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Powering the future

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The industry’s propulsion market is experiencing a resurgence in next-generation product development


Don’t be fooled by the paucity of new outboard models at this year’s Miami International Boat Show — there’s actually a lot going on in the outboard field and the broader propulsion industry.

Engine and helm equipment companies are busy developing systems that marry joystick control with outboards and sterndrives — technology that will go a long way toward the broader goal of making boating easier and less intimidating. A big step in that direction is expected later in the year when Yamaha and Volvo Penta stage a media event to showcase their collaboration, which will bring joystick control to Yamaha outboards.

Only Suzuki brought new outboard product to market at Miami, with 15- and 20-hp 4-strokes. The other manufacturers are hard at work on second-generation 4-strokes that promise even greater efficiency and performance.

Yamaha will be focusing on engines from 150 to 225 hp and 20 to 40 hp, according to company president Ben Speciale. “Both of those classes need more refinement in the product to better match up with boats,” Speciale told me in a recent Q&A session. Yamaha also will continue to concentrate on fuel efficiency and acceleration improvements, he says.

In this propulsion report, we’ll look at two of the efforts to bring joystick control to outboards and sterndrives — one from Teleflex Marine and the other from Yanmar America. “As an industry, we realize that people want the experience to be easier so it’s not an intimidating and daunting task, but a pleasurable and enjoyable family activity,” Yanmar marine division manager Tom Watson says.


Like outboards, diesels continue to get lighter, more efficient and cleaner (because of environmental mandates). Mercury Marine now offers a new 4.2-liter, 350-hp diesel, and Cummins Inc. has a new 6.7-liter diesel.

Our report covers all of these products, including outboards introduced in the last 12 to 18 months and two alternative-energy small outboards. Four of the outboards received industry awards for innovation and technological advances: the Honda BF250, the Mercury 150 FourStroke, the Lehr 2.5- and 5-hp propane-powered outboards, and the Torqeedo solar electric motor.

Optimus 360

First up is Teleflex Marine’s new joystick for twin-outboard installations, which I mentioned in the On the Docks feature of our Miami boat show coverage in the April issue. The system consists of the Optimus power steering, electronic shift and control system, and a joystick. Teleflex says it is the first company to bring joystick control to the outboard steering market without the use of bow thrusters. Designed for mechanically controlled outboards, the Optimus 360 retails for $17,995 (expected to be available in July). The steering system itself is about $7,000 (expected to be available in April).

Yanmar VCS


Yanmar has jumped into the joystick market with its Vessel Control System. It consists of a joystick helm control (the Easy Operating System, or EOS), new diesels (370-hp 8LV) and twin sterndrives (ZT370s) with counter-rotating props. All three components are Yanmar products. The NMEA 2000-compatible EOS needs no bow thruster and can be set in slow- or high-speed modes. The 370-hp diesel with ZT370 drive has become Yanmar’s highest-horsepower I/O package. The 8LV — a 4.5-liter twin turbo V-8 available in 320- or 370-hp configurations — can be used in sterndrive or inboard applications.

At the Miami show, the system was set up in a 40-foot Nor-Tech center console. Yanmar expects the VCS to become available later this year. Pricing details weren’t yet known.

Cummins QSB6.7

Cummins says its new 6.7-liter diesel packs more power and runs cleaner and quieter than the 5.9-liter engine it replaces. The QSB6.7, which made its debut in Miami, can be used for conventional inboard and Cummins Zeus pod installations.

The first Cummins engine to meet Tier 3 emissions standards, the QSB6.7 is only an inch taller and 1.5 inches longer and wider than the QSB5.9, and it weighs 2 pounds less despite its greater displacement. The new power plant — used in the Dodge Ram pickup truck — pushed the Cummins 44-foot Sea Ray test boat to 20 knots in 8 seconds. The boat takes 14 seconds to hit that speed with the QSB5.9, according to Cummins.

In addition, the QSB5.9 must work harder (3,400 rpm) than the QSB6.7 (3,300 rpm) to reach the maximum 480 hp. Also, cruising-speed engine noise levels are lower, according to Cummins. The QSB6.7 will be available in 380-, 425- and 480-hp ratings — the same as the QSB5.9 — making it easier for boatbuilders to make the switch.

The engine also runs on alternative fuels, such as kerosene, ultra-low-sulfur diesel and aviation fuel. The oil must be changed at 500 hours, compared with 250 hours for the QSB5.9. Pricing information was unavailable.

