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Test more than 90 boats, as our test team did in creating this year’s Boat Buyers Guide, and certain patterns emerge.
For one thing, the outboard continues its rise in prominence. It began when new emissions regulations drove up the cost of sterndrive and inboard engines. For the longest time, a sterndrive was the best value in the sense of horsepower per dollar. As recently as five years ago, a 220 hp sterndrive cost 30 to 40 percent less than a comparably powered outboard. Historically, that kept prices for boats, particularly the smaller runabouts that so many boaters favor, as low as possible. But with prices more equitable, the outboard could no longer be disqualified on a cost basis.
At the same time, outboard makers developed newer, cleaner, quieter engines. This new breed includes both four- and two-stroke motors, such as the Evinrude E-Tec lineup. These outboards are smoke-free, efficient and quiet. Outboards have, in fact, become so user-friendly, so nice to be around, and so easy to own and operate that the old user-owner prejudices against outboards are gone, like so much foam in the wake of a fast-moving boat.
Then there are pontoons. Like the outboard engine, the pontoon boat was born of humble beginnings, intended to be a simple way for the everyman to enjoy the water. (That’s a noble goal, if ever we heard one.) While boaters can still buy inexpensive outboards and pontoons that don’t break the bank, some of the most high-tech and luxury-laden waterborne conveyances are now outboard-powered pontoons. And builders can’t seem to make enough of them, which is just another way of saying boaters keep demanding more of both.
Now, an outboard cannot provide the aft cockpit layouts and full-beam transom platform arrangements many boaters are used to aboard runabouts, watersports boats and cruisers. Nor do outboards possess a sterndrive’s anonymity; a sterndrive, like an inboard, neither enhances nor detracts from a boat’s appearance. They are invisible.
Whatever you might think, and whether you seek a cruiser, fishing boat, day boat, runabout, watersports boat or pontoon, outboard power is today a viable propulsion consideration in every boat category. Become familiar with outboards. A savvy boat buyer, like a savvy buyer for anything, is aware of all the options, regardless of personal preference.
Kevin Falvey, Editor-in-Chief [email protected]