This begs the question: can the new Kiwi Sea Ray factory make a boat that honours and obeys the Sea Ray marque of distinction?

With moulds, deck gear and fittings imported from America, the new Kiwi connection doesn’t so much build as assemble boats. That said, the mouldings on this 2001-edition 180 Bowrider were as fair as you will find on any Sea Ray. Which is saying something.

Sea Rays are coveted for their curvaceous hulls and decks which show a bit more design effort and emphasis on ergonomics than some of their peers. From the gelcoat to the graphics, upholstery and wiring, this Sea Ray 180 looked every bit an American-made bowrider.

Yet despite its design heritage, the 180 Bowrider is suited to the Australian way of life. Around Sydney, for example, you will find these bowriders skipping about waterways from Port Hacking to Pittwater, carrying families of fun seekers on weekend adventures, always looking loved and, tellingly, well-preserved.

For the present summer in America, Sea Ray has made a concerted effort at selling the lifestyle sizzle of its boats. While its 180 Bowrider is by virtue of its handy size both an introductory craft and one that may be all your family ever needs, it promises action.

In the 180 Bowrider you can do a little bit of everything from cruising to soaking up the sun at anchor, lunching aboard and wetting a line, waterskiing and commuting to that new waterfront eatery somewhere.

This is not a boat that requires planning and forethought before being taken out but one in which you say let’s go, then hitch it up, tow it to the ramp, turn the key and take off for the day. This means it’s a boat that will be used more often, even in winter.

WINTER CRUISING

It was with such wantonness that we launched the Sea Ray 180 on the Georges River one odd winter’s morning. There was nigh a breath of wind, Botany Bay resembled a giant ice-skating rink, with a thick silvery fog hanging overhead.

I’m not sure what the air temperature was, but it wasn’t summer. But people who believe that the open bowriders are fine-weather boats should think again. Behind the high windscreen, through which the view is perfectly clear when seated, I barely noticed the breeze.

Sea Ray 180 Bowrider

What I did notice looking around the 180 Bowrider was a number of design and building improvements. The one-piece moulded deck has new cutaways for extra shoulder room and armrests around the seating, there are integrated grabrails, sculptured upholstery, a new simplified dash, less timber and more rot-free synthetic materials, such as a fibreglass floor stringer system.

The hull and deck have been designed in America using three-dimensional computer programs, a five-axis milling machine for tolerances within .001cm, robotically-applied gelcoat and hole-cutting for deck fittings, and something called cell-assembly which facilitates easier upgrading of future models.

I got down on my hands and knees and took a good look at those areas of the boat that are not so conspicuous but perhaps even more reliable indicators of quality or otherwise. Among other things, the good finish on the 180 Bowrider extends to the engine bay, a colour-coded fuse panel under the helm, and the fittings on the windscreen.

TAKE A SEAT

While there are other bowriders with deeper forefoots, the Sea Ray 180 strikes the balance between sporty-spice lines and having the freeboard to carry adults up front in choppy water. The cutting edge of the boat is pronounced, with the flared topsides and chines a little less conspicuous than some full-bow bowriders.

I gauged the bow seating to be more comfortable than you will find on many bowriders. The cutaways in the deck and ergonomically-designed cushions and backrests with plush upholstery seem to contour nicely to your back and behind.

At rest, there is enough length to kick back with your feet up, drinkholders are never far away, and there is storage in the three lockers under the seat bases. There is no dedicated anchor locker, but a tough little bowroller and bollard, split nav light and through-bolted deck cleats. We also had an optional canvas bow cover.

I found the walk-through windscreen wide enough to pass through untroubled. The windscreen can be kept open using a press-stud tab and held that way when underway. Unlike the American-made 180s, this Kiwi version comes with back-to-back helm seats. Extended, they make comfortable sunlounges on which to catnap.

If you take into account the aft quarter seats, whose base can be removed to form a full-width sunlounge, you can carry eight people on your Sea Ray 180 Bowrider. While six adults is a more comfortable limit, the MerCruiser 4.3lt EFI will shift a full complement onto the plane.