Mercury TDI 4.2


The new 350-hp TDI 4.2-liter diesel made its first appearance at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, but under the Cummins MerCruiser name. It’s now a Mercury Marine product (see accompanying article).

In a joint venture, Volkswagen manufactures the V-8 engine for Mercury. In return, Volkswagen gets penetration into the U.S. market, according to Mercury. Volkswagen is also manufacturing — and marinizing — 1.9-, 2.5- and 3.0-liter diesels for Mercury at its plant in Salzgitter, Germany. The 1.9-liter is an inline 4-cylinder engine with a 40- to 75-hp rating; the 2.5-liter, an inline 5-cylinder engine, has a rating of 55 to 165 hp; the 3.0-liter V-6 is rated from 225 to 265 hp.

The 4.2-liter engines can be installed in boats to 40 feet, including express cruisers and sportfishing boats, according to Mercury. The 350-hp engine also could be a nice fit for large runabouts.

At last fall’s Fort Lauderdale boat show, the twin TDI (turbocharged direct injection) diesels were mounted in a custom-built 37-foot center console from Statement Marine. As reported in the December issue of Trade Only, the diesels propelled the boat to a top speed in the low 50-mph range. Pricing was unavailable.

Suzuki DF 15A/20A

Suzuki was the only outboard maker with a new product announcement at the Miami show. It unveiled its Gen II DF15A and the DF20A, the first outboards in this class with electronic fuel injection without the need for battery power, according to Suzuki.

Suzuki engineers have redesigned fuel-injection system components (high-pressure fuel pump, throttle body and small fuel cooler, vapor separator and fuel injector) to be compact and lightweight, the company says. The electronic control module (ECM) was designed to operate without auxiliary battery power, while still delivering complete fuel system monitoring and control functions, the company says.

To further enhance the performance of these new outboards, both feature Suzuki Marine’s Lean Burn Control System, which monitors engine operating conditions to predict and deliver the most efficient fuel/air mixture. The Suzuki DF15A and DF20A weigh 97 pounds (for short shaft/manual start models), making these outboards the lightest in their class, Suzuki says. Price information was unavailable.


A variation of the DF300, the DF300 AP Selective Rotation engine, combines standard and counter-rotation operation into the same outboard by switching an electronic circuit. The advancement eliminates the need to buy a dedicated counter-rotation outboard, according to Suzuki. The engine earned Suzuki an industry Innovation Award this year. Suzuki has introduced a new engine at every Miami show since 2006 and has won engine Innovation Awards seven times. The DF300 was the first 300-hp 4-stroke to hit the market. That was in 2007. Price: $24,875.

Yamaha joystick

It has been a while since Yamaha has held a new-product announcement. Well, the engine manufacturer has a big one coming up in the fall. “We’ve been working with Volvo Penta on a joystick system that will really integrate the steering system, the throttle, the shifting, engine information and the overall piloting of the boat,” Speciale says. “It will give twin-engine boats and triple-engine boats better docking capabilities, like you see with some of the other joystick products with pods.”

Yamaha is scheduled to hold a press outing in late October at the Yamaha Marine testing facility in Bridgeport, Ala., to make the announcement. I’ll be there. “In about 12 months we’ll start rolling out our system,” Speciale said in mid-March. “Initially we will start rolling it out with the larger outboards — the 350s and the 300s. You have to have some advancements inside the engine, as well as the control systems for the lower horsepowers. It is different than with an inboard or pod system.”

The company that developed the joysticks for Volvo Penta’s IPS and gas and diesel sterndrive joystick packages — CPAC Systems in Sweden — is at the helm of the Yamaha joystick R&D, according to both engine manufacturers. “CPAC is taking that competence and experience they developed while working on the Volvo Penta joysticks and transferring the knowledge to the Yamaha project,” says Clint Moore, president and CEO of Volvo Penta of the Americas.,

Mercury 150 FourStroke

Mercury says the 150 FourStroke weighs less than any other 150-hp 4-stroke outboard out there. The 4-cylinder engine weighs 455 pounds and has a displacement of 183 cubic inches. It weighs 55 pounds less than the 4-cylinder Verado 150, which has a displacement of 105.7 cubic inches.

The 150 FourStroke is not replacing the Verado 150, which will remain in its Mercury family of engines. The two 150-hp engines are quite different, says Mercury communications director Steve Fleming. The 150 FourStroke is not supercharged like the Verado engine and differs in features and benefits, he says. “Our goal is to have the new 150 FourStroke stand on its own as the most durable, lightest, most compact 150-hp outboard ever built,” he says. “It’s also extremely versatile and is aimed at general boating/fishing, where Verado was presented as a premium product. However, the new 150 has great speed, acceleration and lack of vibration.”

