Market Trends: Outboard engines market remains strong

By Krystina Skibo

After seeing the highest sales volume in 20 years in 2020, demand for outboard engines remained steady in 2022 as unit sales surpassed 300,000 for the third consecutive year, reaching 305,900 units, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA).

Even though unit sales were down slightly, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Jim Loftus, Director of Strategic Planning / Business and Products, American Honda Motor Co., says sales are just going back to normal after a Covid boom.

“During Covid, everything outdoors went nuts,” he says. “2021 was really popular for any outdoor product. We peaked at 350,000 units sold, which was the strongest year for us. Traditionally, we see 300,000 unit sales in outboard engines. But because of interest rates, we’re seeing outboard engine sales trend back to what we’ve seen in the past.”

Younger generations getting into boating

One particular trend that Loftus has seen pop up since Covid is the younger generation’s interest in boating. “For the first time ever in our industry, three-out-of-four new boat buyers with outboard engines were millennials. A lot of Gen Y have also moved into the marine market which is fantastic because a concern of ours for years was that our industry would disappear,” he notes.

Lightspeed research between April 2023 and March 2024 found that even though baby boomers are still the top purchasers of outboard engines, the millennial generation spent the second highest amount on the unit purchase price, at an average of $6,466.

In Lightspeed’s study, baby boomers purchased 40% of outboard engine units sold. On average, they spent $5,591 on the unit purchase price. Millennials purchased 19% of the units, while Gen Z spent an average of $6,946 on the unit price and purchased 2% of the units.

A focus on carbon neutrality

Another notable trend that Loftus mentioned, along with Ben Speciale, President, Yamaha U.S. Marine Business Unit, is that the marine industry should be focusing on reducing its carbon footprint.


“Innovation and technology will recreate opportunities to move towards more carbon neutrality,” says Speciale. “That is why Yamaha has, and will, invest in the people and resources needed to create the next generation of marine systems.”

Internal combustion engines (ICEs) represent the dominant technology in marine propulsion today, and Speciale believes they will continue to be a mainstay in the industry for a long time. The fuel used to power them, however, will and should change.

“We have successfully demonstrated sustainable marine fuels. This will have the greatest impact as there are over 10 million boats that could reduce the carbon footprint if these fuels become part of the mainstream fuel,” he explains. “Liquid fuels simply have the best power density.”

Yamaha Marine announced in Miami earlier this year that they are also exploring hydrogen, which Speciale says the company hopes to be running its hydrogen outboard in a test form this summer.

Honda Marine has also been looking at hydrogen technology as of recent, according to Loftus, but it does come with its challenges.

“The one issue with hydrogen is filling stations. That’s where it becomes a challenge,” he says. “And you can’t fill up a hydrogen-powered boat in Florida, even though it’s the largest location for boats. You can get hydrogen in California, so that market is great for that type of application.”

John Buelow, President of Mercury Marine, says the company is monitoring sustainable trends in other transportation sectors, from electrification in cars to eco-friendly fuels in trucking and aviation, that could also increase the sustainability of the marine industry.

“Upstream, we are doing everything we can to minimize our impact such as using recycled aluminum, installing solar arrays, adding to our list of zero-waste-to-landfill factories and more. We’re proud of our efforts,” he says.


Aside from hydrogen technology, electric engines are another sustainable alternative that can help reduce the marine industry’s carbon footprint. “If you look at electric, in certain states where you can’t get fuel, there will always be electricity. Depending on where you are geographically, each technology is relevant in its own way and has an opportunity,” mentions Loftus.

Honda Marine has a proposal now to electrify roughly 24 horsepower and below, according to Loftus. They even just launched a pilot program in Japan for their EV.

“I like to say on the electrification side, it’s not if, but when,” Loftus notes. “The industry will have 70% of electric motors by 2031, and it’s going to require technology.”

For Buelow, support for growing electric loads as boats get larger as well as electric steering are two key innovations in sustainable outboard engine manufacturing.

“Our innovation award-winning Fathom system provides 48V charging for Fathom ePower-equipped boats, which could really change the game for customers who ticked every option box but don’t want a generator,” he says.

A need for speed

While sustainability concerns continue to be a hot topic for discussion, Speciale has also been seeing an increase in the number and horsepower of engines on types of boats that he hasn’t seen in the past.

“A few years ago, it was unheard of to see twin 300 to 450 horsepower outboards on a pontoon, but now it is becoming more common,” he says.


Agreeing with Speciale is Buelow, stating that the industry remains focused on high horsepower.

“This has enabled larger and larger outboard-powered boats,” he says. “10 years ago, there were a couple of 42-foot outboard-powered boats, whereas today we have a few OEMs building models over 60 feet. Pontoons are seeing a significant increase in installed power, too, which is making them even more versatile.”

Speciale notes that mid-range horsepower is a best-selling segment because it fits the needs of the majority of Yamaha Marine customers.

“However, boats continue to get bigger and increased outboard horsepower is important to meet the needs of those customers,” he says. “Technology is just as important. More intelligent systems and lighter weight engines can improve the performance and accessibility of larger boats while reducing the intimidation factor. If we can make it easier for new boaters to enjoy time on the water and at the same time allow experienced boaters to confidently operate larger boats, then we all win.”

Loftus is also seeing a desire for increased horsepower at Honda Marine. “Whether they need it or not, in the marine industry, there’s still this thought process that bigger is better. Do I need it? No. But can I afford it? Yes,” he says.

More specifically, Loftus is seeing customers lean towards 300 to 350 horsepower. Even during hard times, those engines continue to see growth.

Welcoming new boaters to the industry

Even though discretionary spending is still tight for some consumers, Yamaha Marine’s Speciale expects to continue to see new customers from the Covid years upgrading to larger, more feature-rich boats.

“We also expect to see first-time boaters continue to enter the market,” he says. “The outdoor lifestyle is a part of our culture now. People enjoy and see the benefits of recreating outside with friends and family. The more access we can create for fishing and water, the more our industry can help people create those wonderful memories on the water to cherish for a lifetime.” 

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