Boating is a popular pastime for millions of people around the country, and the livelihood of millions more. These incredible machines are powerful beasts of burden for some, a treasured part of their everyday lives for others, and a skill to master and take pride in for even more. It’s a dream for many to be able to own a craft like this.
Throughout their working lifespan, these machines will chalk up tens or hundreds of thousands of miles, face down a hundred different kinds of waters and waves, or carry an insane amount of cargo or people. Maybe even all the above.
But how many hours on a boat engine are too many, especially if you’re buying a used boat?
On average, 1,000 hours to 1,500 hours on a boat is a lot. But how you care for that boat depends on the boat engine’s life span.
It shouldn’t be any surprise then that, after a certain amount of time, the chances of that engine giving out are eventually going to start rising. Like the tide, the life of a boat’s engine has a way of creeping up on you if you aren’t careful, and that can come with some pretty nasty consequences if you’re not careful.
Of course, we’re all aware that an engine only has so much time to run, but that can be pretty easy to push to the back of our minds if it isn’t an issue right. Sure, the engine will eventually go and need to be replaced at some point in time, but not right now, right?
Until of course it does happen right now. Then you could be stuck up a creek without a paddle. There’s that saying: ‘A bad day of boating is better than a good day at work.’ That may be true, but who’s going to tell that to the man whose boating trip just got ruined by a dead old engine?
So, obviously, a dead engine is bad, and you should avoid letting it get to that point. But that’s a lot trickier than it sounds. How can you tell that an engine is about to croak it?
Well, keeping track of how many hours you’ve clocked on it is a good place to start. The more hours the engine’s done, the more you should be keeping an eye out for troubles, or looking for a replacement. It’s a lot like a car in that sense. Even then, there are lots of factors you have to take into account.
It can often be overlooked depending on how smooth your sailing has been, but a well-cared-for boat engine can often make a world of difference between even boats of the same make, model, and engine.
If your engine is well-maintained if it is inspected and repaired when issues first arise, if it’s used in the ideal conditions it was originally intended for, then the engine might last longer and perform much better than a typical engine of the same make and model without needing major repairs.
By the same token, an engine that has been neglected will, unsurprisingly, have a much shorter lifespan than one that is maintained.
Things like general neglect, not generally cleaning or inspecting parts for potential issues, being used and stored in less than ideal conditions, an overall lack of usage (we will come back to this one), corrosion from saltwater depending on the salinity of the area the engine is being used.
All these little factors will contribute to the engine giving out well before you would expect it to.
Where the engine on your boat is housed will also play a role in how long it is likely to last before breaking. Or at the very least, what sort of obstacles and damages will affect your engine at least. The most common engines you’ll find are outboard, inboard and
Probably the most common type of engine you’ll find, outboard motors are usually attached to the transom of a boating vessel, usually outside the hull of the boat, hence the name, with the propeller being the lowest part. The engine is used to direct how the boat moves through the body of water it is in.
They also come in a variety of sizes. Smaller engines can even be carried by a single person, meaning removing it from the ship and storing it in more optimal conditions is a possibility, even if it’s a pretty big hassle to have to do, and the upfront cost is usually cheaper, given how so many different boats have them or can use them.
Because it is quite exposed to the elements though, outboards tend to have a fairly short lifespan, which can vary between 750 hours to 1500 hours. And their exposure to the outdoor elements from both water and air means that check-ups will need to happen a lot to stop any issues from going unnoticed.
Inboard engines, as the name implies, are found inside the frame of the ship, usually in the center at the lowest point. The engine powers a current that moves the boat forward, whilst a wheel will control rudders that steer the boat, which eliminates the need for the engine to be connected to the transom.
Because they are not as exposed to underwater hazards, inboard engines will usually fare far better than their outboard counterparts, around 1500 hours on average, even up to 2000 hours in well-maintained models.
However, the fact that the engine is located inside the boat means that ventilation could be an issue for the boat if not properly maintained, potentially leading to the engine overheating or even catching on fire. That will certainly affect the lifespan of an engine.
One of the main things you need to consider when measuring the lifespan of a boat engine is what type of fuel it was designed for, the two most common fuel types being gasoline or diesel.
Gasoline or petrol is usually much more powerful, but the cost of that is a generally shorter lifespan. A petrol engine will usually go well past 1000 hours but will start to show problems that could stop from going much past that. 1500 is the upper limit for most gasoline engines.
Diesel engines, by contrast, are usually a little less powerful than their gasoline counterparts but have notably longer lifespans than their petrol counterparts. Diesel can register 5000 hours on average before any major overhauls are needed, with some very well-maintained examples going up to 8000!
This is usually why many business/utility crafts will use diesel engines, while recreational boats tend to be gasoline-powered.
Now, usage in this context is a pretty subjective term in this case. The average amount of time a boat is used is reportedly about 50 to 100 hours a year, but that doesn’t take into account for what purpose the boats are being used for.
The average yacht or other recreational craft is unlikely to clock in the same amount of time as a fishing trawler.
This isn’t even taking into consideration how usage itself will affect an engine’s lifespan. Boat engines optimally prefer to run for longer periods, and to be used pretty frequently.
Long periods of disuse can allow for the buildup of debris or other harmful objects in the engine block, which could happen if the boating season in your area is limited to just a few months.
If you’re looking at a boat engine that seems to have a remarkably short number of hours registered, it would be a smart move to check how old it is first. A years-old engine with only a few hundred hours done on it should be a cause for concern.
An interesting thing a seasoned boater or motorist may have noticed at this point is how comparatively short boat lifespans are, anywhere between 750 to 2000 hours depending on circumstances, tend to be when compared to car engines, which can last almost twice as long in some circumstances.
The reason for this is that, unless your commutes or profession are particularly gnarly, Car engines simply aren’t put under the same strain or pressure that boat engines are.
The difference between and bad journey on a road, and a good or bad passage down a waterway, can be pretty startling, especially if the weather is a factor in your area.
To answer the question ‘how many hours is a lot for a boat’, it depends on what your intent with the engine is. Is it for business? Is it purely for recreation? Do you live in a boating hotspot that will allow for year-round usage and maintenance? Is it gasoline or diesel?
Considering the vast range of hours we’ve been dealing with so far, let’s use 1000 as a benchmark. If you have been taking good care of your boat’s engine for that long, you’re probably safe to continue as you are.
If you haven’t been as thorough in your care, however, now’s probably a good time to either give it a major overhaul or find a new engine.
If you are looking to purchase a decent used engine, and you’re prepared to keep it up to scratch and well-maintained, buying an engine with 1000 hours under its belt is probably not a terrible idea, as you could get anywhere between another 500 to 1000 hours of use out of it