Given the entry-level target audience for the 183 SS, the manufacturer made an appropriately conservative power move with a MerCruiser 4.3-liter EFI engine.

Given the entry-level target audience for the 183 SS, the manufacturer made an appropriately conservative power move with a MerCruiser 4.3-liter EFI engine.

The Chaparral 183 SS bow rider presents a starting point. New for 2002, the 18'3"-long, 7'9"-wide model is a well-equipped boat offering predictable performance—exactly what entry-level buyers need—and a reasonable price tag. The base boat with MerCruiser 3.0-liter power plant rings in at $17,250. Options added to the model we tested in Placida, Fla., upped the ante to a still-reasonable $23,602.


Like all members of the Chaparral runabout family, the 183 SS had the builder's Extended V-Plane-design hull, which translates to a running pod beyond the swim platform on each side of the boat. The boat's 18-degree, semi-V bottom had a radiused keel and slightly negative, 3-inch-wide chines. Two outer strakes on the hull ran full length. An inner set of strakes ended approximately 2 feet from the transom.

Given the entry-level target audience for the 183 SS, the manufacturer made an appropriately conservative power move with a MerCruiser 4.3-liter EFI engine. The 220-hp motor was mated to an Alpha drive with a 1.62:1 reduction and a Quicksilver 14" x 20" four-blade aluminum propeller.

That propulsion package made for a top speed of 52.6 mph at 4,750 rpm, which is fast enough for a novice operator. Time to plane was acceptable at 4.7 seconds, and acceleration was steady. The boat reached 48 mph in 15 seconds and ran from 20 to 40 mph in 5.8 seconds.

In handling drills, the 183 SS proved docile and predictable. It wasn't snappy or especially crisp in slalom turns at various speeds, but it did sweep through them without hooking or excessive slipping. The bow rider proved equally manageable in circle turns at cruising and full speeds.

The 183 SS earned solid scores in tracking at all speeds. To the manufacturer's credit, the drive-trim limit was set conservatively. That may have cost the boat a mile an hour or two up top, but it will help prevent beginners from over trimming. As our lead test driver said, ?You'd have a tough time getting into trouble with this boat.?


Where many entry-level boats fall apart, figuratively and literally, is in build quality. Producing a price-point model at a competitive price is a mean trick, one that Chaparral pulled off with the 183 SS. Our inspectors were immediately impressed with the boat's shiny white-and-blue gelcoat and smooth mold work.

The boat was laid up with AME 4000 resin, 36-ounce woven roving, layers of fiberglass mat from 1 to 3 ounces and Syntactic foam. Balsa coring was used in select areas of the hull for extra strength and flotation, and XL marine-grade plywood was used in the sole.

Our inspectors also appreciated the fact that the builder used two gas struts, rather than one, to support the manual engine hatch when open. With the hatch open, our inspectors had access to the front third of the engine, which was secured with lag bolts driven into stringer blocks—a fairly standard engine installation method for production boats. Wiring was adequately supported with nylon cushion clamps and up to production-boat standards.


Chaparral's designers did a nice job of giving the 183 SS bow rider's interior a relatively rich feel. Thanks to a bounty of uncommon amenities, the boat didn't feel at all common.

You don't often find, for example, an anchor locker with a hinged lid and a twist-pull latch in the nose of a price-point 18-footer. The 183 SS had that welcome feature, as well as a draining molded cooler under the forward-most cushion of the bow seating area. In many boats in this class, you get one or the other—cooler or anchor locker—designed to do both jobs.

Rather than going the conventional route with a hinged-at-the-side lid (or a more common and inexpensive drop-in lid) for its in-sole ski locker in the cockpit, Chaparral opted to hinge that locker's lid forward and have it open on a gas strut. A protective mat covered the bottom of the locker. As for the cockpit sole itself, it was covered in snap-in welted carpet.

Flip-up bottom seats, always a welcome touch when extra forward visibility is needed, and angled footrests were supplied for the co-pilot and driver. To port, the two-tone co-pilot's dash was far from the barren wasteland it often is in price-point models. Amenities there include a locking glove box, a draining cooler and a grab handle on the gunwale. Inside the glove box was a Seaworthy AM/FM CD stereo.

Instruments were mounted in woodgrain panels above the tilt woodgrain steering wheel. Rocker switches activated all accessories, and a Mercury shifter/throttle was mounted on the gunwale.

In addition to the in-sole stowage locker, stowage options included a relatively deep, carpeted gunwale tray on each side of the boat. Under the pullout bottom cushions for the four-person rear bench we found another large locker without partitions, which would make it ideal for stowing long items such as water-skis, get-home paddles and fishing poles.


The pressure to cut corners is constant in the entry-level boat market. We're pleased to see that Chaparral didn't succumb to it with the 183 SS. It's the kind of offering newcomers can handle and appreciate—the kind they'll remember fondly years from now.

Hull Information and Propulsion Information
Deadrise at transom18 degrees
Hull weight2,900 pounds
EngineMerCruiser 4.3-liter MPI
Cylinder typeV-6
Cubic-inch displacement/horsepower262/220
Lower-unit gear ratio1.62:1
PropellerQuicksilver 14" x 20"

Base retail$17,250
Price as tested$23,602

Standard Equipment

MerCruiser 3.0-liter engine, bow ice chest, diamond plate nonskid, fiberglass bow rider area, lockable glove box, hinged bow cushions, Kelron seat bases, molded-in footrests, RTM molded ski storage lid, woodgrain dashboard, wraparound walk-through windshield, anchor and rope locker, color coordinated acrylic top, stainless-steel boarding ladder, large bow and stern eyes, ski eye and four-bolt cleats, stainless rubrail, electric horn, DC power plug, hour meter, full instrumentation, Seaworthy AM/FM CD player and two water-resistant speakers.

Options on Test Boat

Upgrade engine to MerCruiser 4.3-liter MPI ($4,579), cockpit and bow cover ($479), cruise pack ($436), snap-in carpet ($290), sport package ($290), two-tone gelcoat ($189) and battery switch ($89).

Test Results

3 seconds19 mph
5 seconds27 mph
10 seconds45 mph
15 seconds48 mph

Midrange Acceleation
20-40 mph5.8 seconds
30-50 mph10.7 seconds

Rpm vs. Mph
10007 mph
15009 mph
200014 mph
250025 mph
300034 mph
350039 mph
400045 mph
450050 mph

Top Speed
Radar52.6 mph at 4750 rpm
Speedometer53 mph at 4750 rpm

Time to plane4.7 seconds
Minimum planing speed20 mph

Fuel Economy
At 25 mph5 mpg
At 35 mph4.3 mpg
At 45 mph3.9 mpg
At WOT3.3 mpg
Fuel capacity36 gallons

For More Information

Chaparral Boats
Dept. PB
300 Industrial Park Drive
Nashville, GA 31639
(229) 686-7481