The engine is a critical component of any motor boat package. It represents about half the cost and is responsible for much of the maintenance. But are all major brands pretty much the same or are some more dependable than others? In this article, we identify the top rated outboard motor in the under 150 HP class based on our recent survey of boat owners. A total of 106 boaters participated, representing 143 individual engine ratings (some owned multiple boats).
Top Rated Outboard Motor Overall
We asked boaters to rate their overall satisfaction with their engine, regardless of age. In our sample, the median age (2008) was similar across brands. However, two brands, Yamaha and Evinrude, skewed a bit newer (2010 and 2011, respectively). To help account for the impact of age, the results were weighted for each brand to include an equal proportion of pre-2010 and 2010+ ratings.
Yamaha owners were especially content with their engine brand (9.3 out of 10). Honda and Suzuki had equally high scores too but, as small share brands, the sample size for each was too small for a reliable analysis.
The now-defunct brand, Evinrude, also did a decent job of meeting customer expectations (8.9). Unfortunately, the company “bet the farm” on two-stroke technology and the brand suffered as consumer preference continued to shift to four-strokes.
Mercury, one of the leading engine brands (especially in Freshwater), received moderately high satisfaction ratings overall (8.7). However, if you are considering buying a new boat with a Mercury engine, you should not let this dissuade you. This is because more recent Mercury owners appear to be much more satisfied than their predecessors. Satisfaction among those with 2010 or newer engines was a solid 9.3, up considerably from that of Mercury owners with 2009 or older engines (8.2).
So, while Yamaha is the top rated outboard motor, the gap narrows considerably if we focus on newer engines only.
Now, let’s take a look at how the two main engine brands compare on specific attributes.
For this section, we examine detailed scores among 2010 model year or newer outboard motor owners since that is most relevant to a majority of boat shoppers. But, once you slice the data by engine age within the Under 150 HP category, the sample size gets pretty small quickly. This is because only two brands dominate the industry. For these reasons, we will explore detail ratings for Mercury and Yamaha only.
First, starting with the Yamaha brand, owners in the under 150 HP class are extremely satisfied with their engine. In particular, Yamaha receives a near-perfect score of 9.7 on “Reliability” – by far the most important attribute of an outboard. And, the brand receives high marks on nearly all attributes with the minor exception of “Ease of Maintenance” (8.9, still a very satisfactory score). Here’s what owners had to say about their engines:
- ‘Yamaha is the only outboard brand I would own. Owned several others and Yamaha is the most reliable and trouble free.’ (Joe S., Michigan, 2018 Yamaha 115 HP, Rating: 10)
- ‘It will push my 17.5 foot boat at nearly 40 mph, troll down to 1.5 mph, never misses a beat. I have done all maintenance to date with no issues. Better fuel economy by far than the 2 stroke on my previous boat, and I can troll and talk at the same time without shouting or choking on 2 stroke mix fumes.’ (Timothy B., Michigan, 2010 Yamaha 115 HP, Rating: 10)
- ‘My 2nd boat that has had a Yamaha on it and have never had a single issue.’ (Barney O., Iowa, 2010 Yamaha 50 HP, Rating: 10)
- ‘Starts every time gets good fuel mileage Idols down slow enough to troll.’ (J G., California, 2018 Yamaha 50 HP, Rating: 9)
Not to be outdone, Mercury also offers some excellent engines in the under 150 HP class. In fact, the brand nearly matches Yamaha in terms of “Reliability” and most other attributes. And, it even receives higher marks in terms of “Ease of Maintenance”. The one negative aspect was Power/Acceleration with a moderate rating of 8.6. However, we cannot determine if this is an engine deficiency or the result of boat manufacturers packaging their boats with smaller engines to achieve a desired price point (a fairly common practice with certain boat builders).
- ‘Fuel efficient, quiet and no maintenance issues to-date.’ (Joe L., Florida, 2018 Mercury 40 HP, Rating: 10)
- ‘Merc 90 HP 4 stroke starts like a car, quiet and no smoke never have had an issue in 8-seasons!’ (Michael B., Michigan, 2013 Mercury 90 HP, Rating: 9)
- ‘Great engine just which it had a little more power.’ (Mark C., Maine, 2011 Mercury 40 HP, Rating: 9)
- ‘Reliable and powerful. Made in USA and Wisconsin.’ (David D., Wisconsin, 2018 Mercury 90 HP, Rating: 10)
- ‘Reliability. My Mercury 4-stroke starts easily and runs relatively quietly with decent fuel usage.’ (Steve C., Arkansas, 2014 Mercury 115 HP, Rating: 9)
- ‘Very good motor, easy to work on. Very good on fuel consumption.’ (Richie B., Arkansas, 2014 Mercury 60 HP, Rating: 10)
Near the end of our survey, we asked boaters which engine brand(s) they would consider if shopping for a new boat (assuming the engine brand was available on the boat they wanted). We also asked which one brand they would prefer.
