Bayliner 4550 Pilothouse Motoryacht

By Jack Hornor

Revised by BoatUS editors in October 2012
Bayliner 4550

When it was introduced in 1984, the Bayliner's 4550 Pilothouse Motoryacht was the queen of Bayliner's fleet and remained so throughout its 10-year production run. For reasons only Bayliner's marketing staff knows, the model name was changed to the 4588 following the 1988 model year but, other than minor cosmetic changes and some additions to the standard equipment list, the two models are the same. It's a great looking boat with excellent accommodations for liveaboard or long-range cruising and an affordable price tag. But careful attention needs to be paid to ensure the structure of these aging models remains sound.

Pilothouse motoryachts differ from more traditional motoryachts in that they have a separate, fully enclosed helm raised above deck level similar to bridges found on large commercial vessels and workboats. The arrangement has the advantage of providing the helmsman an easily controlled environment (heat or air conditioning), a navigation table adjacent to the helm and ample protected space for sensitive electronics gear. On the down side, a significant amount of interior accommodation space is taken up and visibility is more restricted than from a flybridge helm. Visibility astern on the 4550/4588 is practically nonexistent and reflections from the windshield can make nighttime operation difficult.

To its credit, the 4550/4588 has a second complete flybridge helm so it can legitimately be argued she offers the best of both worlds.

The method of construction of the 4550/4588 is typical of production fiberglass boats that are built with an emphasis on affordable price. The hulls are constructed of a fiberglass composite with a core throughout. None of Bayliner's literature provides construction details, although the few examples I have seen are cored with foam rather than balsa wood, at least below the waterline. The hull is supported by a system of longitudinal stringers and transverse frames of plywood encased in fiberglass and resin. The construction is certainly not as robust as a boat intended for fishing 100 miles offshore but seems adequate for her intended service. The only significant problems I am aware of have been the result of water penetration into the bottom core and delamination of the bottom composite.

Owners and prospective purchasers should be very careful to examine the area around through hull fittings. Any delamination or elevated moisture must be dealt with immediately before it turns into a very expensive repair.

The deck of the 4550/4588 is arranged with three separate areas; the foredeck, flybridge and aft cockpit, and because the main saloon extends the full width of the boat, there is no direct access from the foredeck to the cockpit. This can make short handed docking somewhat of a fire drill but should cause no problems if there are at least two able crewmembers to assist the helmsperson.

The foredeck has plenty of room for storage of ground tackle, fenders and lines and side decks, leading to access doors on either side of the pilothouse, are wide and well guarded by welded stainless steel rails for secure passage.

The flybridge is reached either through a companionway from the pilothouse or ladder from the cockpit and has plenty of room for lounging or entertaining. Standard equipment includes a 500-lb. capacity davit for raising and lowering a dinghy to the flybridge.

The aft cockpit is only about four feet deep although it is over 13 feet wide and can easily accommodate several deck chairs. The flybridge overhangs the cockpit so it is easily enclosed if an owner wishes.

Very comfortable accommodations are without a doubt one of the most attractive features the 4550/4588 Pilothouse Motoryacht has to offer, starting with the master stateroom forward. It features a center island double berth and is one of the largest most comfortable staterooms I have ever seen on a boat this size. There are his and her hanging lockers, drawers beneath the bed and a large adjoining head complete with tub and shower.

Aft of the forward stateroom is a second port side stateroom with private entrance and what I would describe as a large single or small double berth. There is storage beneath the berth although no hanging locker. Across the hallway is a second head with a stall shower.

Working your way aft and up several steps is an all-electric galley is to port with all the conveniences of home - a microwave oven, upright refrigerator, countertop blender and even a trash compactor. Aft of the galley is the main saloon which extends the full width of the vessel with very large windows on each side for an outstanding view. There is an L-shaped settee to port with a Hi-Lo table that serves double duty for cocktails or dining.

Propulsion is provided by twin Hino diesel engines which were built in Japan and marinized in the U.S. by MerCruiser. Prior to 1991, 220 hp engines were used and later models were powered by twin 250 hp engines. These engines have a complex cooling system that includes a water jacketed exhaust manifold/heat exchanger which is prone to galvanic corrosion. If it fails internally water can enter cylinders causing extensive damage. The system should be checked regularly by a knowledgeable mechanic.

At a comfortable cruising speed of 16 to 18 miles per hour, she consumes about 18 gallons of fuel per hour or a little more than a gallon per mile which is quite economical for a 45-foot boat. At top speed, fuel consumption jumps substantially to about 35 gallons per hour or more than 1.5 gallons per mile.

Because of the long and moderately deep keel, the 4550/4588 has excellent directional stability, but the ride can be a bit wet in head seas and she tends to roll quite a bit if seas are on the beam or stern quarters. This is typical of slower vessels with rounded chines.

Bayliner's 4550/4588 Pilothouse Motoryachts offer a lot of boat for the money and are ideally suited for cruising the lakes, rivers and bays. And, with caution and proper planning, are suitable for coastal cruising.

Naval architect Jack Hornor was the principal surveyor and designer for Marine Survey & Design, Co., based in Annapolis, MD. He was on the boards of the American Boat and Yacht Council, the National Association of Marine Surveyors, and the Society of Boat and Yacht Designers. He and his wife sailed their Catalina 42, Legacy, based on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

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