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Tips for selecting the right size hp outboard motor

DISCLAIMER: The following information is representative of our opinion only and should not be relied upon solely to select an outboard hp. Many factors affect a hull's performance and all factors should be considered. Factors include hull weight, load, persons, hull design, shape, material, boating conditions, and application. Most hulls have a minimum and maximum hp rating. Horsepower ratings can vary dramatically (i.e., two hulls equal in length may have maximum hp ratings of 10 and 25). The limits set fourth by the hull's manufacturer should be strictcly observed. Failure to observe hp ratings set fourth by the hull manufacturer could result in injury or death. For the most current and accurate information consult the hull's manufacturer.

2 hp – 3.5 hp (Less than 40 lbs)
These small outboards are now available primarily in 4-stroke configurations only - due to 2006 EPA regulations which require all outboard manufacturers to produce cleaner more efficient outboards. Many 2-strokes were sold in the U.S. for years prior to these laws going into effect and will be around for many years to come. However, look for four-strokes to dominate the future as many waterways and municipalities across the U.S. continue to ban the use of 2-stroke outboards that do not meet emission standards. This hp range is common among portable boats such as canoes, folding boats, inflatable boats, dinghies/dinks, tenders, 8-10ft jon boats and other small/light watercraft. Outboards in this hp range are also ideal for small sailboats and small pontoon boats as many are offered in 20” long shaft lengths. Engines in this range are typically 1-cylinder. Outboards in this range will typically be limited to forward-only gears or forward-neutral gears (these engines spin 360 degrees). Outboards in this range are very portable with features such as built-in integral fuel tanks, and convenient carrying handles. They are lightweight and compact in design and can be easily transported.


What you can expect:
  • Will propel most hulls at approx. 5-10 mph
  • Alternative to electric trolling motors with signifcantly more power
  • In auxiliary or kicker motor applications, hulls less than 700 lbs and under 15ft can reach troll speeds
  • Engines are very lightweight, compact, and very easily transported
 
4 – 5 – 6 hp (40-60 lbs)
These engines are now available primarily in 4-stroke configurations only - due to 2006 EPA regulations which require all outboard manufacturers in the U.S. to produce cleaner more efficient outboards. This hp range is ideal for a variety of application including small inflatable boats up to 11ft in length, portable folding boats, larger canoes, 8-11ft dinghies/dinks, tenders, and jon boats up to 12ft. Hulls such as these typically weigh between 50-250lbs and require a short shaft (15” shaft length). All outboards in this hp range should also be available in 20” long shaft configurations which is ideal for sail boat power and auxiliary kicker motor applications for hulls less than 20ft in length. Engines in this hp range are typically 1-cylinder, although some 2-cylinders do exist. A heavy person or more than one person in a hull in this hp class can have a dramatic effect on hull performance making planning difficult. Engines in this hp range feature heavier duty construction and enhanced maneuverability features such as forward-neutral-reverse gears. These engines may have integral fuel tanks or separate fuel tanks depending on year, make, and model as they were offered in a variety of configurations.

What you can expect:
  • Engines in this range will propel most hulls at approx. 10-18 mph with one person and light load
  • Excellent choice for gasoline trolling motors, sailboat power, and emergency auxiliary kicker motors
  • Engines in this range are lightweight, compact and easily transported
  • Most engines in this range feature full foward-neutral-reverse gears
 
8 – 9.9 hp (60-100 lbs)
Small but mighty outboards that pack a powerful punch. Outboard engines in this hp range are available primarily in 4-stroke configurations but may still be available in 2-stroke configurations. Due to 2006 EPA regulations, outboard manufacturers are now required to build cleaner more efficient engines that meet strict emission standards. This hp range is quite popular for use with inflatable boats 9-14ft, aluminum jon boats 10-14ft in length, larger sturdy canoes, larger portable folding boats, and lighter fiberglass boats up to 14ft. These hulls typically range in weight from 75-300 lbs and require a 15” short shaft length outboard. Engines in this hp range are also available in 20” long shaft and 25” extra-long shaft length making them ideal choices for sail boats and emergency kicker motors. Engines in this hp range are ideal for sail boats ranging from 16-25 feet. Newer four-stroke outboards in this range are equipped with advanced features such as audible and visual warning indicators for low oil pressure and overheating. Electric start and 12v charging capabilities are usually offered with optional models in this hp range. Most engines in this range feature 2-cylinders for greatly improved planning time and performance, as well as reduced vibration that is typical of 1-cylinder outboards. Outboards in this hp range have separate fuel tanks ranging from 3.1 gallon (common with 4-strokes) to 6 gallon (common with 2-strokes).

What you can expect:
  • Engines in this range will propel most hulls at approx. 15-22 mph with one to two persons and/or a light to moderate load
  • Excellent choice for gasoline trolling motors, sailboat power, and emergency auxiliary kicker motors, especially 25" shaft applications
  • 2-cylinder design for improved performance and weight handling, reduced vibration, and smoother operation
  • Some engines in this range include advanced features typically found only on larger outboards (electric start, audible/visible warning, etc...)
  • Many makes in this range offer electric start w/ 12V battery charging
  • Some makes offer lightweight, compact, easily transportable models
 
15 - 20 hp (80-120 lbs)
Powerful workhorses that are still considered a part of the small outboard hp class. Outboard engines in this hp range are available primarily in 4-stroke configurations but may limited availability in 2-stroke configurations. Due to 2006 EPA regulations, outboard manufacturers are now required to build cleaner more efficient engines that meet strict emission standards. This hp range is quite popular for use with inflatable boats 10-14ft, aluminum fishing boats 12-16ft, jon boats 12-16ft in length, fiberglass boats 12-16ft in length. These hulls typically require a 15” short shaft length but may require a 20” shaft length as you approach 16ft in length. These hulls typically range in weight from 125-575+ lbs. Engines in this hp range are available in both 15” short shaft and 20” long shaft. These hp outboards are ideal for river trolling, emergency kicker applications, and sail boats ranging from 22-30+ feet in length. Newer four-stroke outboards in this range are equipped with advanced features such as audible and visual warning indicators for low oil pressure and overheating. Electric start and 12v charging capabilities are usually offered on optional models in this hp range. Engines in this range feature 2-cylinders reducing vibration and providing smoother operation. 15-20hp outboards utilize 3.1 gallon (common with 4-strokes) or 6 gallon (common with 2-strokes) separate fuel tanks.
What you can expect:
  • Engines in this range will propel most hulls at approx. 15-30 mph with one or more people and moderate to heavy load
  • Also an excellent source of power for river trolling, larger sailboats, and emergency/auxiliary/kicker applications
  • Most engines in this range include advanced outboard features
  • Many makes in this range offer electric start w/ 12V battery charging