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Repower without regrets

Our guide to buying new outboards can help you make the right decision at the right price

Harry Owen, owner of H2O Marine in Sarasota, Fla., is repowering a 24-foot mid-1980s SeaCraft center console. Here he removes a new Suzuki DF250 4-stroke from its crate and starts the process.The twin 200-hp direct-fuel-injected 2-strokes on Wally Szeezil's Contender 27 have logged 900 hours in their nine-year lifespan. Well-maintained 2-strokes are capable of running longer, but Szeezil's starboard engine began faltering intermittently last year, which got him thinking that he may soon have to repower his 2001 center console.

"It's not an easy decision," says Szeezil, 46, who hails from Terra Ceia on Florida's Gulf Coast and owns a dry-cleaning business. "I'd love to have new power, but the new engines are so expensive."
Retail prices for high-horsepower outboards (200 hp to 350 hp) range from around $18,000 to $30,000. The new V6 300-hp Yamaha 4-strokes are listed at $26,000, and Suzuki's DF300 retails for $27,000 to $28,000. These are manufacturer retail prices, so a dealer might sell an engine at a lower price.
Jim Spalt, whose 1989 Mako was featured in the May issue of Soundings, says he landed quite a deal on his new Yamaha F350, which retails for around $29,000. "If you price-shop the engine in this market, you can save 15 to 25 percent," says Spalt, 57, a home builder from Barnstable, Mass. "Do your homework."
Even if you find a great price on a new outboard, repowering is a major investment - and much more expensive than it used to be. "In the mid-'90s you could repower for $9,000 to $10,000," says Jimmy Luttieri, owner of Suffolk Marine in Babylon, N.Y., on Long Island (www.suffolkmarine.com). "Now it's double that."
Price is just one of several factors for boat owners considering repowering. Engine age, hours of operation, maintenance and service record, and its history, including how hard it was pushed, all play a part in the decision. The owner must also consider the boat's age and structural integrity, and the condition of related components, such as wiring and steering. And let's not forget about choosing a propulsion package. One engine or two? More horsepower or less than the current power plant? Will you go 2-stroke or 4-stroke?

The boat factor
Perhaps the most important question - and the first to ask yourself - is whether you're going to keep the boat for at least three to five years, according to those who perform repowers. "Are you happy with the boat you're thinking about repowering?" asks Jim Shriner, owner of Johnson's Boatyard in North Kingstown, R.I. (www.johnsonsboatyard.com). "Repowering, especially with the cost of engines today, is a significant investment which probably won't add much to the value of the boat."
Harry Owen, owner of H2O Marine in Sarasota, Fla., describes repowering as a "love thing." "This is really for somebody who loves their boat, and they love what it does," says Owen. "I ask my customers, ‘What is your five-year-plan?' In the big picture, to do a repower and do this type of work, it's not really cost-effective to think that you are going to flip it and make a couple bucks on it. It doesn't work that way."
The SeaCraft at H2O Marine got an upper helm station to go along with the new power.Luttieri agrees. "The first thing we ask these people is, ‘Are you going to keep this boat?' " he says. "Depending on the size of the motor, you could be spending $10,000 to $25,000 per motor. And if you are putting it on an old boat, it's not going to increase the value that much. In a year, if you decide to sell this boat, you're going to lose a large portion of your investment."
If you plan to keep your boat for the long run, the next consideration is whether she is structurally capable of supporting a new power plant. "I don't want to sell you a brand-new motor if I'm putting it on a sinker," says Robert Helmick, a co-founder of Yellowfin fishing boats who now runs a boat repair shop and builds a 34-foot express, the Tortuga 34, out of Sarasota, Fla. (www.tortugaboatworks.com). "I want to make sure that your pump systems are working well, that your through-hulls are sound. Is the boat electrically sound and does it comply with ABYC [American Boat and Yacht Council] standards?"
The strength of the transom, particularly with a boat that is more than 15 years old and has wood coring, also must be checked, says Luttieri. And that can be done in different ways. "We hang or sit on the back of the boat and see if there is any play," he says. "You examine the gelcoat around it and look for cracks. We're talking big cracks, not spider cracks - big enough that you can put your fingernail in them."
The yard can also use a moisture meter to check the transom for water intrusion. In addition, Luttieri will tighten the engine-mounting bolts and if they start "pulling into the fiberglass" he says there is probably significant moisture in the transom.
The transom of a mid-'80s 24-foot SeaCraft that H2O Marine was repowering this spring had to be replaced to safely hold a new 250-hp Suzuki 4-stroke, says Owen. This repower was part of a complete refit. "The boat has a whole new stringer grid, new console, upper and lower stations, new tower, a new fuel tank, everything," says Owen.
Keep in mind that with a new engine, other components will likely need to be replaced as well. "You have to remember that the engine is linked to the rest of the boat, so it won't work if the wiring shorts out or the batteries are dead," says Soundings technical consultant Erik Klockars, who has done more than 100 outboard repowers.

