Increasing boat lengths demand larger engines, easier boating
It’s no secret that outboard propulsion leads the industry when it comes to boatbuilders and consumers choosing a boat’s powerhouse. However if there were any doubt, one just needs to take a walk around a show like the Miami International Boat Show to see that outboards now reign supreme.
Mercury Marine saw its presence at the 2019 Miami Boat Show increase by almost 200 outboard engines at the show.
“We are pleased with our presence at the Miami Boat Show, one of the world’s marque marine events,” said John Pfeifer, Mercury Marine president. “Our new V6 and V8 engines, as well as the newly released 400hp Verado were all well represented. These are all propulsion products developed in-line with consumer expectations in saltwater markets.”
Unlike the sterndrive segment, which is seeing flat lines or even a decline on the growth curve, the outboard segment continues to climb, showing a 12 percent increase for outboard engines and a 16 percent increase for outboard boats in retail sales revenue in 2017, according to reports from the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
“All of the space you gain by moving the engines to the transom, it’s usable,” Honda Marine Senior Manager Michael Rickey said. “People realize the value there.”
Pfeifer said that boatbuilders also gravitate toward outboard engines due to their lighter weight and the space they free up within the boat. “They can do more with the boat and include more features in the boat,” he added.
From freshwater to saltwater and pontoons to center consoles, outboards are dominating the engine market.
“Outboard propulsion is so much more refined today than it was 10 years ago,” Pfeifer said. “Everything is being driven by the versatility of today’s outboard engine.”
Bigger boats, bigger engines
Another easy trend to spot while walking a boat show is that boats — and the outboard engines to go with them — are undoubtedly getting bigger.
Most builders are currently seeing a sweet spot for consumers in the 22- to 32-foot range. However, boats 38-feet and beyond are becoming a common sight around the industry more and more, as consumers want increased versatility from their boats.
With larger boats comes the requirement of power to push them.
Starting in 2018 and moving into early 2019 brought the introduction of Yamaha’s 425hp XTO Offshore, Mercury Marine’s 400hp
Verado and a mix of new and redesigned models from Seven Marine at 527hp, 577hp and 627hp.
“This engine is designed to take us to the next level of what we can possibly do with outboard motors within the industry,” Yamaha Marine Group President Ben Speciale said of the XTO Offshore. “We are answering the call for bigger boats with a different platform, a new, big-block 5.6L V8. It’s all about integrating power systems into much larger boats.”
“As boats continue to increase in size, so has the need for more power. This gives us an opportunity to provide an even higher horsepower Verado in the market,” Pfeifer said.
Rickey said that Honda Marine is also looking into higher horsepower applications for the future. “We are always looking at the market segments and what makes sense, and where the sweet spots are,” he added. “We are looking towards a progressive introduction of other horsepower options.”
However, larger outboards aren’t enough for power-hungry consumers and bigger boats. Where dual outboards on the back of a center console were once considered standard, it’s now more common to find triple or even quad outboard applications.
As triple and quad applications once pushed the limits and wowed consumers, boatbuilders and engine manufacturers continue to push that envelope further.
Mercury recently unveiled electronic controls to make the operation of five or six engine applications easier and more precise. The new system provides digital throttle and shift, active trim and joystick capabilities to five or six engine applications.
“We specifically engineered these solutions to address the unique dynamics and properties of operating five- and six-engine setups on larger boats,” said Kris Neff, Mercury’s vice president of global category management and strategic planning. “To match or exceed what we’ve already been doing with two- to four-engine arrays required significant research and software programming to maximize the contribution of each engine in various maneuvers and throttle settings.”
Even in the ever-growing pontoon market, a simple low-horsepower cruising outboard is being replaced by high-horsepower options, or in some cases dual outboards.
“Traditionally you wouldn’t see big horsepower pontoon boats; now big horsepower pontoon boats and duals are becoming the norm,” Rickey said. “People want versatility on their pontoon, they want to be able to take everyone out, be able to cruise and enjoy the time, but they still also want the ability to ski or tube. The only way you can do that is with big outboards or twins.”
Easy, more enjoyable boating
From joystick control to smartphone applications and everything in between, today’s marine industry is all about making boating easier and more enjoyable for consumers. To make boating easier, integration of all systems from helm to prop is the name of the game for both boatbuilders and engine manufacturers.
Tiara Sport recently teamed up with Volvo Penta and Seven Marine to create an integrated outboard experience for its 38 LS, combining Volvo Penta’s Electronic Vessel Control and Seven Marine outboards.
Ron Huibers, president and CEO of Volvo Penta of the Americas and chairman of Seven Marine board, said that the integrated system was designed to propel larger boats with outboard performance, while offering inboard features. “We’re taking a giant step forward to push the boundaries on what is possible today in outboard technology,” he added.
In an effort to move outboard capabilities even further, Mercury teamed up with Raymarine’s FLIR and DockSense systems to begin working on assisted docking systems for outboards. The Raymarine DockSense system uses advanced machine vision technology to sense and identify potential obstacles in the vessel’s path, providing feedback to the Mercury Autonomous system to allow the boat’s joystick piloting for outboards system to autonomously respond and ensure a smooth docking process. While not in the market place today, assisted docking technology is poised to revolutionize boat handling in the near future.
“We’re integrating our propulsion systems more and more as each year goes by,” Pfeifer said. “Out next phase is going to go into more autonomy, primarily for more ease of use around the dock.”
Integration and easy boating is also at the forefront of Honda’s future plans for outboards.
“Managing the transmission of data from the front of the boat to the back is where our biggest development is coming from,” Honda Marine senior OEM application engineer Dennis Ashley said. “That’s what consumers are looking for today. Everything is wired together seamlessly.”
Ease of maintenance is yet another mark on the checklist of reasons driving growth in the outboard segment. From Mercury’s easy-access door for checking and filling oil, Honda’s optimized processes to change some of the filters on the engine, Evinrude’s easy winterization on its G2, and Yamaha’s ability to easily change the lower unit oil on the XTO Offshore, making maintenance easier is in the front of every engine manufacturer’s minds.
“We’re constantly looking at updating, refreshing and bringing the best customer experience that we can,” Rickey said. “We realize that not everyone takes their engines into a dealer for service and some want to do some do-it-yourself maintenance, and we want to make that easy for you.”
On the horizon
In terms of the future for outboards, engine manufacturers continue to look and push forward.
“We always look across the product range,” Pfeifer said. “If we think we can deliver an advancement for the consumer, we’ll work on it.”
As we look on the horizon for the outboard segment, engine builders across the board say to expect both increased horsepower options, as well as new integration opportunities to make boating easier.
Pfeifer said that Mercury is predicting higher growth and popularity on the top end of the outboard segment based on consumer wants for multiple engines on a single boat and increased horsepower desires.
“Our goal is to broaden our technology platforms and offer cutting-edge solutions, regardless of energy source, deliver the desired power in the water,” Huibers said.
The race from builders to put out larger boats only continues the race for engine builders to crank out more power and ways to make boating easier.
“The future is all there for us in partnerships now, but there’s even more coming,” Ashley said.