How Do You Check Engine Hours On a Boat?


So you want to buy a boat, but you want to make sure you get a great deal, and find one that is not going to break down the first time you take it out. Buying a boat, especially a used one is a very stressful decision to make. While some parts of a boat are very visible to inspect to ensure there is no damage, others not so much. There are two major concerns when it comes to buying used boats. One is the body, and two is the motor, and if either one of those is needing work, it could cost more than the boat is worth.

How do you check the engine hours on a boat? There are actually a few different ways to find out how many hours a boat motor has. The first, and easiest way is to look on the gauges, and see if there is an hour meter. The second way is to look for any additional add-ons to the motor that might show hours used. You can also always ask the seller, however they might not always be honest, so you may want to pad their hours depending on how old the boat is. You can also do a rough calculation by how old the boat is, multiplied by how often they used it, multiplied by how many months they used it. Doing this will give you a rough estimate of how many hours they have on the motor.

Ask The Seller

Talking to the seller is a great way to find out how much a boat has been used, How they drove it, and if anything has ever happened to it. Sometimes though, you have to ask the right questions while looking at them to see how they answer. People sell a boat because they need the money, cannot afford it, are upgrading, or it’s broken and expensive or too much work to fix. If you see an older guy or couple selling their boat because they just don’t use it, chances are he probably took great care of it. On the other hand, you could walk up to someone, and see tons of rust on the trailer, lots of stains on the fiberglass, and rips in the upholstery, and you will know that he used and abused it, and you might hesitate on buying it. Boats are expensive, and was always told that it stood for “break out another thousand”, so really inspect the whole package of the boat and trailer before you buy it.

Rough Calculations

You can always try to do a rough estimation of how many hours are on a boat, by asking the seller how often they took the boat out, and for how long. Typically people take their boat out two or three times a month for around six to eight hours a day. A typical boating season will run from March to November, and will get put up in the Winter, after you winterize it, but you still multiply by 12 months. So if you have a 5 year old boat, and took it out three times a month for eight months per season, you get 5 * 3 * 8 * 12 = 1440. So there is a rough estimate on how many hours that boat has been used in the past 5 years. Keep in mind that some of that time of 8 hours on the water is not all engine use, so you can drop it down to four or five hours. Estimations, are not supposed to be exact, but I always tend to be more cautious, especially with a used boat.

Check For Add-ons

If there is no gauge on the dash of a boat (or no dash at all), Always check the motor for add-on parts. It is always a great idea to add an hour meter to your motor for resale and general maintenance purposes. Having this add-on will help potential buyers, and also help you figure out when you need to perform maintenance on your motor. If a seller does not have any sort of gauge to estimate hours used, also ask them how often they have done their maintenance, and look at the spark plugs, and oil filter, and just overall cleanliness of the motor. If they say that they had it serviced once a year, do not be afraid to ask for records, I always do. People know that they are going to get grilled about servicing, so it should come as no shock to them if they get asked, but if it does, walk away unless you have the extra money to fix or overhaul the boat.

Take It To A Mechanic

If you just cannot figure out how many hours are on the boat, and you really want to invest in it, you can always take the boat, or motor to a boat mechanic for a compression test. While the test is not going to give you operating hours, it will give you a great idea of how strong the motor is, and good idea of how long it will last if you service it regularly. Keep in mind that if you do this, take it to YOUR boat mechanic, and not the sellers. Doing this will ensure that you get an honest answer that you can trust and rely on.

Rebuild The Motor

One option that you can do is no matter what boat you buy, have the motor rebuilt. This can be very expensive on some motors, so if you are going to go this route, you may want to talk the seller down. The average outboard motor overall can be upwards of $3500 dollars depending on the motor and condition. Always call a boat mechanic and ask them what they charge for the type of motor you are looking to buy. They might not be able to give you an accurate estimate, but they will get it close if you ask them for “worst” case scenario. I always know that if I buy a used boat, the first thing I am going to do, is tow it over to my mechanic for at least servicing and maintenance. Never drive from the seller to the lake without at least going through your new boat at your house.

Take It For A Test Spin

Without knowing the hours, and if you do not have the money for a complete overhaul, you can always ask the seller to take it for a test drive. If you really want the boat, take it out on the water for a test run. Once you get out on the water and start it up, if you see things like smoke, or slipping out of gear, you will know right away there is a major problem. Finding these things out early will give you the advantage to bargain with the seller, and you will also know whether or not you really want to get into a headache of a mess.

Look For Other Wear And Tear

One thing you can do if you really cannot figure out the motor hours, is to look for other wear and tear on mechanical things like the propellor, the gauges, and all the electrical system. If you go to look at a boat, and there are gouges in the prop, or you can see black electrical tape all over wires, chances are there was a problem that the seller was trying to find. On the other hand, if you show up and all the gauges look new, the prop is shiny, and all the electrical is tucked up where you cannot see it, chances are the seller took very good care of his boat, and valued it. Some people own a boat and treat it with care and respect, while others use and abuse boats and do not care if it looks like garbage or not.

Final Thoughts

Buying a boat is tough, plain and simple, but the motor is one of the most important features of it. Finding out how many hours there are on the motor, can make or break a sale, so always ask tons of questions, and before you spend thousands on a boat, make sure that it is actually going to work. If you are buying a boat to use for a few seasons while you save money for a better one, than condition might not be an issue. If you are buying a boat to take your family out on, make sure you are getting something that is going to be reliable. While buying a used boat can be a “crap shoot”, you can better your odds, by doing some research, and having a mechanic look at it.

Related Topics

How Long Will An Outboard Motor Last?

The average outboard motor will last you about 8 years, or about 1500 hours before needing an overhaul, or major maintenance. You can extend the life of your motor by getting regular maintenance done to it, and also winterizing it when you put it away for the season. Make sure you keep this in mind if you are buying a used boat that is 5 or 6 years old.

How Many Hours On A Boat Is Average?

For a used boat, around 500-800 hours is average for a 5 year old boat. This is if they run it once or twice a month for about five hours a day. This number can go down if they use a trolling motor while fishing and only using the motor to launch and bring the boat back in when you are finished for the day.

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