In the “old days”, you could get most any major engine brand with the boat you wanted. That all changed when engine manufacturers acquired boat companies or started selling directly to boat builders instead of dealers. As a result, many boat brands are only packaged with a single engine brand. But what if you are shopping for a new boat and the brand you want doesn’t come with your favorite engine? Should that be a deal breaker or are all major brands rated about the same? In this article, we review the findings from a recent survey of boat owners to identify the top rated outboard engine brands in the 150 HP+ category.
Top Rated Outboard Engine Brands
We’ll begin by providing a little background information for context. The survey was conducted in 2020 among members of the BoaterInput community who own an outboard powered boat with a 150 HP or larger engine. A total of 159 individuals, representing 185 engines (some owned more than one boat), participated. The average age of the engine was about 6 years old (2014). However, Evinrude skewed a little older and Suzuki a bit younger. To help account for this, we weighted the data to equalize the proportion of pre-2010 (33% of the sample) and 2010+ responses (67%) for each brand.
Across all model years in total, Yamaha was the top rated outboard engine brand overall (9.4). The now defunct brand, Evinrude, came in second at 9.2 followed by Mercury and Suzuki. Unfortunately, given its small market share position, we did not have enough responses from Honda owners to reliably report their findings.
However, engines have changed considerably in recent years as technology has evolved. To see how well companies have handled these changes, we examined satisfaction by model year category (pre 2010 vs. 2010+). Not surprisingly, Yamaha satisfaction remained consistently high over time. This is what the brand is known for and why it is so highly regarded by many. Evinrude satisfaction also remained fairly stable. However, Mercury gets the “most improved” award – going from 8.3 (pre 2010) to a solid 9.0 among 2010 or newer owners.
Suzuki did not have enough responses to break out the results by model year and so they were excluded from this breakout.
In addition to gathering overall satisfaction, we asked boaters to rate their engine on several key attributes. For this analysis, we only used 2010 model year or newer engines.
As the highest rated brand overall, Yamaha scores a very impressive 9.7 in terms of reliability. This attribute is important to all boat owners but especially offshore anglers who rely on their engines to get them back home safely. In fact, dependability was the most frequent reason mentioned why many are satisfied with their Yamaha engine. Perhaps Mitch R. from Florida said it best…”I don’t think about the engines. They just run.”
- ‘Quietest, easiest to start and easiest to maintain boat motor I’ve ever owned!’ (Anthony M., Illinois, 2010 Yamaha 150 HP, Rating: 9)
- ‘Reliability is #1. I only have one motor and will venture fairly far offshore. My motor needs to start every time.’ (Gregory G., Florida, 2015 Yamaha 300 HP, Rating: 9)
- ‘Very good performance, very dependable and still runs great.’ (Bill H., North Dakota, 2011 Yamaha 200 HP, Rating: 9)
- ‘I have owned all major brands of motors. I have also sold all major brands of motors. Yamaha has to me been the best for cost of ownership and use with no break downs.’ (Gordon P., Florida, 2012 Yamaha 200 HP, Rating: 10)
- ‘Owned Yamaha engines for over 20 years never an issue other than routine maintenance’ (Mark S., Michigan, 2018 Yamaha 200 HP, Rating: 10)
- ‘I have owned 3 Yamaha and I just have to just do maintenance on all 3, with not problems.’ (John S., Missouri, 2016 Yamaha 250 HP, Rating: 10)
- ‘I never think about the engines. They just run.’ (Mitch R., Florida, 2015 Yamaha 200 HP, Rating: 10)
Mercury also earned a solid score in terms of Reliability, albeit not quite as high as that of Yamaha. And, they are perceived to be very smooth running. However, some owners would like to see better fuel economy.
In addition to dependability, many Mercury owners cited performance as a key reason for their satisfaction.
