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Best Outboard Motor Brands for Your Boat

Which is the best outboard motor brand? Ask that question at your local marina and you’d better be ready for some serious fireworks—everyone has their opinions on this topic, and they tend to be strong opinions. Truth be told, however, in this day and age on the whole it’s tough to go wrong with any of the major outboard engine brands. Years ago many outboards were dirty, smelly, finicky, and unreliable, but modern four-stroke engine technology has made them far more pleasant to run and vastly more dependable.


outboard motors

Of course, four-stroke gasoline engines aren’t the only type of outboard on the market today. And that begs the question, which is the best outboard motor for the money? For most of us it will be that four-stroke, but there are some exceptions. And while most people tend to paint outboard motor brands with a broad brush, there are plenty of examples of specific models, horsepower ranges, or platforms where one manufacturer in particular shines the brightest. 


Types of Outboard Motors

At the most basic level, an outboard engine is any boat motor that can be clamped or bolted onto the transom of a boat to provide propulsion. Most will have a powerhead under a cowl at the top, a midsection where the motor attaches to the boat and that contains a driveshaft running to the lower unit, and a lower section where gears transfer power from the shaft to the propeller. But, as we’ll soon see, there are some exceptions.


Four-stroke gasoline outboard engines

With the retirement of Evinrude, the last manufacturer focused on two-stroke gasoline outboard engines, the vast majority of the gasoline-fueled outboards on the water today are four-strokes. The smallest you’ll commonly see in today’s market are single-cylinder 2.3- to 2.5-horsepower models, and they range all the way up to massive V-12 600-hp models. 

Modern four-strokes dominate the market for two very simple reasons: they’re a pleasure to run, and they’re shockingly reliable. Noise and vibration levels are a fraction of what many boaters were accustomed to compared to historic two-strokes. In many cases, they’re so smooth and quiet you don’t even realize the four-stroke is running until you shift it into gear. That makes the boating experience a lot more pleasurable. But what’s even better is knowing that when you turn the key, the engine is going to start. Decades ago, outboards were notoriously unreliable, but today they rival most modern automobiles. Ask a marine industry professional “What is the best outboard motor?” and many would simply answer “a four-stroke,” rather than calling out any one specific brand.


Mercury 600

Photo credit: Mercury Marine


Electric outboard engines

Just a few years ago, electric outboards would have been relegated to the bottom of this list, as only a few makes and models were available and it was generally left up to the buyer to figure out how to power them with off-the-shelf batteries. Today, however, it’s a different story. Modern electric outboards are available from under one horsepower all the way up to 300-hp with one manufacturer, Evoy, planning to introduce a 400-hp model in 2024. 

Critically, electric outboard manufacturers have begun to offer complete power packages including the highly specialized batteries needed along with the motor itself. In some cases the batteries clip directly on top of the motor’s midsection and the unit looks so similar to a gasoline outboard that it’s tough to tell the difference—other than the complete absence of the sounds, vibrations, and exhaust of internal combustion. And in others, big battery packs are integrated into the boat. Either way, the consumer gets a complete package that’s purpose-designed and ready for use.


Diesel outboard engines

There are only a handful of diesel outboard manufacturers, ranging from 150- to 300-hp. Diesel outboards tend to be quite large and heavy, so they aren’t ideal for most applications. However, the fact that they run on diesel as opposed to gasoline makes them an attractive option for yacht tenders, since they can be refueled by the yacht itself without having to carry more volatile gasoline aboard. For the same reason, diesel outboards are sometimes used by the military. Diesels also tend to offer more range per gallon of fuel, making them an attractive option for some commercial fleets, and in some cases, they can replace inboard engines where previously outboards weren’t an option. (See Outboard Vs Inboard: Which Engine is Best for You, to learn why you might prefer one over the other).


Propane outboard engines

Propane outboards grew quickly in popularity about a decade ago, but quickly crashed when many made by the largest manufacturer (which is today out of business) turned out to be plagued by substandard parts and poor reliability. Better models survived, however, and today there are two 5-hp propane outboards (made by Mercury and Tohatsu) on the market. Many people like them for their quiet, fume-free operation and the ability to fuel them with a convenient propane canister.


Most Powerful Outboard Motor Brands

Mercury Marine undisputedly builds the most powerful outboard engine being manufactured today. Their 600-hp Verado is the world’s first V-12 outboard engine, producing a full 100 horses more than the next closest option. This engine is a 1,260-pound beast, displaces a whopping 7.6 liters, and is available in shaft lengths to 35 inches. 

The V-12 Verado has a lot more to it than sheer power. It’s also the first outboard with a two-speed transmission, which shifts so smoothly it’s more or less imperceptible. And in another first, the engine boasts a steerable gearcase. Turn the steering wheel and the cowl remains static, while the lower unit swivels and turns. Additional highlights include twin contra-rotating propellers, integrated electro-hydraulic steering, and a top hatch that allows maintenance access without having to remove the cowl.

