Yamaha’s new 4-stroke debuts with a roar

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The V-8 F350 is the biggest 4-stroke outboard on the market, and its midrange punch impressed

The V-8 F350 is the biggest 4-stroke outboard on the market, and its midrange punch impressed

The deep growl of monster outboards filled the otherwise still, humid Alabama air, the sound emanating from a baker’s dozen of 350-hp, 5.3-liter, V-8 Yamaha 4-strokes.

Yamaha Marine Group of Kennesaw, Ga. — which unveiled the F350, the largest 4-stroke outboard ever built, at the Miami International Boat Show in February — had invited boatbuilders and the press to take a first crack at the new engine. The particular tone of the F350 would become familiar, resonating from almost all directions at Yamaha’s test facility on the Tennessee River in the small town of Bridgeport, as the manufacturer rigged eight boats with 13 of the outboards.

One of the boats, a Regulator 32FS, was equipped with twin F350s. Regulator Marine, based in Edenton, N.C. (www.regulatormarine.com ), builds outboard-powered offshore fishing boats from 23 to 32 feet and has never equipped a boat with triples. Prior to the F350, the 32FS came equipped with twin F250s.

With F250s the center console hits a top speed of 49 mph; with twin F350s, it reaches almost 61 mph. Time to plane is less than five seconds, and the real kick comes from the big engine’s midrange punch. Opening up the throttles at cruising speed — around 30 mph at 3,500 rpm — the boat instantly responds. In addition to the engine’s quiet operation, that midrange acceleration was one of the most talked-about qualities by those running the engines for the first time.

Yamaha personnel and builder representatives spoke of how the big engines had given numerous boats a “new life.” Count the Regulator 32FS among that number. “That extra horsepower is what’s made all the difference in the world,” says Wyatt Lane, former national sales manager for Regulator, whom the builder now keeps on retainer to handle marketing and Mid-Atlantic regional sales. Without a doubt, the 24-percent increase in top speed is notable.

As expected, the 5.3-liter outboards deliver a great amount of torque, and Yamaha designed special propellers with larger blade areas for them. Still, with power-assist steering the 32FS was silky smooth in the turns. The only boat that was a bit tricky to drive was a Sailfish 2360 CC with a single F350. Not coincidentally, the Sailfish — built by Seminole Marine in Cairo, Ga. (www.sailfishboats.com ) — was the only boat not fitted with power steering. It also was the lightest boat, at 3,400 pounds. A slightly heavier, larger Scout 262 Sportfish — with power steering — was a snap to operate, even with the significant prop torque coming out of the hole with a single-engine setup.

In addition to power steering, the electronic controls took much of the effort out of operating the Regulator as well as the other boats. The F350 only comes equipped with Yamaha’s Command Link digital electronic control system, which allows for simple operation of twin or triple engines with a dual-binnacle control. Command Link automatically synchronizes multiple engines within a similar rpm range, and a trolling feature lets the operator change engine speed by 50-rpm increments, between 600 and 1,000 rpm, with the touch of a button.

When shifting, the electronic throttles simply click into place to let you know they’re in gear. However, back at the engine there’s an audible clunk from the F350, louder than that from the F250, when it drops into gear. Bigger engine, bigger clunk.

Arguably the most extreme setup at the test event was a Contender 36 Open with triple F350s (www.contender.com ). Running with the current on the Tennessee River, the Homestead, Fla., builder’s big center console — piloted by Capt. George Mitchell, a Florida fishing pro — hit 71 mph on the GPS. But Mitchell, who usually runs a 33-foot Contender with triple F250s, seemed most excited about the electronic controls, water intrusion reduction system and watertight cowling — he runs in saltwater full time and regularly buries the engines when backing down — as well as Yamaha’s durability claims.

“It’s not all about 70 mph; it’s about reliability and getting back,” says Mitchell. And he says the triple F350s deliver better gas mileage than he gets with his F250s. “I think it’s going to make a lot of people think. They’re going to think about this when it’s time to repower.”

A Grady-White 360 Express with twin F350s was the only cabin boat available for testing. The Greenville, N.C., builder originally offered it with triple F250s, but it now will be available with twin or triple F350s

(www.gradywhite.com). The 360 measures 36 feet, 7 inches overall, with a beam of 13 feet, 2 inches and weighing about 20,000 pounds as tested.

“It’s a lot of boat for two engines to push,” says Yamaha applications engineer Brad Leatherman. But push it they did, to a speed of 44 mph.

Yamaha Marine Group president Phil Dyskow laid out the advantages of an outboard over a traditional inboard in such a boat. He says outboards can be lighter, more fuel efficient, faster, and easier to maintain and service. And they definitely take up less space, he adds.

Meanwhile, aboard the Scout 262, Yamaha’s Craft talked about the advantages of the V-8 on a smaller boat, like the midsize Scout center console. “In the offshore market, people have typically gone for two engines,” says Craft. “But engines have become so reliable, so durable, that we’ll just have to see how [the single F350 setup] will do.”

The 262, built by Scout Boats of Summerville, S.C. (www.scoutboats.com ), typically is powered by twin F150s or a single F250. “The real advantage of what you’re seeing right here is your cruise speed is so much faster than your F250 or your twin F150s that your mpg starts looking pretty good,” says Craft.

The Scout 262 with a single F350 cruises at 37 mph and hit a top speed of 58 mph.” With a smaller engine or smaller displacement, you can get the same speed, but it’s really working hard to do it,” says Craft. A 262 with twin F150s cruises at 28 mph and reaches a top speed of 54 mph.

Manufacturer suggested retail price for the F350 is $26,245. Yamaha says it plans to begin delivering the engines to boatbuilders and dealers this summer. The company this year also introduced an F225 “sport model,” its Series 2 VMAX 2-stroke outboards, and a portable 9.9-hp 4-stroke tiller outboard. For more information, visit www.yamahaoutboards.com .