The engine is just 24 pounds heavier than Mercury’s 150-hp OptiMax 2-stroke. It’s a good fit for a new boat like the Boston Whaler 210 Montauk and other center consoles of about 20 feet. At 24 mph, the 210 Montauk with a 150 FourStroke can travel 5.1 mpg, and at 32 mph she goes for nearly 4 mpg. A nice fit, indeed. (It shared the NMMA’s Innovation Award in the outboard category with the Honda BF250.) The engine retails for $13,000.

Mercury debuted the 150 FourStroke at the 2011 Fort Lauderdale show. In Miami, Mercury announced improvements to its 4-, 5- and 6-hp engines. The engine maker lengthened the tiller arm and added a front-mounted shift lever to make operation easier and safer, Mercury says. All models in this “refreshed line” are now designed to have dual-fuel capability, with both a standard 0.26-gallon integral fuel tank and a remote fuel-tank connection. Designed with a two-piece top cowl and updated styling, the engines come standard with a three-year warranty.

Honda BF250

In 2001, Honda introduced its 225-hp 4-stroke outboard. Since then, the engine maker has concentrated on lower-horsepower models and its second-generation fleet. Introduced at FLIBS in 2011, the 3.6-liter BF250 is an entirely new engine, with a displacement of 219 inches, compared with the 3.5-liter BF225’s 212-inch displacement. The company has designed its new outboard’s exterior with more of an aerodynamic profile. The gearcase features a new shape that cuts drag by 5 percent, according to the company. A new air induction system uses two air-cooling methods for better combustion and performance.

Depending on the shaft length, the V-6 outboard weighs 600 to 622 pounds. That’s about 60 pounds less than the Mercury 250 Verado and 40 pounds more than Yamaha’s 250. The Suzuki 250 weighs about 580 pounds.

Twin 250s pushing an Everglades 295 center console can travel 2.3 mpg at 27 mph. At wide-open, the boat gets a respectable 1.2 mpg.

The BF250 has an industry-first feature called AMP+, according to the company. At idle, when the engine senses a need for more amperage, AMP+ automatically increases engine rpm by 100 to generate 9 additional amps.

Honda has made getting to the spark plugs easy via an access cover that eliminates the need to remove the entire cowling. Honda backs its engines with a 5-year standard factory warranty. Prior to the BF250, the company’s latest offering was a new BF115, which debuted in 2010 at the Miami show. The BF250 MSRP was set at $24,263 and it goes up to $25,391, depending on transom height. (Honda’s BF250 and Mercury’s 150 FourStroke shared the Innovation Award in the outboard segment.)

Lehr LP2.5 and LP5.0

In the same industry innovation competition, another outboard captured the Environmental Award — the Lehr 2.5- and 5-hp 4-strokes powered by propane (a 16-ounce “camping bottle” and/or a remote 5-gallon barbecue tank). The 2.5 weighs 38 pounds and the 5 comes in at roughly 50 pounds. The Lehr outboard was also one of three products to win the 2012 West Marine Green Product of the Year award. The others were Entropy’s Super Sap epoxy and Torqeedo’s Travel 1003 Electric outboard. Prices: LP2.5, $1,200; LP5.0 short shaft, $1,920; LP5.0 long shaft, $2,000.

Torqeedo Travel 1003

The Torqeedo Travel 1003 solar electric motor is designed for use on tenders and daysailers. “The motor itself weighs only 29 pounds,” Steve Trkla, president of Crystal Lake, Ill.-based Torqeedo Inc., told Trade Only when the product was introduced in 2011 at the Miami show. “It is a 3- to 4-hp equivalent motor and it comes with a lithium-manganese battery integrated right into the unit. The battery itself weighs only 10 pounds. In addition, the battery has no memory, so it should last from six to 10 years,” he says.

The 520-watt battery charges like a laptop, with an adapter, or with the Power Film 45-watt, 24-volt solar panel. A full charge, from zero to 100 percent, takes 12 hours. The motor will run for 38 minutes at full throttle and as long as 10 hours maximum, according to Torqeedo. Audible alarms alert you when the charge is low.

The Torqeedo Travel 1003 Electric outboard was selected for the West Marine green award because it provides hours of quiet power, can be used on lakes that prohibit internal combustion engines and because of the motor’s built-in GPS and power monitoring, according to the judges. Price: $1,900.

This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue.



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