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Outboard Engines: Is This the Future?

Published on August 27, 2015 in Buyer's Guide by Sylvain Raymond

Following record sales in 2006 and 2007, the boating industry was hit hard by the economic crisis. Various factors—limited access to credit, general uncertainty and constant increases in fuel prices—then exacerbated the pressure on an industry that, unfortunately, isn’t as quick to respond as the automotive sector.

For years, dominant engine-builder Mercury continued full steam ahead, with each of its products more powerful than the last. And yet, consumers noted that they were short on technological advancements, especially in terms of fuel efficiency. And even though Volvo has come a long way in recent years, the best new products have been tabled by outboard motor manufacturers. The result: quieter motors that don’t need as much maintenance or fuel, that produce fewer emissions and that boast some very appealing qualities.

Are outboard motors the latest trend?
So it comes as no surprise that an increasing number of boat builders are using outboard motors on boats that used to be equipped with inboard engines or sterndrives. Whereas they were once just for small craft and fishing boats, outboard motors are now cropping up on all kinds of boats, both big and small.

The main appeal of outboard engines is that they are super efficient. Plus, since they’re mounted to the boat’s exterior, they’re easier to access and cheaper to maintain. And, of course, they free up the space on board that traditionally housed all the mechanical parts. Designers are capitalizing on the added space by enhancing the layout of their vessels, making them more practical for users. It’s a clear advantage over similar boats with a classic drive. As an added bonus, you don’t have to prepare the engine for winter by injecting antifreeze in the cooling system, as outboard engines flush out water automatically—so you can scratch that expense off your list.

We saw the trend pop up at the various boat shows we visited this year. Sea Ray introduced its Sundeck line with outboard engines, including a 27-foot model. This adds to last year’s 370 Venture, a massive cruiser equipped with a pair of outboards that are integrated directly into the design. Meanwhile, Florida’s Hydrasports has gone whole hog with a 53-foot model with five (count ’em, five!) outboard motors.  Baja Marine, which is known for high-performance craft, pulled the veil off their first-ever bowrider to be equipped with an outboard, the 23 Islander, at the Miami Boat Show. This model shows a lot of promise and everyone’s hoping it will revive the brand.

What about center console models?
Already very popular south of the border, center console boats are slowly making their way into the Canadian market, as boaters gain a better appreciation of their virtues. There’s definitely something for everyone, including models for sport driving, fishing and water sports. In fact, versatility is what makes these boats so appealing, as they’re up to any task—water sports, fishing, diving or just a day on the water. Plus, these boats can carry a lot of people, which is great for folks who like to bring along family and friends.

Another advantage of center console boats is that they’re easy to maintain. The fixed hard roof protects the helm station, while the configuration and materials used on board make this kind of boat virtually weatherproof. Rain or shine, there’s nothing to worry about. Just hose it down and you’ll be ready to go in minutes. Centre console boats are also great if you don’t have the time (or the patience) to maintain your boat. When you combine these benefits with those of outboard engines, you end up with some pretty attractive models.

More good news: today’s models are nothing like what we saw in the past. Some are really comfortable and the attention to detail is noticeable. They’re a cut above classic boats, with some featuring a cabin with compact cruiser-style amenities. You get the best of both worlds!

High-performance boaters are catching on
You might be surprised to learn that one of the first segments to embrace this type of configuration and engine type was high-performance boats—which were the most seriously affected by the financial crisis. Since they’re not particularly practical and are expensive to operate, insure and maintain, sport boats were hit hard by the downturn and many of the top brands were driven to the brink of bankruptcy. Few new models have been sold since 2008, which has in turn helped used models retain their value (call it a silver lining).

Performance buffs have progressively shifted their attention to more multi-purpose craft that are nonetheless fun to drive—namely, center console boats. Almost all the big players—Cigarette Racing, MTI, Sunsation and Outerlimits—have stopped building classic V models and focussed their attention on high-performance center console units. They say that customers want more versatile models, and that’s exactly what this kind of boat has to offer.

One thing is for sure: the sheer number of boat builders making center console models speaks volumes about the size of the American market. We’ll just have to see if the trend sweeps our country, too.