How Many Hours on a Boat Is Too Much? Everything You Need to Know

When looking for a boat, you will see all sorts of ads. You have the new boats, which are marketed to look like the next best thing, with plenty of modern features – mostly bells and whistles that you are less likely to use.

Then, you have old boats, and everyone will try to make them look impeccable. You will see ads mentioning low hours or perhaps a limited amount of hours on them. This is normally seen as a good thing, hence the common uses of such tag lines.

If you have ever bought a car, a boat with low hours is like a car with low miles. However, there are two sides to each story. A boat with low hours is useless if it has been left in a field for the last decade, just like a car with low miles could be in the same situation – everything would be rotten and damaged.

The secret is in the actual context. You cannot go wrong with a boat with less than three years and low hours. This is usually a good sign. But what do you do when it comes to older boats? How many hours on a boat is a lot?

Becoming familiar with old boats and low hours

You are probably familiar with those taglines. All boats for sale are hardly used or have low hours – sure, everyone is trying to sell. But while it may look like boat sales are like car sales, there are some major differences.

  • A car in a dry area away from the coast, stored in a garage and featuring low mileage is great.
  • Boats have a different “lifestyle” though. They usually live in a marina or perhaps on a mooring. They spend plenty of time in direct sunlight and are exposed to water and all sorts of weather conditions.

How sitting affects the boat condition

Many things affect the condition of the boat – different scenarios will give you different outcomes. You could look at two boats – both 10 years old and both with 200 hours – and they may look completely different.

Imagine looking at a 10 year old boat with 200 hours only. You start doing the math – 200 hours in 10 years will equal 20 hours a year. That means around six three-hour trips a year – probably most of them in the warm season.

However, you have no clue how the boat was used. The owner might have done 150 hours in the first year before losing interest, so the boat might have done 50 hours in the last nine years – less than five hours a year.

The thing with boats is that they are often used irregularly. They are not like cars. You could go out on the water 10 times in the hot season, but you may change your priorities next year and forget about it. Over this time frame, most boat owners will not know what works inside the boat.

This is because of a terrible mentality affecting most newbies – if the boat is hardly used, it needs no servicing. Wrong! This is only a misconception. Most brands recommend servicing on a regular year – for instance, you would have to do it once a year or every 100 hours, whatever comes first.

Regular maintenance is so important for some simple reasons.

If anything goes wrong with the boat, the owner would have no clue about it – until it is too late. Imagine a leak or perhaps the bilge pump failing. The owner would probably still expose it to saltwater, causing even more damage.

Another consideration is the time spent in direct sunlight – all this time spent outdoors will also expose the boat to debris and dirt, as well as birds. A cover will most likely deteriorate. If the owner is no longer interested in the boat, they will not bother to spend money on detailing.

How about old high hour boats?

It may seem difficult to understand, but some people would rather get a boat in the same age range, but with more hours.

Why?

A boat with more hours is used more. It means it is also looked after and loved, rather than one with low hours and old age.

How come? Simple – the boat has been in use on a regular basis. This way, the owner will notice if anything breaks down, be it the horn or perhaps a leak. They can fix such things rather than overlook them because the boat is not really used.

As a boat gains more hours, someone who uses it regularly will be more dedicated and will usually serve it accordingly – not to mention detailing. In other words, a 10-year-old boat with 400 hours is probably better looked after than a 10-year-old boat with 100 hours.

It has been used, repaired, and maintained – this is the industry where you use it or lose it.

How to find how many hours on a boat

Before figuring out how many hours on a boat is a lot, you need to understand what it means. Basically, the hours on the boat refer to the hours on the engine. A boat sitting for months does not accumulate hours. Now, how do you know the amounts of hours?

Most owners will mention the hours in their ads, but it pays off double-checking everything yourself too.

If the boat was made before 2000, most models come with a meter. The engine should feature a meter that shows how many hours it runs. It is normally located in the instrument panel. If the boat is newer, you will find different systems.

Such things are normally logged onto computers these days. Sure, some boats will have meters that display the hours. You may also ask the owner for the logbook,  – when the boat is serviced, hours are also mentioned.

Other than that, you may need a mechanic to do it for you – totally worth it once you find a boat.

How many hours on a boat is a lot?

While the way the boat was used is the main consideration in the process, the truth is the actual hours can also make the difference. It is one thing to get a boat with 200 hours and another to get a boat with 1,000 hours, even if the second boat has been used and maintained more.

With these thoughts in mind, if you find a boat with 1,500 hours, that is simply too much, even if the boat has a logbook and has been maintained. A boat with meticulous maintenance may do the trick, but other than that, this may not be your most reliable option.

To figure out how many hours on a boat is a lot, you should also become familiar with the average lifespan of an engine. Inboard and outboard engines (not the diesel ones) will have an average life of 1,500 hours – more than 2,000 if properly maintained by the book.

Now, on the other hand, if you are considering a gas-fueled marine engine, make sure it is still far from 1,000 hours. Whether inboard or outboard, such an engine will feel like dying when about 1,000 hours old. It could be a good deal, but you are more likely to waste money.

