Find the Power Sweet Spot

With all the engine choices boat buyers face, deciding which one to get can be downright confusing. Here are a few points to ponder.

In Boating World’s boat reviews, I often refer to the “sweet spot” when I’m discussing power options. To me, the sweet spot is the convergence of the appropriate-sized engine for the tasks at hand and the price a buyer pays. Arriving at the correct decision involves a lot of variables, some obvious and others more subtle.

The First Rule

Sticker shock can sometimes lead buyers to make decisions they later regret, and the biggest mistake of all is underpowering a boat. It doesn’t matter what “great” price you get if the boat won’t perform the tasks it needs to perform. Not only will you kick yourself every time you run the pooch of a boat, but you’ll pay for the mistake again when it comes time to sell the boat. There are no general rules regarding minimum horsepower — every situation is different — but if you eliminate the lowest horsepower offered, the decision is simpler. In my boat reviews, I often include the aside (don’t do it!) in reference to the smallest engine offered.

The Weight Penalty

Another factor to consider is the weight of an engine vs. its horsepower. Often, more horsepower weighs more, especially when more cylinders are involved. Take, for example, Yamaha’s F300 and F350 outboards. The F350 has to be much faster, right? Not exactly, because the F350 is a V-8 that weighs 763 pounds, while the F300 is a V-6 that weighs 562 pounds, a difference of 201 pounds. On Yamaha tests of a Sailfish 2360CC, top speed with the F350 was 53.3 mph, and its best fuel economy was 2.75 mpg at 28.6 mph. The F300 pushed the same boat to 49.9 mph, only 3.4 mph slower, and it achieved better fuel economy, getting 3.28 mpg at 27.2 mph. The F350 is $3,795 more expensive, so the extra 3.4 mph costs $1,116 per extra mph. So the F300 is a better engine, right? Not necessarily. For a lot of heavier applications, the F350 is the vastly superior choice. It’s all about the matchup, but companies such as Yamaha and Mercury make it easy, since they publish their very accurate performance findings on their respective website.

Same Weight, Different HP

Another thing to look at is engines of different horsepower that share the same platform. Often, the only difference between a 150, 175 and 200 hp engine is its computer mapping. Without any weight penalty, you can get more performance. But don’t forget to factor in the cost and what it’s pushing. Mercury’s V-6 2.6L Verado platform has the widest range of horsepower ratings of all, stretching from 200 hp to an astounding 400 hp. There are a few differences. The weight difference between the 200 and 400 is only 33 pounds due to higher-performance items such as a liquid-cooled supercharger, different air-induction systems and the Sport Master gearcase for boats that can travel in excess of 85 mph. Price-wise there are a few sweet spots, though. Using suggested retail pricing (all are XL models), to go from a 200 to a 225 is $3,615, which means each pony costs $145. But to go from a 225 to a 250 is only $860 more, or $34 per horsepower. The jump from 250 to 300 is $2,365, which is $47 per equine, but to take it from 350 to 400 costs $5,517 or $110 per thoroughbred; plus, the latter has a year shorter two-year warranty. As you can see, the price increase is not linear, so take note of each price step to find the best bang. Many companies have a “build-a-boat” section that can help your math.

Finding Your Right Power

Many factors go into the equation, and most of them have to do with your personal usage. Say you find a great deal on a boat at a boat show. It comes with brand X engine, but there’s no service for that brand within 100 miles. That’s not a great deal. Good, readily available service might be the most important factor in ownership satisfaction, so it most certainly isn’t just a price/number thing.

Right-sizing your engine has a lot to do with the way you use it. Last month in our review of the Sanpan 250 Wet Bar, I included a (don’t do it!) warning about the low-end 25 hp engine. The owner in our Owner Feedback section, however, purchased his near-27-footer with a 25 hp engine. Why? Because his lake in Ohio is restricted to engines 25 hp or less. In other cases, some people just like the right lane and don’t need a whole lot of power, while others invite many friends, like to go fast and pull size XXL skiers. Talk to your dealer, do research, get out your calculator and crunch the numbers while weighing opinions. And if you’ve considered all the factors and still find yourself sitting squarely on the fence between two engines, go with the bigger of the two — because no one ever said, “I wish I didn’t have all this power.”