How To Get More Hours Out Of Your Outboard With Less Break Downs!

Owning a boat can get expensive. Especially when it comes to having to pay for engine trouble or repowering our boat. Leaving us to wonder:

How Could I Get More Hours Out Of My Outboard? Outboard engines will last longer & run for longer hours if they are taken care of in three major categories: Cleanliness, Maintenance, & Operator Operation.

Here are all of the things and how to do them in order to keep your outboard engine running for as long as possible and with fewer break downs!

How Many Hours Are Too Many Hours?

A common question when talking about outboards and boat engines. Is how many hours are on the engine? You can tell a lot about an engine with a visual inspection but you can also tell a lot with the amount of hours that are on it.

It isn’t uncommon to see engines failing with only a couple hundred hours on them and then we can see government and Coast Guard boats that have 10,000 hours on them. So where is the middle ground?

Isn’t there just a standard number, like is 2,500 hours too many or is it still worth buying a used engine or continuing to run the engine? Or is that too many hours?

The answer is. Maybe. Sadly there is not a standard number because of the variables that we are about to talk to. Age, care, cleanliness, they all play a major role in getting more from an engine.

If the engine is 30 years old and only has 200 hours on it. And it hasn’t been taken care of, it is going to be expensive to operate the engine for long periods of time.

If it was taken care of well. Then it could run for 1000’s of hours more! Even being 30 years old! With that being said, it’s important to move away from focusing too much on the hours.

When we aren’t considering all of the other variables. Putting all of the pieces together to see the entire story of the engine’s life, will tell us how good the engine is.


Cleaning The Engine

Keeping a clean engine is the starting block to making your boat’s engine last longer. This is forgotten about with a lot of boat owners.

When it comes to cleaning the boat. We can go as far as compounding the hull, waxing the inside of the boat, and shinning the prop. But we forget to pull the cover off of the engine and clean the actual engine itself.

There are a lot of components that make up an engine. (Read more about the components that make an outboard here.) But an engine needs three main things to run. Fuel, Spark, and Air.

Keeping the inside of the engine cowling clean will help to feed clean air to the engine. Keeping the inside of the engine cleaner, for a longer-lasting life.

If the engine compartment is filled full of dirt and salt. Then so is the air that is being fed to the engine. Therefore the engine is sucking in all kinds of contaminants and dirt.

Helping to wear out the moving components on the inside of the engine. Simply removing the cowling and cleaning the engine once or twice a year. Will help to prolong your engine.

Here is a video that we made on our YouTube channel showing how to do this!

The Importance Of Clean Fuel

Quality fuel is also another massive factor in getting more hours from your outboard. Over the past couple of decades and with the upcoming years.

The fuel quality has been depleting and that has a major effect on our boat’s engines. Additives like ethanol, (If you aren’t familiar with what ethanol does to your engine, you need to read our article about it here!)

It can help to wear out and damage the inside parts of our engines. Wear and tear on the inside moving parts the engine, can break down over time because of dirty and corrosive particles.

Water is probably the most destructive. Making sure we get good clean fuel to the engine and even running cleaning agents like Yamaha Ring Free or Mercury Quicksilver Quickleen.

It can help to clean the valves, cylinders, pistons, and other parts of the engine. Making sure that carbon build-up and deterioration takes much longer to happen.

I understand that in some places there is nothing but ethanol fuel available. Obviously non-ethanol fuel is more expensive and isn’t always available.

So to combat that, just be mindful to never let the fuel sit for long periods of time. If fuel is left for too long, it begins to break down and become bad for the engine.

Just like a gallon of milk, if left out on the counter for a week, will make you extremely sick if you drink it. Fuel left for too long will make your engine sick!

Fresh Water Flushing

Keeping the engine clean to feed clean air to it, and making sure we are giving the engine clean fuel to drink will make it happy. So will cleaning the inside cooling passages of the engine as well.

If you run your engine saltwater, and warm salt water is even worse. Then you know all about salt corrosion and build up.

(For the freshwater boaters, this article we wrote on the differences between saltwater and freshwater will show you how bad it can get!)

Freshwater flushing your engine after running it. Will help to clean out the salt on the inside of the engines cooling passages. Making sure that cooling water can flow freely.

If left for too long. Build up in the cooling system will make the engine run hotter than normal, which will speed up the wear and tear on the inside of the engine.