On the other hand, a diesel engine should have no issues with 1,000 hours only. You can get another up to 6,000 miles on it before having to rebuild it – obviously, to reach such impressive numbers, it needs to be well maintained.

With these thoughts in mind, a used boat with less than 1,000 hours is worth some attention. If the engine is diesel, you can get a boat with 3,000 hours without any issues at all – make sure it is maintained, though.

Just like cars or anything else, you need a careful inspection before making a commitment.

Winding hours back

Just like on cars, winding hours back on boats is possible and obviously illegal in most parts of the world. The good news is that more and more brands aim to make it impossible and only doable by the dealer – no genuine reasons to do it.

For example, MAN or Volvo boats will most likely display the real-time on water. There are more different contexts. For instance, analogue gauges will count hours whenever the ignition is on. But then, you could forget the engine running, which means unnecessary time is added to the meter.

An ECU will allow you to read the actual hours, though.

Then, you may also run into unscrupulous sellers who simply replace gauges or run them in the opposite direction, only to lower hours. You would have to check the service history then and ensure servicing was done by a reputable firm.

Higher hours versus lower hours

According to Boat Buy, how many hours on a boat is a lot is a concept that varies from one individual to another. Realistically, you should figure out how many hours the engine is good to go. Just like anything else in life, boat engines are not made to last forever.

Assuming you look at a 15 year old boat, 300 hours would not be enough – you want a bit more than that. Instead, a boat used regularly should have close to 500 hours on the engine.

“Low hours indicate no usage, which is a problem.”

At the same time, 1,000 hours on decently sized sports cruises will be a bit too much – that boat has seen everything and will start failing soon. Diesel engines? A bit different, as they are known to be more durable.

Furthermore, never compare what you can find from a regular seller to what you can find from a dealer or a commercial operator. Commercial boats do most of their hours in the first years. Simply put, the engine does not have a chance to rest. Problems are less likely to occur too.

Sure, such boats will have some problems, but the constant usage ensures they are repaired on time. On the other hand, the same number of hours in a low-hour engine will work differently. You can do most of the years in the early life, but not towards the end.

You are wrong if you think you can find an old low-hour boat and put plenty of hours on it now.

What else to consider when buying a used boat

People riding in a pontoon boat

Knowing how many hours on a boat is a lot does help, but there are other factors to consider too.

Maintenance

Maintenance is a must for pretty much everything, and boats make no exception. You cannot just look at a motor and determine how good it is. Instead, you will need a mechanical inspection to double check everything.

While you can always hire a mechanic to help out once you find a nice boat, but you should also check service records and perhaps computer printouts. Just because everything is alright, make sure the boat is not overused too – for instance, 1,000 hours in five years could be an issue.

Manufacturing year

Based on Boardco Boats, the actual age is not to be overlooked either – you need to find a balance between the age and the hours. If a boat averages 40 hours a year and its engine shows 800 hours, it is 20 years old – a bit too much, considering the old technologies.

At the same time, a boat with excellent servicing and maintenance can easily go for over 20 years. It is a hit and miss opportunity. Used boats – like other vehicles – represent a risk because you have no clue what they have been through. The engine could stop working in a couple of weeks.

General uses

You can never tell how a boat was used, and even if you ask, no one will tell you that they raced every day or missed maintenance appointments. They will describe boats as perfect, so there is not much information to get there.

A bit of math is quite important when buying a boat. A boat with less than 25 hours per year is not necessarily a good idea. It was probably abandoned for months, meaning many mechanisms might be malfunctioning.

Do not overlook the upper threshold either – anything between 150 and 200 hours a year is too much.

With these thoughts in mind, around 50 hours a year is ideal – give or take. How the boat was used is important because 50 hours at 3,500RPM is decent, while 50 hours at 5,500RPM means the boat was used incorrectly.

Where the boat was used is just as important, so consider the area when you travel to see a boat. Find out more about the surrounding waters. Is it saltwater? How about normal waters? You might as well ask the owner.

Engine

Finally, when checking how many hours on a boat is a lot, you need to go a bit further and inspect that engine in smaller details. You need to figure out the differences between two and four stroke engines, as well as gas and diesel engines.

As a general rule of thumb, a four stroke engine has more benefits than a two stroke one. On the same note, diesel engines come with more benefits and are more durable. Ideally, this is the combo you should aim for.

A two stroke outboard engine can easily go for up to 2,000 hours, but four stroke engines tend to last longer. Diesel engines are more durable, but gas engines tend to dominate in the USA, so you will find it difficult to find one – not impossible. It depends on where you live.

Key takeaways

So, how many hours on a boat is a lot? There are more factors to consider, so providing a crystal-clear answer is almost impossible. There are more types of engines out there, and each of them has specific particularities.

But as a general rule of thumb, you will need to determine the yearly hours by dividing the total amount of hours to the years. Anything between 40 and 80 hours a year is desired. More than that means the boat has been overused.

Unlike cars, boats with low hours are not always desired unless they are quite new. But if you find an old boat with low hours, it has been left unused for long periods, so it most likely has plenty of flaws.

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