Next in line in the power parade is another Mercury, the 500R from Mercury Racing. To create it, Mercury Racing took Mercury’s 4.6-liter V-8 platform, added a supercharger, and then increased supercharger boost while also upgrading some components to accommodate for the additional stresses. Weighing only 720 pounds, it sets a new bar for power density.

The third heavyweight contender is the Yamaha F450. This engine was recently upgraded from the F425 after Yamaha improved exhaust and intake flow, and tweaked the cams and valves. The F450 is the only direct-injection four-stroke outboard in existence, which means that fuel hits 2900 psi at the injection nozzle and is atomized for more complete burning. The F450 also has a unique phased-angle-control charging system which puts out a rather shocking 96 amps at idle. The output is “stackable,” so multiple engine rigs derive the entire benefit of each engine’s charging capacity. That means a twin-engine setup can put out so much juice it’s possible to eliminate the need for a generator to power large energy-sucking appliances like gyroscopic stabilizers and air-conditioning systems.


Yamaha XF450

Photo credit: Yamaha Motor


Best Small Outboard Motor Brands

In the small engine department, Suzuki Marine definitely warrants a call-out. With the DF15A and DF20A, Suzuki created the world’s first battery-less EFI outboards. EFI not only delivers better fuel economy and easy one-tug starting, but by eliminating the carburetor and closing the fuel system, it also turns most ethanol problems into ancient history. Considering how troublesome ethanol proved to be with small carbureted engines, this was a major milestone. Since its initial introduction Suzuki has brought battery-less EFI down to its 9.9-hp model and up through the powerband to eliminate carburetors on all of its outboards above that mark. 

Additionally, many of Suzuki’s small outboards boast features like offset crankshafts, oil-bathed timing chains, and “troll mode” systems that allow the fine-tuning of RPM to increments of 50 rpm. While many manufacturers invest all of their time, energy, and tech into developing larger (and thus more profitable) powerplants, Suzuki has proved a leader in the best small outboard motor department.


Best Electric Outboard Motor Brands

A lot of electric outboard manufacturer startups have appeared recently, and many of these motors simply don’t have enough time under the belt yet to prove their longevity nor their ability to survive in the marketplace. So at this point in time, it would be dicey to try to claim which is the best electric outboard motor on the water today. 

Torqeedo electric outboards have been around much longer than most. Their lineup of one- to 80-hp outboards has certainly done better than any others on the market, and they’ve proven themselves reliable over the long term. Torqeedo also has integrated battery systems ranging from 500 Wh clip-ons, to a next-generation 79.2 kWh lithium iron phosphate powerhouse that’s rated for 4,000 cycles and is backed by a 10-year capacity warranty. As to whether or when one of the newcomers may unseat Torqeedo from the best electric outboard motor throne, we can’t say.

Evoy also gets a mention here, since they’re building an entirely different class of motor with 120- and 300-hp ratings. The same goes for Vision Marine, which is building a 180-hp powertrain fueled by a 70 kWh power bank. Time will tell how these do in the real world, but we note that Four Winns thought enough of the Vision system to team up with the company and build the H2e, an all-electric bowrider model.

Finally, we need to point out that by the time you read these words there’s a good chance a new electric outboard builder has popped up, and/or that one of the major companies has new offerings to consider. Yamaha now has its Harmo electric package (being sold to boatbuilders as opposed on the open market) and just this year Mercury introduced its first Avator model, a 3.5-hp electric with a drop-in battery that Mercury says is just the first of many electric models to come.


Torqeedo Deep Blue 50R


Top Outboard Motor Brands

The number of outboard motor manufacturers is really quite small considering how many outboard engines get sold every year, and the top three hold the lion’s share of the marketplace. Listed in alphabetical order they include:


Mercury Marine

Mercury is one of the largest manufacturers in existence, and you’ve already seen the name pop up as the builder of the top two most powerful outboard engines. In business since 1939, Mercury is based in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, has manufacturing locations worldwide, and is owned by the Brunswick Corporation.


Suzuki Marine

By volume, Suzuki marine is the smallest of these top three, but has been gaining market share for many years. With a reputation for excellent reliability throughout their lineup from the smallest engine to their largest, Suzuki has won nine National Marine Manufacturers Association Innovation Awards.


Yamaha Outboards

In production since 1960, Yamaha outboards are known for reliability especially in their epically popular V-6 4.2-liter platform. The company has also proved a pioneer in developing complete power and control systems, as opposed to just engines, with products like their Helm Master joystick.



Written By: Lenny Rudow

With over three decades of experience in marine journalism, Lenny Rudow has contributed to dozens of boating and fishing publications and websites. Rudow lives in Annapolis, Maryland, and is currently Angler in Chief at Rudow’s FishTalk; he is a past president of Boating Writers International (BWI), a graduate of the Westlawn School of Yacht Design, and has won numerous BWI and OWAA writing awards.


More from: Lenny Rudow

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