Making failures and a shorter life for that engine something to be concerned about! This is why engines from the past few decades all have a place to hook up a garden hose and flush out the engine 🙂

Don’t forget to spray off the tilt and trim components as well as the steering rams to avoid pitting and the damaging of the trim seals too!

Engine Storage

If we go through such great lengths to prolong the life of our engine by cleaning it. Buying expensive fuel and additives. Religiously flushing the engine after using it.

Then we can’t forget about how we store the motor. Before putting your boat away for the season. It’s good to have a routine or a checklist for winterizing or summerizing the boat and engine. (For more on Summerizing the engine read this.)

Making sure that our engine isn’t being put away with water in the gear case or untreated fuel in the lines. It is a great way to get more hours out of the engine.

Checking the gear lube for water, and running aviation fuel through the fuel system before storage. Will ensure that the gears in the lower unit don’t rust.

As well as keep the fuel system from gumming up and growing unwanted algae in the fuel system!

Maintenance Always Adds More Hours!

Normal Service

Maintenance or preventative maintenance is the most known form of getting more hours from a boat engine. Being that it is the most obvious, it’s one of the most avoided!

There are a lot of boat owners that only perform engine maintenance when something breaks. This proves the old statement:

Schedule your engine’s service, or it will schedule it for you!

Normal service items are things that will wear down over time and use.

This is a list of all the normal service items that are found on a boat engine:

  1. Oil Filters
  2. Fuel Filters
  3. Oil Change
  4. Timing Belts or Accessory Drive Belts
  5. Gear Lube or Lower Unit Oil
  6. Sacrificial Anodes or Zincs
  7. Water Pump Impellers
  8. Spark Plugs
  9. Thermostats
  10. Air Filters
  11. Boat Fuel Filters

The reason you want to service the engine on a regular schedule. Is to get the dirty oil and gear lube out of the engine. And keep the fuel and cooling system clean and operating properly.

If dirty oil or gear lube is left in and ran for too long. It can scratch, damage, overheat, and cause other failures that you wouldn’t normally think about.

Service Intervals

If we aren’t performing the regular service. Then it shouldn’t be a surprise when the engine just gives up!

Going back to the Coast Guard and Government Agencies boats. We’ve seen some of their engines with over 10,000 hours!

They service them every 100 hours and are on a strict maintenance schedule though. This isn’t to say that you will be able to get that many hours out of your engine.

Those engines are running for 10-16 hours a day for years and years and years! Putting on thousands of hours every year.

It also isn’t to say that you can’t get that many hours out of your engines if you spend that much time on the water!

Most manufacturers run on a 100-hour service interval. That is extremely important for the engine oil and the gear lube. Water pumps, spark plugs, belts, and thermostats are advised every 300 hours or 2 years.

Getting that dirty oil and lube out and changing the filters is the more important of the two. Not to say the other is not important. Timing belts should also be paid much attention too.

Most engines are interference engines, so if the timing belt breaks, the engine is basically done. The pistons will smash the valves in, killing the engine.

Getting yourself and your engine on a normal service routine system will add to the life of your engine by a great amount!

Not So Common Serviceable Items

There are a couple of other things that need to be done while servicing an engine though.

Things like topping off the power tilt and trim fluid, greasing the steering tube. Greasing up the trim and tilt points.

One of the most commonly forgotten about things are the cowling latches. A lot of people forget that some manufacturers put grease fittings on the cowling latches.

Lubing up and greasing your cowling handles and cables. Will help to get more hours out of your engine. You might be thinking, how’s that?

Well, it goes to morale. If your engine is filthy and the latches don’t work. You or the person that does the service isn’t going to be in a good mood when you do it.

If it’s obvious that the owning doesn’t care about the engine, then the person doing the service isn’t likely to care either. Skipping steps and things like greasing points.

It helps to continue the abuse and neglect of the engine. Shortening it’s lifespan! Another thing that should be looked at when servicing are the trim tilt seals, and the lower unit seals.

Catching a seal that is about to fail and changing it before it does. Will help to avoid getting water into the trim unit or the lower unit and wearing out the inner components due to water and rusting.

Operation & Good Running Habits

Operating & Running In Proper RPM Ranges

Adding to the life of an outboard or getting more hours out of your boat’s engine, is also dependent on how it is operated.

