Sea-Doo 180 Challenger SE
By Capt. Rob Smith
First released in 2005, the 180 Challenger is Sea-Doo’s answer to entry level boating with a positive twist. Simple, really; they use direct drive which eliminates a lot of the associated maintenance you have with stern drives. This also broadens the area you can boat in because it only draws 12” and adds a margin of safety since you don’t have a propeller spinning at 700 to several thousand rpm just under the swim platform. Don’t get directly behind any boat as it is taking off as you still can get hurt being this close to any vehicle in motion. Direct drive boats also add an extra bit of handling and quicker response over many of their sterndrive cousins. Once you learn to use the direct drive engine around the docks, you will love it.
The standard power in the 180 Challenger SE is a 215-hp Rotax direct drive engine. This 4-TEC engine is a three cylinder, four stroke 1.5 liter engine rated for a maximum rpm of 8000. The drive unit is an axial flow single-stage pump with stainless steel impeller and 6 ¼” pump diameter. Cooling is closed-loop, so the only raw water is through the jet drive pump which has Sea-Doo’s Inlet Clearing System to help clear debris if you pick up any when running.
The seating and room onboard
Seating is a feature you will appreciate when your friends all want to come along. For an 18 footer, she has plenty of seating with a rated capacity of 8 people, or 1440 lbs. of people and gear combined. In the cockpit, you feel like you are on a larger boat. I imagine that is because the direct drive system doesn’t have to eat up more room for the transmission and mechanicals associated with that. Between the large sole locker for boards and seat base storage, I believe you will have room for all the stuff the gang will want to bring along. The surprise in storage was the access to the stern storage lockers. There is dual access through the seat bases on the aft seats, and from hatches on the aft end from the swim platform. I had two PFD kits stuffed in the starboard box alone. Over on port the battery and switch were easily accessible with the lid open. The main entry is across the swim platform and the center walkthrough, which is more stable and keeps you in sight of the driver when on board.
If you have driven a Sea-Doo PWC, you will feel at home with the dash on the 180, if not you are going to be even more impressed with the “glass cockpit” design with all digital information. With the SE package you also have control of the tunes with a remote at the driver’s dash. The stereo is a satellite ready AM/FM/CD with MP3 input mounted in the companion side glove box.
In the bow, you have room for three to sit and chat. The cool thing is the standard bow filler cushion that is tucked into the peak under that bench seat. The cushion, posts and a canvas air dam for the walkthrough are all stored in here rather than robbing more valuable space in a large side bench or aft box. The only distraction I found was the fire extinguisher is mounted in the bottom of the starboard bow bench seat. In my experience as a past boating safety instructor, I would think that is likely to be covered by gear when it is needed the most. I would rather see it mounted behind the driver’s seat in front of the starboard aft bench seat. That puts it within arm’s reach of the driver or the person opening the cover over the engine should the worst happen.
The 180 Challenger SE measures 17’7” length overall and 8’2” across the beam. She weighs 1968 lbs. and has a draft of only 12”. She carries a total of 28 gallons of fuel.
I tested the 180 Challenger after testing two of her big sisters with twin engines. If you are into big tricks and lots of power, then you will want to move up to a twin model. For an entry level boat, you are getting more power than you will with most sterndrive entry level boats. She reaches plane in 3.9 seconds with only 19 degrees of bow rise. This means you will keep the majority of the horizon clearly in view when you are most vulnerable and least maneuverable. She got up to 30 mph in 7.8 seconds, and reached a top speed of 43 mph at 7800 rpm. Cruise was at 24.7 mph and 6000 rpm for a full tank range of 74 miles.
The 180 Challenger SE has many standard features you will pay more for in a competitive sterndrive model. She has the advantage of direct drive, meaning you have nothing hanging below the keel to strike the bottom and become an expensive repair. She has the room for the family to enjoy and the power to enjoy it. If you are just getting into boating, you will get just about everything you could want from trailer to room in one package.