The nimble little Sea-Doo Challenger 180 is meant for a specific type of boater. Its small size and light weight make it towable by any decent-sized car or truck. Its low price puts the boating experience within reach of those who are on a tight budget. And, with the shallow-draft advantage of a jet drive, hidden underwater obstacles are not as much of a concern.
These characteristics come together to create a boat that's a great fit for an inexperienced first-time boater who wants to introduce his or her family to the joys of boating without having to buy a new truck or throw down a ton of money in monthly boat payments.
Its smaller size and relatively low horsepower also make it less daunting to operate and maneuver around the dock, which is always an adventure for a first-timer.
Even though the 180 is a small platform, Sea-Doo's engineers and designers have made creative use out of all the available spaces on the boat with dry storage, integrated coolers and seating.
While the 180 is a tad squat with less than 18 feet in overall length, it does have a surprisingly wide beam for a short boat. The 8 feet, 2 inches across give Sea-Doo the ability to build in a number of creature comforts and storage areas that are comparable to larger sportboats.
The bow is flanked with two mini chaise lounges and a center cushion that slides out to create a small pad. There are a couple of cupholders here as well as two rugged handholds. Under both of the lounges is glassed-in draining storage, great for ice and drinks. The deck of the bow area and the cockpit is covered with a nonskid surface, which is a nice safety feature.
A walkway cuts through the helm leading to the cockpit — in the deck of the walkway there is a large ski locker with a tight seal and a spring that holds the lid open.
The helm to port features a deep glove box that would be an ideal area to keep a few changes of dry clothes. This is also where the standard Clarion Marine AM/FM CD player and a 12v outlet are located. Along the inboard gunwale is another cupholder, more storage and a padded armrest. The swivel bucket seat is adjustable forward and aft, but it doesn't have a bolster, which we feel would greatly improve visibility.
To port is the driver's helm, which houses a standard cluster of instruments and switches. Like the port bucket seat, the driver's seat swivels and can be adjusted forward and aft, but again, no bolster. Our tester actually ended up bending his leg under and sitting on it so he could see over the top lip of the windscreen. The wheel was sporty and had great grip, but there wasn't any tilt steering.
The rear bench has plenty of room for three with more storage under the seats. A hatch opens aft to port to reveal battery storage and to starboard to reveal more storage and side access to the engine. The engine access hatch is supported by gas-assist shocks and the compartment itself is pretty tight.
All the way aft is a large integrated swim platform, probably our favorite feature on this boat. A big swim platform with a ladder and grab handles makes family watersports much more convenient, safe and enjoyable.
Our test took place in a stretch of slightly wind-blown chop just off Key Biscayne in Florida. While perfectly smooth water might have bumped the top speed up a notch or two, we always like to get in some chop so we can provide a rough-water impression, which many people find important.
We had three warm bodies aboard for the test and half a tank of fuel (about 11 gallons). Our powerplant was an intercooled 215 hp Rotax Marine 4-TEC in-line three-cylinder four-stroke — the same engine found in a few of Sea-Doo's more popular PWC. A tamer engine with only 185 hp can be had for $1,000 less.
Even though the water was bumpy, we easily posted a top speed of 46.4 mph. As with a high-performance PWC, we expected aggressive acceleration from the 180. Even though it would hiccup with a slight amount of cavitation out of the hole, we still posted an impressive time to plane of 4.5 seconds and a 0 to 30 mph time of 8.1 seconds. Bringing the power on a little less aggressively allowed us to post the same times without any initial cavitation.
The 180 had a nimble feeling in the corners and would respond to the steering nicely. Prolonged turns, however, would scrub off a decent amount of speed.
The craft's steep deadrise of 20 degrees would efficiently cut through the chop for a comfortable ride at cruising speed. But at full speed we experienced a decent amount of pounding while out in the rough, likely due in part to the craft's light weight.
We also found the ride to be pretty loud at 102 dB at wide open and 97 dB at cruising speed.
Jet Drive Advantage
While jet drives make up a small fraction of the boating market, they do have some advantages over prop-driven inboards and stern drives worth noting. The main advantage is a shallow draft. Because the water intake to the jet pump is at the skin of the underside of the craft and the thrust nozzle out behind the transom (instead of below it), jet drives are some of the shallowest drafting craft available.
The 180 only drafts 1 foot, witch is about 1 or 1.5 feet less than a runabout of the same size with a stern drive. This means greater access to the shallows and less worry overall about striking ground.
Jet drives are not without drawbacks, however. The most common complaint is sucking up debris or kelp and fouling the impeller shaft, which is easy to do unless you're vigilant about avoiding floating debris and kelp beds.
We'd rate the 180 as a fairly priced craft at $22,000 (which is made easier by the fact that it includes a painted ShoreLand'r trailer). While it certainly isn't over the top in terms of features or performance, it does deliver an attractive experience for a reasonable price.
Our biggest suggestion to Sea-Doo would be to get some bolsters on those bucket seats to improve visibility and some sound-dampening material in the engine compartment to quiet things down a bit. Even if this resulted in adding a few hundred dollars to the price, we think it would be worth it.
All together, the 180's smart notion of seating and storage, the integrated swim platform and its perky performance attitude are more than enough to show the first-time boating family of four what it's all about.
Editor's note: Be sure to check out Go Boating magazine for the complete review of the Challenger 180, as well as how-to articles and the latest products.
Manufacturer Contact Information
Bombardier Recreational Products
10101 Science Drive
Sturtevant, WI 53177