- ‘It’s got the power I need when I want it. It’s very simple and easy to do routine maintenance on. Reliable.’ (Rick C., California, 2012 Mercury 150 HP, Rating: 10)
- ‘The new ProXS has fantastic torque compared to some of the other lower displacement 200 hp class motors and doesn’t use a supercharger like the last generation Verado 200’s. Simpler design with great torque to get on plane quickly.’ (Ryan B., Minnesota, 2021 Mercury 200 HP, Rating: 9)
- ‘I’ve owned 4 Mercury outboard motors and never had a problem.’ (Chris H., Michigan, 2013 Mercury 250 HP, Rating: 9)
- ‘The Mercury engines have provided excellent performance and minimal maintenance.’ (Michael M., Florida, 2018 Mercury 350 HP, Rating: 10)
- ‘No real problems and has good power with smooth running.’ (Charles G., Tennessee, 2014 Mercury 250 HP, Rating: 9)
- ‘Have never had a problem in 5 seasons of use – approx. 700 hours.’ (Bryan B., Massachusetts, 2015 Mercury 150 HP, Rating: 10)
- ‘Mercury v8 is a better experience than other outboards I am familiar with.’ (Roger K., Florida, 2019 Mercury 300 HP, Rating: 10)
Though Evinrude engines are no longer in production, we included them in this analysis since some might be contemplating buying a used boat. Despite the fact that the company was fighting an uphill battle with two-strokes while the market continued to favor four-strokes, those who did buy one were quite satisfied with their experience. And, the brand scored especially well in terms of Power/Acceleration. This is not surprising since two-strokes generally enjoy a “power-to-weight” advantage over comparable four-strokes. However, a couple owners did mention that they had issues with their engine overheating.
- ‘It’s an Evinrude… what’s not to love, the torque is better than any 4-stroke I’ve ever owned and it gets the boat on plane faster than ever… love it, but I wish they weren’t discontinued… very sad for such a great motor. It’s a G1 if that matters.’ (Steve L., New Jersey, 2019 Evinrude 150 HP, Rating: 9)
- ‘Long maintenance intervals with minimal requirement for parts and labor.’ (Gary S., Texas, 2012 Evinrude 150 HP, Rating: 10)
- ‘Great motor, just has had cooling issues.’ (Benjamin L., Wyoming, 2015 Evinrude 150 HP, Rating: 9)
- ‘Have had issues with overheating. All else have been ok.’ (John F., Iowa, 2015 Evinrude 150 HP, Rating: 6)
- ‘It always starts and runs well. Lots of torque.’ (Richard L., Virginia, 2012 Evinrude 150 HP, Rating: 9)
After evaluating their current engine, we asked boaters to indicate which brand(s) they would consider if shopping for a new boat. We also asked which one brand they would most prefer.
In terms of consideration, approximately two-thirds of boaters in the 150 HP+ class would consider a Yamaha (68%). Slightly less would likewise consider a Mercury (62%). Less than a quarter would go for a Suzuki and even fewer would be open to a Honda.
Yamaha also leads the other brands in terms of overall preference. Forty-one percent would choose a Yamaha if shopping for a new boat. Thirty-five percent would go with a Merc.
Saltwater Boaters Strongly Favor Yamaha
However, opinions differ depending on where you use your boat. The saltwater segment has long been dominated by Yamaha. And, while Mercury appears to have made some inroads in recent years, Yamaha continues to be the overwhelming leader in this segment. A whopping 62% of saltwater boaters in our survey would prefer a Yamaha. Mercury comes in second at only 17%.
So why is Yamaha so popular? It is really about two things – confidence and dealer availability. The former stems from years of reliable service. Unlike other brands that had periods of troublesome products (e.g., Evinrude Ficht and some of the earlier Mercury OptiMax engines), Yamaha has not suffered any major issues that would weaken consumer trust. The latter (dealer availability) is really the result of the first. Because saltwater boaters have so much confidence in the Yamaha brand, it is a safe choice for dealers to carry and for builders to package with. The last thing either would want is to potentially lose a sale because the customer wanted a different engine brand.
