Owners of new and used boats are turning to repowering projects in surprising numbers, leading to increased market share for outboard manufacturers and accessories makers alike.
“Worldwide, that’s our business,” says Steve Van Dyke, territory manager for Tohatsu America Corp. “It’s all about repowering.”
Perhaps no company has picked up more sales through repowering than Suzuki. A little more than four years ago, Suzuki partnered with Mastry Engine Center of St. Petersburg, Fla., to start offering repower services. It has grown into 10 licensed facilities around the state that employ about 200 people.
“Every boat worth repowering — we have that information,” says Adib Mastry, a founder of Mastry Engine Center, who was instrumental in forging the relationship with Suzuki. “We’ve created almost 400 of them.”
Mastry made a good part of his living in repowers long before Mastry Engine Center was sold to parent company Yanmar Corp. At Suzuki Repower by Mastry facilities, a consumer can enter a boat model into a computer at a kiosk to look at performance data with a new Suzuki outboard.
When the repower program first started, he estimates that Suzuki had about an 8 percent share of the outboard market in Florida. This year, that number is closer to 20 percent. “We’re doing pretty well with it,” Mastry says.” In 2020, he says, the repower business will move approximately 1,500 units, with the most popular being a 200-hp Suzuki outboard installed in a single-engine application.
A Boost from Covid-19
The surge in boat sales that the Covid-19 pandemic created nationwide has contributed to the repowering trend, as well. Mastry says that because so many people now see boating as a safe way to get the family out of the house, he’s seen an increase in repower work. “They want their boat to be reliable, and there’s been an increase in new-boat sales because of the pandemic,” he says.
That business trickles into the accessories market in numerous ways. For instance, the Mastry repower centers are certified with Dometic and its SeaStar steering systems, so when a boat is repowered, it can be upgraded with accessories such as an Optimus 360 joystick. Many consumers also ask for items such as jack plates. Mastry has a relationship with Armstrong in Stuart, Fla., for custom brackets that can be used to fill the hole formerly occupied by the MerCruiser Bravo drive on a Sea Ray 240, 260 or 290 deckboat.
Demand for repowers is also driving new business for Tohatsu. Van Dyke estimates that at least 70 percent of Tohatsu’s business this year has been repowers. “We’re out of product like everybody else,” he says.
Tohatsu introduced lighter-weight 75-, 90 and 115-hp 4-stroke, 4-cylinder outboards last month. Van Dyke says business has increased primarily through word of mouth. “As we introduce new models, it just comes to us,” he says. The 115 is a popular replacement for an old 2-stroke thanks to similar weights.
Another example of increased market share took place in South Carolina, where the duckboat market started growing. Tohatsu sold a ton of 2-cylinder 40-hp tiller outboards. Four of Tohatsu’s Top 20 dealers were in that area. “It’s turned out to be one of the best repower markets,” Van Dyke says.
Across the board, Tohatsu’s 115-hp outboard has been a sales leader for repowers, followed by 150- and 250-hp models. Most of Tohatsu’s repowers have been single-engine applications. Sales of 50- and 60-hp engines, as well as electric-start 9.9 tiller models, have also been strong.
One accessory that Van Dyke sees growing in popularity is the Transom Lift System from Porta Products in New Smyrna Beach, Fla. Scott Porta says his company has been facilitating repowers for bigger boats formerly powered by inboards because the Porta Transom Lift is designed for today’s higher-horsepower outboards.
“The big difference that’s going on now is that we’ve got outboards that actually have more power than the inboards they’re replacing,” he says. “A large percentage of the time we can lift out the motors so there’s none of the outboard’s prop left in the water.”
While a more mainstream jack plate typically has a travel of 6 inches, the Porta bracket has a minimum of 12 inches of travel. The biggest difference between the Porta bracket and a more typical unit is the way the Porta bracket moves. A conventional jack moves up and down in a straight line like a guillotine. The Porta bracket is a parallelogram and arcs up and out when it lifts the engine.
Porta Products also gets calls for more custom applications, with as many as four or five big outboards being installed in a repower. One recent project was for a 40-plus-foot boat getting quad 425-hp Yamaha XTO Offshore outboards on a custom Porta bracket.
June was the biggest sales month in the company’s history. During the past 12 months, Porta Products’ sales were up 60 percent, and 25 percent of that was OEM sales, so the rest can be credited to repower.
In many of its repower jobs, Suzuki Repower by Mastry will install the engine on a jack plate from Bob’s Machine Shop in Tampa, Fla. Greg Pelini, CEO at Bob’s Machine Shop, estimates OEM business at 50 percent of the company’s annual sales, with 20 percent direct to consumer.
Bob’s Machine Shop makes 100 to 150 jack plates per day at its 40,000-square-foot headquarters, where it employs just over 60 people and has close to 1,000 units on back order. Recent investments include three computer numerical control mills plus a manual mill and a powder-coating oven.
The company makes hydraulic plates that start at $950, while manual models can be had for $200. The most popular model is the 6-inch Action Series plate that retails for $1,249.
Bob’s Machine Shop offers 70 varieties of jack plates, with models designed and built to handle an outboard as large as a Seven Marine V-8. As more consumers convert from inboards to outboards, the company has received inquiries for plates to accommodate multiple high-horsepower outboards.
To meet the demand, the company is working six days a week. Bob’s can also offer factory powder-coating and custom hydrographics in which the whole plate is dipped into paint to custom match it to a boat.
The types of customers seeking that service are similar to the ones walking into Suzuki Repower by Mastry locations. One recent customer wanted to convert his 30-foot Dorado from inboard diesels to outboard engines. “We’ve done one of those,” Mastry says with a chuckle.
This article was originally published in the October 2020 issue.