A majority of boat owners with a motor under 150 HP would consider a Yamaha or Mercury (66% and 61%, respectively). About half as many would consider a Honda (30%). Even fewer would consider a Suzuki or the now discontinued Evinrude engine (16% each).
However, Mercury narrowly edges out Yamaha in terms of preference (40% vs. 33%) within the 150 HP and under class.
Besides their own personal experience (reliable, trouble-free), the other reasons why some favor Mercury is because of greater parts and service availability (inland lakes) and that they are made in the USA.
- ‘I have had Mercury on many of my boats and prefer them. I have friends with the newest models and they are very happy.’ (Gary L., Florida, 2015 Yamaha 90 HP, Prefer: Mercury)
- ‘I have owned both Yamaha and Mercury outboards and liked both. In my area parts and service are easier to find for Mercury.’ (Steve C., Arkansas, 2014 Mercury 115 HP, Prefer: Mercury)
- ‘More familiar with Mercury, more dealers in my area.’ (Gary M., Michigan, 2019 Mercury 115 HP, Prefer: Mercury)
- ‘I think they are both fairly equal in design and tech but, would go with an American based company.’ (Brett C., Florida, 2018 Mercury 115 HP, Prefer: Mercury)
- ‘Good reputation, good quality and American made.’ (Don B., Minnesota, 2013 Mercury 115 HP, Prefer: Mercury)
Yamaha’s long and consistent track record of reliability is the main reason why many prefer this brand.
- ‘I would have chosen Evinrude but they don’t make them now. My friend has Yamahas and they seem very reliable.’ (Jim ., Delaware, 1992 Evinrude 115 HP, Prefer: Yamaha)
- ‘Simply personal preference based mainly on the reliability of the current engine as well as the reliability of two Yamaha motorcycles, both of which went well over 100,000 miles with no major issues.’ (Timothy B., Michigan, 2010 Yamaha 115 HP, Prefer: Yamaha)
- ‘Reliability and performance leaves me no reason to want to change engine choice.’ (Patrick S., Texas, 2008 Yamaha 115 HP, Prefer: Yamaha)
- ‘I have owned several Yamaha’s and have had very good luck with them.’ (Bill H., North Dakota, 2011 Mercury 90 HP, Prefer: Yamaha)
- ‘Reliability, prolific service network, modern features.’ (John M., Florida, 2018 Yamaha 90 HP, Prefer: Yamaha)
If you are shopping for a new outboard boat, you will likely be given one of two choices – Mercury or Yamaha. And, based on our survey, it appears that either should deliver a satisfying ownership experience given that Yamaha and the newer Mercs are both extremely reliable. But, if you don’t plan to do the maintenance yourself, be sure you go with a brand that has a quality dealer that is conveniently located.
Though not packaged on many new boats, Honda and Suzuki might be good engine choices. Unfortunately, we don’t have sufficient information to confirm this given their small market shares. These brands face a common dilemma in that they can’t gain broad distribution until more people know about them and have had a positive experience. But, without such distribution, it is hard to build such confidence.
Evinrude is no longer an option – at least on new boats. And our research confirmed my anecdotal information that those who own one are generally very happy with it (at least the newer models). But the company was unsuccessful in selling the benefits of its two-stroke engines, longer maintenance intervals, fewer moving parts and superior fuel economy and performance. So the era of two-stroke outboards is over..at least for now.
If you are shopping for a used boat, then getting one with a Yamaha is the safer choice – especially if it is an older model given Yamaha’s consistent record of reliability. While many Mercury owners noted that they have owned several engines with few if any issues, the brand’s track record has been more varied over the years. This was especially the case during the period when their direct injection and four-stroke technologies were evolving.
Let us know your thoughts and experiences with your outboard engine(s) in the comments section below. And, if you are considering buying a larger boat and motor, check out our related article on the top rated outboard motor 150 HP+.