Pocket Pistols

Five motors. One top gun.

Once you outgrow a tiny inflatable, your next tender will likely be a 10' RIB. The best power/weight combination for it is usually a 15-hp outboard. Almost every manufacturer offers one, and at first glance they all seem about the same. We tested five long-shaft models with an electric start. They had remote steering options and ran within 1 mph of one another. When weighed with oil and fuel, all came in at about 115 pounds. And at wide open throttle, they all measured around 97 dB-A. But, as we found out, there are important differences that don't show up until you live with them.

Honda BF15DKLHS MSRP: $4,093 www.hondamarine.com This and the Tohatsu were the quietest and smoothest at idle. The Honda had the lowest numbers on our vibration meter at full throttle by a large margin. It got on plane fastest, which could be due to the standard four-bladed prop. The folding grabhandle is a nice touch, although moving any of these engines is not a one-handed job. There's an extensive tool kit and a fuel tank with a gauge. Our engine came with optional power tilt ($383), a worthwhile feature in shallow waters.

Mercury 15ELH MSRP: $3,025 www.mercurymarine.com Built for Mercury by Tohatsu, the 15ELH lacks some of the standard features found on the Tohatsu 15B2EFL, such as an adjustable trim tab/zinc anode and garden hose flushing port (optional fitting required). To flush the Mercury, you have to remove the prop and use a special attachment (not included). The shutoff switch is conveniently located at the end of the tiller handle. The shallow-water tilt release is at the rear, making it difficult to operate.

Suzuki DF15ELK8 MSRP: $3,463 www.suzukimarine.com Someone at Suzuki must actually do his own servicing. The oil fill runs straight down, not on a sure-to-spill angle. And to drain the oil, you don't have to tilt or turn the engine to get it all out. This was the lightest engine at 106 pounds. But it was also the slowest and had vibrations that were notably greater than the others at full speed. It has a convenient two-position shallow-water tilt release in front. Power tilt is not available on the 15 but, curiously, is on the 9.9-hp High Thrust.

Tohatsu 15CEFL MSRP: $2,907 www.tohatsu.com This is the same motor as the 15-hp Nissan and is used by Mercury. It's bargain priced, peppy, and responsive. It's second only to the Honda in top speed, and equal to the Honda in low vibrations and sound at idle. The sacrificial anode doubles as an adjustable trim tab. A shallow-water tilt lever is inconveniently located in the rear. Flushing can be done with a garden hose fitted to an optional attachment, or by earmuffs. The owner's manual is the clearest.

Yamaha F15CELH MSRP: $3,455 www.yamaha-motor.com At 123 pounds it's the heaviest. For some reason, Yamaha took the manual pull cord off the electric-start model. If there's trouble, you'll need time and tools to put on the emergency rope. There's a power tilt option for an extra $415, and it's the only one with oil and water temperature lights. The release lever for the two-position shallow-water tilt is convenient. There's an adjustable trim tab/zinc anode and a garden hose flushing connection. It was slower than the rest getting out of the hole.

The Bottom Line The Honda had the best acceleration, but only by a little, and was a bit quieter and had a tad less vibration at full throttle. But there's that price. The Mercury costs more than the similar Tohatsu but lacks some features. The Suzuki had noticeable vibration at wide open throttle, and the Yamaha had no rope start and was a little slow getting on plane. Our choice: The Tohatsu for its features, speed, minimal vibration, and low price.