Hold or fold?
How do you know when to stop spending money on your current outboard and begin saving for your next? There's probably no need to give up on your engine if you have to replace a trim assembly or a gearcase, but damage to the powerhead, which could be caused by overheating or water in the fuel, might not be worth repairing, according to Klockars.
"A powerhead replacement or rebuild usually sends the repair bill over the top," he says. "If the price of the repair exceeds the value of the engine, then it's time to call it quits."
Engine compression also needs to be healthy, with each cylinder registering near-equal values, says Shriner. "If everything is within 10 percent of one another, you're OK," he says. "If you have a variance much beyond 10 percent, then you're coming down to the end of the road for that engine."
Josh Coleman, a technician at H2O Marine, slides a three-bladed wheel on the DF250.Rebuilding an old outboard might seem like a good way to save some money, but it is a questionable move, says Shriner. "The bottom line is you still have a lot of internal parts that are worn and will give you trouble down the road," he says. Shriner warns that a combination of external issues, especially those involving corrosion, may be reason enough to consider repowering.
The maintenance and care of the engine is another important consideration. Two-strokes may approach the 1,500- to 2,000-hour mark, while 4-strokes can exceed 4,000 hours or more, the repowering pros say. And maintenance can be the difference between getting 1,000 hours or 4,000.
Shriner had two customers - both commercial users - with identical 4-strokes. One religiously followed the manufacturer's maintenance schedule, changing the oil, replacing the anodes, flushing the engine. "He had over 4,000 hours on them. He swapped them out and sent them down to the BVI, and from my understanding they are still being used," says Shriner.
The powerhead on the other customer's engine was corroded at 1,000 hours. "It was junk - it was gone," says Shriner. "I said, ‘OK, show me the receipts from the anodes. Show me receipts for oil changes. Show me what you've done for maintenance.' " He couldn't.
The engine's operational history needs to be factored in, too. "If the motor has been run with its tongue hanging out of its mouth 90 percent of the time, it's going to have a shorter life expectancy," says Owen.
That's why he recommends repowering with the highest horsepower the boat can handle. "I highly recommend putting the maximum amount of horsepower on the boat," says Owen. "It's not a matter of going fast. It's a matter of powering proportionately. It's the difference between running your boat at 80 or 85 percent as opposed to running it at 60 or 65 percent. That plays a key role in the longevity of the outboard."
At Johnson's Boatyard, the rule of thumb is repowering with no less than 80 percent of the Coast Guard horsepower rating. "Going from a 225 to 250, dollar-wise, is not significant," says Shriner. "You're better off running an engine at 3,200 rpm than 4,200 rpm, both from fuel economy and longevity standpoints." Plus, an underpowered boat will likely struggle to get out of the hole and, in general, will accelerate slowly, he adds.
Yamaha describes in a recent e-newsletter the performance improvements when a pair of its new 4.2-liter F300 4-strokes replaced a set of 3.3-liter F250s on a Grady-White 330 Express.
"Perhaps most impressive of all is the fuel economy and cruise speed increase," the newsletter states. "At a 4,000 rpm cruise, the F300-powered boat reaches 27.6 mph and returns 1.29 mpg. The F250-powered boat reaches 18.3 mph at 4,000 rpm and returns 1 mpg."
And the F300s are lighter, weighing in at 558 pounds each, while the F250s weigh 602 pounds apiece. With the F300s, the boat gets out of the hole quicker, planing in 6 seconds compared to 10 seconds with the F250s, according to Yamaha.

One or two?
The boat owner faces yet another decision in the repower equation: going with one or two engines. The emergence of high-powered outboards has allowed more boat owners the option of transitioning from two to one engine.
"There's a certain point where you have to go with twins," says Shriner. "But if a guy came to me with a pair of 115s on a 24-foot boat, I would definitely look long and hard at putting a 250 on the back."
It all comes down to how the owner uses the boat, says Luttieri. "If the guy is an offshore fisherman, you want the reliability of two motors," he says. "If the guy is an inshore guy, one motor is probably going to be less maintenance, probably more fuel efficient. And he doesn't go far out, so one is fine."
Szeezil runs his Contender (featured in Soundings' April Used Boat Review) 20 to 30 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, and once a year he shoots over to Bimini from Port Everglades, Fla. - a 53-mile trip. The single or twins question was a no-brainer for him.
"A Yamaha 350 or 300 crossed my mind, but I like the backup engine," says Szeezil. "That second engine has saved my butt a couple times."

See related article:

- Outboards 2010

This article originally appeared in the July 2010 issue.

 


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