Shifting & Throttling

Shifting is a common place where operators are not experienced in how they should be shifting and throttling the engine.

Inside the gear case are gears and they fit together and operate by notches that fit together. When shifting on a boat, a lot of operators are under the impression they should slowly and smoothly shift into gear.

This is actually really bad for the lower unit! On the control box, there are five positions. Wide-open throttle, forward detente, neutral, reverse detente and reverse wide open throttle.

You want to pop the handle into gear quickly. Meaning that when you are in neutral, you want to shit the handle into the forward or the reverse detente position quickly.

This keeps the gears in the lower unit from grinding! It’s also important to return to neutral the same way, but you don’t want to go from wide-open throttle straight into neutral.

When the gears are spinning at 5000 rotations per minute and you slam them into each other going the opposite way. That is how they explode!

When coming off of plane or returning to neutral, you want to gradually slow the boat down until it comes off of plane, being mindful to trim the engines up a little bit, depending on the boat.

You do this because when the boat comes off of a plane, the back end will sink down into the water, allowing a wall of water to come up the back of the engines.

So, a little trim or a smooth slow down will help to keep this water from slamming over the back of the engines. Then move to the detente position and once the RPM’s have come down.

You can quickly pop it back into neutral!

What Cruising RPM’s Are Best?

Running at different RPM’s will have different effects on the engine. It’s not uncommon for us to think about running an engine and avoiding wide open throttle.

Thinking that keeping the RPM’s down will help to prolong the life of the engine. This isn’t exactly true though. You want to remember, that a boat engine is designed differently than a car’s engine.

Car engines will only be turning 2500 RPMs but doing 90 MPH down the interstate! On a boat though, you are turning 6200 RPM’s and the speed will depend on the boat!

The engines are designed to be running at wide-open throttle, all the time! Now, it will not make the engine last longer if it only sees WOT.

But it will also not make the engine last longer if it never sees WOT. At wide-open throttle, the engine has the chance to get up in the temperature ranges as well as burn off carbon deposits building up because of fuel quality.

If we only run at idle and cruising but never see wide open. Then carbon build-up will happen quicker, and then you will see blow-by. Where fuel can be pushed past the piston rings and into the crankcase where the engine oil is.

Adding fuel to the oil and diluting it, losing lubrication quality, as well as other damaging effects! So, it’s important to run the engine at WOT every now and then to avoid the carbon and blow by scenarios.

Yes, it does burn more fuel, but it will also help the engine to run for more hours than if you don’t get it up there!

Trimming & Running On One Engine

Adding a little bit of trim into the engines while underway will also help in the performance and efficiency department.

When the engine is tucked all the way down, it tends to push the bow of the boat down. When you trim the engine up a little bit, it will push the bow up out of the water more.

Creating less drag on the boat, increasing your fuel economy, and taking the load off of the engines. Where they aren’t pushing a plow through the water.

This concept can also be applied when talking about shutting one engine down and running on only one or two while trolling or at slow speeds.

In my opinion and in theory. This isn’t necessarily a good thing. Yes, you will “sort of” save on fuel. Maybe. When you think about a boat that has more than one engine. Think about the weight of the boat.

It has more than one engine, because it is a heavier boat and needs the extra power to push it. When you are trolling, fighting the current, the wind, and keeping the speed up.

You shut one engine off and the other engine then has to work twice as hard to perform the same in those conditions. So it is burning more fuel on that engine, and putting more wear and tear on it as well.

Are you really saving that much in the fuel cost? Are you really prolonging the life of the engine by keeping the hours down?

Probably not! It is putting more work onto the other engine that is doing all the work, and going back and forth between the two is just wearing the engine out quicker!

Check Us Out!

Hopefully, this article has given you some good food for thought about getting more hours out of your boat’s engine!

You might also be interested in reading about What To Do If An Outboard Has Been Sitting and What To Do If You Get Rope Or Line Around Your Prop!

Thank you for stopping by and check out our YouTube Channel! We cover all kinds of how-to and DIY projects as well as some boat restoration projects!

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Aaron Hilligoss

Aaron has been working in the Marine Industry for over a decade and holds certifications for Yamaha and Mercury Marine. It is not uncommon for him to own and be working on at least three different boats at any given point in time!

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