The cockpit floor is fully carpeted, with carpet extending into the various side storage pockets. There is an insulated icebox with a drain under the starboard-side aft seat. Amidships is a waterski or kneeboard locker with vinyl matting. The copilot has storage in a lockable glovebox hiding the marine stereo.

Access to the sterndrive is gained by lifting up the aft sunlounge base and then removing the fibreglass ‘bonnet’. As you go about doing this, you will notice the bimini top tucked neatly under the sunlounge base. On the 180, you can carry your sunshade and have your sportsboat, too.

I noted more soundproofing in the engine bay than I can remember in past Sea Rays. Underway, the 180 Bowrider is certainly a quiet rig. You can maintain a conversation while cruising at a fast clip without raising your voice.

Access to the battery in the starboard corner and polypropylene petrol tank in the port corner, which is linked to a deck filler, is gained by unclipping covers behind the aft seat bases. Reasonable access exists to the automatic bilge pump and power-assisted steering unit.

At the transom you’ll find a central ski tow-eye, folding stainless boarding ladder with grabrail, and a full-width boarding platform. A bulbous moulding which extends from the transom at waterlevel provides additional buoyancy and helps keep the boat dry when backing up. The 180 with 4.3lt EFI sat a little lower in the water than the US version with (90kg lighter) 3.0lt MerCruiser.

INTO THE FRAY FOG

Unlike some back-to-back seats, these ones are as comfortable as a pedestal seat. Couple this with a throttle which falls to hand, a sportswheel with power-assisted steering, and a windscreen whose top edge doesn’t cut across eye level like so many bowrider windscreens, and you have a nice helm.

Compared with some flash sportsboats, the Sea Ray 180 Bowrider’s dash is less frilly. A moulded no-glare beige insert harbours custom Sea Ray engine gauges, with rocker-style backlit switches either side of the wheel, and a small digital sounder.


I drove the 180 into the fray and a pea souper that would be the envy of a special-effects man looking to create a scene in a Sherlock Holmes movie. There was a spot of rain, or perhaps speed-induced condensation, on the windscreen. I thanked it quietly for the protection it also gave from the chill air.

With a bigger engine than the base American-made model, the Sea Ray 180 rates very much as a sportsboat. The hull has big chines which act as planing areas on its outer edges, with two inner strakes that run right to the transom. The underwater configuration seems to generate plenty of lift and hole shot is snappy.

Spinning a 21-inch stainless Vengeance propeller, the Sea Ray 180 Bowrider with 4.3lt EFI MerCruiser and Alpha One leg delivers a top-end that is not to be sneezed at. This is a very capable skiing machine and sportsrunner turning in 80-90kmh at 4400-4800rpm.

A light but stiff boat weighing 953kg (dry) with a sharp 19° of deadrise, the 180 with 210hp V-six needs to be driven authoritatively at top-end. Trim the motor right out and the hull will walk on you. But an easy correction, a little flick of the wheel, is all that’s needed to set it back up again.

Any way you drive it, the 180 is as responsive and manoeuvrable as some dedicated sportsboats, as comfortable as a bowrider can be, and a well-proportioned boat. It’s just the kind of rig to buy the family, with enough thrills to keep you, the experienced driver, happy at the helm.

Sea Ray has always prided itself on building boats that seem to be a bit less assembled than many others. This remains the case with this Kiwi-built Sea Ray 180. In fact, on a locally-made trailer, it rates as a better-quality boating package than the Yankee original.

There is more speed and performance from a bigger motor, more seating, and a better Brooker trailer on which to tow your boat about town than the US boat. And with assembly costs reduced without having to go to Asia or Mexico, Sea Ray has reined in its prices without sacrificing its signature quality.

Sea Ray 180 Bowrider
Sea Ray 180 Bowrider
Sea Ray 180 Bowrider

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