Guy doing an inspection of a tiny house on wheels

How “Engine Hours” Impact Boat Prices (3 Examples)

In Boatingby Christopher Schopf

There are many factors that can affect the final sale price of a used boat.  Many people often wonder if the number of hours on the engine are among these factors.  Other people, don’t believe the number of hours an engine has been used should even matter.

How do engine hours impact boat prices?
Used boats with many hours on the engine sell for less than the price of a boat with fewer miles on it. Gasoline boat engines last up to 2,000 hours and diesel engines last up to 8,000 hours. Newer boats often display the engine hours.

This being said, a boat with few engine hours on it may sell for less than a boat with more hours on the engine.

The reason for this is that an older engine that has not been run very often can often fall apart sooner than an engine that has been run a lot but well-maintained.

For example, boat engines have many different components that need to be lubricated.  When you run the engine, these parts naturally become lubricated and less likely to fall victim to dry-rot.  Leave the engine sitting idle for too long and these components will fail sooner than if they had been run.

So how do you know how many miles the engine should have on it? 
How should your offer change based on the number of miles on the boat? 

In the rest of this post, we’ll try to answer these questions so that you’ll know exactly how much to offer on your next used boat purchase.

The Truth About Engine Hours (The Numbers)

Guy doing an inspection of a tiny house on wheels

I looked at a few different websites and they all seemed to say that a gasoline boat engine should last about 1,500 to 2,000 hours and a diesel engine should last about 5,000 to 8,000 hours.  These websites all seemed to have one thing in common.

That is, they all listed Boats.com as their source for this information.

This took my search to Boats.com.  The website states that a marine gasoline engine should last about 1,500 hours and a diesel marine engine should last from 5,000 to 8,000 hours before it needs to be overhauled.  Unfortunately, they don’t provide a source for their information.

They wouldn’t just make these numbers up, would they?

In an effort to find out if these numbers listed on Boats.com were true, I went to a few websites of large boat engine manufacturers like Mercury and Yamaha.

I looked at a few of the different engines they sell and noticed that none of them had a recommended number of hours listed.  This was strange but I figured they may have left this information off for liability purposes.

So I kept on searching.

After this, I decided to check to see what different used boats on Nada.com sold for based on the number of hours the engine was used.

To my surprise, Nada.com didn’t even have the number of hours listed as an option.  This is very unlike vehicle engines where you can at least do a search based on miles driven.

Where do I find the engine hours for a boat?

Another thought that crossed my mind at this point was how does a boat engine track the number of hours that are on it?  I grew up around boats and I don’t remember having a boat that tracked the hours.

I did some research and found that many boat engines do indeed tell you how many hours they were run. 

However, many older boats, especially smaller ones, don’t have this number displayed anywhere so you’d have to have a technician do a computer read-out for you.

Alternatively, you could rely on the previous owner’s records but in order to do this, you’d have to trust that the previous owner was good at keeping such records.

What are the true numbers (3 Practical Examples)

My guess is that websites like Boats.com are basing their numbers off of their user’s experiences and that they could be a good starting point for determining a boat engine’s remaining value.

If you assume that these numbers are correct, you could determine the fair price of a boat by deciding what the value of a boat is without the engine and subtracting this number from the value of the boat with the engine.

You could then take that number and subtract from it based on the number of hours that were on it.

Here are some examples of what this would look like based on Nada pricing values.

Example 1

A 2010 Chris Craft Lancer 20 sells for $29,270.00 with a gasoline engine.

Without the engine, it has a value of $17,000.00.  This gives the engine a value of $12,270.00.  Now let’s say that this engine has 750 hours on it.  This means that the engine has about 50% of its life left.

Multiply 50% times $12,270.00 and you’re left with $6,135.00.

Add this number to $17,000.00 and you get $23,135.00 as your fair price.

Example 2

Another example is the 2015 Starcraft SLS 5.  This boat has a gasoline outboard engine and sells for $34,700.00.  Without the engine, it is worth $22,000.00.

This puts the boat engine at a value of $12, 700.00.

Let’s say this boat has 375 hours on the engine.  This means it still has 75% of its life left.  75% multiplied by $12,700.00 is $9,525.00.

The remaining value of the boat is $31,525.00.

Example 3

An example of a boat with a diesel engine could be a 2002 Boston Whaler Defiance 350/EC.  The engine on this boat is inboard with 355 horsepower.

This boat has a value of $133,550.00.

It was tough to find an exact price for this engine but based on newer inboards, I’d estimate it to be about $25,000.00.  Even with $2,500 miles on it, it still has half of its value left.  This would put it at $12,500.00 remaining.

The final boat price would be $121,050.00.

Gasoline Vs Diesel Engine Hours

Gasoline engines don’t last as long as diesel engines.  This is true for vehicle engines as well as boat engines.

The downside, of course, is that diesel engines usually cost more to buy and to maintain versus gasoline engines.  This means that if you don’t plan on using your boat a lot, you may want to opt for a gasoline engine instead.

Determining The Value The Best We Can

After researching different engines, engine lifespans, and boat values, I’ve come to the conclusion that basing your boat purchase on the number of hours on the boat engine isn’t necessarily the best idea.

A better idea is to use the number of hours as well as a few other factors to help guide you in your purchase.

Some of these factors include:

  • The type of water that the boat was used in.
  • The age of the engine.
  • The maintenance history of the engine.

Salt Water Vs Freshwater

With saltwater comes corrosion.  Corrosion is deadly to boats as well as their engines.  This means that all-else-equal, you should consider paying less for a boat engine that was used in saltwater versus a boat engine that was used in freshwater.

However, you may also want to consider whether or not the boat was docked or taken in and out of the water.  This is because a boat that is pulled from the water each time it is ran can be cleaned out with freshwater.  Taking this step helps the engine last longer and leaves it much less susceptible to corrosion.

Growing up, we always ran our engine in a large trashcan full of water after each trip into saltwater and our engines never fell victim to corrosion.

Engine Age

Another factor to consider is the age of the engine.

An older engine can wear out over time just through the general wear and tear of time.  Rubber hoses can dry out, corrosive sprays can fade, and even replacement parts can be harder to come by.

Engine Maintenance History

The biggest factor when it comes to boat engines is the care they were given during their lifetime.  A boat owner who meticulously cares for their engine can keep the engine running much longer than someone who does not do any maintenance.

For this reason, I’d suggest that you ask for maintenance records from the owner of any boat you decide to buy.

Even an engine that is relatively new with few hours on it should have had at least some maintenance done on it.  If this maintenance wasn’t done, the engine might not last 500 hours let alone 1,500.

Engine Inspections

At the end of the day, the best way to determine the remaining lifespan of a marine engine is to have a professional inspect the engine.  The inspector can look over the maintenance records and check over the engine as well as all of its components to see how much life is left in them.

If the inspector finds something wrong with the engine, the inspector can give you an estimate of how much the repairs will cost.  This will give you a good place to begin price negotiations with the current owner.

Final Thoughts

Don’t let the number of hours on a boat engine determine whether or not you should buy a particular boat over another.

A poorly cared for engine with few hours on it can often be worse than an engine that has many hours on it but that was meticulously cared for during its lifetime.