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Purchasing and Servicing an Outboard Motor

Awesome power on a waterborne rocket courtesy of five 350-horse power Mercury Verado four-strokes. Photo by Glenn Hayes
Awesome power on a waterborne rocket courtesy of five 350-horse power Mercury Verado four-strokes. Photo by Glenn Hayes

In previous articles in this series we discussed the differences between two- and four-stroke motors, how they work and what the different manufacturers are offering. In this article we will discuss what to consider when making the decision to buy a new outboard.

So you know that boat you want to purchase or you already have a hull that you like and would like to re-power? The decision on what motor to pick can be a daunting one because there are so many applications and so many choices to pick from. And the differences between motors are becoming harder to distinguish. What motor would be best for your particular application? To answer this you have to ask several pertinent questions to come to a satisfactory answer for your particular application.

Generally speaking, the kind of boat you own or want to own and the boating you will be doing will play a key role in what motor will work best for you. There is no single solution to all the many applications for outboards, but there are some trends in the selection of an outboard that depend on the boating you will be doing. Robin Senger, a product-training manager for Mercury Marine, broke down the typical outboard customer into five different categories and explained the common choices for each.

First, he explained that the offshore customer (typically running to offshore fishing trips or day cruising) is now usually a four-stroke customer. Their choice of a four-stroke is because of the perception of reliability of four-strokes and of steady, smooth trolling speeds, and the ability to fine-tune trolling characteristics such as in some of the Verado motors. Offshore customers also enjoy the thought of minimized vibration while at cruising and trolling speeds. Senger also points to the adoption of power steering and high output alternators to keep battery banks charged as important factors for those venturing offshore. Fuel efficiency on those long runs to distant fishing grounds is also becoming an ever more important factor to consider, as gas prices continue to soar. New technology improves fuel consumption even at lower trolling speeds such as Honda’s Lean Burn Control or systems such as Evinrude’s computer controlled fuel system that puts just the right amount of fuel and fires the plugs at the optimal time for maximum fuel efficiency.

Then there is the inshore recreational and fishing customer. According to Senger, these folks usually go with a two-stroke outboard offering. Their reasons are primarily because the two-stroke is lighter in weight to a comparable four-stroke. A lighter boat inshore sits higher in the shallows and allows for jumping up on a plane faster and easier hole shots in the shallows. The perception is that smaller and lighter motors allow for more power and performance for the size of motor. Fuel efficiency should also factor here, as fuel supply is limited due to smaller tanks and these boats tend to be run for longer periods on a single tank.

Next you have the bass boat market. This customer can be categorized as the tournament fisherman, when every weekend is a tournament or at least is fished like one. Speed and performance are the prime requirements from their outboards. They need to be the first guy to the spot. Fuel economy and low speed performance are not as critical. The runs are usually shorter and when they reach their fishing spot the motor is turned off and trolling motors are utilized. Speed appears to be one of the fundamental features required by this market. This means engines such as the big Mercury Optimax ProSX two-stroke. Such motors have dominated this market but things are starting to change. Four-stroke high-pressure fuel injection motors such as Yamaha’s 4.2-liter big block are competing with Mercury’s Pro four-stroke supercharged Verado and the two-stroke ProSX Optimax.

Then you have the pontoon boater. This is one of the fastest growing categories in the boating market. Requirements for these boats are primarily the ability to propel the maximum capacity of passengers in comfort. Popular perception again shows that four-stroke engines are the primary outboard choice. Quiet, reliable performance with low maintenance and emissions are key considerations. Fuel economy should also factor in, as on-board fuel is usually limited in these craft.

The last category mentioned by Senger was the Walleye and northern freshwater fisherman. This group initially chose two-stroke offerings, but the transition is moving to four-strokes. The perception is that their quiet operation and reliability along with smooth efficient trolling allow the fishermen to sneak up on fish and save at the fuel docks and at the repair shop.

No matter what you do with your boat you should consider a few common thoughts. Remember that cheaper does not always equate to better value. The major brands mentioned in these articles all have motors with their own unique strengths. You should consider all options based on merit, not just price. Remember that service after purchase is also a factor. Some engines require more service than others and the after purchase cost can be high. Do your homework. Not all warranties are created equal. Some warranties are better than others, as is warranty service, if required. Some manufacturers have a stronger presence than others in certain locales and in the worldwide and overseas markets. This can play a factor in parts availability and pricing.

You must also investigate what standard equipment is offered and how much accessories will run you. A stripped down bargain may not be a bargain at all. You should also consider adequate horsepower for your boat. Maximum horsepower may be overkill, but there is a possibility of under-powering the vessel. This is a common first-time boater issue that usually is based on price. Again, cheaper does not necessarily mean better value. Most insurance companies will not insure a vessel if the motor is over the recommended maximum horsepower for that particular vessel.

Fuel economy is fast becoming a major issue as gas prices climb. Make sure the engine you hang on your boat is one that you can afford to run. With efficiency rapidly improving in modern engines, they can actually be a cheaper alternative to older motors in the long run, even at higher horsepower.

According to Martin Peters of Yamaha’s marketing division, surveys show that the primary concern of potential outboard customers is reliability. You want the motor to work flawlessly for you no matter what boating you are doing. It should start when you turn the key and it should keep working all day, every day. The fact is that all the major manufacturers have quality products and reliability has been vastly improved over the years, so much so that some companies base their marketing and reputation on it.

Each manufacturer has a somewhat similar yet unique product and all are developing their product lines on their respective strengths to distinguish themselves. Honda Marine has developed reliable and technologically advanced motors, borrowing technology from its automotive division and applying it to the marine world. Suzuki has implemented unique technology that has innovative engine features improving efficiency and environmental friendliness. Tohatsu has engines that are on the cutting edge of technology improving fuel efficiency. Evinrude is dispelling the common myths of the modern two-stroke by providing engines that out-perform many four-strokes on characteristics usually reserved for four-strokes. Mercury continues to push hard in all venues and offers a wide variety of high performance quality products. Yamaha is consistently innovating and improving already impressive reliability.

The fact is you should be pleased with any of these major manufacturers’ offerings. The task at hand is to decide which best suits your needs for your application so that you can have many enjoyable days on the water.

Glenn Hayes is professional writer and photographer, based in Florida, and is a regular contributor to All At Sea Southeast. Look for the final installment of his Outboard Engine Roundup in our July issue.

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