Here are some of the stated reasons why many boaters (particularly in saltwater), would prefer to own a Yamaha:
- ‘I’ve never known anyone personally who ever had a problem with their Yamaha.’ (Lawrence W., Florida, 2020 Yamaha 200 HP, Prefer: Yamaha)
- ‘I have owned Evinrudes, Mercurys and Yamahas. My Yamaha had been the most reliable and economical motor I have ever owned. Also, when I sold my last boat, the dealer told me I probably would have gotten an additional 15% if I had a Yamaha instead of an Evinrude on the stern. I was happy with my E-Tec, but it’s hard to argue with reference standard reliability and resale value.’ (Gregory G., Florida, 2015 Yamaha 300 HP, Prefer: Yamaha)
- ‘The shop at my marina sells and services them (that’s where I bought it) and here on the SWFL coast they are ubiquitous.’ (Donald S., Florida, 2004 Yamaha 150 HP, Prefer: Yamaha)
- ‘I have had numerous Yamaha engines on numerous boats. They were all great and had very little problems.’ (Bob I., Florida, 2020 Yamaha 150 HP, Prefer: Yamaha)
- ‘More on the water and I know people that use them and more mechanics around that work on them.’ (Nicholas t., New Jersey, 2021 Yamaha 150 HP, Prefer: Yamaha)
- ‘From everybody that has Yamaha they have nothing but great things to say about them.’ (Russ H., Iowa, 2014 Mercury 175 HP, Prefer: Yamaha)
- ‘Very good track record as I have owned several of them.’ (Bill H., North Dakota, 2011 Yamaha 200 HP, Prefer: Yamaha)
Mercury Continues to Lead in Freshwater
Just as Yamaha is the dominate player in Saltwater, Mercury is still “king” among freshwater boaters. Nearly half (46%) would prefer Mercury if shopping for a new boat. This is much higher than that of Yamaha (28%) and all other brands. For those favoring Mercury, it is about reliability and performance – something that is especially important to tournament bass anglers. Plus, Mercury’s extensive dealer network in freshwater markets is a major bonus. If you are living in rural areas of Minnesota, Wisconsin or Michigan, having a dealer within reach to service your engine is a big deal – especially when your season is so short to begin with.
Below are some of the stated reasons why many boaters, particularly those in freshwater, would prefer to own a Mercury:
- ‘Proven performance with great reliability, better than other brands.’ (Mark P., Texas, 2014 Mercury 150 HP, Prefer: Mercury)
- ‘I have owned 3 different Mercurys in the past and they have all been reliable power packages.’ (Bryson M., Texas, 2019 Mercury 350 HP, Prefer: Mercury)
- ‘Owned several Mercs over the years and never had any real problems.’ (Robert R., Michigan, 2016 Mercury 250 HP, Prefer: Mercury)
- ‘Better performance. Yamaha is reliable but is falling behind Mercury in new designs.’ (Thor T., Outside the US, 2014 Mercury 150 HP, Prefer: Mercury)
- ‘Mercury has the latest technology and the new 4-strokes are said to be ‘rock solid’ in terms of performance, reliability, efficiency, etc. I have been on boats with the new 4-stroke motors and was very impressed. Also the availability of parts and service throughout the country is important to me.’ (Matt C., Arkansas, 2001 Mercury 150 HP, Prefer: Mercury)
- ‘Everyone has parts and all dealers have experience working on them.’ (William E., Michigan, 2016 Mercury 150 HP, Prefer: Mercury)
- ‘More likely to find Mercury dealer nearby for service. Better parts availability.’ (Paul J., Minnesota, 2010 Yamaha 200 HP, Prefer: Mercury)
- ‘Most familiar with this brand, local dealers, easy to find service if needed.’ (Stewart B., North Dakota, 2014 Mercury 225 HP, Prefer: Mercury)
So, which brand is right for you? Let me start by saying that both Yamaha and Mercury are quality engines and either should give you years of trouble-free service. And, unless you do all of your own maintenance, it is a good idea to ensure that there is a reputable dealer nearby for the brand(s) you are considering.
However, if you have a choice and want the absolute best in terms of dependability, then it is hard to beat a Yamaha. Its reliability rating is “off the charts” and the lack of issues is a common theme by owners.
Mercury, on the other hand, is often favored by those looking for performance in addition to reliability. Plus, the brand seems to have really upped its game in recent year as evidenced by its growth in customer satisfaction.
Honda and Suzuki continue to struggle to gain traction in the marine industry. They might be fine engines but, given their small market share, we simply did not have an adequate sample size to reliably evaluate them so they remain an unknown.
Unfortunately, Evinrude is no longer an option for new boat purchasers. And if you are considering buying one used, recognize that you might have to travel a ways to find a competent dealer to work on it in the future (assuming parts will continue to be available).
Be sure to check out our companion article on the top rated motors under 150 HP if a smaller boat/motor is more suitable for you.